Stevie Wright will no doubt be remembered as one of Australia’s greatest rock and roll singers, a man who gave it his all and then some. As front man of The Easybeats he either wrote, or co-wrote – with Vanda Young – such classic songs as “She’s So Fine”, “Women”, “I’ll Make You Happy” and “Sorry”, tunes which were just as good as anything heard on English or American radio during the mid 1960’s. However when the band disintegrated in 1969, Wright’s career in the music business appeared to come to a halt, unless one counts his time as a cast member of the Australian production of Jesus Christ Superstar in the early ‘70s (for which he won great acclaim by the way, even if he did carry out a meat pie on stage one night).
It was not until 1973 when Stevie, working at Alberts Studios, was reunited with his old band mates Harry Vanda and George Young, both of whom had returned fresh from England with practically a suitcase full of songs, that the seeds were sown for the recording of Wright’s first solo album, what would ultimately become Hard Road.
Released in 1974, Wright’s debut is without a doubt his finest musical achievement and a defining moment for Oz Rock in general. The LP’s success owed itself predominately to Vanda and Young, whose contributions were considerable, who not only played on the record, but also wrote the title track, along with “Didn’t I Take You Higher”, as well as the epic “Evie”, which was an enormous hit on the charts and the reason why most people would have bought the album in the first place.
If you love Bon Scott era AC/DC, then you’ll likely enjoy album opener “Hard Road”, whose main riff is more than faintly reminiscent of “Long Way to the Top”. That Malcolm Young was brought in to play guitar is no coincidence, being the brother of Angus and George. It’s a superb track, and one which Stevie was simply put on this earth to sing. Rod Stewart covered it on his Smiler LP, but the original is the best, in my estimation.
“Life Gets Better” is a bit of decent early ‘70s disco-rock and the first of six songs Wright wrote for the album. On “The Other Side” the band gets to flex some serious funk-blues muscle, while “I Got You Good” is little more than your above average party song. And speaking of parties, “Didn’t I Take You Higher” is guaranteed to get one’s guests dancing round the shag pile carpet in all their flared jeans glory. Even those who are bonging near the lava lamp might get up for a quick strut. But seriously, it’s a great piece, and reveals just how much Vanda and Young had grown as songwriters since the Sixties.
Change sides and we have the enduring eleven minute three part marathon of “Evie”, the song which relaunched Stevie’s career and put him back at the top of the Australian charts. The first part starts off as a tough, hard as nails rocker, with a riff and chorus that will dominate your thought patterns for at least several days (I’m surprised that Bowie didn’t do a version of his own. Then again, Suzi Quatro probably beat him to it). Basically it’s your typical boy meets girl (part one), boy falls in love (part two); girl leaves boy and breaks his heart (part three) storyline. But isn’t that what rock ballads are supposed to be about – clichéd and accessible? No matter. My father always said that this tune was ahead of its time, and who am I to argue. Sure, it may lack the gravitas of Stairway to Heaven from a few years earlier, but that doesn’t mean it can’t be a brilliant song in its own right.
The country-rock of “Movin’ On Up” is another strong Wright composition, as is “Commando Line”, a predominately acoustic-gospel number, where obviously he’d learnt a thing or two when playing the role of Simon Zealotes in Jesus Christ.
Wright would go on to record one more near-classic album, the appropriately titled Black Eyed Bruiser, which contained not only the title song, but also “Guitar Band”. However the LP failed to repeat the success of the first, regardless of how good it was, and soon Stevie began to spiral downward into an ever worsening dependency on drugs and alcohol, combined with mental illness. Sadly Wright passed away in December 2015. Whether he ever managed to overcome his many demons during his final years is anybody’s guess. All I can say is that for every purported shortcoming as a person, at least he will be remembered for his musical achievements, and the contribution he made to an industry and audience that was clearly crying out for a pop star of its own. As a young man, Wright’s dreams came true. How unfortunate it would quickly become a nightmare.