The ‘60s produced some of the best remembered rock ‘n’ roll hits of all time. Caloundra’s own rock ‘n’ roll legend, Tony Worsley, takes Robin Storey back to time of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll.
When you walk into Tony Worsley’s Velvet Waters Restaurant in Caloundra you are instantly transported back in time. The walls are crammed with memorabilia from the ‘60s and ‘70s – framed EP and LP records, posters, magazine covers and newspaper clippings of the great Aussie rock ‘n’ rollers of the era – The Bee Gees, Johnny O’Keefe, Col Joye, Little Pattie and Russell Morris, to name just a few. And of course Tony himself, the front man for the Blue Jays, who had number of Top 10 Hits in the ‘60s, including ‘Raining in My Heart,’ ‘Knock on Wood,’ ‘Something Got a Hold on Me,’ and their biggest hit ‘Velvet Waters,’ after which Tony named his restaurant.
The Tony Worsley of today bears only a slight resemblance to the fresh-faced young lad grinning cheekily out from the magazine profile on the wall. He’s broad, tanned and remarkably youthful looking for almost 61. ‘I’m really a quiet, shy person,’ he says, but he hides it well under his jovial, exuberant manner. On the day of our interview the man who has played to a capacity crowd at Wembley Stadium in London and who counts among his personal friends Aussie rock legends such as Normie Rowe and Col Joye, seems more chuffed about having just been awarded a Centenary medal from the Prime Minister for distinguished services to the Arts.
Any local resident who is too young to remember Tony in his heyday will certainly know him as the creator of the Walk of Stars – a series of plaques cemented in the footpath along Bulcock Street commemorating the great names of the Australian rock industry. So far there are 45 plaques representing artists from ‘60s and ‘70s as well as contemporary artists such as Jimmy Barnes and Savage Garden.
‘People think I’m doing it for myself, but I’m not – I’m doing it for the city and so that these stars won’t be forgotten by future generations.’
Each of the artists represented in the Walk of Stars is also presented with a personal plaque by the Mayor in a public ceremony followed by a private gala dinner. ‘We fly the artists up (sponsored by local residents and businesses), put out the red carpet, vintage cars, put them up in a nice resort and treat them like Hollywood.’ He recalls, ‘We had 3000 people turn out for Jimmy Barnes , the street was packed.’ The latest stars to be honoured were Frankie J Holden, Marty Rhone and Maria Dallas at Kings Beach Park on Mother’s Day.
Tony’s own career has spanned over 40 years in the music industry. Even as young child living in England the only ambition he ever had was to be a singer. ‘I would never come home after school, I would sit up a tree and look out at the cliffs at Hastings where I lived and just dream of being a singer.’
He won numerous talent quests and after his family migrated to Brisbane when he was 14 he continued performing and began to make a name for himself singing at suburban clubs.
It was a time in the late ‘50s and early ‘60s when many of the artists who were later to become famous were striving to realise their dreams. ‘Marcie Jones and the Cookies had a farm on Cribb Island,’ Tony reminisces, ‘and myself, Billy Thorpe, Graham Chapman, Mike Furber and the Bee Gees would all go there on a Sunday for a barbie and we had a makeshift stage and we’d all play our tennis rackets and make out like we were going to be stars. The rest is history, especially for the Bee Gees.’
Tony’s big break came when he was offered an opportunity to join a band in Melbourne and at the age of 20 he became the lead singer for the Blue Jays, ultimately known as Tony Worsley and the Fabulous Blue Jays.
The next few years were heady times, touring Australia and Europe with such bands as Manfred Mann, The Kinks and The Honeycombs and the lifestyle that went with it – the hotels, limousines, endless parties and of course, girls.
‘There were girls knocking down the stadium door, girls in your air vents, girls in your showers…you picked out the good looking ones and got the guards to throw the others out.’ Tony adds ruefully, ‘It was just a wild trip and I don’t remember half of it.’
After 10 years with the Blue Jays he decided to quit. ‘I got pretty messed up in Sydney living in the Cross and I thought if I keep doing this I’m gonna die.’
He spend the next few years doing the club circuit in Sydney and the South Pacific, including three years with Johnny O’Keefe as his manager.
His years with the Wild One were exhilarating and at the same time depressing. ‘We had some crazy times together and he taught me a lot.’ But this was also towards the end of Johnny’s life when drugs and alcohol had taken their toll. ‘He was pretty spaced out a lot of the time…I used to pick him up and carry him to bed.’
After tiring of the club circuit, Tony and his wife Anne settled in Caloundra 10 years ago and opened their award-winning Velvet Waters restaurant. On Friday and Saturday nights, with the help of his singing waitresses, Tony entertains an appreciative crowd with renditions of popular songs from the ‘60s to the present.
He doesn’t regret giving up stardom at a young age and finds it much more rewarding performing to an intimate audience than to a huge crowd. ‘We sell memories. What’s good now is the mortgage is paid for, the kids are grown up and now people want to go out for what they gave up.’
‘In the end,’ says the man who’s never had a week-end off performing and vows to sing until the day he dies, ‘it’s the people who make the show.’
Sunshine Coast Weekender Magazine