It was the album nobody wanted. Russell Morris’s 2012 labour of love, Sharkmouth, almost sunk without a trace. “When you’ve been around as long as I have, if you go for 30 years and you don’t have any success on the charts…” Morris tails off.
“If I was in their position I’d be the same,” he continues diplomatically. “When you’ve been around for a long time, you’re like a pair of slippers. People decide they want a new pair and put them under the bed and they don’t listen with the same attention. I couldn’t get it picked up because people had this preconception. It’s human nature and I can understand it. You want to turn the soil over and find fresh things.”
Morris’ 1969 super-hit, ‘The Real Thing’, was recently added to the Sounds of Australia Registry, at a time when sales of Sharkmouth are going through the roof. The psychedelic rock hit of 1969 and the blues and roots album of today couldn’t be more different. Except for one stark and surprising similarity – both nearly fell on the scrap heap. “When we recorded ‘The Real Thing’ with Ian Meldrum, the record company hated it,” Morris says. “They thought it was rubbish. The day it was released, radio jumped on it and it took off like crazy. Very similarly to Sharkmouth, no-one wanted it.”
Now though, Morris has found significant success through Sharkmouth, an album written and recorded in his own image. “It took people by surprise. No-one ever expected me to do the blues. I went back to what I wanted to do. I’m still pretty proud of the old stuff and I do salute that. I did this because I hadn’t had any success for a long time. I love the blues and I’m a real fanatic about history. I didn’t do it to be successful. I did it as a project that I actually loved. I never thought I would have any success with it.”
A 43-year gap splits ‘The Real Thing,’ a single of immense critical and popular acclaim, and Sharkmouth, which has sold more than 60,000 copies and is destined to go platinum. The veteran artist is justifiably proud of his latest offering – and with two follow-up albums planned for the near future, and a headlining slot at the Sydney Blues & Roots Festival next month, Morris is riding the crest of the wave. “I did six albums that sunk without a trace, because I was repeating the same habits, style and patterns … People had heard it before. I was trying to write something like I’d done. [Then I decided] I’m not going to do what people expect me to do. I’m going to do what I want to do, because my albums aren’t selling. I did it out of love. I was absolutely gobsmacked when everyone loved it. I think it is the proudest project of my career.”
Such is the staggering success of Sharkmouth, it will also prove to be Morris’s most successful career project. Even more successful than ‘The Real Thing’, which took Australia by storm with its uniqueness and the way it pushed the envelope. “Ian [Meldrum] decided to make it a psychedelic record and to make it six minutes. We came out and did something that no-one had done. Ian Meldrum was the total architect of that, I can’t take much credit for it at all. Ian Meldrum was just sensational.
“But Sharkmouth is probably going to be more successful. It’s going to eclipse ‘The Real Thing’, the way things are going. ‘The Real Thing’ was a phenomenal single, but this is an album. It gives you the indication that if you’re doing something, do it because you love it, not because you’re trying to be famous.”
BY MATTHEW CONNELLAN
Russell Morris plays Sydney Blues & Roots Festival in Windsor on Thursday October 24 through Sunday October 27. Diesel, Ash Grunwald, Chris Wilson, The Cyril B. Bunter Band, Charlie Parr, Sandi Thom and more also on the bill. Sharkmouth out now through Ambition/EMI.