Ross Wilson will be turning 69 in November but don’t expect him to wax lyrical about getting out the pipe and slippers and putting his feet up. He is touring as Ross Wilson & The Peaceniks around the country until February next year and it’s clear that putting his career to bed is not on the agenda.
And why would it be? His biography sums it up perfectly: “Ross Wilson is probably the only person in Australian rock music who can't make a comeback simply because he's never been away”.
While it can be an over-used cliché to call a performer “rock royalty”, Wilson of Daddy Cool and Mondo Rock fame, has a music pedigree that warrants that kind of accolade. Now in his fifth decade as a performer, this self-proclaimed “hippie” still has plenty to offer his audiences.
He’s been working as a solo performer for 15 years and assembles “the best musos I can” for his touring band to play his vast assortment of hit songs, but he makes it clear that “I’m the boss” and hints at levels of professional perfectionism.
“Musically, I’m more in tune than when I was younger,” he reveals. “As a performer, I probably used to be a bit wilder, but now everything I do counts. I hire the best musicians I can because I like to sound good. The worst thing is when there is someone playing in the band who is no good, I can’t stand it. I hate it.
A true Aussie music icon, Ross Wilson has released more than 45 singles (Image: rosswilson.com.au)
“I still really like being on stage,” the 68 year old continues. “I really enjoy the performance aspect of it and the physical act of singing. I do on average eight shows a month all over Australia, varying in size from small pubs and clubs to corporate gigs to larger festivals.
“I’m not a particularly social kind of a guy so the social aspect of me that works on that level is my interaction with an audience. It’s a communal experience. My aim is to get people moving, dancing and out of their seats and having a really good time.”
Wilson says he gets a lot of corporate work these days and while a purist might raise their eyebrows at someone of his ilk accepting these kinds of “souless” jobs, he makes no apology for it. “I have a pay rate these days and I don’t accept anything below it,” he says emphatically.
Ross Wilson arrived on the Aussie music scene in 1964 as part of The Pink Finks, a schoolboy r’n’b band, with their first release – “Louie, Louie”. Their cover version of the song was a hit. After a few more years cutting his teeth both in Australia and in the UK, Wilson formed Daddy Cool in 1970 with three other musicians including Ross Hannaford, a friend since Wilson was a teenager. In 1971, the band released Eagle Rock.
“Eagle Rock is by far my biggest song, it’s my flagship,” says Wilson. “Another Daddy Cool song I almost like more, because of its simplicity, is 'Come Back Again'. It’s the sister song to Eagle Rock. I play both at every gig and I never get sick of it.
“The Mondo Rock era during the 1980s lasted a lot longer, we put out more albums and hit singles. By far the biggest song was 'Come Said the Boy' – it has taken on this whole dimension,” says Wilson, who adds the song still gets about 10,000 listens a month on music streaming service, Spotify. “Cool World comes a close second.” Their other hits include: 'State of the Heart', 'Chemistry' and 'Primitive Love Rites'.
Daddy Cool then and now (Image: Facebook / Daddy Cool)
While the band’s hits are still Top 40 radio favourites, it’s easy to forget that Ross Wilson was the man behind several great Australian albums of the '70s including the ground-breaking Living in The 70s by Skyhooks. He also worked as a producer with Jo Jo Zep and Stephen Cummings’ group The Sports.
And, like some of his peers, including Daryl Braithwaite and John Farnham, Wilson is considered one of the sweethearts of the industry. Google him and you won’t find any stories, current or past, that sees him shrouded in sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll-style scandals. Though there isn’t a lot online about his personal life, ask him and he’s very open about his two wives and children. “I was married to Pat for a long time and if you look up certain websites it still implies we’re together. We actually got divorced in 1990, but people still come up to me today and say, ‘How’s Pat?’ We did a song together in the '80s, 'Bop Girl', which was a one-hit wonder, but people still remember it.”
While everything is his life is ticking along nicely, there have also been some dark days. Wilson’s long-time friend and Daddy Cool member Ross Hannaford died in March this year of cancer. “We all knew it was coming,” says Wilson. “When he did finally pass away, we were all very upset. It surprised me, actually. A few years before I lost my father and then early this year before Hanna passed away, my mother passed away. In a way, I got more upset about Hanna because we’d grown up together.”
And of course it focused Wilson’s mind on his own mortality. Though he had to have a hip replacement operation three years ago, he says he’s still in good physical condition and, like many performers his age (think The Rolling Stones), has had to adapt his body to the rigours of touring. He sees a personal trainer twice a week and says he eats a fairly healthy diet.
Daddy Cool's signature classic 'Eagle Rock' spent 17 weeks at the No. 1 spot on Melbourne charts
Nonetheless, Wilson almost snorts derisively when the “retirement” word is mentioned, though he is aware of his advancing years. “Yes, I will be turning 70 soon enough. It’s just a number, but I look at it and go, ‘Wow!’ What’s going on? I’ll be 70. That’s old’. I feel a bit older. I’m not quite as physically fit as I was but I’m in pretty good shape. My second wife, Tania, is 18 years younger than me, she’s 51 now.
“The thing is I can’t retire, I’ve got teenage children. In the late ‘90s, I met Tania, my second wife, then we had children. So I thought I better get out there and make more money.
“My stepdaughter, Olympia Valance, who was four when we first got married, is now a big TV star. She’s been on Neighbours for three years now and plays a character [Paige Smith] that is very popular.
“My other daughter Athena turns 18 this week and I have a 16-year-old son,” he says. “I could see room for semi-retirement as in I could not work as much, but I don’t think I’ll stop because people still want to see me on stage. I don’t really have any hobbies. I’m interested in things like climate change and I noticed there are fewer bees in the world today. I think about that kind of thing.
“Tania [who is a Greek/Australian] runs the Greek newspaper based in Melbourne called Neos Kosmos. So we go back to Athens all the time and we are looking to spend more time there in a private apartment, which has a view of the Acropolis. We are looking forward to doing stuff together as the kids move out,” he says.
Ross Wilson & The Peaceniks are currently touring. For upcoming national tour dates go to www.rosswilson.com.au
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(Feature image: rosswilson.com.au)