Do the Creep
Jay Epae’s ‘The Creep’ is a gritty, bump’n’grind R&B dance groove, which came out in 1966. I first heard it when it was resurrected by John Baker for his second Wild Things compilation in 1996 (16 Blasts of Wyld Kiwi Garage Pop 1966-1968). But in fact I’d known a song written by Epae since childhood: ‘Tumblin’ Down’, which won the Loxene Gold Disc award for Maria Dallas in 1966. (I recall seeing the awards on WNTV1, perhaps not live-to-air).
Since Baker’s exhumation, ‘The Creep’ has been the gold standard of lost New Zealand pop classics, and the Jay Epae legend has only got more intriguing. Who knew about ‘Putti Putti’, the hit he had in Sweden in the early 1960s? It sold more than 250,000 copies in Scandinavia, where it is still heard on oldies radio.
And who knew about Hold On Tight! It’s Jay Epae, the album he recorded for Viking in 1966? Well, Nick Bollinger for a start: he included it prominently in his 100 Essential New Zealand Albums book. And two weeks ago, Nick announced on RNZ National’s The Sampler that the complete album was being released as a download (available through Amplifier).
The Jay Epae story is fascinating: releases on major labels in the US, big success in Europe, a quick visit home to New Zealand in 1966, during which he spent a few minutes writing ‘Tumblin’ Down’ for Dallas – one of the biggest local hits of the 60s, and knocked out his own excellent album. Then nothing, until his obituary appeared in the Evening Post and the Dominion in 1994. (Former musician Karl du Fresne wrote the Post obit; Barton’s can be read in full at Peter McLennan’s Dub Dot Dash site.) Jay’s brother Hec Epae – a member of the Maori Volcanics – mentions his last performance, in a karaoke bar while back in Wellington.
Epae’s album deserves its place in Nick’s book. The tracks can be sampled at Amplifier: it’s an eclectic showcase of R&B, country and pop styles, showing how adept Epae could be at emulating Arthur Alexander, Fats Domino, Bobby Charles as well as Dean Martin and – on ‘The Creep’, an Epae original – James Brown. As a songwriter, Epae had the R&B/country knack of making a simple melodic hook, catch-phrase and lyrical idea irresistible; his version of ‘Tumblin’ Down’ suggests Roger Miller. Jay Epae was too big for a showband. (More on him tomorrow.)