9th January 2019
Hi Riff Raffers,
Legendary axeman Kevin Borich only knew him as Uncle. When the ‘Kevin Borich Express’ played gigs in Adelaide, Kev would invite Uncle on stage to jam, such were the skills of this long haired, bearded man with wild eyes, on the most owned instrument in the world. In 1977 the stars aligned when the ‘Express’ were recording their debut album, ‘Celebration’ in Melbourne, Uncle was also in town. Just over half way into the seven minute title track he blew a second position harp solo in the key of ‘A flat’. KB always has his guitar tuned down a half step. Kevin on re-listening to the tune some forty odd years later suggested, “We could have had him a bit louder. He did some serious wailing up there in the high register where I hadn’t heard anyone go before.” Hear the harp solo here, ‘Celebration’. I’ve cranked it up a wee bit. Kevin went on to say that, “he was a loveable character pioneering the amp/harp equation.” Who was this man called Uncle and where was he from?
Lets travel back in time, to the year 1968 maybe before he was known as Uncle. The man in question resided in North Shore Sydney. He regularly frequented the Sydney night club scene and in particular the ‘Whisky a Go Go’ in the ‘Cross’. He would arrive with the a case full of harps ready for the opportunity of a late night jam with resident band the ‘Levi Smith Clefs’. He would simply introduce himself to the band as Uncle. Uncle eventually joined Sydney based blues band ‘Copperwine’, but after their jaunt in Adelaide he would abscond and remain behind seeking asylum in the city of churches.
It didn’t take long before an invitation arrived to blow with the band ‘Fraternity’, due to his connection with the ‘Levi Smith Clefs’ as former members had relocated to their home town. The band resided in the Adelaide hills at the prestigious Hemmings Farm owned by entrepreneurial millionaire and promoter, Hamish Henry. The band had already achieved a hit in Adelaide with their version of John Robinson’s (‘Blackfeather’s’ guitarist who had often jammed with the ‘Clefs’), ‘Seasons Of Change’.
An iconic recording as it features singer Bon Scott (later to be ‘AC/DC’s’ vocalist), playing recorder. The single didn’t achieve the same lofty heights in the nation’s other states – ‘Blackfeather’s’ label (Infinity) reneged on their promise of not releasing the song after witnessing ‘Fraternity’s’ success. With Uncle now on board (how did he receive this moniker) they entered and won the Hoadley’s ‘Battle Of The Sounds’ and with it a trip to England. Bon and Uncle got on like a house on fire, partly because of their common desire to go ‘upstairs’ (‘Fraternity’ speak for being out of it, on acid and other hallucinatorys, to go ‘downstairs’ was to get pissed on cheap South Australian brandy). Uncle’s harmonica rig at this time consisted of a shell of an old radiogram with a ‘JBL’ inside. It had a dry sound with little bottom or reverb, but golly gee wowee did it look cool. Uncle would get close to the speaker and use the feedback to augment the tune (and in key).
With the release of their second LP entitled ‘Flaming Galah’, Uncles’ identity was revealed inside the gatefold cover with a mugshot as John Eyers (it’s often spelt as Ayers). ‘Fraternity’ recorded a three track single in Melbourne with the ‘A’ side, ‘If You Got It’ featuring a nice Uncle riff. Hear a quick riff lesson by yours truly here, ‘Uncle’ (Harp key ‘A’). The song had been penned under the influence by John Bisset (song however is credited to the band). Their first rehearsal and shaping of the tune was when they were all ‘upstairs’ on magic mushrooms. Uncle had modelled his harp style on Magic Dick from the ‘J Geils Band’, especially his jazz phrasing. Uncle also performed a live version of their 1971 tune ‘Whammer Jammer’ a harmonica instrumental credited to Juke Joint Jimmy. This was another pseudonym for Magic Dick whose real name happens to be Richard Salwitz. After two albums, three singles and an unsuccessful stint in the UK, which may have been detrimental to their longevity, ‘Fraternity’ was no longer.
Remnants of Fraternity re-emerged in 1980 as a blues/rock outfit named ‘Mickey Finn’ with Uncle leading on vocals and harp. It was here Uncle would pioneer the use of a ‘Delta Lab Effectron Unit’ with a twenty decibel gain and a doubling effect called ‘Slap’.
Mickey Finn recorded a self titled album and lifted two singles, however it was somewhat of a disappointment as it failed to capture their live brilliance. Uncle disappeared from the music scene, but at some point he returned recording live gigs for bands. Swanee (John Swan) recalled that at one time he was driving Taxis.
The man they called Uncle was one of the finest blues/rock harmonica players this country has ever produced. God bless you John Eyers wherever you are.