Slipping Away (M Merritt) – Max Merritt and the Meteors 1975
Beloved soul/R&B masters, Max Merritt and the Meteors had made the move from New Zealand to Australia in the 60’s. Covers of Sam Cooke’s Shake and Buster Brown’s Fannie Mae had been moderate hits for the band in 1966 but they were building a substantial loyal following with the Mods for their brand of Atlantic/Stax/Volt-inspired soul, blues and R&B as confirmed by their lively cover of Jerry Butler’s Western Union Man which had charted #15 in 1969.
Max and the Meteors were the original rock and roll survivors, their lineup was a shifting, peripatetic ensemble of players and the group always seemed to be in a state of flux. In 1967 the band barely survived a serious road trauma in Victoria’s Latrobe Valley where three of the band – Merritt, drummer Stewie Speer and sax player Bob Bertles- were very seriously injured and the group was unable to perform for a year.
They went to the UK and slogged it out for years in the early 1970’s on the London pub circuit, gaining another loyal following but no chart success.
In 1974 the band fell apart after their manager Peter Raphael left them high and dry in London with outstanding debts, they had to sell their instruments to clear the creditors, Max went back to bricklaying.
In late 1974, old bandmates, Merritt, and Speer, got the group back together, recruited Brits John Gourd (guitar/keyboards), Howard Deniz (bass) and Barry Duggan (sax/flute) and went into the Arista Records studio in London with renowned producer Del Newman (real name Derrick Martin Newman) who had been very active throughout the 1960’s and 70’s producing and arranging for such artists as Cat Stevens, Elton John, Rod Stewart, Peter Frampton and others, to put down the album A Little Easier. The title track was a stomping gumbo of slide guitar, soul-blues and impeccable Merritt lead vocals, that failed to chart, but the second single would become their biggest hit when the sublime ballad Slipping Away was lifted from the album.
The song was a shift in style for the band, the brassy, bluesy soul grooves of previous hits were replaced by the poignant and sensitive reading of a tender love song with the artful merging of flute, organ, acoustic guitar and strings in support of Merritt’s soulful but restrained vocals “Baby I’ve been watching you/ Watching everything you do /And I just can’t help but feeling/Someone else stealing, you away from me/ /I see it written in your eyes/ And you confirm it with your lies/You’re slipping away from me.”
Slipping Away had taken Max back to a song that had inspired him earlier in his career, Otis Redding’s, Try A Little Tenderness, but this time it was a lover’s lament and his interpretation was nuanced and sincere.
Slipping Away was their biggest hit at #2 in Australia, #5 in the NZ and the album was a top ten hit locally as well, it deserved to be an international hit, but musical tastes were changing, punk rock was emerging, and the Meteors once again split up and moved on. In 2008 Max Merritt was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame by Glenn A. Baker, and he was joined on stage by Kasey and Bill Chambers in a moving performance of Slipping Away.