Mighty Kong was as much a failed experiment as anything, lasting less than 12 months, yet the band produced this one exhilarating album before collapsing in a heap of unrealised potential. All I Wanna Do is Rockstands as a lost classic of early 1970s Aussie rock and a worthwhile period piece that deserves re-evaluation in the new millennium. While even Kong front man Ross Wilson remains ambivalent about the band’s lasting legacy and the album’s value as a piece of recorded history, there are many enticing moments to be savoured across the record.
Wilson had decided to break-up of the enormously successful Daddy Cool in August 1972. He and guitarist Ross Hannaford set about forming a new band, with the pair moving away from the stylistic constraints that had bound Daddy Cool – vintage rock ‘n’ roll, doo-wop and rockabilly –to concentrate on a heavier, more contemporary style of rock. Latter-day Daddy Cool songs like ‘Make Your Stash’, ‘Love in an FJ’, ‘Boy, You’re Paranoid’ or ‘Flash in My Head’ had been indicative of that emergent style. The sound they envisaged also referred back to their previous band Sons of the Vegetal Mother with songs like ‘Make it Begin’ and ‘Love is the Law’ which they’d been playing before DC emerged as the dominant band personality in 1970.
Wilson and Hannaford shared a great deal of musical empathy, having worked together since 1965 in their high school R&B/garage band The Pink Finks, followed by The Party Machine (1967-69) with Wilson drawing on Frank Zappa as much as Howlin’ Wolf for inspiration.
The Daddy Cool story is a complete book in its own right, suffice to say that the band was one of the most exciting and successful aggregations of the entire 1970s. Songs like ‘Eagle Rock’, ‘Come Back Again’, ‘Hi Honey Ho’, ‘I’ll Never Smile Again’, ‘Teenage Blues’, ‘Baby Let Me Bang Your Box’, ‘Sixty Minute Man’, ‘Make Your Stash’, ‘Daddy Rocks Off’ etc still sound exhilarating while their albums Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! (1971) and Sex, Dope, Rock ‘n’Roll: Teenage Heaven (1972) remain defining statements of the era.
With DC out of the way, the first musicians to join Wilson and Hannaford’s new band were ex-Company Caine singerGulliver Smith, ex-Tamam Shud members Tim Gaze (guitar) and Nigel Macara (drums)plus ex-Blackfeather bass player Harry Brus. After a couple of week’s rehearsal it became obvious that things weren’t gelling andGaze and Macara jumped ship eventually joining Mike Rudd in his new band Ariel withGulliver wandering off to record his debut solo album.Meanwhile Brus had been busted and had to head back to Sydney. Mighty Kong finally emerged in March 1973 with ex-Spectrum drummer Ray Arnott and another couple of ex-Company Caine alumni Russell Smith(lead guitar) and Tim Partridge (bass) completing the line-up.
Wilson had a lot of faith in his new venture, arriving at the two-guitar sound he’d been searching for since the early DC days, but he never really got the chance to capitalise on the band’s formidable potential. Not long after their album came out in December 1973, Mighty Kong had folded. Nevertheless, they were extremely busy for the year with this period of heightened activity taking in extensive touring and the recording session at Armstrong Studios with American producer John Fischbach that created the album.
“We were pretty good live. We were a bit heavier than Daddy Cool, but the heaviest band was Sons of the Vegetal Mother. That was really edgy, dense music, you know? Because we only ever got three tracks recorded with that band, you really don’t get much evidence of the other stuff we did live. It was very dense; I loved it actually. We had these great players from various different bands and the best thing about it was that because we didn’t do that many gigs it was fresh all the time. The line-up changed a bit too. With Mighty Kong there was a bit more subtlety and variety involved. One of the lost songs we used to do live was our revival of ‘I Only Have Eyes for You’ which was later done by Art Garfunkel. That was a cool version.”
Actually, the band name of Mighty Kong was quite evocative in many ways. It fitted both the tough nature of the music and served as a nice ‘instant’ tag for the band. Mighty Kong was ideal because it immediately conjured up a whole range of images. It’s the image of King Kong, the beast of legend, and both the deep jungle where he reigned and from which he was plucked and then the urban jungle which lead to his demise.
The album All I Wanna Do is Rock and single ‘Callin’ All Cats’ b/w ‘Hard Drugs (Are Bad for You)’arrived to much fanfare. It was a great album, with funky hard rockers like ‘Jungle in My Blood’, ‘Homesick & Horny’, ‘Hard Drugs (Are Bad for You)’ and a revival of Party Machine’s ‘Got My Beliefs’ standing out. Elsewhere the gorgeous Russell Smith/Gulliver Smith-penned ballad ‘With a Smile Like That (How Could We Refuse?)’ found Wilson in fine, soulful voice. Reviews were extremely positive but the single sank without trace. The album did sell in dribs and drabs but not enough to chart nationally. It was a damn fine party album, just a fun, rockin’ good time with the most serious moment coming with the anti-drugs message song ‘Hard Drugs (Are Bad for You)’ which is actually the album’s highlight.
“I really like the two songs that Russell and Gulliver did, ‘With a Smile Like That’ and Russell singing on ‘Some Other New Address’. Of course, that connection lead to me writing ‘A Touch of Paradise’ with Gulliver Smith later on. I think ‘Hard Drugs’ is good because it’s very concise, it just says what it says and it’s a nice heavy kind of track. That’s the standout for me; I picked that one to go on my Now Listen compilation. I thought it was memorable and worth another listen because it was just short and to the point and said something whereas some of the other tracks waffled on a bit. They could have done with some pruning.
“I like ‘Jungle in My Blood’, that’s a good track. I started writing that when I was in America one time with Daddy Cool. We were on tour and at a party after a gig one time I started going ‘ba-do-ba-do-dong-dong’, playing that riff to myself for about an hour. So that’s where that came from. ‘Got My Beliefs’ is interesting because compared with the Party Machine version there are slight changes I made in the lyrics. Essentially it’s the same song. It’s an interesting song because it’s like a six beat. It goes 1-2-3-4, 1-2, 1-2-3-4, 1-2, which is unusual.
“The track that’s more Daddy Cool than all of them is ‘Homesick & Horny’. Later on we did ‘All I Wanna Do is Rock’ in Daddy Cool too. I didn’t particularly like the Mighty Kong version. I like ‘Callin’ all Cats’, I would rather it had turned out better than it did. I hate to talk the album down, but if you want the truth that’s what I feel (laughs). It didn’t end up being what I wanted it to be. The thing I like a lot about it is that in hindsight I like it better than I did 20 years ago. In particular I like the riffing between the two guitars, that’s really good; I would have just liked a better sound on the riffs, you now? (laughs).”
The Daddy Cool spectre continued to hang over Wilson and Hannaford’s heads. While the Kong had been working hard on the road and in the studio, the band’s label Wizard Records released the latest DC record, the double live album Daddy Cool Live! The Last Drive-In Movie Show, which had been recorded at their farewell concert at the Much More Ballroom the previous August 1972. Wizard promoted the album as “A piece of Australian rock and roll history” and also pulled three singles from it. So on one hand, the label’s supposedly promoting a new album by a new band but then falling back on the DC cash-cow crutch.
There’s also the tale of Wilson hitting the headlines when he met UK visitor Marc Bolan who was on tour in Australia with T. Rex. Being enamoured of Daddy Cool’s ‘Eagle Rock’ (as was Elton John, apparently) Bolan insisted that he had to meet the singer/songwriter, and wouldn’t perform until Wilson had been summoned. As soon as Wilson arrived, Bolan pointed his finger at him and announced “You stole that riff from ‘Ride a White Swan’!!”
Of course, the intro riff to ‘Eagle Rock’ was a country-blues influenced progression that Wilson had come up with himself, quite independent of anything to do with Bolan but if you listen closely there is a vague resemblance to ‘Ride a White Swan’. Apparently, despite his bravado, Bolan really did like the song even going so far as to declare Wilson to be a “superstar”.
So it was no surprise then, with Mighty Kong falling apart in mid-January 1974 that Wilson and Hannaford reunited with the DC rhythm section of Wayne Duncan (bass) and Garry Young (drums) for a show-stopping appearance at the third annual Sunbury Music Festival. The reformed edition of Daddy Cool lasted until September 1975 and there have been many reunions in the intervening decades. Of course, Wilson also went on to front the enormously successful Mondo Rock, among many other musical adventures, while Hannaford remains one of the unsung giants of the Australian music industry having played with just about everybody over the years.
And what of Mighty Kong?In some ways the band remains a mere footnote in the Ross Wilson story and the album a slight aberration, or more precisely a brief detour, in the successful trajectory of his career. Well, to my mind it’s just a great album that deserves another listen.
MIGHTY KONG – All I Wanna Do is Rock (Wizard ZL-204) 1973
1. ALL THROUGH THE DAY (And into the Night We Play) (Ross Hannaford/Ross Wilson)
2. CALLIN’ ALL CATS (The Cats are Callin’) (Ross Wilson)
3. SOME OTHER NEW ADDRESS (Russell Smith/Gulliver Smith)
4. HARD DRUGS (Are Bad for You) (Ross Wilson)
5. ALL I WANNA DO IS ROCK!! #1 (Ross Wilson)
6. JUNGLE IN MY BLOOD (Ross Wilson)
7. GOT MY BELIEFS (Ross Wilson)
8. WITH A SMILE LIKE THAT (How Could We Refuse) (Russell Smith/Gulliver Smith)
9. HOMESICK & HORNY (Ross Wilson)
Produced and engineered by John Fischbach
Recorded at Armstrong Studios, South Melbourne, Australia, August/September 1973
Mighty Kong was:
ROSS WILSON – Chief vocals, Pignose guitar on ‘Homesick & Horny’
ROSS HANNAFORD – Guitar, deep throat
RUSSELL SMITH – Guitar, lead vocal on ‘Some Other New Address’
TIM PARTRIDGE – Bass
RAY ARNOTT – Drums