February 28, 2007 – Billy Thorpe (The Aztecs) was born on March 29th 1946 in Manchester England. His parents, Bill and Mabel Thorpe and he emigrated to Australia in 1955, arriving in Melbourne and then settling in Brisbane, Queensland. He performed as a ten-year-old under the pseudonym Little Rock Allen. Six months later, after he was heard singing and playing guitar by a television producer, Thorpe made regular musical appearances on Queensland television. By the time he was 15, Thorpie had worked in stage shows, variety television, clubs and even vaudeville at Brisbane’s Theatre Royal with George Wallace. He toured regional venues with Reg Lindsay in 1961, and national venues with Johnny O’Keefe and with Col Joye. By 1963, as an experienced singer and musician, he decided to relocate to Sydney, where he joined The Aztecs.
It was their second single Leiber and Stoller’s “Poison Ivy” which gave the band their brake. ‘Poison Ivy’ became The Aztecs’ first #1 hit single in June 1964. The single heralded the arrival of beat music in Australia, and Thorpie and the Aztecs became the country’s biggest pop sensations. In Melbourne, where The Beatles had played to 52,000 screaming kids, Thorpie and The Aztecs drew 63,000 at the Myer Music Bowl.
In August 1968, Thorpie accepted a few lowly gigs in Melbourne, and ended up staying for eight years. On the eve of the Melbourne trip, Liber and Dick quit. Thorpie recruited Jimmy Thompson (ex-Vince Maloney Sect, Tony Worsley and the Fabulous Blue Jays) on drums. Reverting to the Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs name, the band played as a trio for four months with Thorpie handling all guitar and vocals for the first time. Australian guitar legend Lobby Loyde, freshly departed from The Wild Cherries, joined The Aztecs as lead guitarist in December 1968. Under Loyde’s direction, The Aztecs spearheaded the burgeoning Melbourne underground blues and heavy rock movement. Alongside the likes of Chain, Spectrum, Company Caine, Carson and a host of other new bands, The Aztecs began to rule over the southern club and pub circuit.
With Thorpie’s spirits revitalised and his music changed forever, The Aztecs became the loudest and heaviest blues band of the day and the biggest drawcard in the land. Thorpie’s voice became a guttural, ferocious roar. Few groups of the day could hope to match The Aztecs for sheer volume, visceral impact and raw energy. `Aztecs Energy’ it was dubbed at the time, and Thorpie and the Aztecs became festival mainstays.
In November 1973 the Aztecs became the first rock band to play the Sydney Opera House. They had huge hits such as “Love Letters”, “I Told The Brook”, “Twilight Time” and were a massive influence on AC/DC and many other rock bands.
After many line up changes the band split in 1976, and Billy moved to LA in America where in 1979, he released a solo album titled ‘Children of the Sun’. He released 3 more albums, all of which had some chart success. By 1986, he owned a recording and production studio in Los Angeles, where he worked on musical scoring for television series, including: War of the Worlds, Star Trek: The Next Generation, Columbo, Eight Is Enough and Hard Time on Planet Earth. He also collaborated with Mick Fleetwood and Bekka Bramlett in Fleetwood’s side project, a band called The Zoo.
Returning to Australia in 1994 as a conquering hero, he issued the three-CD box set Lock Up Your Mothers, was interviewed on 60 Minutes and relaunched himself on the Australian pub and concert circuit. There have been few more remarkable careers in Australian rock’n’roll. In 1996 and 1997 he wrote two autobiographies: “Sex and Thugs and Rock ‘n’ Roll” and “Most People I Know (Think That I’m Crazy)”
The indefatigable Billy Thorpe is one of the true legends of Australian rock’n’roll. Ever the journeyman rock’n’roll chameleon, Thorpie evolved from child star, beat pop sensation and cuddly pop crooner to finally emerge as the country’s wildest and heaviest blues rocker. By the early 1970s, fronting the umpteenth version of his ever-changing Aztecs, Thorpie was the unassailable monarch of Australian rock music.
Billy Thorpe died on Feb 28, 2007 for a heart attack just before his 6th birthday.