The tenacious Ross `The Boss' Wilson (b. 1947) has given more to the institution of Australian rock and pop than can ever possibly be repaid. Through his valiant efforts over the course of 35 years, Wilson has participated in the transformation of a fledgling industry into an enormously successful and well-respected force on the international stage. Wilson has achieved recognition across four decades, with perhaps only the likes of John Farnham, Jimmy Barnes, Col Joye, Billy Thorpe, the late Johnny O'Keefe and Paul Kelly outstripping him in terms of overall sales and popularity.
For most of his career, Wilson has led rock bands, although he has periodically taken to the stage as a solo artist. By the time he was 16 years old, Wilson was already an R&B devotee. He got his start in Melbourne teenage R&B band The Pink Finks during 1965. From there, he fronted The Party Machine which lasted until 1969 when Wilson received an SOS call from the members of -Procession then resident in the UK. Wilson flew to London in an effort to revive Procession's flagging spirits but to no avail. When he arrived back in Australia during early 1970, Wilson teamed up again with his Pink Finks/Party Machine cohort Ross Hannaford in esoteric, special occasion progressive band Sons of the Vegetal Mother.
That band spawned the wondrous Daddy Cool, one of the most fondly remembered Australian bands of the early 1970s. Daddy Cool helped usher in an exciting new phase in the development of Australian rock music. By applying a commercial outlook to the prevailing underground trends of the day, Daddy Cool made a major impact on the local charts. Interestingly, Wilson had launched Daddy Cool as a bit of a joke. Daddy Cool was basically a rock'n'roll revival outfit, a humorous and entertaining diversion from the serious business of advancing the horizons of rock music. Wilson took the band's name from The Rays' 1957 hit, and it was a chance for him to indulge his passion for vintage Los Angeles rock'n'roll. The public caught on quickly and Daddy Cool soon became Australia's top group.
The band's bold, exuberant debut album, Daddy Who? Daddy Cool!, and single, the Australian dance classic `Eagle Rock', both attained national #1 chart positions. The album set a new yardstick by which Australian rock success could be measured by selling an unprecedented 60000 copies. As well as containing covers of Slay and Crewe's `Daddy Cool' and Chuck Berry's `School Days', plus more obscure R&B songs like `Guided Missiles', `Good Rockin' Daddy' and `Cherry Pie', the album contained clever, appealing Wilson-penned originals like `Eagle Rock', `Come Back Again', `Blind Date' and `Bom Bom'. The album retains a freshness and charm to this day.
Wilson broke up the original Daddy Cool in August 1972. He then formed Mighty Kong which lasted until December 1973. As he was getting Mighty Kong off the ground, Wilson took the part of Cousin Kevin in the local stage production of The Who's rock opera Tommy. Other cast members included Billy Thorpe, Daryl Braithwaite, Colleen Hewett, Broderick Smith, Doug Parkinson, Linda George and Keith Moon. In January 1974, Wilson revived Daddy Cool, but the band ground to a halt in September 1975. By that stage, younger and more boisterous bands like Skyhooks and AC/DC had stolen Daddy Cool's thunder. Wilson took an instant shine to Skyhooks, and signed the band's songwriter, Greg Macainsh, to a publishing deal with his Doo Dah Music.
Wilson produced Skyhooks' two groundbreaking albums, Living in the 70's and Ego is Not a Dirty Word. Both albums went on to break Daddy Cool's local sales record in an equally bold fashion. He also produced the Straight in a Gay Gay World album (1976), which was not so successful. Having established his production credentials, Wilson went on to produce Company Caine (Doctor Chop), Ray Burgess (Not So Pretty), Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons (Don't Waste It, Whip It Out), Gary Young and the Rocking Emus (Gary Young and the Rocking Emus), The Dynamic Hepnotics (Strange Land), The Johnnys (Highlights of a Dangerous Life, Grown Up Wrong) and the Street Hero film soundtrack.
With the final break-up of Daddy Cool in September 1975, Wilson took time off to sort out legal wranglings with his former record company, Wizard. He then set up his own label Oz Records (through EMI) with Little River Band manager Glenn Wheatley. Oz issued some of the earliest material recorded by the likes of Mondo Rock, The Sports, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, Stiletto and Mark Gillespie. Wilson launched his solo career with the release of the single `Living in the Land of Oz'/`Who's Gonna Love You Tonight?' (August 1976) on Oz. The single was one of the first ever to deal with the issue of Aboriginal land rights. It charted at #30 in Melbourne during October. Folk/blues singer Margret Roadknight later recorded a version of the song.
`Living in the Land of Oz' was used as the theme song to Chris Löfven's feature film Oz, which was an antipodean adaptation of the Wizard of Oz story-line. Wilson produced and arranged the soundtrack album which included other Wilson-penned tracks like `The Mood', `Greaseball' and `Who's Gonna Love You Tonight?'. Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons contributed two songs, and the soundtrack also included a reworking of The Missing Links' garage-punk chestnut `You're Drivin' Me Insane'. `Living in the Land of Oz' and `Greaseball' also appeared on the Oz sampler album Living in the Land of Oz. Wilson later contributed `Living In The Land Of Oz' to the Various Artists album Building Bridges on CBS (1989).
Just as the `Living in the Land of Oz' single appeared, Wilson launched his new band, Mondo Rock. By way of ceaseless touring and the release of a series of sophisticated pop rock albums, Wilson was able to establish Mondo Rock as one of the most popular acts in Australia during the early 1980s. One of Wilson's sideline ventures during his tenure with Mondo Rock was Ross Wilson's Rockhouse. Rockhouse comprised Wilson's old Daddy Cool partner Ross Hannaford (lead guitar), Bruce Allen (sax; ex-Ol'55, Dynamic Hepnotics), Craig Watson (sax), Dave Wray (sax), Mike Gubb (keyboards; ex-Dynamic Hepnotics), Graham Gibb (bass) and Martin McHighland (drums). Rockhouse played the Melbourne pub circuit during late 1985, with a repertoire that comprised exclusively post-war R&B material. Mondo Rock took a break in 1988. That same year, Wilson was inducted into the Hall of Fame at the Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards ceremony.
At that point, Wilson took the opportunity to record his autobiographical debut solo album, Dark Side of the Man. Production credits for the album were shared among Mark Moffatt, Ricky Fataar and jazz pianist/arranger Paul Grabowsky. The album appeared in July 1989 and mixed country rock with jazz-blues material. It bore little resemblance to his work with Mondo Rock, yielding the singles `Bed of Nails'/`Visit To America' (#20 in August 1989) and `Dark Side of the Man' (September). Dark Side of the Man was moderately successful (#24 in August), and Wilson revived Mondo Rock for the 1990 album Why Fight It?
That album failed to live up to past glories, and Wilson was unable to re-establish his band at the forefront of Australian music. He dissolved Mondo Rock in late 1991 in order to work the local pub circuit with his new venture, RAW. The line-up comprised Michael Sheridan (guitar; ex-No), Barry Deenik (bass) and Craig Waugh (drums; ex-Uncanny X-Men). RAW played an aggressive blend of rock and funk but, aside from building up a strong cult following on the Australian pub circuit, the band did not issue any recordings before breaking up in 1993. Wilson contributed a cover of Spencer P. Jones' `The World's Got Everything in It' to the Various Artists compilation Earth Music issued on the Mushroom label (June 1994). Wilson continued to work in production, and then in July 1997 appeared as guest singer on The Angels' Lounge Lizards acoustic tour.
A number of other artists have recorded Ross Wilson's songs. The highest profile example is John Farnham's version of `Touch of Paradise', which Wilson co-wrote with Gulliver Smith. Also, Def FX covered Daddy Cool's `Make Your Stash' on the CD EP Water (June 1991), while You Am I included `All I Wanna Do is Rock' (Mighty Kong) on the single `Berlin Chair' (February 1994).
Another of Wilson's extracurricular activities was overseeing the career of his spouse Pat Wilson. During the mid-1970s, Pat had fronted Melbourne R&B band Rock Granite and the Profiles, which comprised Wayne Burt (guitar, vocals), Jeff Burstin (guitar; ex-Gutbucket), Chris Stafford (bass), who was later replaced by Wayne Duncan (ex-Daddy Cool), and Bob Bickerton (drums). The Profiles did not issue any records, but the various members went on to achieve a great deal of success with a number of different bands. Burt went on to Daddy Cool, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons and The Giants among others. Burstin was a long-time musical accomplice to Joe Camilleri in Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons and The Black Sorrows. Pat also fronted The Marvels in 1980 with Ed Bates (guitar; ex-Sports), Neil McPherson (keyboards; ex-Billy T), Neil Hodgson (bass; ex-Fox) and Paul Hitchins (drums; ex-Sports).
In August 1983, Pat Wilson issued the Ross Wilson-penned and produced `Bop Girl'/`Tacky' single on WEA. The single became a great success, reaching #2 nationally and #3 in Melbourne. It stayed in the Melbourne Top 10 for ten weeks. Pat followed that up with another Ross Wilson-penned single, `Strong Love'/`Tacky Two' (April 1984), and the mini-album Strong Love. `Strong Love' was not so successful, only reaching #25 in Melbourne and #19 in Sydney during May.