I have to admit. It is not a combo that I would have instantly thought of, but it works. Three of this country’s most respected artists joining forces to put together one of the best live shows I’ve had the pleasure to see and hear; Darryl Cotton, Jim Keays and Russell Morris. Each has an impressive rock music background and a substantial catalogue of hits that would be instantly recognisable to anyone, not just those of us old enough to remember them way back when…
“It started a while back.” Darryl explains. “About sixteen years ago, I got together with Russell and a guy called Ronnie Burns. That’s how it started originally and then Ronnie left. We did it as a one-off job and then we got a great attendance at this place in Melbourne and then we thought ‘Hey, let’s do it again’ and then we said ‘Let’s take it on the road for a while’, thinking it might last a couple of months. Sixteen years later,” he laughs, “we’re still doing it. In the meantime, Ronnie decided to leave. It was the year 2000 and Russell said to me ‘What about Jimmy Keays?’ and I choked on my food and said ‘Jimmy Keays?!’ They were playing golf regularly together. Jim and I were sort of ‘rivals’ back in the 60s, so we got together and it kind of gelled and Jimmy brought a bit of ‘mongrel’ to the thing and took over from Ronnie Burns. Not as snappy a dresser as Ronnie Burns,” he jokes. “although he has got a new leather jacket that he bought at the Myer sales.”
Russell nods in agreement. “He’s excelled himself.”
“One of the reasons for its success, I think,” Jim theorises, “is that, well… sixteen years ago, nobody was really catering to that market and now, the baby boomer market’s really big.”
“And it’s also real value.” adds Darryl. “They get to see three people. They might not be my fan… they might be Russell’s or Jim’s. We were actually the first of that kind of act. Now they do it a lot. James Reyne with Mark Seymour and Joe Camilleri and all those kinds of people. So the public is almost expecting to see more than one (performer) now.”
“The thing is,” Jim points out, “between the three of us, we can do a night of all of our own material. If you were doing it solo, you’d have to put in other songs and covers and stuff like that to fill in that time. With three of us, you’re all doing your hits so it’s all songs they know.”
“All killers, no fillers.” quips Darryl.
While the Cotton, Keays, Morris combo is working steadily around the country, all three singers of course have their own individual careers and all perform as solo artists or with other singers, such as in the case of Russell.
“Russell works with Brian Cadd a bit, here and there.” Darryl tells me. “We all do different projects outside of this obviously, to keep our sanity. And, artistically, we all have different likes and dislikes as well so there’s a certain amount we do outside of this.” He looks over at Jim, eating his dinner, and can’t help taking a dig at him. “Of course, Jimmy just sits at home on the couch and reads the newspaper.”
Jim takes it all with a grain of salt. “Of course I do,” he responds. He is quite used to the constant joking at his expense from his band mates.
The show is not only a good blend of music from the three singers. The comedic banter amongst the trio also makes for great entertainment. And spending time chatting with these guys convinced me that it wasn’t all reserved for the stage. Life on the road together must be … um … interesting.
“There are kind of Spinal Tap moments,” Darryl smiles. “You’ve kind of got to be with us… We often joke that if we had a camera crew with us, it would make a great doco! We could make a series of these three guys out on the road.”
Russell relates one of those Spinal Tap moments. “Jimmy fell down a hole on the stage. The road crew warned him before we came up that they’d left this big black hole. You couldn’t see it. Jimmy walked up and fell in it. They said ‘Jimmy be careful when you go on stage, there’s a big hole. Be careful. Be aware of it.’ I’m looking at Darryl. Darryl’s got this look on his face and I turned around and there’s Jimmy in the hole. So we gave him hell about it. Six months later, we’re playing at the same gig and Jimmy walks so slowly on the stage and I hate it if I get caught behind him because I have to plug my guitar in, turn it on and get a sound and… Anyway this night, he walks up on the stage like this.”
As Russell does his imitation of an old man slowly dragging himself across the stage, Jim shrugs his shoulders and nods. “Like an old man…” he agrees.
“So I pushed past him,” continues Russell, demonstrating for me, “and walk straight into the hole, with my guitar and everything… smash… bang!”
Then he remembers another incident. “Jimmy used to work in leather pants all the time on stage. We worked at Moe and he turned up as we’re getting ready. He used to wear this black T-shirt with a big red horse on it and a flowing shirt and those boots with all the buckles on them. And then he goes ‘Oh no! No! I forgot my shoes!’ and he’d come up in slippers so he had to go on stage in that outfit and a pair of slippers.”
“The crowd loved it!” laughs Jim. “Ozzy Osbourne’s got nothing on us! I was the Ozzy Osbourne of the outfit for a while there.” I don’t know whether that’s a good or a bad thing, I tell him. “I don’t know whether it’s good or bad either.” he admits.
All three artists have performed at their share of major concerts, performing in front of massive crowds in venues such as Melbourne’s Meyer Music Bowl, for instance. Between them, there must have been many highlights.
“Personally my highlight I think,” recalls Jim, “was recording at Abbey Road. That was a great experience. I met John Lennon but none of his genius rubbed off on me.”
Apparently, this historical moment took place in the men’s toilets. “I had a wee with him.” Jim explains.
Probably more than I need to know. Probably more than you need to know as well but we’ll leave it in as a matter of interest for all you trivia buffs out there.
“There’s highs and lows throughout your whole career.” Russell points out. “Some of them are shocking and some of them are absolutely phenomenal and they all blend into one. I think the thing for me is to still be able to do it. That’s the highlight for me.”
“And when your single went to No. 1 in Warnambool,” quips Jim.
Darryl’s career has not been confined strictly to the music industry. He has also done some television and has fond memories of the experience. “I did a kid’s television show and that was good. There’s been a lot of things and not always, necessarily, music.” But, of course, it is his musical career that has earned him the most recognition. “I was in the band, Zoot. That was good fun. Then I lived in America for a while. I toured with Olivia Newton John and her band. I did a national tour of America which was a bit of a highlight. Just as a back up singer. I wrote a song for Englebert Humperdink and we went to the Riviera inLas Vegas to watch him perform and when the orchestra started and it was the song that I wrote, I had goose bumps.” The song was ‘Catch Me, I’m Falling’. “You’d have to dig really deep to find it.” Darryl tells me. “It wasn’t one of his Number 1’s.” The song was also recorded by Melbourne-based New Wave band, Real Life. “I had a song released in Brazil as well and it got to No. 2.” And which song was that? “You wouldn’t know that one either…” he replies with a straight face. “It’s called ‘Catch Me, I’m Falling’” he laughs.
The Cotton, Keays, Morris show consists mostly of each of the guys’ past hits, with a few covers thrown in for good measure.
Both Jim and Russell are currently working on albums. Jim seems resigned to the fact that his album won’t get any airplay but he says he still writes and records ‘just to keep the body of work going.’
“We just do it because that’s what we do.” Russell agrees, shrugging his shoulders. “I’m hoping to get mine out in September.”
“Russell’s is a blues one and mine’s a garage ‘punk’ one.” says Jim.
“He’s got to build a garage first.” Darryl adds, laughing.
Meanwhile, Darryl has been working with the Australian Youth Choir, recording a Christmas album which is due for release in October. “I’ve found a lot of different Christmas songs, not the usual traditional ones,” he tells me. “I go round Australia and record and this year, in particular, I’ve kind of worked hard at it. Every year, I’ve done different CDs. This year, Variety Club are going to actually come on board as an endorsement and we’re going to donate a certain amount of money to Variety. I’m going to try to turn it into an annual project with Variety but it won’t always be a Christmas album. I’m going to try to get other people to sing on it. It’s like Jimmy said, it’s about your body of work and it doesn’t matter that you’ve done this or that. That’s what makes you the person, the performer, the entertainer. Like Russ said, it’s what we do, what we’ve done for forty five years or, in Jimmy’s case, sixty.”
“They always give me a hard time!” Jim sighs. “They give me a hard time on stage too. Not so much anymore. When I first started, they took the piss the whole time and then I got angry.”
“He’s pretty placid most of the time.” Russell admits. “He lost it once with me because I was clowning around with him on stage and he thought I was trying to make a fool of him.”
“Which you were…” Jim reminds him.
“Anyway,” Russell continues “for years and years, the dialogue was identical every single night so Darryl and I decided we would try and change it that night. Jimmy would give his normal responses and I wouldn’t respond and he absolutely cracked the shits, but he still wouldn’t change.”
Jim agrees that he is quite comfortable with the familiar routine. “It’s good when we play a place we haven’t played before,” he explains “because then we can bring out the old chestnuts.”
Russell corrects him. “Coconuts,” he says dryly, “Coconuts.”
by Sharyn Hamey
Copyright © Sharyn Hamey 2010. All rights reserved
For upcoming gig dates for Cotton, Keays and Morris, go to our Touring page.