“Be like the wind upon the ground
For a while we cannot move
Can you see the points I’m trying to lay down?
... from Till We Know
“You are my lucky star
And I play my guitar and I wish upon
... from Lucky Star
“Run and you run
... from You Run and You Rrun
John J. Francis rose to national prominence in the vanguard of contemporary Australian singer/songwriters that came to the fore musically in the early 1970s. This group included other formidable talents like Richard Clapton, Glenn Cardier, Bernard Bolan, Graham Lowndes, Mike McClelland, Al Ward and Dan Johnson, Bob Hudson, Terry Hanagan, Doug Ashdown, Ross Ryan, Kevin Johnston, Trevor Knight, to name a but a few.
Between 1972 and 1974 he released four albums through Warner Bros, Rock n Roll Refugee, Breaks, Works and Thoughts , Open Fist and Wassa Matta. Although these albums sold in the multi-thousands they have since become collectors items and are extremely difficult to find. When they do turn up for sale they are quite expensive.
J. J. Francis started his musical career in Newcastle, New South Wales, Australia.
For three years he was the lead singer in a popular local r'n'b band, The Sorrows. An indie single (Someday b/w I'm Lonely) was released by the band in 1964.
Following the break-up of The Sorrows he formed the short-lived, The John Francis Collexion. A single (I Talk to Trees b/w You Tell Me) was released by RCA in 1966.
In 1968 he joined the resident house band, ‘The Ghosts of Electricity’, playing 24/7 at The Cha-Cha Club in Surfers Paradise on Australia’s Gold Coast. After eight months the club ownership changed hands and plans and he returned to Newcastle.
Played and sang in the house band in a late nightclub venue for a number of months before joining a new local band, ‘Magic’. Two singles, ‘I Want to Fly b/w Booked On A Drunk Charge’ and ‘Vintage Wine b/w The Carpenter’s Song’ were released by Phillips Polydor in 1970.
Moved to Sydney in 1970 and began work at Copperfield Sound Studio as head sound engineer/producer.
Met flautist Alan Luchetti around mid-1971. During the next three years John and Alan were to headline and/or share stage-billing with many of their talented contemporaries. Some of these artists included Jeannie Lewis, Margret Roadknight, Bernard Bolan, Glenn Cardier, Richard Clapton, John Currie, Declan Affley, Bob Hudson, Al Ward and Dan Johnson, Graham Lowndes and Mike McClelland.
‘Rock’n’Roll Refugee’ was released in 1972. The album was recorded "live" in two three-hour sessions at Copperfield studios and produced by ex-head of A&R at Pye records in England and CEO of MCA Australasia, Alan A. Freeman.
Around this time the song ‘Simple Ben’ was added to the soundtrack of the legendary surf movie ‘Morning of the Earth‘. It joined the film in becoming an Oz classic and is still remembered as a surfing anthem. The soundtrack to the film went gold, the first surf movie to ever achieve this feat.
The second album, ‘Breaks, Works and Thoughts’ was released in 1973. Noted record reviewer and Oz music historian Ed Nimmervol commented, ‘We all blinked when his first album came and went by but this time there is no denying the talent of this singer/songwriter.’ It is a remarkable album laced with great songs and unique sounds that simply defies categorization and is, without doubt, an unrecognised landmark in Australian music history. It was the most nominated album across a number of categories at the precursor to the ARIA awards, the 1973 Australasian Radio Awards. It eventually won the Song/Composer of the Year award for the hit single, ‘Play Mumma Play, (Sing me a Song)’.
‘Open Fist’ was released in early 1974 and showed yet another great set of songs, two outstanding instrumentals plus the fifteen and a half minute opus, ‘Despair’. Again, this album defies categorisation as the material covers such a wide range. The album received no airplay but garnered good critical reviews nationally and sold very well. It has since become perhaps the most sought after of the four J. J. Francis albums.
John J was approached to become the musical director for an ABC-TV series, ‘Sit Yourself Down, Take a Look Round’. Hosted by Marion Henderson, the artists and music styles covered everything from folk to jazz to blues. The program was a popular viewing success and a second series was commissioned. John J. had already made plans to go overseas and departed halfway through the second series. As his replacement he personally nominated Chris Neal who later went on to become a leading film and television soundtrack composer.
The final John J. Francis album, ‘Wassa Matta’, was released in late 1974 after John had departed for overseas. This album again contained a strong mix of rock and acoustic tracks, received no airplay but still sold well.
John J returned to Australia in early 1976. Later that year, he started hosting the Saturday night midnight-to-dawn shift on radio station 2JJ. The program proved to be popular and was expanded to Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in 1977. At this time, for unknown reasons, John J withdrew from all performing with the exception of one-off performances on 2JJ’s popular ‘Live at the Radio’ series in ‘77 and ‘78.
In 1980 he returned to live performing with a new band, ‘Dogs in Custody, mk-II’ also known briefly as ‘Hard Cash’.
From all reports this was a very hard-hitting, uncompromising power band that both created new fans and alienated old ones. The band played a number of gigs around Sydney before folding.
In late 1986 radio station 2JJJ-FM revised its weekend mid-dawn format by beginning simultaneous broadcasting with the ABC-TV television program, ‘Rage’. John J. left the station and disappeared from view. It has been recently learned that between then and now he has been involved in community radio and working with people with disabilities. He also returned to a long-time association with painting and has been creating digital art with some degree of success. He has continued to write and experiment with music but has never returned to performing and has remained outside the music scene.
MORE DETAIL ...
John J. Francis rose to national prominence in the vanguard of contemporary Australian singer/songwriters that came to the fore musically in the early 1970’s. This group included other formidable talents like Richard Clapton, Glenn Cardier, Bernard Bolan, Bob Hudson, Graham Lowndes, Mike McClelland, Doug Ashdown, Ross Ryan, Kevin Johnston, Al Ward and Dan Johnson, Terry Hanagan, Trevor Knight to name a few. Between 1972 and 1974 he released four albums, ‘Rock’n’Roll Refugee’, ‘Breaks, Works and Thoughts’, ‘Open Fist’ and ‘Wassa Matta’. Although these albums sold in the multi-thousands they have become collectors items and are extremely difficult to find and quite pricey when they do turn up for sale.
Contrary to what has been written elsewhere J. J. Francis was not born in the United States. He was born in the Tweed Valley of northern New South Wales, Australia. He started his first band in Newcastle at the age of 14. The next oldest member was 28. It was a very short lived outfit but they did do a number of gigs one of which was Newcastle‘s first Sunday Night dance. It was closed down by the police two weeks after starting due to protests by religious bodies about allowing blaspheming rock ‘n’ roll music be played on Sundays.
The next band started under a variety of names before settling on The Sorrows. The band comprised Peter Cogan (gtr), Norman Ryder (gtr) Alan Frampton (bass) J. J. Francis (voc) and Paul Thomas (dms). They were together for about three-four years. An indie single, ‘Someday’ b/w ‘I’m Lonely’ was released and received good airplay on local radio but the band had no avenue of record store distribution available and it was sold only through a couple of selected Newcastle record shops.
The Sorrows became one of the better known Newcastle bands of that era playing at all the leading venues in the steel city and up and down the Hunter Valley and Mid-North and Central Coast areas. They were chosen as the support band to Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs MK-I playing to a jam-packed Newcastle Stadium in 1965 and also as support band to The Easybeats at a frenetic Newcastle Town Hall show the next year. Their Newcastle stadium performance with Thorpey got them gigs at the legendary Sydney dance venue ‘Surf City‘ in Kings Cross. Outside commitments increasingly intruded and the band finally broke up in 1967.
Later that same year John, Norm, Alan and Paul got together again under the John Francis Collexion banner. It was a relatively short-lived exercise but they did work on a whole series of original songs many of which were recorded in a marathon 13-hour session at Sound 66 studios in Sydney. This was where John first met David Gibson who owned the studio and engineered the session. Two of the songs from this session, ‘I Talk To Trees‘ b/w ‘You Tell Me‘ were picked up and released as a single by RCA records. The disk received good airplay in Newcastle and made the bottom end of the Top Forty in that city. It also received scattered airplay nationally. The band did some local gigs but shortly after its release John moved to Sydney for a time.
In 1968 an invitation to join the band, ‘The Ghosts of Electricity‘ better known as ‘The Ghostwahs‘ came from a Novocastrian friend Dave Ovenden (Bullamakanka, The Foreday Riders, The Richard Wright Group, The Bloke) who were playing a residency at a venue called The Cha-Cha Nightclub in Surfers Paradise.
The Cha-Cha club was a 24/7 6-hours a night gig with two floorshows a night every weekend. Other members of the band were brothers Peter (Sorrows) and Phil Cogan (bass - The Richard Wright Group). The gig finished the following year after the club changed hands and the band members went their separate ways.
John and Peter returned to Newcastle and joined a late night club band where they played for the next few months. Around then JJ was approached by Jim (Waxy) O‘Brien about forming a band with members of his recently disbanded group, The Psycle. A very talented 16yr-old bass player by the name of Roy (the Boy) Giles was also recruited and the band ‘Magic‘ was created. Other members were Wayne (Hogget) Harris (dms) and John ‘Hairy‘ Humphries (keybrds). The band played at all the leading rock venues and pubs and clubs in Newcastle at the time.
Magic came to an end in 1969 when Jim O‘Brien left for England where he was to eventually travel the world as a roadie for Led Zeppelin. But 48 hours before he departed Oz the band recorded four of John J‘s original songs in a 3-hour session at United Studios in Sydney the session engineered by the renowned sound man Spencer Lee in his young days. The songs from that session, ‘I Want To Fly‘ b/w ‘Booked on a Drunk Charge‘ and ‘Vintage Wine‘ b/w ‘The Carpenters Song‘ were picked up and released by Philips Polydor and received good reviews from critics but little airplay.
Around this time David Gibson contacted John and asked if he would be interested in becoming an engineer/producer at his new Copperfield Studios in Sussex Street, Sydney. The offer was accepted and JJ moved to Sydney.
John J managed Copperfield Sound Studio between 1970-74 and also did 95% of all the sound production work that happened there. This involved hundreds of radio and television commercials for leading advertising agencies, film and television soundtracks and many artists and groups of all persuasions, professionals and amateurs. During this period he also produced a number of artists and bands. Among these were Finch with their first recording, ‘She Says’, Maple Lace‘s hit single of ‘Gimme Dat Ding’, Tex Morton with the massive No.1 hit ‘The Goondawindi Grey’, Bernard Bolan with ‘The Liveliness of the Long-Playing Bernard Bolan’, Aidan Nolan with ‘Tales from the Sun’, various contemporary folk artists on the ‘Three Floors Down’ album, The Cleves, John A. Bird’s Willie Wazoo, country singer Roger Thwaites, Renee Geyer‘s first band ‘Sun‘, The John Brass Big Band, Gene Pierson, Nolan McKinley and many others.
Copperfield Studios was situated in The Old Corn Exchange building right where the then Pyrmont Bridge used to enter the inner city of Sydney. It was managed by an experimental theatre group called PACT under the guidance of the late, great Jack Mannix. It also housed Frank French‘s PACT Folk Club which used it on Saturday nights before moving to the three floors down basement of the Y.W.C.A. building in Liverpool Street, Sydney.
The PACT group was a hive of creative talent in all aspects of experimental theatre, from design and lighting to writing and acting. In 1970 Bob Craven, who was in the design and printing arm, heard JJ singing in the empty recording studio one day and, impressed, asked him to sing at a gig he was arranging at Sydney University. The gig went well and that was the start of John J‘s solo career.
John J met flautist Alan Luchetti around mid-1971 at a Copperfield recording session. This encounter led to a friendship and musical relationship that blossomed on stage and in the studio over the next three years. Alan‘s expressive playing style on both flute and recorder was the perfect counterpoint for many of the JJ Francis’ songs and can be heard on various tracks across most of the four albums but especially the first two.
During the next few years John and Alan were to headline and/or share billing with many of their talented contemporaries. Some of these artists included Jeannie Lewis, Margret Roadknight, Bernard Bolan, Glenn Cardier, Richard Clapton, John Currie, Declan Affley, Bob Hudson, Al Ward and Dan Johnson, Graham Lowndes and Mike McClelland.
I972 saw the release of the ‘Rock ‘n‘ Roll Refugee‘ album through Warner Bros. The album was recorded "live" in two three-hour sessions at Copperfield studios. Musicians featured on the album were Roy Giles (Magic, Pyramid,) on bass, John A. Bird (Greg Quill‘s Country Radio, Southern Comfort, R.J.Taylor Band) on piano, Alan Luchetti on flute and John J. Francis vocals, 12-string guitar and piano. The album was produced by ex-head of A&R at Pye records in England, Alan A. Freeman.
‘Rock ‘n‘ Roll Refugee‘ contained many of the songs JJ was playing in public appearances at the time and received mixed critical reviews, very little airplay or publicity but still managed to generate reasonable sales in the mid-thousands. One reviewer, Trevor Graham, wrote that he had just returned from a disappointing international rock band’s show at the Horden Pavillon and found everything that show had lacked, ‘jumping out of the speakers at him. And all without a drummer in sight.’
Singer/songwriter G. Wayne Thomas was the music producer of the legendary Australian surfing movie ‘Morning of the Earth’. The soundtrack of the album featured a host of original Australian talent in the likes of Tamam Shud, Brian Cadd, Terry Hanagan, etc. and also included a song of G. Wayne Thomas’ that was to become a hit record, ‘Open Up Your Heart’. Many of the basic music and vocal tracks were laid down at Copperfield studios. G. Wayne Thomas had been instrumental in getting Warner Bros to release ‘Rock ‘n’ Roll Refugee’ after hearing a new track JJ had just completed when he was doing these sessions. The song was ‘Simple Ben’. Thomas called director Albie Falzon to come and listen to a song that he thought would fit into the film perfectly. Falzon agreed and “Simple Ben’ joined the film in becoming an Oz classic and is still remembered as a long-time surfing anthem. The soundtrack to the film went gold in sales, the first surf movie to ever achieve this feat.
The second album, ‘Breaks, Works and Thoughts’ was released in 1973. Noted record reviewer and Oz music historian Ed Nimmervol commented, ‘We all blinked when his first album came and went by but this time there is no denying the talent of this singer/songwriter.’ The album is laced with great songs and sounds. The classic ‘Simple Ben’, the jingle-jangle atmospherics and excellent flute by Alan Luchetti in ‘A Wind Is Rising’, the humour and punch of ‘Liberated Roadside Lady’ and ‘Rock’n’Rollers Lament’, the dreamlike quality of ‘God’s Garden’ again with superb flute-playing by Alan Luchetti, the reflective ‘Play Mumma, Sing Me A Song’ which became the hit single, the thumping, percussive pump of ‘Bop Right Over You’ along with the fantastic, blasting, electrifying power of ‘Steel Man’, a track that was way ahead of its time. ‘Breaks, Works and Thoughts’ is a unique album that simply defies categorization and is, without doubt, an unrecognised landmark in Australian music history. It was the most nominated album across a number of categories at the precursor to the ARIA awards, the 1973 Australasian Radio Awards. It won the Song/Composer of the Year award for ‘Play Mumma, Sing me a Song’.
‘Open Fist’ was released in early 1974 and showed yet another set of good songs and two outstanding instrumentals. Again, it is hard to categorise this album. There are links to the earlier acoustic JJ in the tracks ‘Things Are Never Quite The Same’, ‘Don’t Know Where I’m Going’ and the hauntingly beautiful instrumental ‘Countryside Angelus’ but right from the opening track ‘Living in Sydney’, it is also obvious that John J has moved into a tougher, rougher, electric rock sound ably assisted by guitarists Ross Ward, Phil Doherty, bassist Roy Giles all then playing in the band Cinnamon. Other musicians featuring on some of the tracks are Jim Yonge (Pirana) on drums, Doug Gallacher (dms), Tony Ansell (kybrds), Heather Armstrong (cello) and Chris Neal (mellotron and moog). ‘The Other Side of the Coin’ and ‘Trouble in My Head’ are two other fine examples of electric power playing on the album. But it is in the instrumentals and side two that much of the mystique of this album lays. ‘Headin’ for Armageddon’ is a brooding, menacing two-piano piece augmented with cello and flute and then there is the fifteen and a half minute opus, ‘Despair’; a song about isolation and loneliness which keeps revolving musically around intersecting themes until all eventually coalesce and climax into a extremely powerful finale. Both are outstanding tracks achieved with limited instrumentation. The rocker, ‘City Lights, Saturday Night, 1959’ was the single release but didn’t receive a lot of airplay. In the words the head programmer of the leading pop radio station, 2SM, said to Warners in rejecting it for airplay at the time, ‘It sounds too different to Play Mumma, Play. We don’t think the audience will go for it.’ Wrong. Music critics and reviewers did go for it and gave very good notices. The album sold in its thousands without airplay and has since become perhaps the most sought after of the four John J. Francis albums.
Around this time John was approached to become the musical director for an ABC-TV series, ‘Sit Yourself Down, Take a Look Round’ which featured many emerging artists from the alternative music scene. The program was hosted by Marion Henderson and the music styles covered everything from folk to jazz to blues. The program was a popular viewing success and a second series was commissioned. John J. had already made plans to go overseas and he departed halfway through the second series. Before leaving, he nominated Chris Neal as his replacement. Chris went on to become a leading film and television soundtrack composer.
The final album, ‘Wassa Matta’, was released in late 1974 months after after JJ had departed for England. This album was again a mix of rock and acoustic tracks with very strong original songs and a killer version of a R’n’B oldie, “Mess o’ Blues’. The single from the album was a country-based pumper, ‘Lucky Star’ with singing group The Family providing background vocals. The flipside was a tough version of another old R’n’B classic, ‘Money Honey’ which for some reason didn’t end up on the album but will be put up on this site. Other standout tracks are ‘Sometimes in the Night’, ‘To the End’, ‘3am Moonlight’, ‘Sit Beside Me‘ and ‘The Big Show’.
JJ returned to Australia in early 1976. Later that year, he started hosting the Saturday night midnight-to-dawn shift on radio station 2JJ. The program was popular and was expanded to Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights in 1977. During this period he did a few concert performances at the Kirk Gallery and also a short Thursday night residency at The Limerick Castle hotel in Surry Hills. Then, for unknown reasons, he withdrew from all performing and recording with the exception of two requested appearances on 2JJ’s ‘Live at the Radio’ programs in subsequent years.
In 1980 he returned to live performing with a new band, ‘Dogs in Custody, mk-II’ also known briefly as ‘Hard Cash’. This was a four member line-up consisting of John J. Francis on vocals and rhythm guitar, Ulysses Kechayas a talented lead guitarist session-player hailing from Melbourne and Sydney musicians Jim Grant on bass and Steve Clews on drums. From all reports this was a very hard-hitting, uncompromising power band that both created new fans and alienated old ones. The band played a number of gigs around Sydney - mainly in the West - before Ulysses unexpectedly had to return south of the Victorian border and it was decided to fold the band.
In late 1986 radio station 2JJJ-FM revised its mid-dawn format by beginning simultaneous broadcasting with the new ABC-TV television program, ‘Rage’. John J. left the radio station and disappeared from view. During the long research for this site it has been recently learned that in the intervening years between then and now he has been involved in community radio, worked with people with disabilities and environmental groups. He also returned to a long-time association with painting and then moved into creating digital art with some degree of commercial success. He has continued to write and experiment with music but has never returned to performing.
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