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The Birth of “Empty Monkey”


This Album came about because the Levi Smith’s Clefs were visited at the Whisky au Go Go in Sydney by a fellow called Jimmy Stewart, an Irishman with a recording label called Sweet Peach, based in Adelaide.


We spoke about recording; he wanted to know why we hadn’t recorded. I told him I was too busy working. I’ve always had it backwards, most bands have to record so as to become popular and be able to draw a crowd and therefore get work.  I am fortunate to be gifted with an extremely strong stage presence, (a good showman), so recording was not a priority for me.  He offered me a recording contract.


The Levis were drawing full houses at Whisky and had been doing so for eighteen months, six nights a week from 9.00pm till 3.00am. Nice job?


My separation with Whisky was quite funny in retrospect. My band line up was incredibly tight due to our playing schedule and Bruce Howe (bassist) was always in my ear to leave Whisky and work the Australian popular music traps to show off our band. This Levis line up was Bruce Howe, Mick Jurd (Guitarist), John Bisset (Organist) and Tony Beuttel (Drums).


I was a bit reluctant to leave a good gig that paid well. Let’s face it; performing 6 nights a week with no gear to shift, no roadies, PA & Lights supplied is a great gig. You turn your Amp on and head for the bar. I was 27 years old, single and looking good with Go-Go girls and waitresses everywhere, full houses, American soldiers on R & R from Vietnam, the beautiful people, 1968/69 the hippie’s era and free love.  Mate you’ve got to be kidding, the in place in Sydney, where else would I want to work?


So I asked John Harrigan, (Surf City, the Hawaiian Eye and Whisky’s owner) for a two-week holiday. He said he would think about it. Well he did for two weeks and then I asked him what his answer was, he told me “no”. I asked why and he said that he could not replace me. I had consumed a couple of Bacardis and was quite angry and said, “Well you’ll have to” and gave him a fortnights notice. On the road again! I booked a week in Adelaide and a week in Melbourne. I then contacted Sweet Peach and told them the dates we would be in Adelaide and asked them to book a studio (Gamba Studios) and let’s record.


So after working a gig at Adelaide’s HeadQuarters venue we packed and took the promoters and many of the audience with us and proceeded to record with producer Stan Lewandowski, enough material to fill two albums. We’d had a good gig and full of booze and joints were in the right mood to create, so we laughed joked and played. Sweet Peach decided that we did not have the regulation four minute pop record so we recorded another two tracks with Roger Savage (Armstrong’s Studios Melbourne), these being Road Runner and a song written by John Bisset,  Lisa”. Sweet Peach then cut a Demo LP for us to listen to, we collectively decided that we felt it was a bit loose and asked Sweet Peach if we could record again. Then the dealing began. They said if we would supply the musical backing for Doug Ashdown’s double album, “The Age of the Mouse” for nothing, they would pay for another session at United Sound in Sydney with Spencer Lee as producer. So thus the scene unraveled and after eight hours we’d finished the Album that was released, Levi Smith’s Clefs, “Empty Monkey”. The title came from Jimmy Stewart & Doug Ashdown who reminisced about sitting in a rubbish dump writing songs and noted a small tin monkey toy all broken, discarded and unloved, hence “Empty Monkey” was born.


Ed Nimmervol of Go Set fame reviewed this album and wrote, “This is the best rock album ever produced in Australia”, which obviously made me feel real good.

Whilst my band was recording Doug’s Album, Sweet Peach double dealt behind my back and coerced my band to form Fraternity with Bonn Scott, who proceeded to write themselves into the Australian Musical History books.


Trust, in the music industry, is still hard to find.


In the meantime Whisky Au Go Go could not replace me and asked me to go back to Sydney. I did, which led on to more recordings and many more line-ups and another good season at the famed Chequers Nightclub, the top spot in Australia. “Terrific” another six nights a week, 9.00pm till 3.00am for twelve months and I had the opportunity to form a ten piece band and lend my ears to having a horn section to play with, Heaven. I have four excellent recordings of my Levis with horns.


However I shall stay on the Empty Monkey recording trail.


I retained the first session Demo LP and on listening to it many years later decided that this session was not as loose as I had once thought.

Stan Lewandowski had experimented with phasing and one can hear the musos changing their minds and creating something from nothing. Some of the tunes are nothing like the released versions and are very valid in their own right. I had a chuckle when I sent a copy to John Bisset in New Zealand. He emailed me back and said he did not even know that it existed and asked me who sang The Weight? Mick Jurd is the answer. John also said that he played his finest organ with this band; he still plays around the Kiwi traps (New Zealand) as a guitarist.


I have had the help of Rob Pillar who restored old recordings for the State Library of SA. Rob set about decrackling this old record, which one could ski up and down the bumps and bends. We can’t just put a penny on the needle anymore. It has come up quite well and this is the only copy still alive. This is it, warts and all and it will not hurt your ears. So far I have not been able to uncover the master tapes or verify if they still exist.


I ended up sending the first session at Gamba test pressing to Boris Jerschensky of Mayfair Music in Germany; Boris spent a year on this project and eventually we have packaged this as a double Album (Vinyl). Empty Monkey & The First Session. Also another two tracks also exist. Hey Jude and “With A Little Help From My Friends” recorded at Peppers Studios in Adelaide, (same line up).  Joe Cocker’s “With A Little Help” was our inspiration to rearrange the Beatles, You Can’t Do That”.  These two tracks were recorded to mime on TV shows. I have yet to get my hands on “With A Little Help”.


In the year 2008 we lucked out on discovering the master tapes from Warners Music, we were able to gain purchase of them and consequently Aztec Records owned by the original drummer of the Levis, Gil Matthews, who re-mastered them and packaged a double CD with a 24 page lift out written by Ian McFarlane (Whammo). This CD is currently available from this site's shop or order it from your local record shop



As we have come to recognize musical antiques are valuable, I do hope this section of my musical journey has added or maybe add to your musical life.


I am very proud of this line up of the “Levi Smith’s Clefs”.


Yours Sincerely,


Barrie McAskill:


Email: sales@mcaskill.com.au

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