Jim Keays and his adoptive parents Jim and Jessie, emigrated to Australia from the Clydebank village of Gourock (Scotland) (below) in 1951 and settled in the Adelaide suburb of Beaumont, along with many other migrant families looking for a new life in a post-war world.His school days at Burnside Primary and then Norwood High School were unremarkable, except for the confronting realisation that his mother was an alcoholic, who was consumed with fear that people would discover she was infertile and that Jim was an adopted child, something Jim’s parents tried to hide from their son. Jim recalled three incidents in his life that convinced him that his future would be as the leader of a famous rock ”n” roll band; at age twelve he experienced a paranormal vision that he would be a member of the biggest rock band in the country.In 1964 the Beatles toured Australia and one-third of the entire population of Adelaide turned out to welcome them along the route from the airport to the city, Jim Keays was there, and was convinced that John Lennon actually responded to his cheers, looked at him, smiled, and waved.(Beatles below with temporary replacement drummer Jimmy Nicol at far left)In 1965 Jim had completed three guitar lessons at the Twin Street Music Centre (Adel.) with John Bywaters (Twilights) (below) when he became bored and decided to quit, on the way out of the centre he saw a business card on the noticeboard for a band called The Mustangs, who were looking for a singer, he auditioned three times before he became their lead singer.The Mustangs, soon to become the Masters Apprentices were, left to right below, Mick Bower (rhythm guitar), Rick Morrison (lead guitar), manager Graham Longley, Gavin Webb (bass), Brian Vaughton (drums) and Jim Keays (vocals, harmonica), they were accomplished musicians, Bower and Morrison were also capable songwriters and arrangers, and Brian’s dad owned the King’s Head Hotel, where the band often played.The Mustangs were in the process of transitioning from a Shadows/Ventures-style instrumental band to a beat group, they were well-known in Adelaide and regularly performed at the King’s Head Hotel in William St. (Adel.). Their manager Graham Longley lined up gigs for the group to perform with their new lead singer, and they debuted at the less than salubrious Bay Road Fish and Chip shop in Glenelg and later appeared at the Pennington Migrant Centre in Salisbury, subsequently graduating to the Beat Basement, Adelaide’s equivalent of Liverpool’s Cavern Club, as well as Elizabeth’s Octagon Theatre.
As an emerging beat group with aspirations to emulate their blues heroes – Robert Johnson, Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, and Bo Diddley – they saw themselves as apprentices to the blues masters, hence the change of band name from The Mustangs to the Masters Apprentices, the spelling of “Masters” would be a constant bane for writers and journalists down the years, as there’s no apostrophe.The band were touring the state and getting coverage in Go-Set magazine, they toured with Bobby and Laurie (above) who were charting strongly at the time, Bobby Bright recommended the band to Astor Records in Melbourne and they duly arrived at Max Pepper’s (below) Moger Lane recording studio in Adelaide to cut their first demos, on two-track recorders.Astor wanted four songs, but the band only had three, so Bower and Harrison went off to a quiet corner and 15 minutes later returned with the fourth track to be demoed, it never had a title and the lyrics were basic. The vocals were recorded in a cavernous government garage across the road from the studio, which imparted a monstrous echo effect to the recording, and to complete the combination of events that lead to the creation of one of the band’s most definitive records, Bower’s amplifier was malfunctioning and produced an accidental fuzz-tone on his guitar, which the band liked, and it remained in the final version.Producer Max Pepper contributed the following technical details of the session “I recorded this song in 1966 at Mastersound in Moger Lane off Pirie Street East. The Government garage opposite was used as an echo chamber and the Bass and Guitar amps were direct fed through a passive mixer. The drums had a kick mike and one overhead, a Phillips Limiter and Pultec Equaliser were also used. At the end of the session the group couldn’t decide on a name, Jim Keays said he was “undecided”, so I wrote Undecided on the tape box.”
The song was left as an unreleased demo until surprisingly it appeared on radio playlists, under the name Undecided. The band had not signed a recording contract with Astor, they knew that Undecided was nothing more than an unnamed demo that would require further refinement, and they only found out it had been released when they heard it on the radio – this was typical 1960’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants stuff, but despite all that, the band had captured the mood and emotion of the song. It was a stunning debut record, raw and uninhibited guitar riffs, and Jim Keays vocals were defiant, exuberant, and raucous. Undecided was a sneering, punky, threatening slice of garage rock, it hit the Adelaide charts and in August 1966 the band went to Melbourne to promote their record via TV appearances on Kommotion and at the Thumpin’ Tum and Biting Eye discotheques, by January 1967 Undecided was a national #8 hit and the B-side was also getting attention.
The flipside was Wars or Hands of Time, an anti-war song written by Mick Bower when Australians were being conscripted to fight in Vietnam, the song has a haunting, melancholic quality, with great Yardbirds-style psychedelic guitar by Bower, the lyrics simply and effectively depicted a young man leaving his family, to go overseas to fight.
Jim Keays was called up but legally avoided the draft by joining the Citizens Military Force (CMF) or army reserve, also known as the “weekend warriors”; the standard army hair style would never cut it for a rock singer, so he enlisted the services of his hairdresser girlfriend Deidre to slick down and pin up his copious locks, to ensure that he passed muster at the parade inspection.The follow-up to Undecided was Buried and Dead, a blistering blues-rocker written by Mick Bower which featured an inspired harmonica solo by Jim and the band’s trademark punky rhythm guitar sound, it charted #22 nationally.UK R&B bands such as the Rolling Stones, the Animals and the Yardbirds were all obvious influences on the early work of the group, and once they relocated to Mod Rock HQ in Melbourne, they quickly made an impact there and attacked the charts with a vengeance. But by 1968 nobody could have foreseen the changes that would have been wrought to the band – the drama, intrigue, illness,and friendships torn asunder, which would see Jim Keays emerge as the only surviving original member of the Mustangs/Masters Apprentices.Rick Morrison who had only one lung would collapse on stage at The Catcher (Melb) and retire with a serious respiratory condition, Brian Vaughton would return to his father’s hotel business in Adelaide, Gavin Webb also departed, manager Graham Longley was sacked, and Mick Bower would have a devastating nervous breakdown in the dressing room at Hobart Town Hall before a gig, and never perform for the band again. The band was close to disintegrating, but with the recruitment of Doug Ford (lead guitar), Glenn Wheatley (bass), Colin Burgess (drums), and the emergence of Jim Keays as a great front man; the classic Masters line up emerged. After they all moved into an apartment at Carlisle Avenue St. Kilda, which quickly became groupie HQ, they were the subject of many lurid tabloid stories, in the Truth newspaper, about the assembly line sexual exploits of the bad boys of rock.