RockWiz was one of those shows that really took over the free-to-airwaves before streaming came to stay.
Joining a group of entertainment shows like Hey Hey It’s Saturday, Countdown and Recovery, RockWiz captured the attention of Australians of all ages, either tuning in on Saturday nights or attending it live at the Gershwin Room at St. Kilda’s Espy. Hosted by the illustrious Julia Zamero, RockWiz featured two Australian artists, usually with ties to rock, and a couple of music history megaminds who’d won their way onto the stage to play.
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RockWiz would close with a duet between the two artists, spawning some truly inspirational covers, sometimes true to the original and sometimes re-imagined entirely. The guests were usually somewhat connected, though different enough to add their own flair to the list of classic songs, their performances inspiring everyone watching them. Here’s six of the best!
“Stray Cat Blues” – Christ Cheney and Chrissie Amphlett
Chris Cheney fronts Melbourne band The Living End. Having formed in the mid-90s, they had huge success in the 90s and 2000s and have become cemented as a mainstay of Australian rock. Cheney traditionally sports a Gretsch White Falcon for their unique brand of rock and punk, pulling influence from Australia’s storied history of pub rock, punk and post-punk.
What a combination it was then to pair him with the late, great Chrissy Amphlett. She fronted the Divinyls, dividing audiences and pushing the envelope lyrically, socially and musically. Amphlett formed the Divinyls in 1980 with guitarist Mark McEntee and they went on to influence Australian rock as we know, informing bands like The Living End.
Combining their influences, Cheney and Amphlett performed The Rolling Stones’ “Stray Cat Blues”, Cheney’s own brand of double-stop bending introducing himself, and he handles the first verse. Amphlett comes in for the second, her own iconic voice taking over and leaving the audience enamoured.
“Love Hurts” – Tex Perkins and Deborah Conway
Tex Perkins is an artist in his own right, having come up fronting The Cruel Sea, while also performing with Beasts of Bourbon, Thug, James Baker Experience and Salamander Jim. The Cruel Sea formed in 1987, an instrumental band, and Perkins joined in ‘89, bringing his own brand of rich, baritone vocal, from time to time recommending a lawyer.
Deborah Conway has had huge success as a solo artist, as well as performing with Do-Ré-Mi. She’s been making music her own way for decades, consistently releasing her own brand of folk-infused rock.
Perkins and Conway perform Nazareth’s “Love Hurts”, the iconic song opening with that crazy earworm, ‘love hurts, love scars’, Perkins and Conway jumping straight into harmonizing, Conway strumming away on her Maton.
“Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” – Rebecca Barnard and Tim Rogers
Originally a duet, “Stop Draggin’ My Heart Around” was written for Steve Nicks by Tom Petty in 1981, before Nicks insisted on Tom being included in the recording, and the song was performed on RockWiz by Rebecca Barnard and Tim Rogers.
Tim Rogers fronts You Am I as well as being a successful solo artist, also currently being a member of the Hard-Ons. He’s a guitarist and singer, strumming away in this rendition before Rebecca Barnard takes over the first verse.
Barnard is a hugely successful singer songwriter since the release of her debut record in the year 2006. She fronted Rebecca’s Empire before that.
“Highway to Hell” – Angry Anderson and Sarah McLeod
If RockWiz was made to showcase Australian rock and its artists – how could you look past AC/DC? Angry Anderson and Sarah McLeod pay homage to the famous four-piece with their own rendition of “Highway to Hell”, McLeod’s own husky lead vocal introducing the cover.
Sarah McLeod is a hugely versatile artist, fronting the Superjesus before releasing her own solo work in 2005. Naturally, she sports a Gibson SG for this performance, RockWiz’s own James Black assuming the role of Malcolm Young, playing a big ol’ Grestch.
Angry Anderson is frontman for Rose Tattoo and Member of the Order of Australia for his work as a youth advocate. Rose Tattoo rose to fame at the same time AC/DC themselves, Angry and Bon Scott both pulling influences for their vocals from the same place.
“Sundown, Sundown” – Mick Harvey and Sarah Blasko
Mick Harvey is an Australian musician most famous as a member of Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds and The Birthday Party before that. His unique brand of minimalist guitar made space for Nick Cave’s vocal, and made him a perfect match for Sarah Blasko.
Blasko has an ethereal feeling about her, her vocal encouraging the audience to lean into her vocal. Original performed by Nancy Sinatra and Lee Hazlewood, “Sundown, Sundown” is a vaguely country, folk inspired pop song that nestles itself perfectly between Blasko’s folky lyricism and Harvey’s resonant, rich timbre of voice.
“This Mess We’re In” – Katy Steele and Paul Kelly
Finally, we’ve made it to Paul Kelly and Katy Steele. Paul Kelly needs no introduction, but let’s give him one anyway. He’s Australia’s prodigal son, everyone on this great land is a fan. From humble beginnings fronting smaller bands to his own solo career, from little things big things grew, and his songs have become iconic of Australian life, particularly making gravy at Christmas.
Katy Steele fronted Little Birdy who had huge success throughout the 2000s, their first few records featuring singles like “Come On Come On”, “Relapse” and “Beautiful To Me”, her brother Luke singing for The Sleepy Jackson and eventually Empire of the Sun.
“This Mess We’re In” is a song by PJ Harvey, her vocal and arrangement style influencing indie bands like Little Birdy, her story-teller style not being dissimilar to Kelly’s. The song kicks in with a cool count, Steele’s unique vocal handling the first verse before they trade off lines, Kelly strumming away on his unique, gold top Les Paul signature semi-hollow.
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