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JON STEVENS & NOISEWORKS

 

Jon Stevens had led a varied and remarkable career in the entertainment industry, standing strong through the successes and trials that have earned his a place as a much loved singer, songwriter, and respected veteran performer. Jon’s remarkable career spans over 30 years, during which he has enjoyed many achievements, including ARIA chart topping success as front man of legendary Australian bands Noiseworks and INXS.

Born Jon Rangi Stevenson in October 1962, he originated from the Upper Hutt, North of Wellington, New Zealand. Jon is the youngest of 11 children born to a Maori mother and Scottish father.  Jon’s father died of a heart attack when he was 15 years old. Jon’s father landed in New Zealand in 1947, and after the war, he became a Merchant Seaman, and met Jon’s mother getting off the ship. They locked eyes.  He thought she was a rich native, and she thought he was a rich foreigner and neither could be further from the truth.  Regardless, Jon’s father jumped ship, they caught him and put him in jail.  They then gave him and ultimatum, he either serve in the New Zealand Army or stay in jail.  It was a no brainer,  he became a New Zealand citizen and joined the army.  Jon’s father sang back in Scotland, and his mother use to do a lot of singing with the local Maori groups so music was on both sides of the family. There was always music in the family, but not in the family Von Trapp kind of way, more, lets go out on the p--s and sing a few type of thing.  

After leaving school, Jon had a job along side of his sister at the EMI record plant, pressing vinyl.  While working, he used to sing with his sister, and it was a friend of his sister who entered Jon into a talent quest.  Too young to legally be in a pub, Jon Stevens stood on stage for the Quinn’s Post Talent Quest in Upper Hutt and sang “Heading in the Right Direction”.  The song turned out to be prophetic for the then 15 year old Hutt Valley boy.  Jon recalls, “I only did it for a laugh. He won the first division that night, and later Jon decided to sing one of his older brother Frankie’s songs, which won the final.  Danny Ryan who had been working at EMI with Stevens and his sister before moving to Marmalade Audio in Wellington, in the past had urged Stevens to record some cover songs as he felt he was that good. Rocky Douche the then owner of Marmalade Audio in Victoria Street, recalls Danny arriving at work one morning talking of a young guy he heard the night before at a talent quest and believed would have star potential.  So here is Jon, a guy not even thinking about a musical career, doing his own thing, when his older sister Christina tracks him down because she got a call from Danny Ryan who had a bunch of songs he needed a singer for. She talked Jon into meeting with Danny and she then went with Jon for moral support into the studio where he recorded the songs, and one of the songs was Jezebel.  Douce recalls a modest young singer who knew nothing about recording entering the studio.  After running through a song with producer Steve Robinson, and with no rehearsal, Jon sang pitch perfect on the second take.  Douche recalls, it was an Australian Idol moment.  This talent would spell the end of his rugby league dreams, it would start a chain of events that would see him plucked from his mundane job at the plant to recording his own songs.  Three weeks later the song Jezebel was released and as Jon puts it himself, all of a sudden he becomes the accidental pop star.  With Jezebel, he knocked Michael Jackson off #1 position with “Don’t stop till you get enough”.  The song choice was perfect and raced up the New Zealand charts, reaching the number one spot on December 2.  It remained there for seven weeks until it was replaced by his second single “Montego Bay”.

In 1980, he became what is believed to be the only New Zealand artist to knock his own song off the top of the pop charts. Both hits were added to his first album released in 1980, simply titled “Jezebel”.  In March 1980, Stevens teamed up with another rising star at the time Sharon O’Neill and they recorded a duet called “Don’t Let Love Go”.  It reached #5 on the national charts.  Jon became so successful, so quickly by his own admission, he felt he was over-exposed.  He’d become this adored heart throb, who really would have rather been playing rugby league with his mates.  Then one day late at night he was walking down the street when two young blokes noticed him.  One said “hey aren’t you Jon Stevens”?  The other said, yep that’s him, lets get him.  So Jon had no choice other than to stand and fight or run.  After this he realized, he really needed to get out of New Zealand for his own protection.  Fortunately that choice was again made for Jon with Lance Reynolds chance arrival in New Zealand.  Lance was the manager of Australian Pop Band “Air Supply” and after seeing a picture of Jon in the paper and reading his story, he rang CBS records.  Next thing someone at CBS drove over to Lance with a cassette of Jon’s songs, he listened to it, loved it, then called Jon from the airport and straight off the bat was saying to Jon, I’ll take you to America, lets go to America, and Jon replied “sounds good, I’ve got nothing else to do” next thing he’s on a plane and off into the great unknown.  Jon thinks to himself, what a great adventure.

Its now early  (1981) and Jon’s working with some of the best musicians in the world and he’s also living in Beverly Hills.  Jon couldn’t believe it, here he was just a teenager from Upper Hut, living in Beverly Hills.  Jon was recording a solo record when Lance told Jon, that he really needed to start writing his own music. So he started penning his own songs and felt that this was when he found his true voice.   Jon was now working with Steve Lucas on guitar, he was from the band “Toto”, Nathan Watts was playing bass, he was from Stevie Wonders band, and William Smith from Bob Dylan’s band.  Lance’s business partner did a deal for the label which Jon’s publishing was included on it, though he hadn’t signed a publishing deal with them at that point even though it was expected.  Jon was really offended about that.  He told them in no uncertain terms, you cant do that, without my approval, and went on to say he wouldn’t allow it, as a result all hell broke loose and he was on his way back to Australia.  Jon returned to Australia from Los Angeles and he happened to come across Michael Browning.  He was a manager and he introduced Jon to another guy called Stuart Fraser.  Stuart and Jon were like brothers, the same age, loved the same things. It was after Jon’s experience both overseas and in New Zealand, and having had so much pressure placed on him, that he decided he just wanted to hang out with a “like minded” guy and make music.

By 1985, drummer Kevin Nicol joined the boys, and they began to lay plans for a new band.  They recruited Balbi as a permanent member, and added newcomer Justin Stanley on Keyboards. Balbi and Stevens became to two main songwriters, and in 1986, they  proclaimed themselves to be the rock/pop group “Noiseworks”.  Whilst playing a regular gig in Sydney, they became a very popular act and there would be lines of people down the street trying to get into there performances.  Next thing you know, Sony wants to sign the boys up.  The name they came up with was “Dreamworks” then Stuart Fraser said  “Nup” it’s “Noiseworks” and all the boys turned to each other and said, Yep, Yep.  Jon said, yes that’s us, we’re loud, we’re brash, so he went back and told the record label, the new name for the band was “Noiseworks”.  They hated it. That appealed even more to the boys.   Knowing they hated it, and the boys loved it, gave them control, so in Jon’s own words, they can get stuffed. From that point forward, the guys made sure that they did what they wanted to do, not what others told them to do.  There first record was made with the help of vodka and lots of pot. And it was after the first record, the boys toured constantly. There schedule was 8 months on the road, three months in the studio and a month off.  These days there is no way you would spend three months in a studio, but back then you would do it.  Their self-titled debut album was released in July 1987 and peaked at number 2 on the Australian Albums chart.  From that release came 5 singles which all charted well.

The second album “Touch” was released in November 1988 and reached #4 on the Album charts.  Four singles were released from this album.  The song “touch” also featured in an episode of Baywatch.  By the end of 1989, the band had commenced work on its third album.  They were now signed to Sony, and when the album was presented to them, they rejected it.  The album was reworked and finally made an appearance in July 1991 as “Love Verses Money”. The album debuted at #1 on the album charts and the single “Hot Chilli Woman” became the band’s biggest hit, reaching #7 on the singles chart.  In all, 5 singles came from this album.  On time whilst recording at Rhinoceros studios, Jon recalls INXS were downstairs recording the “X” record and Noiseworks were upstairs recording the “Love Versus Money “ album and the boys were producing it themselves.  A couple of the boys from INXS told them, you cant do that, to which Jon replied, well we are.  The band played its last gig at Selina’s in Sydney during March of 1992.  That gig produced the band’s final single, a cover of the Beatles “Let it be” and climbed to #4 nationally in the charts.  This song appeared on the Greatest Hits CD released in October 1992.  They disbanded after that.  Jon does admit that the band did break up prematurely, but there was a lot of creative differences going on, a few drug problems which undermined the brotherhood. In Jon’s words, “It was a rock and roll band”, and shit happens.  Jon has no regrets, it’s just a part of life and a part of learning. Jon got to see the world and he got to do it with his best mates and they had a bloody good time.  Jon is one of those performers, that is highly marketable, when you book him for a gig, you know he’s going to deliver.  When you have a vocal instrument like Jon has, you are guaranteed work.   Jon likes to think his music can give people a chance to escape reality, even if its just for a short period of time whilst providing an escape for himself too. Every night is different and that’s what he loves about performing. Give it everything you got, or what you got at the time.

At the start of 1992, Jon Stevens decided to pursue opportunities on a different kind of stage, starring as Judas in the highly acclaimed and successful Australian Musical Production of Andrew Lloyd Webbers’ Jesus Chris Superstar. Joined by a cast of Australia’s finest singers including John Farnham, Kate Cerberano.  The show ran for 84 nights and was performed across Australia to more than a million people. Jon then went about recording his third solo album “Are U Satisfied”. This was issued in October 1993 and three singles were release from it.  Noiseworks fans were truly heartbroken when the band called it quits in 1992.  It took almost two years for the band to join forces again.  Whilst many of the members went on and pursued their own careers, there was something about Noiseworks that they all missed. 

In 1994, Frankie Stevens (Jon’s brother) was invited to appear in Harry M Miller’s New Zealand touring theatre production of “Jesus Christ Superstar” in the role of High Priest “Caiaphas”.  On the strength of his highly acclaimed performance, Miller invited him to take on the role again in the 94 -95 tour of Australia.  Frankie loved the idea, as not only would it help raise his own profile, but it would give him the opportunity to perform right by his younger brothers side, as Jon had the part of Judas.

Back to the '90s and the new Super-League code was taking Australia by storm. Jon, one of the game's biggest fans, was asked to record the theme song and a remake of Frankie Goes To Hollywood's 'Two Tribes' was released on BMG. A second single, 'I Wish It Would Rain' was released, with all proceeds benefitting the drought-stricken farmers  With another solo record Circle and a Noisework’s reunion tour Jon saw out the decade.

The Sydney 2000 Olympics was yet another turning point in Jon’s career. Jon had written a song called “Carry the Flame” which he recorded on a solo record.  Someone heard it and asked Jon if he would consider rewording it for the 2000 Olympics.  He accepted and was quite proud of the result. The song became the official song for the “Olympic Torch Relay”.  Shortly after they rang Jon and asked him if he would like to be one of the runners for the relay, which he thought was just great but then said are you sure? I’m a Kiwi.  Jon became an Australian citizen that year, proudly too. Jon now refers to himself as a Mozzie, a Maori /Aussie.  His past work with Jon Farriss and previous backing vocal sessions with INXS led to Jon joining the band after the untimely death of Michael Hutchence. After tours of the US, Latin America and Europe Jon was announced as INXS's 'seventh member' and three years of performing around the globe followed.

In late 2003 Jon's desire to create new music resulted in his resignation from INXS and commencement of work on a new solo album. Playing with INXS was basically at first, just Jon helping his mates out. There was a lot of pain there. With Michael committing suicide, Jon knew how those boys felt, because one of Jon’s brothers committed suicide 6 months prior to Michael, so Jon knew exactly where the boys minds were.  What Jon took away from the experience was that he felt he helped them regain their confidence and give them the tools to move forward for Michaels sake if not their own.

In 2004, a reflection on his 25 years in the music biz, “Ain't No Life for the Faint Hearted “was a return to Jon's soul and rhythm & blues roots.

Jon also hosted the Channel 10 reality show The Resort and in late 2005 he released his much anticipated acoustic album The Works.The album comprises of an eclectic mix of Noisework’s favourites and some of his more recent releases.  In 2005, Jon joined his brother Frankie, who was a judge on the panel of NZ idol, as a guest judge.  2007, and Jons 20 year marriage was over to wife Tracey.  In 2008 he commenced a nationwide tour, 'Let's Stick Together' with Ian Moss, Jack Jones and Tania Doko.

2009 Jon was living beachside, doing his daily run, when one day all of a sudden he was totally out of breath.  Jon thought “this is strange”, so he put it down to touring and late nights, that sort of thing.  But it persisted.  So Jon went to the doctor and the doctor suggested he get an MRI scan to check out his heart, find out what was going on. Jon has the test the next morning, he leaves the MRI office, Jon drives 20 minutes to Bondi, and he gets a call from his doctor saying, “get in your car, and drive straight away to Prince of Wales Hospital, and don’t go home, don’t talk to anyone, and do not exert yourself” quote / unquote, but then at the end of the call, he throws in “Oh but I don’t mean to alarm you”.Jon was admitted, and they found that his main left ventricle was 99.9% blocked. He told Jon that nine months ago, that was completely clear. The timing was what saved Jon’s life, as my all counts, he should have been dead.  Jon knew that he wouldn’t have lasted the weekend and would be just carrying out his usual day, when he would become just another statistic.  Later people wondering “how could that happen, he looks so healthy”. Frankie his brother says, he was within a millimeter of him singing at his funeral, and Jon is eternally grateful to the doctor who diagnosed the problem and got him to the emergency room in time to fix it.  Three weeks after the surgery, Jon’s condition deteriorated.  A statement from his manager at the time Simon Lucas said, that the 47 year old will remain in a Sydney Hospital, as he is battling complications after receiving open heart surgery.  The operation was a success, however Jon’s condition deteriorated and his recovery was hampered due to some post operative complications, primarily fluid around the heart and infection.Stevens reportedly spoke with Jimmy Barnes, who underwent similar surgery, to gain some advice on his recuperation.  Jimmy warned him not to come back too soon, as it led him to having complications.  To do what they do on stage, you have to exert a huge amount of energy, and it’s a massive strain on the heart.

Jon Stevens and the original Noiseworks band members featured on the Red Hot Summer Tour of NSW in early May 2011 alongside Jimmy Barnes and Thirsty Merc.Returning to his solo career, Stevens then forged ahead with new material in the studio, unleashing a further two solo albums, “Changing Times” and the “Testify”

2011 also mended Jon’s heart in another way, as he began a relationship with Jodhi Meares, the former wife of James Packer, and the two began living together in Sydney.

2013, and Stevens is fronting a brand new project called the “Dead Daisies” and he is currently touring with  the latest Production of Jesus Christ Superstar, which kicks off May/June taking on the role this time of Pontius.  With a new lease of life, we wish all the best for our “Mossie” and his future.

 

 

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