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September 21, 2021

Interview with Ross Wilson, composer and Daddy Cool frontman

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Ross Wilson is one Cool Daddy for Eagle Rock

When the likes of Jimmy Barnes, Michael Gudinski and Sir Elton John call out a song as ‘one of the great Australian rock ‘n’ roll songs’, ‘one of the greatest songs of all time’, and ‘one of my favourite tracks’, then you know it was and still is, a hit.

50 years ago, Daddy Cool’s first single Eagle Rock topped the charts for months on end. It became a genuine cultural phenomenon, and the group’s debut album Daddy Who? went on to break every sales record in the book; between the two of them, the single and the album had a combined 17 weeks at Number #1.

To celebrate fifty years of Daddy Cool and Eagle Rock, composer and Daddy Cool frontman, Ross Wilson, is set to undertake a tour that will include Bluesfest. Seven had a chat with Wilson on the weekend from his home in Port Melbourne.

Firstly, how are you coping with lockdown? Are you getting to do some fun things?

Well, the worst thing about lockdown is that it’s happening all over the place. I’m doing this 50th anniversary tour and we are supposed to be up in Queensland, but we’re not going there next week. 

It’s a bit unsettling. That’s been going on for the last eight months. You never know what’s going to happen next. It’s like walking on quicksand, you’re kind of hoping you’re going to be okay. 

The 50th anniversary of a song, that’s a long time – how does that feel? 

Well, it feels great, actually. Because, how many songs last that long and have an abiding affect on the people in your neighbourhood? So I’m pretty proud of that song. I think it sounded good back then. It still sounds good. When I hear it on the radio, the original one, I go, ‘Well, how did we do that?’ It sounds like about six guys playing and there was only four.

Has it had many resurgences over the 50 years? 

It has. Particularly in New Zealand. It was a hit when we played there in the early days, and it was a hit at the same time in Australia, but then around 1990in New Zealand the song got a second run and got higher [in the charts] than it did the first time. In Australia, it had a resurgence because Molly [Meldrum] was a big fan and he was also DJing. He got a 12 inch copy made and was playing it, and then plugged it on Countdown and it got another chance there. So yay, great!

Is it finding a new audience now?

Everybody seems to know it. I mean, there’s things like I did with the Wiggles, so little kids hear it. I did that about 15 years ago. I was a character called King Mondo Me and we played Eagle Rock. And then I did it again with the new Wiggles about three years ago. And they did a version with a banjo and bagpipes and stuff. Pretty wild. Eagle Rock seems to be everywhere. Young people are still playing it at their 21sts. I get a lot of feedback from people who have played it at funerals. They say ‘It was my dad’s favourite song’.  It’s a song for all occasions – it was also in the movie Wolf Creek, and that’s about the most violent movie ever.

Can you remember back 50 years ago to when you wrote it?

I finished it off in 1970. I started writing it when I was in England. While I was there I started writing the riff. I was trying to teach myself finger picking on guitar and I came up with the riff, and I’m thinking ‘That’s pretty cool’, then I thought ‘This is really good’ and I would play it to other people and ask them if they had ever heard it before, because I thought maybe I’d pinched it, you know? They’d say ‘No, I’ve never heard it before – but it’s pretty good’. 

It’s well documented that I saw a photo in a magazine of some black people in America and the caption said they were ‘cutting the pigeon wing [meaning to execute intricate dance steps gracefully] and doing the Eagle Rock’ and I was like, “I think I’ll call this one Eagle Rock,” because it was really kind of funky… Doin’ the Eagle Rock.

Then I finally made it back to Australia – the first part was written in England, and the chorus was written back here in Australia – I slammed the two together and had a song.

At the time did you think ‘This is really something that is going to go off?’.

Yeah, I did. Particularly when I started playing with the Daddy Cool guys, because I swear that was just the greatest thing that ever happened, because there are no other people who play that song as well as Daddy Cool did. I’ve played it with other people and, and I’ve heard other people do it… And there are some terrible versions. There are some good ones too. I mean, Jimmy Barnes just posted one today on his Facebook. He’s singing a whole lot of Australian anthems for the Olympic teams. And he’s dedicated this one to them and to me, and the 50 years anniversary. 

Oh! You might find it in the charts again next week…

Well, they don’t have charts like they used to, but it is up to 35 million streams on Spotify. So that’s a pretty good indication about staying power. And you know, going up another million or so every month – it’s out there.

When people request it do you roll your eyes and think ‘I can’t sing this song anymore’?

Well, we always save it till the end of the night. Yeah, so people who know me know the whole ritual. We build up to it and then we finish off with Eagle Rock. And then they get into singing along with it and then I do a little bit of a reprise and jump around. And then we make something out of it. It’s good. Now I love playing it. I love it. 

So what what’s your band looking like for Bluesfest?

It’s slightly expanded. Usually I just have bass, drums, keyboard, and guitar. But this time, I’ve got that plus an extra guitar. I’ll be playing a little bit more Daddy Cool stuff than I usually do – quite a few songs, which I haven’t played for a long time, particularly the do-woppy ones with lots of vocals. So it’s good to have the extra players because we can do all the harmonies and the guitar work. It’s great having two guitars that you can really dig in and and get that sound.

Are you still maintaining your energy levels – clearly not from when you were 25, but how are you going on stage?

I’m pretty good. The stage is where I really come alive. That really still energises my whole life. I’ve always loved performing and lockdown has been a real drag in that way. But I have a personal trainer twice a week and I’ve got little dumbbells at home and all that, I go walking too, so I’m pretty fit. 

Will you have new music at Byron?

It’s going to be hard to fit everything in, but I do have some new songs and a couple that I’ve been doing live that go down really, really well – I’ll slip one or two in there as well. They’re Bluesfest style songs. There’ll be some very cool stuff that I haven’t played for a long time and there’s gonna be a couple of surprises that no-one will expect at all. 

Have you looked at the Bluesfest lineup? 

Well, this is an all Aussie lineup – the first time ever – and so it’s like everybody you ever wanted to see is going to be there. I think I’ll be a guest on a few stages at Byron and I’ll be having guests as well. I look forward to seeing you in October. 

Bluesfest is on from 1–4 October. 

Tickets at https://www.bluesfest.com.au.

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