When in 1972 Warren ‘Pig’ Morgan was encouraged to record his first solo album, after having played with some of the best names in the Australian rock business, it wasn’t until he was relieving himself at a pub located on the Dandenong Ranges, Victoria, that he saw written on one of the cubical doors the words “Puffing Billy”. It was at that moment he decided to bring in Billy Thorpe; an invitation the young king of the Viking chord had no hesitation in accepting. Hence the absurdly titled Thump’n Pig & Puffin’ Billy Downunda, an album I would not necessarily describe as a bonafide classic, however it is nonetheless a more than enjoyable document of early ‘70s Oz Rock. Joining them was drummer Gil Matthews, bassist Barry Matthews and guitarist Phil Manning (of Chain fame), all of whom were accomplished musicians in their own right and more than qualified to be part of Morgan’s musical experiment.
Now as Morgan himself described: “We’d done quite a bit of preparation for the album. Billy and I looked at what material we had… We weren’t 100% organised to start with, but when it came to the recording it was all done pretty quickly.” And it sounds as though it was done fairly quickly too. But not in a bad way mind you. In those days recording was expensive, and musicians had to be organised, at least in Australia. None of this five hours of snorting sniff and pissing about before plugging in your instruments. What do you think this is, L.A? No, as a band you had to know what you were doing, and I don’t mean just making up some inspired shit on the spot, but rehearsing all night if need be to make sure the songs were ready.
First up is “Captain Straightman”, a piano led rocker that is a little on the cartoonish side for my liking, no matter how good the playing is. Things improve with the old fashioned “I’ve Cried Over You”, a song which has 1950’s written all over it. Billy Thorpe not only sings like a monster, but performs some exquisite guitar in the process. The eccentric “You Look After Me, I Look After You” is a delightful, almost fairytale-like number, on which Morgan not only sings but also plays Piano and Celeste, like Alice in Wonderland tripping out with the White Rabbit around the rock and roll table of madness.
The band ramp it up on the rocking “Moving with Rock”, before slowing things down on the reflective “Early Morning”. “Mothers and Fathers” is one of those songs any lover of classic rock needs to hear at least once in their lifetime. One thing’s for sure, Thorpe had a voice that had a certain thunder and lightning to it Robert Plant could only dream of. Thorpe sings his heart out, literally, on the ballad “Just for You”, a track which really has nothing going for it apart from Thorpe, whose vocals manage to carry it through. Next is the predictable as cow manure on the meadows “Sunny Day”, which is basically another rock and roll vamp through Eddie Cochran’s pastures. Come to think of it, it’s not a bad song at all.
“Bow My Head” is another one of those soulful ballads only Billy Thorpe knew how to sing, whose gospel inspired power-house vocals could blow any Southern Baptist Church away in no time. And speaking of the church, “Mister Man” is a peaceful way to close out the album, even if it does get somewhat schizophrenic toward the end.
The bonus tracks are obviously welcome as always, however offer scant insight into what the listener hasn’t already earlier, except that is for “The Many Successes of Baron Waste”, recorded live in the morning at Armstrong Studios no doubt after a long night of drink and drugs. Amazingly they pull it off, and one of the tunes Thorpe ought to have professionally released had he ever truly given it that much serious thought.
For fans of traditional rock and roll with a progressive element there is much to enjoy. And as talented as Morgan was, the album could never have worked without Thorpe. However I must say, the album cover is utterly awful. Interesting, but awful.