Richard Clapton recalls the passion Michael Gudinski had for his '60s anthems

HIPSTER: Australian rock legend Richard Clapton has taken a journey back to the swinging '60s.
HIPSTER: Australian rock legend Richard Clapton has taken a journey back to the swinging '60s.

FOUR days before Australian music industry behemoth Michael Gudinski died he rang Richard Clapton at 11.15pm with one of his typically manic phone calls.

Without uttering a hello or any other pleasantry, as was the Gudinski way, the Mushroom Group founder gruffly told a half asleep Clapton that his "hair better be f--king long."

Clapton: "Yes, I've kept it long Michael."

Gudinski: "What shirt you gonna wear in this [video] clip?"

Clapton: "I haven't thought about it."

Gudinski: "What you mean you haven't thought about it? It better be f--king hippie."

He really believed in it fiercely and wanted to make it a hit.

Richard Clapton

The reason for Gudinski's heightened interest in the 72-year-old's appearance stemmed from the album Music Is Love (1966 - 1970), Clapton's collection of '60s covers released on Friday through Mushroom's subsidiary Bloodlines.

It was an album Gudinski had on high rotation before his sudden death on March 1 aged 68, leaving behind a legacy as one of Australian music's most influential figures.

"When Gudinski finally got to hear it, he really got into it and in the last few months of his life he was quite obsessed with this album," Clapton says. "He really believed in it fiercely and wanted to make it a hit."

While Gudinski's loss has been felt most intensely in Melbourne's music scene, the Sydney-based Clapton is saddened he never saw Music Is Love released.

"When I was told four mornings later that he was dead, for me, it was not just a shocking bombshell, it was surreal," he says. "I was only just talking to him or he was only just barking at me."

Both Clapton and Gudinski were initially unsure whether an album of hippie anthems would resonate with an audience in 2021. The idea sprang from Clapton's '70s booking agent Terry Blamey, who went on to manage Kylie Minogue for decades.

Clapton had freshly returned home from playing shows along San Francisco's hippie trail and was reminiscing with Blamey about the music of his youth from artists like The Byrds, Neil Young and Crosby, Stills & Nash, which inspired his classics like Girls On The Avenue and Capricorn Dancer.

In the late '60s Clapton moved to London following a recommendation from Keith Richards to attend art school in the English capital, after the pair had a chance meeting backstage at a Sydney Rolling Stones concert.

Later when Clapton's visa expired he was deported from the UK and hitchhiked his way across Europe as a "homeless bum for 10 months", living briefly with a Danish dentist and his wife in Copenhagen and a German student in Hamburg.

"They were probably the happiest years of my life," Clapton says.

"Human beings were totally different to how they are now. We're just hoping to interest younger people in listening to this album and getting into that period of time. We're in danger of losing those songs to a certain extent."

Music Is Love offers a clear insight into Clapton's influences. There's versions of The Youngbloods' Get Together, The Lovin' Spoonful's Summer In The City, Neil Young's Cinnamon Girl and a slick rendition of The Doors' masterpiece Riders On The Storm.

Clapton also revives some of the decade's more political moments on Southern Man by Neil Young and Buffalo Springfield's For What It's Worth (Hey What's That Sound).

Given the heated political climate in recent years, especially in the US due to ex-president Donald Trump and Black Lives Matter, Clapton feels it's important a younger audience hears these songs.

CHERISHED: The late '60s were the greatest years of Richard Clapton's life.

CHERISHED: The late '60s were the greatest years of Richard Clapton's life.

"With the socio-political songs, we're hoping to make some impact and impression on younger people about these protests songs from the late '60s," he says.

"They were all part of the hippie movement and instrumental in how the hippie movement turned the world on its head, which is what it took to get rid of Nixon and end the Vietnam War.

"The hippies totally changed society and music was an integral part of that revolutionary movement."

Richard Clapton's album Music Is Love (1966 - 1970) is out now.

This story Richard Clapton refuelled on flower power classics first appeared on Newcastle Herald.