Wednesday, 4 June 2014

#41. Guitarzan – The 80 Aces

Jarrod Hawker: drums.
Matt Hewson: bass.
Jade McLaren: vocals.
Matt Neal: guitar.

Chanting by Jackson McLaren, Kyle McLaren, Tim Emanuelle and Marcus Hall.

Lyrics by Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Music by Jarrod Hawker, Matt Hewson, Jade McLaren & Matt Neal.
Written late 2006-early 2007.
Recorded at Noise Studios in mid-2007.
Produced and mixed by Marcus Jennings.
Released on The 80 Aces EP.

Alan Brough, he of Spicks & Specks and ABC Radio fame, once called this "one of the greatest names for a track I have heard in a long time". Credit for this goes to 80 Aces singer Jade McLaren, who penned the majority of this song and came up with the clever titular portmanteau.

Unfortunately, as with most good ideas, it had been done before. Here's a song called Guitarzan (although it’s spelt Gitarzan for some weird reason) recorded back in 1969 by novelty song specialist Ray Stevens (probably best known for The Streak).

We didn't know this song existed until well after we'd recorded and released our Guitarzan. The two songs couldn't be more different, plus I'm fairly certain Stevens' song isn't about our good friend Jackson McLaren like ours is. I can't be 100 per cent on that, but I'm fairly certain.

Jade's starting point for the song was watching young Jackson cut his teeth playing with The Roaring 40s (a band which also featured Jade's younger brother and future 80 Aces bassist Kyle – Jackson is no relation to these McLaren’s, by the way). We were bemused, impressed and intrigued by the dichotomy of Jackson back then - at rest he was a quiet, polite and calm teen, but put a guitar in his hands or place him on stage and he became a wild man; a raucous, unbridled soul beyond his years who could howl up a storm and stomp a rocker with the best of them.

Jackson, Kyle and Marcus aka The Roaring 40s.

Here’s Jade:

Guitarzan started as a word play idea I had at the time. I thought the word Guitarzan was interesting but was struggling to find a way to use it, then I thought about writing it about a guitarist and the most impressive guitarist that I knew personally at the time was Jackson McLaren.”

Jeez, thanks dude.

I kid. Jackson was better.

“If anyone was lucky enough to witness Jackson McLaren fronting The Roaring 40s, you'd most likely agree he was impressive. A 14-year-old kid who played the guitar upside-down and left-handed and moved around on stage like Chuck Berry… I thought he was great.

“I was also interested in the way Jackson, as a relatively softly spoken, shy kinda guy, would get a guitar in his hands and perform like he was a beast. I’d never written a song about someone I’d known before and thought it would be a fun challenge.”

Jackson in action aka Action Jackson.

Jade came to me with the melodies fully formed and it was my job to put chords to them. First I had to convince Jade to switch the verse and the chorus - he had the 'Hey kid" part as the chorus and the climbing falsetto section as the verse. Eventually he agreed I was right and we carried on.

As is usually our way, we did the song over two sessions, leaving the hard part of writing the second verse til later (I know there aren't many words, but we tended to take our time). Once that was in the bag, we took the song to the rest of the band - drummer Jarrod Hawker and bassist Matt Hewson.

“It came to me pretty fully formed except for the bass line,” Hewy said.

“Even then it was obvious what I had to play. It was one of those tunes that required resisting the urge to get fancy or overplay, which I think I almost succeeded at. It was punchy; a very energetic song. It was always fun to play for that reason, and because it was easy for Hawk and I to lock in and just drive it.”

Me, Hawk, Hewy and Jade.

Hawk recalls attempting some Tool-esque beat before giving up and acquiescing to mine and Jade's suggestion to play something "jungle".

“I always liked it,” Hawk recalled.

“It came together quickly and was a good set opener. I felt it had a good pulse, and the guitar rhythm sat well with me.”

Lyrically, I think it captures the essence of Jackson and the “beast” he became on stage, as well as hinting in the chorus that Jade and I felt he was destined for great things. Jackson actually sings on the song too - the chanting in the outro features himself, fellow Roaring 40s Kyle McLaren and Marcus Hall, and our good friend and one-time Greens candidate for Wannon Tim Emanuelle.

Yep, this guy.


Hey kid, you’re the man, Guitarzan

Leap off your branch and swing
On vines made of guitar strings

When you’re on the ground you wish you were howling at the moon
But you’re not, you’re stuck here with the rest of us baboons

Your hair, undergrowth, you wild thing
Cut loose, primal, and plugged in

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