Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Girl Trouble Leads To A Temporary Heartache For Swanee - Episode II

Which leads us to one John Swan AKA Swanee. Firstly a bit of background to the John Swan story. John was born in Glasgow but emigrated to Australia with his family at age 8. His family settled in the tough migrant, working-class Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth, his family of course including younger brother James AKA Jimmy Barnes. Following a short stint in the army, Swan joined Adelaide based blues outfit Hard Time Killing Floor during 1971, as their drummer. But with a set of raucous rock vocal chords, John Swan was soon on a new tour of duty as the lead singer of Adelaide rock outfit Fraternity, replacing one Bon Scott in 1974 (Scott of course going on to front AC/DC). During 1975 younger brother Jimmy briefly took over vocal duties with Fraternity, with Swan relegated to drumming duties. But Fraternity was in its death throws by then, and soon John Swan left to become the drummer with Jim Keay’s Southern Cross, which was immediately followed by an 18 month stint with Feather.

The next chapter beyond Feather saw John Swan launch his own band called Swanee in November 1978. Initially playing Led Zeppelin and Bad Company style covers, Swanee quickly built up a strong live following around Sydney. Soon they were incorporating original rock songs like ‘The Road Keeps Moving Sideways’ and ‘Crazy Dreams’, the latter becoming Swanee’s debut single on the WEA label (OZ#68) in
late ‘79. The line-up of the band changed markedly over the ensuing year but by late 1980 Swanee’s debut album ‘Into The Night’ (OZ#66) was in the can. The band didn’t yield any more hit singles but featured a solid mix of melodic rock numbers performed by a group of musicians well on top of their game. Guest players on the album included a young guitar ace by the name of Tommy Emmanuel.

The hard work and constant touring finally paid dividends in late 1981 when Swanee released the single ‘If I Were A Carpenter’. The cover of the Tim Hardin penned classic, which John Swan imbued with his own powerful vocal style, rocketed to #5 on the Australian charts and suddenly John Swan was as big on the charts as younger brother Jimmy Barnes’ outfit Cold Chisel (who Swan had once also
performed vocals for). The follow up single ‘Samantha’ (OZ#90) missed the mark, but ‘Temporary Heartache’ returned Swanee to the top 20 a few months later (#18). ‘Temporary Heartache’ was featured on Swanee’s second album ‘This Time It’s Different’. A trimmed down line-up of the band recorded the album with contributions again from a string of top notch session players including Renee Geyer on backing vocals, guitarists Kirk Lorange and Tommy Emmanuel, and drummer Mark Kennedy. The album climbed steadily to a peak of #22, with the follow up single ‘Lady What’s Your Name’ scoring Swanee a #13 hit. The piano based love ballad was quite a departure from Swanee’s usual fare, but it did illustrate just how malleable John Swan’s vocals could be.

By the end of 1982 John Swan’s old Feather band mate Stuart Fraser had joined the Swanee line-up , along with ex-Sherbet guitarist Harvey James. In July 1983 they released the power
ballad ‘Sail Away’, which though one of Swanee’s strongest songs, only managed to navigate to #52 on the charts. Yet another revamped band cast released the live set ‘Ready For Action - Live In The Snow’ (OZ#31) in late 1983. A couple of low key singles followed, the best of them ‘I’m Ready/Carrie Anne’ released in early 1984 (eventually crawling to #72 later in the year). Swanee concluded his tenure with WEA by releasing a ‘best of’ compilation in late 1984 titled ‘Days Gone By’ (OZ#52).

A new deal with RCA saw the release of the album ‘Bushido’ (OZ#73) in April 1985, but the singles ‘You Oughta Know Me By Now’ and ‘Turn Away’ indicated that the record buying public had largely turned away from Swanee’s music. ‘Bushido’ was essentially a solo album for John Swan, though still under the name Swanee, with another stellar roster of session
players recruited for the project (among the backing vocalists on the album were Renee Geyer and future Noiseworks’ vocalist Jon Stevens).

In early 1987 John Swan joined the line-up of the ever popular Party Boys (see future post). His tenure with the Party Boys coincided with the cover band’s most commercially successful period, including their #1 cover of the John Kongas song ‘He’s Gonna Step On You Again’. He fronted the band on their support slot for AC/DC’s 1988 Australian tour - kind of a full circle journey given Swan’s original gig replacing Bon Scott in Fraternity. He revived his solo career with the 1989 single ‘Lucille’ for Mushroom (which I purchased on cassingle) and the 1990 single ‘Blood Is Thicker Than Water’ (which I bought on vinyl 45), both under the name Swanee. In 1997 Swanee released the album
‘Heart And Soul’ on the East West indie label, and toured once more, albeit briefly, with the party Boys in the late 90s. In 2005 he recorded the song ‘What Will They Say’ with brother Jimmy Barnes, from Barnes’ album ‘Double Happiness’, and most recently released the album ‘Have A Little Faith’ (2007).

One of the most gifted vocalists to grace the Australian music scene, John Swan has maintained an active involvement over the last decade in a number of capacities. He’s a regular of the music festival circuit, is involved with a number of charitable causes and lectures at the JMC Music Academy.

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