Normie Rowe's 50-year journey of frenzy, heartache and music
WHEN you look at the dramatic highs and lows in the life of Aussie music legend Normie Rowe you start to appreciate the raw emotion in his performance.
In the first two years of his career he had eight top 10 singles and was Australia's top male star. The following year he was drafted, served in Vietnam, returned to find the music industry had moved on without him and in 1979 his eight-year-old son was tragically killed in an accident while riding his bicycle home from his school fete.
"That was just totally tragic. I don't think that people get over the loss of family members. I know that they don't get over the loss of family members who are supposed to outlive you, little kids especially. How do you do that?" Rowe said.
"There is no drama without conflict and in my performance there is always some sort of drama.
"When I sing Bring Him Home from Les Miserables, I struggle to actually sing that song.
"When I first sang it for the songwriters, Claude-Michel (Schönberg) said to my agent, 'It is like Normie has been in a war and he knows what it is like to be in a war. It is almost like he has lost a son of his own'."
When he returned from Vietnam, Australia was a different world.
"Just prior to Vietnam we were doing really well in the UK. Came back for a tour and the first thing I did was to submit my papers for national service, not knowing what that was going to do. I didn't realise that I couldn't leave the country again so I couldn't get back to what we were doing in the UK. We were really making a big impression. We did the best we could in Australia and I was called up and my career ended, completely.
"When I got back I'd not only lost my infrastructure, management, road crew, the band had gone, my skills had diminished to a point where I think all I had was pretty much the basics.
"I did one show on the 1st of February, 1970 - died. The kids had moved on to Pink Zoot and other bands, the beginning of glam rock, which I certainly wasn't part of after coming out of the army and so I just got out of the industry for nearly a year.
"Eventually my parents said you're going to lose your house if you don't make a payment. I had no idea what I was going to do. I thought singing is the only thing I know, just see if I can start getting some work, but it was just work. But you have to pull your boot straps up and pull it together."
He resurrected his career with success in television and theatre but admits depression can be an ongoing battle.
"Sometimes I do suffer post traumatic stress disorder and some of that is really hard," he said.
"I find some times in my life when depression hits I just feel like I can't move. Then, eventually I have to say to myself, come on, get yourself up. Nothing is going to change unless you change it. Do you like being like this or do you want to be different?
"The sunshine here in Queensland is the best medicine you could ever have. And always have a goal."
There is no denying the power in Rowe's performance throughout his 50-year career.
With the big sound in all of his recorded material, a key part being Rowe's powerful vocals, you wonder how Rowe could perform one song after another for an hour-long set when he was in his twenties let alone five decades later.
"I did 90 minutes straight last week. I did two one-hour sets the night before. I just love it," he said.
"If I come off stage exhausted I feel like I've actually done something.
"I toured with Dionne Warwick quite a few years ago now and she did a thing that I call pleading the fifth. Instead of singing the octave note, the big note usually in a song, she took the fifth harmony under it. It was like coasting.
"I thought, with a bit of work and focus, you can still do what you've always done. And I was in love with Dionne Warwick's music. I just hate seeing people lower the keys of their songs because you don't have to.
"You don't have to get old. You just have to have an attitude. I also walk every day, power walk. I don't sit around. I don't like to go for a stroll and I don't like to take anyone with me because no-one keeps up.
"If your core strength is good, then I think you don't get sick, you don't get diseases and so here I am."
Normie Rowe and The Playboys bring their Frenzy tour to Goodna Services Club on Friday.