I first stumbled upon this album at a garage sale, and it was the 'Garth Porter' reference on the back cover that first caught my attention. It was only when I got home and played this album that I realised that I had found a real gem. Because the 80's was not a popular period of music for me at the time (New Wave and Punk were dominating the music scene), I missed out on some really great music - particular with respect to Aussie bands, and Scary Bill was one such band.
Scary Bill was formed in 1987 in St.Kilda, Melbourne and their debut album was produced by ex-Sherbet keyboardist Garth Porter (with the exception of "Cross Roads" and "I Can't Raise My Gun" which were produced by Mark Opitz).
The band used to rehearse in a picture framing factory somewhere in Fitzroy, Melbourne. Down the back of the factory was a machine that was used for cutting metal picture frames. It was old and rickety, and presumably a bit scary to use. One of the staff had written "Scary Bill" on it. It was then revealed to the band that this particular staff member (female) grew up in a town where a very strange man used to wander the streets, who had been nicknamed Scary Bill.
Neil left after a few months, and Rob O'Connell joined the band. Scary Bill were a kind of "tough country" band at that stage, with a residency at the Great Britain Hotel, Richmond. Rob O'Connell (and Alan Powell) have been playing together in bands for about 35 years! Kim worked with them for a year or two in another band called 'Temper Temper', and finally encouraged them to move from Sydney to Melbourne. Kim was playing in both Scary Bill and Temper Temper until Scary Bill was signed.
Rob quit Scary Bill in 1988 and was quickly replaced by Steve 'Chuck' Carter. Chuck had played in many bands, including a brief stint with Geisha and a band which also featured Paul Hester (but a long time before Crowded House was formed).
Soon after this, Scary Bill won a 3XY competition (band of the month), and soon after were signed to Polygram, with Mark Opitz (Angels, Cold Chisel, Richard Clapton, Divinyls, Noiseworks) to produce their first and only album. But 3 months into the project, there was a falling out between Mark and their management, and so a replacement producer was found - namely Garth Porter.
Mark Opitz was very much a rock producer, and went for a raw guitar band sound. However, "Cross Roads" is the only song on the album that was fully produced by Mark. "I Can't Raise A Gun" was also produced by Mark, but had a remix done by Garth. (Planet X was also produced by Mark, but didn't appear on the album and was released as a single sometime later).
Garth Porter's approach was almost the opposite to Mark Opitz. We went from raw guitar production, to a cleaner, more produced sound. These two different producing styles didn't really gel, and the best songs are those fully produced by one or the other.
Their first single released in November, 1988 "Crossroads / Living In This Town" reached #80 on the Aria Charts. Mark Demetrius wrote in Rolling Stone (Jan, 1989 p80) "Scary Bill's 'Crossroads (Welcome Stranger)' is a simple slinky crystal-clear boogie with solid booming production, razor sharp guitar and a neat line in disilusion. The B-side 'Living In This Town' is equally fed-up, but amusing...Oh Town/Why did they build you at all? It sounds incongruously like Little Feat having a party"
They also released a video clip to promote the single, and it was filmed in the cattle pavilion at the Melbourne Show grounds. They made the giant metal heart at the picture framing factory to use in the clip - and is featured both at the start and towards the end of the clip.
A promotional photo was also taken with the heart as shown below. Their follow up single "Western World / Over The Hills" did slightly better, reaching #74 on the Aria Charts in June, 1989.
Video clips of both singles can be seen on YouTube at the following locations: Cross Roads and Western World
Scary Bill also produced a demo of Planet X which won a music award, which resulted in the performance at the top of the Myer building in Melbourne. The compare was Daryl Cotton, when he hosted the children's TV program "The Early Bird Show" with Marty The Monster. I have also included this video clip in this post as it serves two purposes, firstly to give you a better insight into the band members and also as a tribute to the late 'Darryl Cotton' who had an huge impact on Australian music both on and off the stage.
So, what happened to the guys once Scary Bill disbanded in late 1989?
A new band was formed immediately after Scary Bill comprising of Kim Sampson, Steve Gunther, Steve Carter, Paul Gatcum (who played sax on the Scary Bill album and was a long standing member of the Tinsley Waterhouse Band), Peter de Ryk on keyboards, Tania Pizzari and Jane Peachy on vocals. The band was called 'Magic Circle' and entered the Yamaha rock contest in '92, winning the Victorian division. They were eventually beaten in the National competition by a Sydney band called Body Works.
Phil Hyde went on to work with Broderick Smith for a few years playing guitar on his 1992 LP 'Suitcase' and 1994 LP 'My Shiralee', as well as co-writing many tracks with him, including the recent release 'Snowblind Moon'. About 7 years ago, he started writing and recording together again with Kim Sampson. Phil still stays in touch, but now has his own home recording system set up and plugs away at his own material. He still does a bit of co-writing with a variety of people, including Colin Hay and Kim Gyngell.
In fact, Colin Hay was a big fan of Scary Bill in their early days, and gigged with them on several occasions. The picture below was taken from one such session.
Steve Gunther started a family and pretty much dropped out of the music scene (although he borrowed a bass guitar from Kim recently to jam with a blues band). Steve Carter continued to play in a covers band while Neil Kelly studied music and became an academic/music teacher.
Kim Sampson and Rob O'Connell reunited some years ago to form 'Brown Paper Bag', as a result of rekindling the period of Temper Temper from '86-'87. The band consists of Rob O'Connor (Guitar, Bass,Vocals), Alan Powell (guitar), Clint Quan (Bass,Backing vocals) and of course Kim Sampson on drums.
Brown Paper Bag have been likened to Black Crows, Led Zeppelin and Midnight Oil and you can find more information about this band (and their latest CD) on their website.
This post consists of an mp3 rip (320kps) taken from my virgin vinyl copy. Full album artwork and all band photos are included plus label scans. I am also including a couple of bonus live tracks - firstly the "Planet X" recording from the Early Bird Show (recorded on the rooftop of the Melbourne Myers Apartment Store) and a live recording of "Western World" which was showcased on Countdown in late 1989.
I would like to acknowledge the assistance of Kim Sampson who kindly provided me with a majority of the band's biography and photos included in this post. When I first started researching Scary Bill there was scant information available, but I was lucky enough to find the connection between Kim's current band and Scary Bill, and made contact with him. It is always a buzz to correspond with band members directly and acquire information first hand and Kim has been more than generous with his time. It's a shame that Scary Bill never hit the BIG time, as they were all very talented musicians. Their music and lyrics are very catchy and both singles should have been instant hits. A couple of other standout tracks on the album for me are "Into Your Heart" and "I Can't Raise A Gun (Anymore)".
So, if you haven't heard this album, then do yourself a favour and grab it now, cause' this is one album that should definitely not slip under the radar again.
01 - Western World
02 - The People's Palace
03 - One Big Love
04 - Silver Top
05 - Cross Roads
06 - Into Your Heart
07 - Fine Time
08 - I Can't Raise A Gun (Anymore)
09 - Station
10 - Baby
11 - Planet X (Bonus Live)
12 - Western World (Bonus Live)
Phillip Hyde (Vocals, Guitar)
Steve Gunther (Guitars, Vocals)
Steve 'Chuck' Carter (Bass, Vocals)
Kim Sampson (Drums, Vocals)
Saxaphone - Paul Gatcum
Backing Vocals - Lisa Bade, Nicky Nichols, Greg Hine
Scary Bill Link (133Mb)