Ashley Naylor is at home in Melbourne, quietly absorbing the magnitude of the mission at hand. “I’m up to me neck in 33 songs and there’s booby traps in all of ’em,” the gun guitarist says down the phone.
The cunningly trip-wired tunes comprise classics by the Easybeats and later works by writers Harry Vanda and George Young. “An extra bar here, a modulation in the last chorus there, a solo that might go on for an inordinate number of bars …”
Don’t get him started on the sophistication of the chord progressions. “Friday On My Mind is preposterous,” he splutters. He mentions trad jazz, the Beatles, and what it must feel like to faithfully deliver a Shakespeare soliloquy.
Then he really has to go. Easyfever, the tribute concert starring Chris Cheney, Phil Jamieson, Kram, Tex Perkins and Tim Rogers, is almost upon us. Failure is not an option.
By crafty design and tragic accident, conditions are ripe for an Easyfever resurgence. The leader of the pioneering Australian rock band of the 1960s, writer-guitarist Young, died in October, a few months after the concert was announced.
For Jak Housden, the former Badloves guitarist who will be musical director for the show, the loss felt close to home. He was music consultant on the recent ABC TV bio-drama, Friday On My Mind, and was expecting to meet Young at a screening just days before the sad news broke.
“The people at Alberts [the Easybeats’ record company] all said ‘George will be the most critical one’,” Housden says. “Sadly he never got to see what we’d done, so that’s really upsetting.”
Those who did tune in would have relished what is surely the most glorious story in the big book of Australian rock’n’roll. With charismatic wild boy Little Stevie Wright out front, the band of Dutch and British expats blazed a trail from Sydney’s Villawood Migrant Hostel to the top of the UK charts.
“To me, the Easybeats is really like the Beatles of Australia,” Kram says. “They were such a wonderful bunch of misfits … really making it up as they went along.”
Along with Cheney (the Living End) and Jamieson (Grinspoon), the Spiderbait drummer was a member of the Wrights, the fleeting supergroup who re-recorded the 1974 mega-hit Evie in 2005. Vanda himself produced the session, much to the lasting awe of all concerned.
“Harry told us, ‘You had to be able to fight’,” Kram says. “In those days, in Australia especially, if you were a musician, guys would pick you all the time ’cause you had long hair and you were dressed sharp.
“People were really threatened by these individuals who were so different to the norm. I can’t imagine what that would have been like.”
All these years later, the romantic view is that the Easybeats were fighting for all of us. Ripped off and broken by the forces of fashion and touring, they split in 1969. But a long series of victorious footnotes lay ahead.
First was the briefly brilliant solo career of Stevie Wright: a classic cautionary tale with a killer Vanda and Young soundtrack in the aforementioned 11-minute epic, Evie, and a pair of revered mid ’70s albums.
“I got Stevie first,” says Jamieson. “I’ve been really close friends with his son, Nick, since 1995. He was best man at my wedding.
“I became more familiar with the Easybeats’ work through Nick but I got to have some quality time with Stevie and I went to his funeral [in 2015]. So those songs mean a lot to me, personally.”
There’s a universal bond, too, between this generation of performers and the Easybeats’ most spectacular torchbearers. As producers and mentors, Vanda and Young were instrumental in launching little brothers Malcolm and Angus into the rock stratosphere with AC/DC in the ’70s.
“It probably wasn’t until high school that I put the dots together and realised that George was the older brother of Malcolm and Angus,” says Cheney, who toured with AC/DC in 2001.
“Then I discovered their Flash and the Pan stuff and realised they produced a lot of pop stuff as well. It just blows my mind, the magnitude of talent in that family and the incredible diversity.
“George and Harry were such a great team creatively, inspiring each other as they went along. There’s only a handful of people like that. They were really at the forefront of performer/producer/songwriter/arrangers. They sort of had it all.”
They had too much for one concert, if you were to factor in the hits they wrote and produced for John Paul Young, the Ted Mulry Gang and a stable of other Countdown regulars.
Following the cruel loss of AC/DC’s Malcolm Young just weeks after his older brother, Jak Housden admits it was tempting to broaden the Easyfever repertoire, “but we decided that would be straying a little too far … We’ve got our hands full with the Easybeats, Flash and the Pan and Stevie’s solo stuff.”
Which only leaves the potentially bruising business of dividing up the spoils on the night.
“Jostling is an understatement,” Cheney says. “Can you imagine? Phil Jamieson, Tim Rogers, Tex Perkins …? I wanted to do Blackeyed Bruiser but Tim and Tex are doing that and I’m not gonna argue ’cause they’re much bigger than me. It’s gonna be fine. There’s a lot of good tunes to go around.”
December 14 – Anita’s Theatre, Thirroul
December 16 – Eaton’s Hill Hotel, Brisbane
December 19 – The Forum, Melbourne