Sweet, Sweet Love (R Morris) 1971 and Wings of an Eagle (R Morris) – Russell Morris 1972.
Russell Morris and producer Howard Gable would now turn their attention to creating Russell’s debut album, and throughout 1970 they laboured on what would become Bloodstone, but that project would come to personify the anecdote about wringing blood from a stone, when the first version of the album, was completely rejected by Morris, who forcefully expressed his concerns about the way that Gable had interpreted his ideas, and produced a clutch of new original songs that Morris had written. Morris was certainly unwavering in his commitment to control his future career, he had rejected Meldrum’s advice about targeting the US market and the two had bitterly fallen out, and by rejecting a whole album and criticising EMI’s top producer Howard Gable, he was certainly trying the patience of his own record label. Below- Cadd and Morris
In early 1971 Russell’s mentor and creative partner Brian Cadd returned to Australia following the collapse of Axiom in the UK, and not only would Cadd form a live backing group (Cycle) to accompany Russell when touring and as support act on the upcoming Bee Gees tour later in the year, but he would effortlessly gather the cream of local talent together to ensure that Morris had the necessary musos around him in the studio, to interpret the ideas and realise the vision that Russell had for his album. A veritable Who’s Who of OzRock came on board – former blues stalwarts from Chain (Barry Harvey, Matt Taylor, Phil Manning, and Barry Sullivan), Mark Kennedy from Spectrum, Beeb Birtles and Rick Springfield from Zoot, and the guitar star power of Billy Green, Brian Holloway, Duncan McGuire, and Peter Jones, with backing vocals by Marcie Jones. The multi-talented ringmaster himself, Brian Cadd, now assumed the persona of Leon Russell, who was guiding the fortunes of Joe Cocker and the Mad Dogs and Englishmen Tour of the US in 1970, and the album that it would subsequently generate. Below L-R – Barry Harvey, Mark Kennedy, Beeb Birtles.
Recording commenced in Armstrong’s Studio (South Melbourne) with a realigned Howard Gable as producer, along with recording engineers John Sayers and John French. Morris would reveal his genre-hopping flexibility across country-rock, pop, folk-rock, country gospel, and pop ballads, and as an ingenue songwriter he was still honing his craft, the songs were variously earnest, catchy, maudlin, and engaging. Russell’s voice was now a more mature and effective instrument, the slightly limited, nasal tones of his youth were now replaced by a commanding tenor with a seductive vibrato and honeyed timbre, and a range that comfortably handled the drama, melancholy, and introspection of his new compositions. Below L-R – Brian Holloway, Marcie Jones, Duncan McGuire.
Side one of Bloodstone was more up tempo, and opened with the folk-rock of O Helley, an ode to a deceased lover, then followed three country-influenced rock songs – Jail Jonah’s Daughter which embraced harmonica-driven blues; honky-tonk piano was a feature of Saints and Sinners, and the pedal steel guitar of Our Hero Is Dead channeled the country rock of the Eagles; while the wistful guitar pop of Heaven Shines closed the first side. Side two contained several big ballads, The Cell, Gamblers Lament, and Goodbye which were all emotive and piano-driven, until the country gospel sounds washed over Ride Your Chariot and Lay in the Graveyard, and the big hit song from Bloodstone, the great pop ballad Sweet Sweet Love, which closed out the album, made its appearance.
The hit single, Sweet, Sweet Love was written while Russell was chasing success, living in a freezing London bedsit, with only photos of his then-wife Paula to inspire him. When lifted from the album it was praised as a plaintive, introspective, and beguiling ballad which built the tension and drama throughout the arrangement by tempo shifts and volume changes to adroitly engage the listener throughout, Phil Manning played exemplary lead guitar riffs, and famously Morris had offered this song to Johnny Farnham first, who declined because he said, “it takes too long to get to the chorus”,
Morris’s impassioned vocals soared, in an exultant declaration of platitudes about the bliss, euphoria, and endurance of true love and the record charted #7 nationally in July. Since departing Somebody’s Image, Morris had emerged as a creative solo singer/songwriter of considerable skill and vocally his songs were now more nuanced and emotionally connected to their lyrical content, than his earlier psychedelic hits had been.
Morris quickly followed up with the single Live with Friends, as a lovelorn Russell lamented the fact that his girl has “gone away to live with friends”, and apparently, she ain’t coming back, it was a modest hit at #13. The album Bloodstone was a #12 hit and won several critics award for the local album of the year, the album artwork by Geoff Pendelbury was however a strange impressionistic image, which aimed for profundity by depicting blood seeping down the record cover onto a cyclopian eye in the center of a stone, unfortunately it has not aged well.
Russell would round out the year with one of his best compositions, The Wings of an Eagle, which was recorded with producer Peter Dawkins at the Channel 9 TCS Studios (Melb) in 1972, and charted at #9 in November of that year. The orchestration was lush with a beautiful string arrangement, resonant wah wah guitar riffs, and Russell’s pure and crystalline vocals. There was a reverent quality and spirituality at the beating heart of this song, which was inspired by Aboriginal culture and images of the Eagle as a mystical force in the First Nations Dreamtime, but this theme would not be evident in Russell Morris songs again until the release of his third comeback album Red Dirt Red Heart, over forty years later.
Russell would appear at the Mulwala Pop Festival in 1972 with his band Cycle, and in a star-studded line-up including Canned Heat, Steven Stills, Manassas, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, The La De Das, Chain, and The Coloured Balls, Morris and Cycle wowed the crowd with their new repertoire from Bloodstone mixed in with Russell’s early psychedelic hits. In 1973 Morris moved to London to record an album, but there was no recording contract there for him as by then he had already severed ties with EMI, he then relocated to New York where he was courted by Arista guru Clive Davis who offered him a contract, but he mistakenly signed with Robbie Porter’s Wizard label, and joined an ever-expanding band of expat Australian artists chasing fame Stateside. “The Gum Leaf Mafia” included – Glenn Wheatley, John Farrar, Pat Carroll, Olivia Newton-John, Rick Springfield, Darryl Cotton, Billy Thorpe, Helen Reddy, Jim Keays, Brian Cadd, and expat Kiwis Max Merritt and Kevin Borich.
Below The Gum Leaf Mafia in LA , some wearing “The Happy Hour Brigade” t-shirts L-R- Rear Russell Morris, Ray Burgess, Billy Thorpe; L-R Front Rick Springfield, Darryl Cotton, Brian Cadd, Album Artwork, Single 45.
To launch Russell in the US a self-titled album which featured two of his previous hits, Sweet, Sweet Love and Wings of and Eagle, and eight other original songs by Morris, was recorded at the Hit Factory Studio in NYC with producer Don Germano and stellar session musos which included Hugh McCracken (guitar), David Spinoza (drums), Ken Archer (keyboards), Will Lee (bass), Rick Marotta (drums), the Brecker Brothers, Mike and Randy on horns, and the Al Brown String Section. The lead single was Let’s Do It/Don’t Rock the Boat which peaked locally at #30, while the album climbed to #14 in November 1975, but the album failed to chart in the USA. A second US-produced album Turn It On was released in 1976 but it also flopped, and it would be another thirty-seven years before Russell Morris would take another record into the top twenty in this country, when the bluesy Sharkmouth heralded the rejuvenation of his career in 2012. In 1978 Russell finally secured his Green Card to work in the States, but by then he had lost all momentum there, and returned home. Below L-R Album Artwork, RM and The Rubes, The Russell Morris Band.
Russell continued to perform with a variety of bands during the eighties including Russell Morris & the Rubes, The Russell Morris Band and The Lonely Boys, and he notched up a number of well-received albums, including Foot In the Door with the Russell Morris Band (#38 in ’79) and Almost Frantic with The Rubes (#28 in ’81). He also branched out into the musical theatre, appearing as ‘Riff Raff’ in a Melbourne production of The Rocky Horror Show and a few years later appeared in the role of Simon Zealotes in the hit 1992 arena production of Jesus Christ Superstar with John Farnham, Kate Ceberano, Angry Anderson and Jon Stevens. In 1991, he released another solo album, A Thousand Suns, and soon after, he became part of the popular trio Burns-Cotton-Morris with old friends Darryl Cotton (Zoot) and Ronnie Burns, performing a highly successful hits showcase on the club circuit; after Ronnie decided to retire from performing, his place was taken by another Sixties legend, Jim Keays, sadly both Darryl (2012) and Jim (2014) have passed away. Below L-R – Album Artwork, Cotton/Burns/Morris, RM as Riff Raff.