“Video Gallery: Australia” featured Jo Jo Zep’s slowed-down, synth-driven hit “Walk On By”

By on October 3, 2018

We’re taking another look at Night Flight’s “Video Gallery: Australia,” which focused on a few of the top ’80s music acts from “down under,” including Olivia Newton-John, the Bee Gees, INXS, Mental As Anything, Rick Springfield, and Jo Jo Zep, who that very same year released a slowed-down, synth-driven version of the Burt Bacharach-Hal David ’60s hit “Walk on By,” which peaked at #55 in Australia but became a Top Ten hit in New Zealand.

You can watch this early Night Flight episode — which first aired on February 27, 1983 — on Night Flight Plus.

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Pat Prescott tells us: “Jo Jo Zep was born Joseph Camilleri. In Melbourne, he played with the Sharks, the Pelaco Brothers, and the recently formed Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons. His video for ‘Walk On By’ was shot at the Newport Railway maintenance depot in Melbourne for under seven thousand dollars.”

The maintenance depot stands in for a railway station in Celano, Italy — a province of L’Aquila, Abruzzo, in the very center of the country, mid-boot — on August 11, 1945, just a few days before U.S. President Harry Truman announced that Japan had surrendered and the war in the Pacific was over.

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Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons were noted for having one of the tightest rhythm sections of all the Australian pub rock bands, rising to national prominence and achieving considerable commercial and critical success in Australia in the late ’70s, but they remained relatively unknown elsewhere around the world (except to those who regularly purchased expensive Australian imports).

They built up a huge fanbase in their native Melbourne — playing for huge crowds at clubs like Bombay Rock and Martini’s, as well as numerous gigs on the campus of La Trobe University, in the Melbourne suburb of Bundoora — which was also home base for bands like AC/DC, INXS, Split Enz and Men at Work.

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Their lineup fluctuated, though, until only Camilleri himself was left behind to carry on their name. “Walk On By” — a single from their seventh studio album, Cha — was one of the band’s last singles.

By the end of 1983 — not too long after our “Video Gallery: Australia” aired — Camilleri was announcing their breakup.

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Read more about Joe Camilleri and Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons below.

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Joseph Vincent Camilleri — the third of ten children — was born on May 21, 1948, in the war-torn country of Malta.

His father migrated them to Port Melbourne, Australia, when Joe — his mother called him Zep, a diminutive of Giuseppe, the Italian name for Joseph — was two years old.

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Camilleri’s musical career began in his teens, in 1964, when he started singing and playing sax with a variety of blues-based local bands, a list that includes the Drollies, the King Bees, Adderley Smith Blues Band, Lipp and the Double Dekker Brothers, the Pelaco Brothers, the Sharks and likely others we’ve missed.

Camilleri formed the original lineup of Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons — Wayne Burt (guitar, lead vocals), Jeff Burstin (guitar, vocals), John Power (bass, vocals), and Gary Young (drums, vocals) — in 1975.

They weren’t focused on one particular musical genre, swinging easily back and forth between gritty, sax-powered R&B, soul, rock, reggae, ska and salsa.

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In 1976, they debuted on producer Ross Wilson’s Australian label OZ Records (distributed by EMI) with their raunchy, energetic sax-driven album Don’t Waste It.

After its release, Wayne Burt left the group, replaced by guitarist Tony Faehse, and in June of ’77 added saxophonist Wilbur Wilde, expanding their membership to six and allowing Camilleri to focus on vocals.

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At their peak, they would have eleven musicians crowded together onstage, which gives you some idea of the insanity Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons created in hot, sweat-drenched Melbourne clubs and venues.

Over the next few years, they released a number of albums with questionably salacious titles like Whip it Out (1977), So Young (a mini-LP, the title track — later covered by Elvis Costello — reaching #29 in November 1978), and Let’s Drip Awhile (1979).

Their highest charting single was “Hit & Run” (#12, June 1979), but a decline in record sales led to the band migrating to Mushroom Records — Australia’s leading indie label and home to Skyhooks and Split Enz — for their next batch of releases: Screaming Targets (1979) Hats Off Step Lively (1980), and a 10-inch mini-LP, Dexterity (1981).

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Their first single to feature the newly-truncated name was “Taxi Mary,” which peaked on the Australian singles charts at #11 in September of 1982 (#6 in Melbourne ).

Cha, released in 1982, would be the last of their original albums, the band’s the last single (“Losing Game”) coming in July 1983, after which Camilleri moved on to front of number of additional groups before reforming Jo Jo Zep again in the 21st Century to play the retro oldies circuit.

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Joe Camilleri in 2014

Somewhat curiously, Camilleri talked briefly about the end of the band’s run in 2014 when he was interviewed by Australian radio personality Carol Duncan:

“I’d just had a hit with ‘Taxi Mary’ and ‘Walk On By’ –- the great ‘Walk On By,’ which I think I ruined although it was an interesting version of that song. I just gave up. I said ‘I’m just gonna take some time out,’ and I got a job as a veggie roadie working at the Footscray market. It was just taking vegetables from trucks and putting them on other trucks, so that was my gig.”

Check out Night Flight’s “Video Gallery: Australia” — which also includes scenes from recently-released Australian-made movies, including Gillian Armstrong’s radiant 1982 new wave musical comedy, Star Struck — on Night Flight Plus.

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About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.