Tribute to Billy Thorpe

Kings Cross Theatre in the 1950s
SURF CITY (1963)

Billy Thorpe  LEAVES US
Mar 24, 1946 - Feb 28, 2007

Billy Thorpe was a breath of fresh air to the Sydney music scene. a forerunner. One of our finest blues, ballad and pop singers, he died this morning at St. Vincent's Hospital, Darlinghurst from a heart attack .. (Surf City only a stone's throw away). 

Billy was a talented performer, musician and unique vocalist. I am sad, speechless and in tears. Billy brought joy to me as a young teenager.  My sincere condolences to his wife, Lynn and his children Rusty and Lauren.


With his hands firmly clasped behind his back or grasping his lapels, Billy (backed by the Aztecs), swivelled and jumped to a packed room in Surf City (located in Darlinghurst Road). backed by the Aztecs. 

His closely cropped blond curly hair crowned his determined expression as he launched into his classic "Poison Ivy". 

' ♫ She comes up lika rose ..... And everybody knows .. Poi-zon Ivvvyyyyy ..'

Followed by his covers of
Josephine/Farmer John/Oop Oop Pa Doop/Funny Face/About Love/Sick and Tired
Mashed Potato/Be Bop a Lula/I'm a Hog for Ya Baby/Farmer John
Over the Rainbow/Love Potion No.9
and Blue Day written by by Tony Barber


Col Baigent, Tony Barber, Billy Thorpe, Vince Malouney and Bluey

1963: Every Friday and Saturday night,  I hastened up Brougham Street to Surf City.  After paying the ten shillings entrance fee I 'stomped' around the floor to the piercing sound of The Atlantics.

* an exotic and now obsolete mating dance for surfers.

Diane, Sue and I donned our mandatory surfing gear. We went to great lengths to procure this 'uniform'. Red sneakers (coloured canvas shoes), and a denim skirt. was my choice. Sunday's outfit was less formal, consisting of jeans, frayed at the cuffs, with a piece of white cord serving as a belt, the afore mentioned garment having been dragged several times through the surf to attain a worn look .. A rather over-sized sweat shirt engulfed the carefully prepared outfit. This would later be removed and tied around one's waist.  Check shirts, jeans and brown duffel coats were preferred by the boys. 

Most of us 'surfie chicks' sported a Veronica Lake type fringe (covering one eye), this later changed to long fringe covering both, and, from underneath we peered. .. Our teeth and bleached hair glowed under the ultra-violet lights. This was 'the go'.  

Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs arrived on the scene, replacing the music with British covers  and usurped the Atlantics!!
Our 'surfing gear' had been replaced by 'mod gear' .. buckled granny shoes/high boots, mini/midi and maxi skirts and white stockings for the 'chicks' or 'dolly birds', bell-bottom jeans, buttoned-down collar shirts and beatle boots for the boys. Bleached hair was darkened as teenagers endeavoured to look like a 'Beatle',  Sporting me new Cilla Black hairstyle I'd stand in one spot, shake my head, wave my arms and 'do the mod'.

The first time I saw Thorpie I thought he was amazing, so professional and unique; he was the fore-runner for the bands you see in Australia today. He was the first on the entertainment scene to wear 'flares, button down collars and 'beatle boots'. Though diminutive, Billy, when he opened his mouth and sang, was anything but small.

The crowd at Surf City was diverse, consisting of  several subcultures. I will never forget the night we all,  mods, rockers, rovers/sharpies, pommies,  prostitutes/pimps, strippers, gays and the odd remaining surfie (I said it was diverse), stood stil,l in awe as Billy warbled his rendition of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow", Thorpie  revealed another facet of his talent, and, it was to  launched his career. From  that day on, in respect, we refrained from dancing when he sang this song.

He followed this hit with other ballads such as "I Told the Brook", "Twilight Time" and "It's Almost Summer". Although he will always be remembered for "Most People I Know .. think that I'm Crazy" it was not our favourite song. "Poison Ivy" was a stand-out. Billy went from Surf City to the Whiskey Au Go Go in William Street. The venue had previously been Lee Gordon's old Sound Lounge, then to Melbourne.  Thorpie went to the USA later in life and teamed up with Mick Fleetwood (Fleetwood Mac) and formed Zoo

The tributes on the internet are numerous, this quiet little man certainly made a loud splash.  Billy and the Aztecs rocked the Austalian music scene.  He touched many people. Billy Thorpe was an astute business man, he was particularly over friendly with punters, but was totally dedicated to his work - entertaining. The tributes are from 8-80. One 25 year old says " have never even seen him and I'm crying". Thorpie's funeral on Sunday - I have my Surf City memories.

"Over the Rainbow" (Live - Solo)

 This video is absolutely amazing, capturing  the original 'feel' of the Aztecs.

Billy Thorpe "Somewhere Over the Rainbow"

Thorpie and Lobby Lloyd

Thorpie 'Long Way to the Top' ABC vid. An interview with Thorpie,in which he relates  his first 'legal' encounter with LSD. As LSD was an 'unrecognised' substance in the '60s it was NOT illegal to partake. The night it was deemed illegal we banded together along Pitt St., OP POP indulging in our last legal 'trip'.

 I had the pleasure of seeing Billy at the (Yamba Bowling Club) 40 years on, sadly it was to be last time.  Although he was still producing cutting edge music, he thrilled us with "Oopoopado", "Crazy", and "Over the Rainbow".  Security in a small town is lenient and I was waved on through  backstage no trouble at all, and was able to secure an autograph.


  1. Anonymous21:39

    Hi, yes he was a lengend. Seemed like a bit of a caractor too.

  2. I saw an interview today with him from the ABC talking about his LSD taking. According to him it was clinically administered. Can't get link to come up as yet?

  3. Anonymous15:59

    What a great article. The date on the Bandstand clip is wrong though. It has July 1966. He already had the new band then plus his own TV show 'It's All Happening' was well and truly happening on Channel 7 at that time.
    I think you will find that it was July 1964, especially with the reference that he had blocked the Beatles from Number 1.