Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons were one of the most powerful bands to emerge out of the Melbourne clubs in the mid-70s – with a glorious blend of originals and obscure covers with tight musicianship and a laddish sense of entertainment.
They were fronted by ball of energy Joe Camilleri who sang and played sax, and his nickname derived from Giuseppe, the Maltese name for Joseph gave the new band their name.
Recalls Camilleri, “They originally invited Stephen Cummings and me, both of us were in a band called The Pelaco Brothers. The deal was Stephen would sing and I would play sax.
“”We arrived at the rehearsal after a Pelacos country gig 100 km away the night before, a bit worse for wear and wearing the same clothes.
“Stephen decided in the end to go off and form The Sports but I was in awe of these guys, great musicians who’d been in legendary bands.”
Wayne Burt (guitar, vocals) was from Rock Granite and the last days of Daddy Cool, Jeff Burstin (guitar, vocals) from Co. Caine, John Power (bass, vocals) from Foreday Riders and Gary Young (drums, keyboards, vocals) an original part of the Daddy Cool phenomenon.
Burt, Camilleri and Young contributed individually to the satchel of songs, and all five were fine singers in their own right.
Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons hit the ground running. Within weeks they were packing out clubs, eventually playing 300 shows a year around the country and abroad.
Wayne Burt: “The people who came to our gigs were real music fans… we weren’t a pretty boy band by any means!
“”Our wide variety of styles when we started out, meant the crowd never got bored. As we tried out new sounds, they trusted us enough to go along with us.”
Dave Ridoutt, a brilliant electronics and electrical engineer, also Falcons sound engineer and owner of the Live At San Remo, NYE 1976 tape: “The Falcons and Ariel were the best bands in Melbourne at the time, we packed out the clubs, and there was a bit of competition between us.”
Joe Camilleri: “After the wonderful decade before when The Beatles, The Stones, Coltrane and Miles blew your head, the ‘70s went on to be a time of incredible things, and audiences had more tolerance for the avant-garde.
“People had more stamina and patience to let a band experiment.”
Part of the appeal was Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons’ sense of entertainment.
Out front Camilleri’s onstage fashion sense included 1930s zoot suits, scarves, turbans, satin shirts and, as a one-time apprentice tailor, self-made trousers which invariably tore as he went into his frenzied routines and needed to be gaffa-taped while one of the others took a solo.
The band would do everything to rouse the crowd – holding guitars and saxophones in the air, and dancing around like dervishes.
Camilleri would blithely give away the stage production, and once crawled into the bass drum while Young was pounding the hell out of it.