Formed in Melbourne in 1968 by ex-Chants R&B/Party Machine member and expat Kiwi Mike Rudd, who recruited bassist Bill Putt (ex-Lost Souls/Gallery), drummer Mark Kennedy (ex-Gallery), and keyboard player Lee Neale (ex-Nineteen 87), collectively they became the classic Spectrum line up. Left to right below Neale, Putt, Rudd, and Kennedy.
After arriving from NZ in 1966 as rhythm guitarist for the NZ band Chants R&B, Rudd would team up with Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford in the Pink Finks, then the Party Machine (1967-9) (below), and finally the Zappaesque Sons of the Vegetal Mother (1969-71).
When Wilson and Hannaford headed off to pursue doo wop/early rock overlaid with a comic sensibility as part of what would become the legendary Daddy Cool, Rudd headed towards a more progressive rock/blues genre, reflecting his preference for the music of Traffic, Soft Machine and Pink Floyd, as Spectrum the band evolved
Spectrum were focused on large concert performances and working the “head venues” of the country, in Melbourne in particular, at the TF Much Ballroom, Garrison, and Sebastians, they were also festival regulars appearing at Sunbury, Wallacia, Myponga, and Launching Place. But the market was changing, the legal drinking age dropped from 21 to 18, unlicensed clubs started to close, and the last Sunbury Festival was in 1975, Countdown brought live music to the whole nation via the vast network of the ABC, and rock festivals seemed less attractive.
By 1970 Spectrum were close to bankruptcy and disbanding, they had to re-invent themselves, and their redemption began when they secured a contract with EMI’s subsidiary label Harvest, and remembered that they had already cut a demo single, which they had hawked around to record companies as a 7″ acetate. One side was an early, folksy version of one of the newer songs in their set, I’ll Be Gone; the flip was another original, You Just Can’t Win. Once signed to EMI, the band went into the studio to make their first official recordings, under EMI house producer Howard Gable, who had made a name as one Australia’s leading new producers for his work with the Masters Apprentices, Zoot, the Twilights, the Groove, and his then-wife Alison Durbin. They laid down two tracks — Launching Place, and Launching Place Part II, to promote the Launching Place Festival, and at the end of the session, Gable asked Mike Rudd if they had anything else to which he replied, “Yeah, I’ve got this one called I’ll Be Gone, which we demoed as an afterthought”
I’ll Be Gone emerged in 1971 as a Matryoshka nesting-doll of a song, which revealed itself to be at once wistful and bluesy; folksy and meditative; and at its solid core, overlaid with a guileless country rock sensibility coaxed along by the breezy harmonica and rich, mellow vocals of Mike Rudd.
Mike Rudd’s lyrics are timeless, simple but eloquent — a cruisy, almost fatalistic observation of life on the road and the elusiveness of love and fortune. With its loping country-blues feel, the easy, swinging back beat from Mark Kennedy and Bill Putt, and interlocking guitar and electric piano by Mike Rudd and Lee Neale, it was classic 70’s nihilism, carefree and naïve, tinged with a spirit of cautious optimism about the future, “Someday I‘ll have money/ Money isn’t easy, but by/ By the time it’s come back, I’ll be gone/ I’ll sing my song, and I’ll be gone – pass the bong.
This was white boy blues and soul of the highest order, with one of the most recognizable harmonica riffs in Australian recorded music, Rudd invites us to delve beneath the surface of this Russian doll of a song to experience its spirituality and karmic understanding of life and how to live it. Only Chain’s Black and Blue and Madder Lake’s Goodbye Lollipop, also from the early 70’s, were as instantly recognizable as Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone.
The song also recalls the harmonica-driven, bluesy rural hippie anthem of On the Road Again by US blues rock band Canned Heat, and the seminal delta blues of John Lee Hooker. When released it climbed to #4 nationally, APRA subsequently declared the song worthy of inclusion in their list of the top 30 Australia songs of the era 1926-2001. Manfred Mann Earth Band covered the song but replaced Rudd’s harmonica with fuzz tone guitar and flute and lost the breezy charm and endearing naivety of the original.
The song was promoted by one of the early monochrome music videos, directed by Chris Lofven, which has a Jack Kerouac- meets – Banjo Paterson “on the road’ feel to it, and captured what was quintessential about an Australian summer- the beach, the dusty back road, the heat, the Kombi van, and the rhythm of the surf. Mike Rudd in double denim traverses country roads and rivers, encounters girls in a jeep waving balloons, reminiscent of a scene from Antonioni’s Blowup, breaks bread with a mother and child commune-style (it was his wife Helen and young son Chris), and finally joins his band mates in the recording studio, hippie odyssey completed.
The record became this unique band’s claim to fame although it was not entirely representative of the prog rock catalogue for which Spectrum were generally known. The song was originally recorded at the Armstrong Studio (South Melbourne), and was scheduled for release in 1970 but due to a dispute between commercial radio stations (Federation of Australian Radio Broadcasters) and record companies (Australia Performing Rights Association) over a “pay-for-play” dispute triggered when APRA demanded a fee for records played on radio, the commercial stations quickly banned all UK and original local records for most of 1970, but once the ban was dropped later in the year, Spectrum rush-released I’ll Be Gone and it hit the charts in early January 1971.
Spectrum also cut a series of albums which are among the most adventurous progressive art rock works to emerge in this country- Spectrum Part 1, Milesago and Testimonial would favorably compare with the prog-rock albums of Yes and Emerson, Lake and Palmer.
The lanky twin towers, Mike Rudd and bassist Bill Putt later formed Ariel and subsequently The Heaters in 1980; and throughout the 70’s Spectrum also performed as their alter ego disco dance band the Indelible Murtceps (gettit?) and enjoyed a minor chart hit with Esmeralda (#36 in 1972). Bill Putt sadly passed away in 2012.