Fifteen years before Men at Work went platinum worldwide with “Down Under,” the Easybeats scored the first international victory for Oz rock with “Friday on My Mind,” the classic 1967 weekend-party anthem. The Easybeats combined the songwriting depth of the Beatles with the raw surge of the Rolling Stones and ruled the charts down under for four years. But contractual complications and a lack of long-term success in England and the U.S. finally led to their breakup in 1969.
Guitarists and composers Harry Vanda and George Young went on to become Australia’s top studio duo, producing AC/DC and recording as Flash and the Pan. (Drummer Snowy Fleet took over his family’s construction business in Perth, and bassist Dick Diamonde retired to New South Wales.) But Stevie Wright, the band’s diminutive, Jaggeresque singer, took the long, low road into what he euphemistically calls Death Valley.
“The effect was devastating,” says Wright, now thirty-eight, “going from the stardom of the Easybeats to sweeping floors. But I had to survive.” In 1971, Wright was introduced to heroin at a party. “I had the most violent physical experience for two days. And I still went back. It took me twelve and a half years to stop.”
In that time, Wright wrecked his marriage (he has a son, Nicholas, 13), turned down an offer to join Mott the Hoople and worked as a production manager for Albert Records, the Easybeats’ old label. In 1974 he enjoyed a brief return to Number One in Australia with “Evie,” a brilliantly crafted eleven-minute pop-rock suite written and produced by Vanda and Young. But, Wright admits, “My career was going up at the same rate as my addiction. One blew out the other in the end.”
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After two failed attempts at rehabilitation, Wright finally got the monkey off his back last Christmas, just in time to play a successful holiday gig at the Sydney hotel where he lives. An Easybeats reunion tour is in the works for the fall; in the meantime Wright has hit the Oz pub circuit, doing old Easybeats tunes as well as new originals.
“A lot of groups are doing our material in their stage acts,” he notes proudly, “so why not do it with the original sound and the original singer?” The fans love it, too. “Mate, I have to do a country & western song for the fourth encore just so the crowd will piss off home.”