Those who might have forgotten the supreme vocal prowess of Jeffrey St John were convincingly reminded of it when, on 18 October 2000, the wheelchair-bound survivor of the '60s and '70s OzRock took the main podium at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Paralympic Games, dressed in a satin shirt depicting the Australian flag. He belted out the National Anthem in his inimitable style, and there were few dry eyes left in the house, not just because of the spectacle itself, but because fans were witnessing the return of one of Australia's finest-ever soul/rock singers.
Jeff St John was named Jeffrey Leo Newton when he was born in 1946, and grew up in Sydney. Jeff was diagnosed at birth with spina bifida, a congenital disability that causes malformation of the spine and resultant posture and walking difficulties. For much of his youth, Jeff walked with a caliper on his right leg, and underwent numerous painful operations. But the kind of tenacity to overcome this affliction that Jeff has maintained throughout his life, first became evident in his formative years. As he told Who Weekly magazine in October 2000: "I was told If you want something badly enough and put the work in, there's always a solution to achieving your goal". That goal turned out to be music. Jeff's early ambitions were fully encouraged by his parents, whose house was constantly filled with all kinds of music. "They had glorious voices. On house-cleaning days we'd be wandering around singing excerpts from musicals!"
In 1965 Jeff joined forces with an established Sydney blues-rock outfit called The Syndicate who he met by chance at the Sydney Musicians Club in early 1965. With members including guitarist Peter Anson (from legendary Sydney garage-R&B monsters The Missing Links) The Syndicate with Jeff on board soon evolved, via The Wild Oats, into The Id (named after the popular Johnny Hart cartoon strip The Wizard of Id), with Jeff also adopting the stage name he has used ever since.
Copperwine (aka Jeff St John's Copperwine), was formed in early 1969. Aided by Ross East and Peter Figures, plus Alan Ingram on bass and keyboardist Barry Kelly (from Marty Rhone's Soul Agents), St John wowed punters at the Ourimbah "Pilgrimage For Pop", Australia's first major outdoor rock festival, held at Ourimbah, NSW at the end of January 1970. The band's dynamic repertoire mixed quality prog-flavoured group originals with powerful renditions of Sly & the Family Stone's funk classic "Sing A Simple Song" (a stage fave for many Australian acts of the time including Southern Comfort and The Affair), a storming version of The Temptations' psych-soul masterpiece "Cloud Nine" and Blind Faith's "Can't Find My Way Home."
This body of songs was captured by producer Pat Aulton and remains one of the most accomplished and musically adventurous long players of the time. The punningly-titled "Joint Effort", released in 1970, won considerable critical acclaim, but failed to generate significant sales.
In retrospect, Joint Effort reveals at least three truths -- the album was one of Festival Record's most consistent sellers for many years, it's a fine artifact of what was musically going on with OzRock in this heady and fertile time, and it documents what a fine band Copperwine was and provided conclusive proof that Jeff is one of the best rock vocalists this country has ever produced.
Jeff St John & Copperwine (1969-72)
Jeff St John (lead vocals)
Harry Brus (bass 70-72)
Ross East (guitar, vocals)
Peter Figures (drums)
Alan Ingram (bass, vocals 69-70)
Barry Kelly (keyboards, vocals)
Glyn Mason (vocals, guitar) 1972
Wendy Saddington (co-lead vocals 70-71)
Phil Wooding (guitar 69)
1 Cloud Nine
2 Sing A Simple Song
3 Fanciful Flights
4 Any Orange Night
5 You Don't Have To Listen
6 I Been Treated Wrong
7 Days To Come
8 Reach Out
9 Can't Find My Way Home
11 I Remember
12 Environment In 3 Parts
13 Teach Me How To Fly
14 Freedom Blues
16 Keep On Growing