State Library of South Australia

Never too old to rock and roll!

A tribute to two of South Australia's rock and roll heroes - Doc Neeson and Jim Keays, by Rob McDade

Some say "old rockers never die", but they are mere mortals like the rest of us. In the past month we have lost two iconic Australian singers who both happened to have begun their careers in Adelaide: Doc Neeson of The Angels and Jim Keays of The Masters Apprentices.

Here is a short tribute to both.

Doc Neeson ready to rock
Doc Neeson - ready to rock

Doc Neeson

Bernard Patrick "Doc" Neeson OAM (4 January 1947 - 4 June 2014) was born in Belfast, Northern Ireland, one of six children, the son of a British Army soldier. In 1960 when Bernard was 13, the family migrated to Adelaide and settled in Elizabeth, like many British migrants of the time.

Neeson was involved with music since the early-mid 1960s, but seeing little prospect of a career in the field, decided to complete his education and become a teacher. He was conscripted into the Australian Army during the Vietnam War, but because of his education qualification he served in New Guinea as a sergeant teaching the Pacific Island Regiment.

Upon discharge Neeson studied film and drama at Flinders University. Whilst at university Neeson (as Doc Talbot) was a member of an acoustic blues group called Moonshine Jug and String Band, which was formed in 1970 by the Brewster brothers. They released a couple of 45rpm records and had some chart success.Moonshine Jug and String Band

When the Moonshine Jug and String Band moved to a heavier rock and roll and R&B style they changed their name to The Keystone Angels; and then in 1976 after having toured regional South Australia with AC/DC, and signed to the Albert Productions label, they shortened their name to The Angels on the advice of producers Vanda and Young.

1976 saw their debut single "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" which has become one of a handful of Aussie pub rock anthems; and which also gave rise to the famous audience response to the title - "no way, get f.....d, f... off!" Neeson himself described how this response was copied at other concerts and became an important part of their show ( well as that of any other band who has ever dared cover the song!)

Neeson was the front man and lyricist for The Angels until their disbandment in December 1999. He pursued a solo career; formed an 'alternative' Angels (in addition to the Brewster brothers-led 'original' Angels); and reunited with his former band mates on a number of occasions.

In 2012 Neeson was diagnosed with a brain tumour, and subsequently underwent treatment. He died of the tumour on 4 June 2014, aged 67.

There is no doubt that The Angels have played an important role in shaping and defining the sound of Australian hard rock music, with an impressive catalogue of LPs and hit songs.

The Angels Dark Room
LP "Dark Room" (1980)
ELPS 4061bEpic
SLSA cat. ZR 072

Their studio albums include Face to Face (1978), No Exit (1979), Dark Room (1980), Night Attack (1981), Watch the Red (1983), Two Minute Warning (1984), Howling (1986), their number-one album, Beyond Salvation (1990), followed by Red Back Fever (1991). The group's top 20 singles on Australian charts are "No Secrets" (1980), "Into the Heat" (1981), "Never so Live" (1981), "We Gotta Get out of This Place" (1987), "Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again" (live, 1988), "Let the Night Roll On" (1990) and "Dogs Are Talking" (1990).

Jim Keays

James "Jim" Keays (9 September 1946 - 13 June 2014) was born in Glasgow Scotland and put up for adoption by his unwed mother at six months of age. He was adopted by childless couple James and Jessie Keays, who migrated to Australia in 1951 when James Jr was almost 5. They settled in Beaumont, Adelaide. Jim went to Burnside Primary and Norwood High schools, played football, but became interested in music after hearing records of Little Richard and Jerry Lee Lewis.

Masters Apprentices original lineupThe Masters Apprentices original line-up (1966) Jim Keays in centre, with (clockwise) Brian Vaughton (wearing dark glasses), Rick Morrison, Mick Bower and Gavin Webb.
Image SLSA Cat. PRG 1280/29/40

The Mustangs were an Adelaide instrumental surf band which formed in 1964, playing music by groups like The Shadows and The Ventures. Having recently toured Australia, The Beatles inspired The Mustangs to change their musical style and recruit a singer. Jim Keays got the gig, which also led to the writing of original songs. In 1965 they changed their name to The Masters Apprentices (no apostrophe) - stating that "we are apprentices to the masters of the blues-Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, Jimmy Reed, Elmore James and Robert Johnson".

Early original songs included the Top 20 hit singles, "Undecided" and "Living in a Child's Dream" co-written by guitarist Mick Bower.

Masters Apprentices Original LP 1967

Original LP "The Master's Apprentices" (1967) ALP1025 Astor
SLSA cat. ZR 383

Album cover shows a different line-up. Brian Vaughton (drums) and Rick Morrison (guitar) have been replaced by Steve Hopgood (top left) and Tony Summers (bottom right.)

Jim Keays fronted The Masters Apprentices until 1972 as the only constant member. He subsequently had a solo career; also wrote for the teen newspaper, Go-Set, as its Adelaide correspondent in 1970 and its London correspondent in 1973. In more recent years Keays had toured with various incarnations of The Masters Apprentices recruiting new and old members.

He published his memoirs, His Master's Voice: The Masters Apprentices: The Bad Boys of Sixties Rock 'n' Roll in 1999. (SLSA cat. 782.42166092 K25)
In July 2007, Keays was diagnosed with myeloma, which caused his kidneys to fail. By 2009 the cancer was in remission after chemotherapy and stem-cell transplants. However, he died in 2014 from pneumonia due to complications resulting from his cancer, aged 67.

The Masters Apprentices was one of the seminal rock and roll bands of Australia which formed in the early years of the 1960s music explosion, and moved with the times, changing musical style (as well as line-ups) into the early years of the 1970s which saw a harder blues-rock, progressive and even proto-metal sound. Their LPs, EPs and singles are regarded as all time classic records and are highly sought after items on the collectible market. While their early hits such as "Undecided", "Wars or hands of time" (1966) and "Living in a child's dream" (1967) demonstrate a real energy and creativity that is often associated with a band's early work, The Masters are perhaps best known for their later hits "Turn Up Your Radio" (1970) and "Because I Love You" (1971). The later featured on the LP Choice Cuts - recorded at Abbey Road studios (Jim claims to have shared a urinal moment with John Lennon), and with the cover design by Hipgnosis (responsible for many of Pink Floyd's album covers).

Jim Keays
Jim Keays will be inducted into the South Australian Music Hall of Fame posthumously on July 11. Two of the early Masters, Mick Bower and Brian Vaughton, will also be inducted on the night at the Goodwood Institute.
"Do what ya wanna do, be what ya wanna be!"

Rest in peace Doc and Jim!

The State Library holds most of the published recordings on vinyl LP and 45, cassettes, CDs and DVDs, as well as other materials such as posters of both these seminal rock bands. The Library also holds an original archival record group relating to The Masters Apprentices early years in Adelaide (1964-66) when they were managed by Graham Longley (PRG 1280).

Story by: Rob McDade

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