Australian music legend dies

Billy Thorpe 1946-2007

Australian rock ‘n’ roll legend Billy Thorpe has died today (February 28) in Sydney from a heart attack, aged 60.

His sudden death was described as a “terrible tragedy” by his manager Michael Chugg, with former manager Michael Browning heralding the musician as “a genius”.

“I don’t think there has ever been anyone in Australia that has been able to work the crowd like Billy Thorpe,” Browning told TV station Channel 7. “He was just amazing, an actual genius as a showman.”

Thorpe was born in Manchester in 1946 and migrated to Brisbane with his family as a child.

In 1963, after establishing himself as a teen pop idol and moving to Sydney, he formed Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs, who disbanded several times but produced a string of hits throughout the 60s and 70s, and are credited with being one of Australia’s most influential groups.

The band’s initial impact on the Australian music scene was evident in 1964, when their cover of The Coasters‘Poison Ivy’ ousted The Beatles from the local Number One spot the same week the Fab Four were undertaking their first Australian tour.

The Beatles were said to be so impressed they invited Thorpe to their hotel to meet them.

The musician was best known for the Billy Thorpe And The Aztecs’ 1972 hit ‘Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)’ and a solo US Top 20 concept album ‘Children Of The Sun’, from 1979.

In 1991, after almost a decade in which he first quit playing live to concentrate on an electronics venture and then turned to scoring and writing music for TV, Thorpe formed the band The Zoo with Fleetwood Mac drummer Mick Fleetwood, before returning to live in Australia in the late 1990’s.

In 2002, Thorpe was instrumental in the ‘Long Way To The Top’ tour, which brought together dozens of artists and bands who had helped establish the early Australian rock scene.

Thorpe had just wrapped up an acoustic tour on Sunday (February 25) and recently finished recording a new Moroccan-themed project called ‘Tangier’, which had taken almost five years to complete.

“Morocco and its people had a profound effect on me, and like many before me I left with an unbridled passion to tell the world about it,” he wrote in an online blog last year. “From my experiences in a 40- year music and recording career, I know instinctively when something really special comes along. I feel it in my joints and it won’t let go. I wake and sleep in its rhythm and cadence. It consumes me and simply demands to be brought to life. And that’s ‘Tangier’.”

Details of Thorpe’s funeral and public service, to be held in Sydney on Sunday (March 4), will be released tomorrow.