Lobby Loyde: Turn It Up
Lobby Loyde did it first and he did it loudest.
In August, when he was offered belated recognition at the age of 65 and inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, Lobby Loyde was too ill to speak, but he still managed to strap on a guitar to play. That’s a fitting reflection of a life spent playing music since the early 1960s, a career that includes R&B outfit the Purple Hearts, psychedelic combo the Wild Cherries, a key role in the Aztecs alongside Billy Thorpe, fronting the Coloured Balls, and a stint in London as a solo artist during the punk years followed by a return to Australia and an influential presence as a producer. Several days after the black-tie event, Loyde, who is in the final stages of lung cancer, did speak, adressing everything from his professional beginnings to his own mortality. Rose Tattoo’s Angry Anderson, whose band was inaugurated alongside Loyde, said of him that night, “More than anyone else, Lobby helped create the Australian guitar sound. Long before Angus [Young] or Billy Thorpe or the Angels or Rose Tattoo. Lobby inspired Australian bands to step forward and play as loud and aggressively as they could. People are still trying to copy it today.”
Was being inducted into the Hall of Fame a milestone for you?
Let's just say that I would have thought I'd be the last guy to ever get a gong. And, being a pessimist, I'd say if I wasn’t terminally ill I wouldn’t [laughs]. I think my friends lobbied the hell outta the Hall of Fame. But you’ve still gotta get the votes to get up there so they must have done a good job.
In his speech, Billy Thorpe praised you for your originality and influence. I know he’'s your friend, but how did that feel?
Well, he didn’'t have a weep, so that was the best part. He was a bit emotional up there, and he was prone to saying nice stuff. We're probably beter known outside of Australia than we are in Australia. My generation of guys – Rose Tatoo and those sort of bands – we’ve got a fairly good reputation outside of Australia because we were unrelenting and fairly hardcore. It's a small market in Australia, so you’re not actually doing it for success because, let’s face it, if you were you'd be a long time waiting. I went to England in the midle of the seventies and I was there just in time for the punk revolution. I used to hear [the Saints’] “Stranded” on the BBC and it was the most intense bit of music coming off the radio. The only band that got anywhere near the Saints was the [Sex] Pistols and the Clash. They were great, those two bands.
What were they like?
Intense. But we were playing with Southern Electric, so we were playing to the older, sophisticated audience. We were playing intensely bizarre music.
You went to England frustrated with the Australian music scene?
We went there because Virgin were going to release Obsecration. The problem was the Australian record company that recorded it, Rainbird, had chosen to dump the company into receivership, do a big tax write-off and save a lot of money. So we whistled dixie for the material. In fact, some of the material was found at the dump. So, after receivership, we obviously get dumped at the tip. That's what you do with good old Australian music – I mean, who keeps it around?
Southern Electric was opening for bands like Ultravox in England?
Yeah, we opened for Ultravox once. That was quite a shock for Ultravox, I’m sure. I actually gave the guitarist from Ultravox [Steve Shears] my pedal board, because he had a terrible bloody guitar sound. I showed him a few things. Initially, Ultravox were quite an intense band, with the original singer [John Foxx] they had a much more challenging sound. Midge [Ure], of course, came along and had the [mimes operatic voice]. From that day onwards it was hits. And I don’t think he quite got the message. I thought it was one of those fatal errors whereby you become famous despite yourself. That’s not good for you. It’s kinda like you replace John Lydon in the Sex Pistols and you put in some other guy who [sings God Save the Queen in an operatic style]. And everybody goes wow! Thank God that never happened, but if that did you could've understood why the compromise is made. Because you get so much acid from the record companies; everyone else says you’re good, but they’re not seeing the figures on paper. So you beter get some figures on paper, brother.
You were live-mixing Doll by Doll in England as well.
Ah, great band. [I remember] mixing at a pub in the East End and the only person that didn’t get hurt was me. I’m right in the midle of the room. Some cosmic signal happened, and it’s out with the pool cues and the pool balls, it was on for young and old. The police stood at the door and waited for the brawl to finish, and then they arrested everybody, as you would. The band and me were expunged from this whole thing. It was like we were in the third dimension; the whole brawl went on around us. That was an experience; it was mix-on regardless, the band played on. And I think they played fantastic music for an incredible all- in brawl.
What effect did being amongst this energy have on you musically?
The missing element in Australia was the intensity in the audience, because we had the intensity in the bands, but it'd never translated into the audience. The new wave audience was intense, I mean, they were there for the music; believe me, they were there because they loved those bands. When Clash played, or when the Pistols played there was an intensity in the crowd that was unbelievable. Even with higher bands, like Devo and, most importantly, Pere Ubu. The keyboard player had car-crashes, breaking glass, gunshots, God knows what on his keyboard. The guitarist only had three strings on his guitar – B-52 style – because he was only using it to drive sound, and the bass player was from Hell. When they came onstage, the whole night just went whoosh, an hour and a half turned into three seconds – I absorbed every note, it was just awesome.
You were inspired by all this energetic punk music, but your next project was Live With Dubs, this rock fusion thing: Anti-punk. Why?
Because in my age group, that’s what we played. We could actually play to the punk audience and not get booed off.
Just because you were so tough and hard?
Tough and hard, yeah. We used to play at the Roundhouse, the Camden Loft, the Marquee, and places like that. And we could play that kind of music because of the intensity, and because of the fact that you could chew the music – it was chewy-thick. They loved us. So we actually got on with that generation of people even though we were old farts. The lyrics were much more new-wave then anyone actually gave them credit for. You write music for the times, and it was psychedelic and intense. That’s kinda what Live With Dubs was about, that intensity of Times Square and the West End of London. It didn’t relate to the audience quite frankly. And nobody bought it – no one gave a damn. It was fair enough and, y’know, the lead singer in our band [Chris ‘Mandu’ Moraitis] was crazy as a loon and did go nuts, it was just how it was.
The Coloured Balls were branded by the Australian media as anti-social misfits. Fair?
Well, they were quite intense. I mean, anything that’s intense, anything that challenges the norm will always get a bollixing in Australia. We’re quite a conservative bunch of people in a very conservative country. People talk about the Yanks being conservative. We’re the absolute outright winners in the conservative stakes; you can’t get any straighter than the Aussie outlook. We see ourselves as big, inner-city, trendy, dazzling urbanites and actually we’re not. We’re hokey and we’re quite dangerous. Mate, don’t fall afoul of the Aussie batle-axe because you’re a dead man. Coloured Balls had an intense audience.
That’s it, the Sharpies. They liked that kind of music, they listened to it, they got off more to Human Being and G.O.D. than they got off to any of the other stuff. It was a media beat-up, everybody went along and said, ‘violent crowd.’. Three guys had a fight out of a thousand. I’ve seen worse at the boxing.
What was the Australian music landscape like in the sixties and seventies? Was it really just boring, stagnant pop?
Yep, it was.
Was it difficult for you to operate in that environment?
We operated in the rhythm and blues area. And the harder rock area, so we were okay. But only because we had an inner-city fanbase of people. We had that disenfranchised youth from the Polytechnics, the Universities and High School who were listening to music that was intensely Chicago, or intensely London, or intensely New York, and so we put it together. But the rest of the music was bloody sissy pop. The worst elements of pop. It wasn’t even good pop, it wasn’t even well writen, it wasn’t even well performed. It was pop for the sake of pop because that's how you got a crowd – basically cover bands. Along comes the Beatles, so 25 Melbourne bands all sound like the Beatles, I mean, what the hell? Along come the Rolling Stones – 25 bands sound just like the Rolling Stones. But we never went that way, we went another way.
What made you so aware and driven to be original?
Well, my old man was a muso. He played in an 18-piece jazz band. And he used to be always on my case about [playing] sissy rock n roll instead of playing genuine blues and R&B. He took me to a building site once – he was a builder – and he walked out on the girder, five floors up. I had to crawl on my hands and knees. He said, “You're not going to be a builder, are you, mate?” and I said, “I’m terrified up here.” I had a phobia of heights and I couldn’t take it. And, the very day I was there, some guy fired a ramset and it went straight through the girder and stuck in this guy’s helmet, and he dropped four floors to his doom. If the bolt in the head didn't kill him, the fall killed him, believe me – he was dead as a maggot. And that was it for me, that was my last day ever on a building site. No health and safety in those days, mate. The union would be unimpressed, I believe.
Why did you leave the Aztecs in 1970?
Thorpe and I have known one another since we were kids. Him and Barry Gibb [the Bee Gees] and I were the louts of the Brisbane music scene. Gibby was the pop star, Thorpe was the energetic guy, and I was the kinda weird alternate guy. I’d known Bill a lot, but I was writing Coloured Balls music and that and the Aztecs were different. I had to go and find guys that could play that stuff because that's where I wanted to go. The Aztecs were great to play in, an energetic band, but, without being rude, it was pub rock.
Thorpe has credited you as giving the Aztecs their harder, more driving edge.
Well he did Over the Rainbow and I Told the Brook, and he was wearing powder blue suits and driving an Aston-Martin. When he came to Melbourne they were actually on their way to England. We had a jam, and so for a couple of years I played in the Aztecs. It was good for him and good for me, because I realised where I wanted to go. From the Wild Cherries to the Aztecs is a strange deviation, the Wild Cherries were quite psychedelic. We’d play a piece of music 20- minutes long and were really bizarre and bent, but in those days they never recorded that kinda stuff. When they [the record company] came to listen to us, we had four ten-minute songs and two twenty-minute songs. They went, “that doesn’t work.”. With the Aztecs we made The Hoax Is Over, and in listening to it I kind of thought: not intense enough for me. I wanted to go somewhere more intense. Coloured Balls music was in my head – I was writing things like ‘“Human Being’” and all that sort of stuff, so I had to go somewhere and the only guys I could find to play it were young guys. The guys from my generation didn't want to know about it.
The Aztecs audience would yell, “Suck more piss!” What was that about?
They were holding up pots. Some idiot decided that the drinking age should be lowered from 21 to 18 and [pub hours] should at the same time go from six o’clock to 10 o’clock at night. So you had this massive generation of guys who could now get a beer and drive – there was no breath test law. “Suck more piss” was like [giving the finger]. It’s actually not what people think it is. It was: now that we’re eighteen and we’re pissed, we’re going to drive home. And you think whoa, brother. Consequently a lot of people wiped themselves out in those days. We used to come upon the most horrific crashes going home from the gig.
Did you introduce Billy Thorpe to LSD?
That’s not true. What happened was a psychiatrist did, a mate of ours, Stanley Gold. He said, “You guys are into psychedelic drugs, you ever tried LSD?” And he had Sandoz liquid, the real thing. And that was fan-fucking-tastic. That was intense. Well, after that I was writing things like ‘“G.O.D.’” and shit.
That set you up for the Coloured Balls.
That completely destroyed my Aztec lifestyle because I could no longer turn a blind eye to the audience and to the music. I know that sounds rude, but I was turning a blind eye to it because I was drinking a bit, smoked a lot of pot. It was fun being on stage, it was a great band to walk on stage with because it rocked like hell, it was as loud as buggery, and it was intense. But I was missing the Wild Cherries. See, the Wild Cherries, we were taking a litle bit of LSD and smoking a bit of pot and we were quite a psychedelic band. The Aztecs was a hiatus from that. The Aztecs smoked a bit of pot, but they drank a lot of booze. A botle of Scotch every night, y’know. That’s a lifestyle, you get used to that one prety quickly because it’s like a pair of comfortable slippers – you slip ‘em on and off you go. It’s just bad for you.
You’ve never been dependant on drugs?
No. I’ve got an anti-adictive personality; I’m one of those sort of guys – I can walk away from things. I can walk away from bands. I’ve always had this ability to walk away. I dunno what it is, but if it bores me that’s it. I’ve had a lot of friends who were adicted to heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, and they always say, “What’s your story, it’s take it or leave it with you?” If I felt like it I would, but if I didn’t feel like it I wouldn’t and that’s actually weird for people – they can’t quite cope with that. My psychologist said, “That’s what’s keeping you alive now with your cancer, because you turn your back on it, and you walk away from it.” And it’s true. I’m living till the end because that’s just how I am. And y’know, I’ll probably drop dead live on stage, hopefully. That’d be fantastic.
That would be your ideal way to go?
Bloody oath. Rather that than in a bed gibbering. I mean, Christ, I saw what happened to me when I had a fit, and ended up in hospital for a week and a half. I woke up with this black chick with dreads. She said, “I’m your interpreter.” I said, “Yeah?” She said when you came to hospital you said you only understood Swahili and Greek. I said “No, I said to the ambulance driver, ‘Everything you’re saying sounds like Swahili and Greek’.” She said, “Well I’m Swahili, this is a good gig, so don’t blow it.” I really don’t want to go to a gibbering end on the life- support machine. I said to my daughter, who’s got my power of atorney, “The minute I’m dependent on boxes, tubes, and devices, turn the lot off.” And she will.
Have you come to terms with your mortality?
Is it something you’ve always had figured out?
Well, that’s my anti-adictive personality. I mean, life’s an intense drug; it’s the most pleasurable drug of all. Life’s something you get really high on, but the fact that we all die sooner or later is one of those intense facts of life. What’s the biggest luxury in life? You’re not wondering if someone’s going to shoot you or someone’s going to stab you to death; you actually know that in x amount of time you’ll go [clicks fingers] – that’s bloody good, isn’t it?
But you don’t know when.
You don’t know when, but you’ve got a rough itinerary. Well, most people don’t. A lot of people live till they’re 93 and they’re dribbling on themselves, and they’re full of tubes and everyone’s pating ‘em on the head and the Alzheimer's is so profoundly into them they don’t even know who’s talking to them. I don’t want to be there. It’s just not me. I’d rather know that just around the corner’s the brick wall and I’m going to slam into it, I’d rather know that, because it’s kinda intensely interesting. Y’know people who drown and come back? They all talk about the same thing, about white light, blah, blah, blah. Which is when you stop breathing and your eyes stop working. Once your brain cells are wasting money on your vision you see white light because your eyes are now turned off. If that’s the worst that we’re going to run into, if all you’ve got to cope with is dysfunction and the doorway out – sounds prety good to me.
Do you believe in God, or a higher power?
I’m spiritual. I’m intensely spiritual. I've got a feeling about everything, y’know what I mean? It’s an intense place, the world; the universe is an intense place, [it’s] so complex. It really is a giant molecule, all those litle atoms of solar systems everywhere. If you look at that peripheral power, it’s prety phenomenal shit. It’s prety hard to dismiss that. I mean, it’s very spiritual stuff. But actually giving you the name's prety hard. If I was having a soft spot for anyone, I’d be having it for the Budhists because of their logical clarity. But even then, there’s still too much name stuff in there.
How would you like to be remembered?
As being fairly okay with making records for young guys. I think I’ve [produced] better records than I’ve ever made myself. Not that I make a lot.
Have you got a favourite?
Aspirations by X would be my first favourite. The Sunnyboys, the first Machinations [Esteem], some of the stuff I did with Olympic Sideburns. I’m doing stuff all the time with young bands; I just like the young bands. I love the Painters and Dockers stuff, I liked ‘“Kill Kill Kill’” – that was fantastic. It was just fun to make those records even though you probably don’t know I produced those because I think I’m Cyril Corsworth, sometimes I’m Fred Faulty, I’m all these different people on records.
And your real name is John. How did Lobby Loyde come about?
Because I’m an intense bastard and I talk hard at people, I’m a lobbyist. Bob Dames [bass player with the Purple Hearts] started calling me Lobby because I would lobby the fuck out of people. And he reckoned that I was the most intense prick he’d ever met. My last name’s’ L-y-d-e, so he put the ‘o’ in because it rhymed beter. Lobby Loyde, not Lobby Lyde. As a lobbyist you can’t be lying, you’ve got to be believable.
I heard you changed your name because you were running from the tax department and speaker suppliers.
Nah, bullshit. You couldn’t run from the tax department, they know your imprint. It had nothing to do with the tax department. It had nothing to do with speaker companies; I’ve never paid for a speaker in my friggin’ life, by the way.
But you were fond of blowing them up.
Yes! The speaker guys used to see me as a challenge: “If Lobby can’t blow up your friggin’ speakers, they must be okay”. In the end I was using 32 12’s and 16 15’s. If you had my amp today it would cost you $70,000 dollars. The bastard thing used to put out 1000 wats RMS, it was a serious amp; you could have cooked eggs on the transfer, which weighed 75 kilos. But the tax department didn’t want to even know me. I’ve never made enough money for them to chase me, quite frankly. The tax department called me in once for an interview, they asked me how much I earnt. I told them and they all laughed amongst themselves and let me go. They thought that was really amusing, that someone could live on that. They had a whole different vision of the music industry after talking to me. They said, “We thought you guys were doing alright, we didn’t realise you were living in poverty!” When they get my tax form there’s nothing to read in there, mate. I’m a fuckin’ pensioner for Christ’s sake. I’ve never made any money out of music, ever.
Nup, never made any money. [Michael] Gudinski paid me royalties for the Sunnyboys and Machinations. But I mean, X never gave me a fuckin’ copy of the album, if you don’t mind. I had to ask ‘em for one.