A touch of rock and roll has been added to Nellie Melba Retirement Village’s proud musical connection with entertainer Ross D. Wyllie now calling the community home.
The Australian chart topper and his wife Eileen moved into the Wheelers Hill village during the second COVID-19 lockdown.
“I come from a different era of music of course, but I feel in good company here at Nellie Melba,” Ross says.
After childhood polio left him unable to excel in sport, Ross was “grabbed” by the “good solid back-beat rock and roll” of the Beach Boys, The Beatles, Jerry Lee Lewis and Bill Haley played on the Wyllie family’s radio.
“We didn’t have a record player, we had a radio and rock and roll was very young at that point in time and it just grabbed me,” Ross says.
“I had a soprano voice, nothing special, but back then there was plenty of get up and go and will to succeed.
“I didn’t ever, ever think as a young man that I wanted to be a rock and roll star or a popstar.”
Ross D. Wyllie performs hit 1969 single 'The Star'.
But by the time he was in his late-teens Ross’s “nothing special” voice secured him a place on the road, maturing alongside Normie Rowe, Johnny Young and The Easybeats, and he became regarded as the darling of the 1960’s Brisbane pop scene.
In 1967 Ross was discovered by Normie Rowe’s then-manager, David Joseph, who was the producer and creator of television shows ‘Kommotion’ in 1965 and then the history making music show ‘Uptight’ in 1967.
“I ended up getting a call from David Joseph who wanted me to come to Melbourne to compère a four hour, unrehearsed, live to air tv show that had a 13-week contract.
“After six weeks of loneliness [in Melbourne] and missing Eileen I rang and asked her to arrange our wedding as I had 10 days before I had to do another show and would be home in 3 days.”
After getting married in Queensland Ross returned to Melbourne with Eileen.
Eileen worked as a producer on the show, which quickly became popular, while Ross went live-to-air for four hours every Saturday morning.
Ross says hosting the show - one of the first of its kind in Australia - was akin to diving from the highest board at the swimming pool.
“I’ve never done it before, but I would imagine it’s like standing on one of those high boards and bouncing up and down and the only way to get off is to jump,” he says.
“Nobody had done a show like that before and it took a lot of courage and many migraines, but it was so much fun and so loose and very different compared to today’s TV.”
After four years, like all good things, it came to an end.
“And the rest was history, but along the way I managed to have two hit records,” he says.
In 1969 his song ‘The Star’ was number one on the Australian charts and his cover of Ray Stevens’ song ‘Funny Man’ was a top 10 hit. He received a gold record for 'The Star' and in 1970 he won a Logie award for his contribution to the music industry.
While Ross no longer plays regular gigs, when he gets onstage the same magic feeling returns.
“I stood onstage at the Palais Theatre in St Kilda and the audience is probably anything from 40 to 80-years-old and you see a smile or a little tear on their faces - that is an incredible feeling.
“And that is what performing is about. It’s not about me, it’s about the audience.”
Ross plans to perform for his new neighbours at Nellie Melba.
“I don’t think I can get away with not performing,” he laughs.
“Everyone here has been so helpful and understanding of our move to the village, provided I can get some good volume from the P.A system I want to get people up dancing and enjoying the show."