Rock writer Glenn A. Baker made no secret of his views in his praise for Jeff St John's `roaring, finely controlled voice'. David `Dr Pepper' Pepperell praised St John's voice for its limitless power, its precise and meaningful phrasing and its sweetness `like honey dripping from the hive'. Throughout the 1960s and 1970s, Jeff St John was indeed Australia's finest rock vocalist.
Born Jeffrey Leo Newton (1946), Jeff St John began his professional singing career in 1965 as a member of Sydney band The Syndicate. Peter Anson (guitar; ex-Missing Links), David Bentley (organ), Shane Duckham (harmonica), John Helman (bass) and Don McCormack (drums) completed the line-up. The Syndicate became The Wild Oats and then Jeff St John and the Id. Dave Montgomery replaced McCormack on drums. The band opened Sydney discotheque Rhubarbs in late 1965 and then issued its debut single, Ray Sharpe's `Lindy Lou'/`Somebody to Love' (simply credited to The Id, February 1966), on Nat Kipner's Spin label.
By that stage, The Id comprised St John, Anson, Helman, the returned McCormack, Ian Walsh (organ), Bruce Johnson (tenor sax, flute) and King Fisher (trumpet). Bentley and Montgomery had left to form Python Lee Jackson. The Id issued three more singles on Spin during 1966, `The Jerk'/`Take this Hurt Off Me' (March), Leadbelly's `Black Girl'/`Eastern Dream' (September) and Zoot Money's `Big Time Operator'/`Sister's Got a Boyfriend' (December), plus the `Big Time Operator' EP (February 1967). Already established as Sydney's premier soul/R&B; band, `Big Time Operator' thrust Jeff St John and the Id into the `Australian Top Band' bracket when the single reached #7 in Sydney and #12 in Melbourne during January 1967. By March 1967, Bob Bertles had replaced Johnson on tenor sax. A three-month residency at Sydney's Here Disco, the support slot to the Roy Orbison/Walker Brothers/ Yardbirds Australian tour and an extended season at Melbourne's Thumpin' Tum had all served to cement The Id's redoubtable reputation.
The Id issued the Big Time Operators album (March 1967), one more single, `You Got Me Hummin''/`Watch Out' (April), plus the rare `You Got Me Hummin'' EP (May). By mid-1967, however, St John had split from The Id to form Yama (a Hindi word for `the first mortals'). The Id continued as a four-piece for a couple of months with Anson on bass and Mick Liber (ex-Python Lee Jackson) on guitar. The band foundered and Anson went on to Foreday Riders and Liber joined Gulliver Smith in The Noyes. Jeff St John and Yama comprised St John, Ross East (lead guitar, vocals), Virgil East (bass; ex-Python Lee Jackson), Wayne Myers (organ), Murray Hill (sax, flute), Keith Jenkins (trumpet) and Peter Figures (drums; ex-Throb). Allan English (sax) had replaced Hill and Jenkins by the time the band commenced touring. The short-lived Yama only produced one interesting single on Spin, `Nothing Comes Easy'/`Everybody's Gone' (October 1967), before splitting.
At the end of 1967, St John entered hospital for four months of treatment on his legs (he had been afflicted with congenital spina bifida since birth). The operations were not successful and St John was confined to a wheelchair for the remainder of his career. St John returned to the live scene in February 1969 when he took his new band to Perth for a few modest bookings. Jeff St John's Copperwine comprised St John, Peter Figures, Phil Wooding (guitar; ex-In-Sect, quickly replaced by Ross East), Barry Kelly (piano, organ, vocals; ex-Marty Rhone and the Soul Agents) and Alan Ingram (bass, vocals). Copperwine swiftly developed into an uncompromising rock outfit, and once back in Sydney began to rule over the burgeoning `head music'/concert circuit alongside the likes of Tully and Tamam Shud.
Jeff St John's Copperwine played a starring role in Australia's first rock festival, Ourimbah, Pilgrimage for Pop in January 1970. Two months later Copperwine issued the imaginative Joint Effort album, one of the finest Australian albums of the early 1970s. The band's influences were apparent in the covers chosen for the set: Blind Faith's `Can't Find My Way Home', Sly and the Family Stone's `Sing a Simple Song' and The Temptations' `Cloud Nine'. The album was rounded out by fine band compositions like `You Don't Have to Listen', the jazzy instrumental `Any Orange Night' and the delicate psychedelic-infused `Fanciful Flights (of Mind)'. The album's progressive soul single `Cloud Nine'/`Days to Come' (February 1970) missed the charts, although the next single, a cover of Rotary Connection's surging `Teach Me How to Fly'/`Freedom Blues' (November 1970), scored an impressive #16 placing on the national chart (#3 in Sydney and #12 in Melbourne). Spin had also issued the four-track EP, `Sing a Simple Song' (all tracks lifted from the album), in May 1970.
By that stage, Harry Brus (ex-Amazons) had replaced Ingram on bass and Wendy Saddington (ex-Revolution, James Taylor Move, Chain) had joined as co-lead vocalist (although she did not appear on the single). Saddington was Australia's best female blues singer of the day, and her stay of ten months (May 1970–February 1971) motivated many changes in Copperwine's musical direction. Much of the soul/jazz flavour was abandoned in favour of a more purist blues orientation on stage, as displayed on the album Wendy Saddington and the Copperwine Live (recorded sans St John at the Wallacia Festival in January 1971).
Jeff St John and the Copperwine were placed third behind Fraternity and Sherbet in the 1971 Hoadley's National Battle of the Sounds competition. The band issued a new single on Festival's Infinity subsidiary label, a cover of Leon Russell's `Hummingbird'/`Keep on Growing' (August 1971), before St John fell out with the rest of the members over his songwriting role and the band's overall direction. St John left in January 1972. Copperwine recruited Glyn Mason (vocals, guitar; ex-Rebels, Chain) and issued one single, `Golden Angels'/ `What's in a Day?' (June 1972). By that stage, the line-up comprised Mason, Kelly, Figures, East and new bass player Wayne Lanham (ex-Nova Express). Copperwine folded in August 1972. Mason went on to Home and Ariel.
St John formed the Jeff St John Band and took out second place (behind Sherbet) at the 1972 Battle of the Sounds. St John issued his debut solo single, David Clayton Thomas's `Yesterday's Music'/`In the Window of Your Love' (October 1972). A&M; issued the single in the USA with a new B-side, `Lady of Ginger' (April 1973). Throughout 1973, St John scored support slots to international visitors Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Gary Glitter. He ended the year with the Most Outstanding Vocalist of the Year award. One of the songs that St John adopted around that time was Richard Clapton's `I Wanna Be a Survivor', which remained in his live set for many years.
On 27 December 1973, St John played a farewell concert at the Sydney Opera House and flew to the UK. St John's backing band for the concert comprised Ron Barry (guitar, vocals), Tony Ansell (piano), B.J. (bass) and Peter Figures (drums; ex-Copperwine). Festival/Infinity issued the concert as the Jeff St John Live album in May 1974. With backing provided by John A. Bird (piano; ex-Country Radio), Vince Melouney (guitar; ex-Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Bee Gees, Fanny Adams, Cleves), Bill Twyman (bass; ex-Third Union Band, Powder-horn) and Ace Follington (drums; ex-Chain, Powderhorn, Cleves), St John played a few low-key gigs on the London pub circuit. He returned to Australia in August 1974.
In 1975, with help from producer Martin Erdman and arranger John Robinson (ex-Blackfeather), St John issued two singles, `Mr Jones'/ `Acapulco Lady' (May) and `Blood Brother'/`Reach Out and Touch Me' (October). He began touring with a new backing band, Red Cloud, which comprised Russell Moran (guitar), Tony Lyon (bass) and Neil Bamford (drums). In mid-1976, St John supported Bo Diddley on his third Australian tour. In 1977, St John became the first Australian artist to sign a record deal with Warners' US Asylum label (home to The Eagles, Linda Ronstadt and Jackson Browne). This resulted in his first national chart placing since 1971 with the single `A Fool in Love'/`Pamela's Song' (#9 in August). `Rock'n'Roll Man'/`Dream Merchants' followed in November, but it failed to chart. Festival issued the Glenn A. Baker-compiled `Best of' album, Survivor 1965–1975, at the end of the year.
The So Far So Good album appeared in April 1978. It was a classy album of late 1970s mainstream rock, but neither it nor its third single, `Star-brite'/`Knock 'Em Dead Kid' (April), charted strongly. St John continued to tour and issued a couple of flop singles, Otis Redding's `(Sittin' on) the Dock of the Bay'/`High Life' (July 1979) and `I'll Never Need Anyone More'/`Giving It All to You' (January 1983), before retiring from live performances. His 1983 touring band had comprised Nick Andrews (guitar), John Kemp (guitar), James Rattray (bass; ex-Ross Ryan Brothers) and Andy Buchanan (drums; ex-Mondo Rock).