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Interview: HERM KOVAC (TMG)

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Last month saw the release of The Essential Ted Mulry & TMG CD, featuring fourteen tracks both from Ted’s solo catalogue and that of his band, TMG. Fans are excited to finally have some of those songs on CD. Although a few of the band’s albums were released in CD format some years ago, they are no longer readily available and have become as rare as hen’s teeth.

I caught up with former TMG drummer, Herm Kovac, recently for a chat about the new CD, his work as a successful country music producer and to reminisce over some memories from those good ol’ days. “It was Alberts idea to put out the CD,” Herm tells me. “When they called me in to look at the songs, I said ‘It can’t be The Essential TMG’ because half the singles aren’t there.” Some of the band’s hits, such as ‘My Little Girl’, and ‘Naturally‘ were released through Mushroom and Herm is optimistic these and others will eventually see the light of day once more, perhaps on a subsequent Essentials CD. But, for now, he is happy that the record company has chosen TMG for their first release in the Essentials series. “It’s the Alberts Years,” he declares. He is also pleased that the band’s first recording, ‘Here We Are‘ was included. “That was a pivotal song. That was the first song the band ever recorded and the first song I heard Ted write. It’s one of my favourites.”

Unfortunately, as Herm points out, Alberts have lost a lot of the master tapes. “Living in the moment, you probably don’t think that something’s going to be significant in twenty or thirty years time so you just store it haphazardly. I was pleased that ‘Marcia’ was on there because that was one of my all time favourite solo songs that Ted did. When he was a solo artist before the band formed and we used to just back him, that was one of the songs I used to be eager to play.” He is also pleased that ‘You’re All Woman’ was included, so that people are aware that it was, in fact, a Ted Mulry composition. “We played it before Sherbet ever recorded it. When Sherbet brought it out as a single, people used to come up to us and say ‘Jeeze, we really like that Sherbet song.’ And I would say ‘Actually, Ted wrote it.’ but they thought it was a Sherbet song’

The Ted Mulry Gang formed in 1972. Fate drew Herm and guitarist Les Hall together with solo singer Ted Mulry. Herm relates the story of how they became the band that was destined to have rock music fans steppin’ out all around Australia. “I’d just left school and formed a Newcastle band called Velvet Underground,” he explains. “Les was in another band called Influence of Cecil Rhodes. We saw him play and we wanted him for the band. He joined and we played around Newcastle, came second in some Battle of the Bands and then decided to come to Sydney. We were looking for another guitarist and someone said ‘I know a guy that would really suit you guys – Malcolm Young, George Young’s brother.’ So we went round to Malcolm’s place and I met this little skinhead who said ‘Yeah, whaddaya want?’ I got behind Les because I thought he was going to belt the shit out of me and that was Angus. That was my first meeting with Angus and then we asked to see Malcolm. We went in and had a chat and I remember Angus said ‘Oi! Come in here,’ so we went into his bedroom and he was standing there with his SG on and then he went into the routine; jumping around, lying on his back playing, jumping on his dressing table and then at the end of it, he said ‘What do you think?’ I said ‘Do you know any chords?’”

So Malcolm joined the band and, as Herm tells me, it was at a show at the Trocadero where they eventually met Ted who was performing as a solo artist. The line up also included John Paul Young in a band called Elmtree. “Ted was there and he just looked like the reluctant pop star,” recalls Herm. “He had these clothes on that he looked like he didn’t want to know about. He was standing in the corner. No one was talking to him and I felt sorry for him so I went over, introduced myself and we both said we loved The Beatles and I said ‘If you’re not doing anything, do you want to come back to our place later at Mona Vale for a cup of tea?’ With any other band, it was ‘Do you wanna come back for a joint?’ With TMG, it was always ‘Do you want to come back for a cup of tea?’ so he came back and we sat up til about four o’clock in the morning.” From that point on, Velvet Underground were booked on the same shows as Ted. As Herm explains, “We’d play and then back Ted because we were mates and it sort of evolved.”

“Ted then went to England, using the name of Steve Ryder, to promote his record, ‘Ain’t it Nice?’. He saw all these bands that were just rock bands and he came back and said ‘Oh, it’s all happening in England. Stuff being a solo artist! I want to be in a band!’ And that’s when we formed the band.That was1972 and originally Ted was a guitarist. We had a bass player and none of us could get on with him, so in the end, we got rid of the bass player and we asked Chris Bailey (may he rest in peace) to join. And he actually played with the band for a week. He played at a concert on a barge on Sydney harbour and he played at APIA Soccer Club. He was in a band called Headband then.”

It was around this time that the band had landed a gig playing on a cruise to America. “I gave Ted my Hoffner bass,” recalls Herm, “and Ted learned to play bass on that cruise. We were a three piece and recorded the first album as a three piece. Then we saw Gary playing in a band called Fat Harry and we thought he’d be good but we didn’t want to break the band up. He heard that we liked him and he was working up the courage for about two months to ring us. He finally rang us and then he joined and that was the line-up.”

Asked about the possibility of TMG ever reforming, Herm is doubtful. He recalls a promise he made to Ted at the singer’s benefit concert in March 2001. “We played two songs and Ted was sitting at the side. I remember walking over to him and saying ‘Well, until you get better, that’s the last I’m playing drums,’ and he sort of smiled. I think he liked the idea that, if he can’t do it, he didn’t want the band to do it.”

“It was Ted’s band and Ted’s songs,” Herm points out, “but we split everything four ways which was very generous of him because he had a solo career and a lot of people don’t realise that he had a lot of hits as a solo artist. He could have just formed a band and put us on wages, but he wanted a real band and he split it four ways…” Herm pauses for a minute to correct himself. “Well, he actually split it five ways because our roadie, Ron Clayton, was like a fifth member. A lot of people don’t know that Ron actually kept us alive with a day job and a lot of credit doesn’t go to him that he deserves to get. He actually bought a truck; he fed us and went through a lot of shit to keep us together and that’s why, except for record royalties, it was a five way split and I don’t think a band in Australia or the world ever shared something with their roadie.”

Herm now runs a very busy recording studio in Sydney and, for some time now, has been a successful and in demand country music producer. However, his interest in recording goes way back.

“While the band was still together,” Herm explains, “I always had a small studio at home, reel to reel. I’d write songs and play instruments on them because I just loved recording. And then the tours and gigs dwindled in the early eighties and at that stage, Les and I built this studio in Artarmon. After a while, I bought Les out of it and kept the studio going and recorded everyone from Midnight Oil and The Divinyls to Rose Tattoo to Russell Crowe and Kate Ceberano”

In the late 90s, Herm turned his hand to producing country music. “I’d always liked country music,” he admits. “I grew up on country music and I used to play Hank Williams in hire cars and was chucked out on the roadside because of it. I started producing country records and the first country record I produced was with The Crosby Sisters and Russell Morris, who has become a dear friend now, and that became a No. 2 hit and from then on, people just started referring people to me so,since then, I’v produced eighty seven Top 30 country hits. I do occasionally produce and record a jazz band and I’ve been doing a lot of rock stuff. I tend to still do some other things but it’s mainly country music that people seek out. Having said that, a lot of people, because they know I was in a studio in the seventies, want that sort of sound and I tend to get a lot of that sort of work from bands who want something mixed or recorded with that flavour. I own half of Alberts’ gear from the seventies from their King Street studio. They went all digital so I’ve got part of the Alberts’ legacy from the seventies still alive and working.”

Herm manages country singer, Harmony James and produced her first album. “She was the first Australian singer/songwriter to win the International Songwriting Competition,” he tells me proudly. “Roseanne Cash, Johnny Cash’s daughter, was a judge and just raved about her and at two major festivals where Kasey Chambers was the opening act, Harmony was the support act. Kasey would actually walk on stage to sing with Harmony because Harmony is her favourite singer/songwriter. A lot of people see her as a singer/songwriter, not as a country artist. I set myself a task to get her a major record deal and a major publishing deal within twelve months. It took a bit longer than that. It took fifteen months but I got her signed to Warner Music Australia and I got her under Alberts and that was with publishing companies in Nashville after her and Mushroom were also after her. Alberts felt like a good home for her so I’m concentrating on that. We’re going through material for a third album at the moment so it’s all good.”

I ask Herm to share some memories from his TMG days and he recalls an incident from the days when Jump in My Car was No. 1 in Australia “We were playing in Toowoomba on New Years Eve for $300 and there were fifty people in the room. I was sitting next to Ted, saying ‘If this is what having a No. 1 record’s all about, I don’t know..’ We just found it very funny but a week after that, Roger Davies took over our management and our fee went up to $4,000. You work it out! In the seventies, that was a lot of money and things happened.”

Herm also recalls the times when the band members would hang out with the other bands they often toured with. “After a show,” he shares, “members of Sherbet, Hush, TMG and AC/DC, would all be in a motel room playing cards. And on nights off, we would go to the movies together. We’d finish a gig in Melbourne and then we’d hop in a car and drive to catch the end of AC/DC’s gig. We’d be playing somewhere and halfway through the set, you’d see Mal and Angus walk in through the back, to catch us and the same with Sherbet. That’s one of the fondest memories; that mateship. It wasn’t just the four of us stuck together. It became a social thing when all the bands were in the same town. At Countdown, we’d all get together and go for a meal afterwards. There was that sort of thing in the seventies which I think is pretty well missing now. And there was the excitement of a record coming out and radio playing it and seeing the actual physical round thing. It’s sort of not exciting, looking at a receipt from iTunes and thinking. Where’s my record?” he laughs.

So, does he miss those days? “No, not really,” he admits. “I miss Ted because he was my best friend. He’d come over and he’d sing sessions in the studio, call in for a cup of tea. I can still smell his aftershave. I miss that. And every time I go to Tamworth, someone will come up that was a fan that used to go to our gigs and whenever I pass through a town, I’ll see a motel that we stayed at so there’s just too much around that reminds me of him. I have fond memories of it and put it this way, if Ted was still alive, the band would still be together. I can tell you that. It took him to go for it to fall apart.”

by Sharyn Hamey

 Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved

 

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