Sherbet (aka Highway or The Sherbs) are one of the most prominent and successful Australian rock bands of the 1970s. The 'classic line-up' of Daryl Braithwaite on vocals, Tony Mitchell on bass guitar, Garth Porter on keyboards, Alan Sandow on drums, and Clive Shakespeare on guitar provided their teen-orientated pop style. In 1976 Shakespeare left and was soon replaced by Harvey James. Sherbet's biggest singles were "Summer Love" (1975) and "Howzat" (1976), both reaching number one in Australia. "Howzat" was also a top 5 hit in the United Kingdom. The band was less successful in the United States, where "Howzat" peaked at No. 61. As The Sherbs they also reached No. 61 in 1981 with "I Have the Skill". The group disbanded in 1984. Subsequent re-unions have occurred since 1998.
According to rock music historian, Ian McFarlane, "alongside Skyhooks, Sherbet was the most successful Australian pop band of the 1970s. With a run of 20 consecutive hit singles to its credit, and 17 albums that yielded ten platinum and 40 gold disc awards, Sherbet was the first domestic act to sell a million dollars worth of records in Australia". In 1990 Sherbet were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame alongside classical composer and pianist, Percy Grainger. On 15 January 2011 Harvey James died of lung cancer. On 15 February 2012 Clive Shakespeare died of prostate cancer.
From 1970 until 1984 Sherbet scored 20 hit singles in Australia (including two number ones) and released ten platinum status albums. The single "Howzat" which was a number-one hit in 1976, also reached number four on the UK Singles Chart. They were the first Australian band to reach $1 million in record sales in Australia; the first Australian band to turn their merchandising into a huge industry; and they pioneered the concept of massive regional tours. In December 1976, the book Sherbet on Tour, by Christie Eliezer, sold 30,000 copies in its first week.
Formation and early years (1969-1972):
Sherbet were formed in Sydney in April 1969 by Dennis Laughlin on vocals (ex-Sebastian Hardie Blues Band, Clapham Junction), Doug Rea on bass guitar (Downtown Roll Band), Sammy See on organ, guitar and vocals (Clapham Junction), Clive Shakespeare on lead guitar and vocals (Downtown Roll Band), and Danny Taylor on drums (Downtown Roll Band). Initially they were a soul band playing Motown covers and rock-based material. Alan Sandow (ex-Daisy Roots) replaced Taylor on drums by July. Sherbet signed to the Infinity Records label - a subsidiary of Festival Records. The band's debut single was issued in March 1970 as a cover version of Badfinger's "Crimson Ships" - from that band's January 1970 album Magic Christian Music.
During 1970 the band played a residency at Jonathon's Disco, playing seven hours a night, four days a week for eight months. They were spotted by their future manager, Roger Davies. By March Daryl Braithwaite (Bright Lights, House of Bricks, Samael Lilith) had joined, initially sharing lead vocals with Laughlin who left the band a few months later. Braithwaite's former band mate Bruce Worrall (Bright Lights, House of Bricks, Samael Lilith) took over from Rea on bass guitar. By year's end the group undertook their first national tour. See had left in October to join The Flying Circus and was replaced by New Zealand-born Garth Porter (Samael Lilith, Toby Jugg) who provided Hammond organ and electric piano.
In 1971, Sherbet entered Australia's prestigious national rock band contest, Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds, and won the New South Wales final but lost the national final to Adeliade-based band Fraternity (led by Bon Scott later in AC/DC). They entered again in 1972 and won the national final, previous winners include The Twilights (1966) and The Groove (1968), which went on to achieve major commercial success.
Sherbet's first chart hits on the Go-Set National Top 40 were covers of Blue Mink's "Can You Feel It Baby?" (September 1971), Delaney and Bonnie's "Free the People" (February 1972) and Ted Mulry's "You're All Woman" (September 1972). Most of their early recordings were produced by Festival's in-house producer Richard Batchens, who later produced albums and singles for another Infinity label mate, Richard Clapton. The band increased its profile with prestigious support slots on major tours by visiting international acts including Gary Glitter and The Jackson 5.
Rise to stardom (1972-1975):
In January 1972, Sherbet's 'classic line-up' was in place when Tony Mitchell replaced Worrall on bass guitar: with lead vocalist Braithwaite, keyboardist Porter, drummer Sandow and guitarist Shakespeare. The band had evolved from a soul-based covers band into a teen-oriented pop, rock outfit that relied mostly on original material. Nevertheless they released occasional covers throughout the 1970s: Leiber and Stoller's "Hound Dog", The Beatles' "Nowhere Man" and Free's "Wishing Well". From 1972 to 1976, Sherbet's chief songwriting team of Porter and Shakespeare were responsible for co-writing the lion's share of the band's material, which combined British pop and American soul influences.
Sherbet issued their debut album, Time Change... A Natural Progression, in December 1972 on Infinity Records. Also that month the band were voted 'Most Popular Australian Group' by readers of Go-Set in their annual pop poll. The album's accompanying single "You've Got the Gun", written by Shakespeare, Porter and Braithwaite, was Sherbet's first self-penned A-side, and peaked at No. 29 in January 1973.
In December 1973, the band hit the Go-Set Top 10 for the first time with the Porter and Shakespeare original, "Cassandra". It was issued in October ahead of their second album, On with the Show released in November, which peaked at No. 6 on the Go-Set Top 20 Australian Albums Chart in February 1974. It was followed by "Slipstream" which reached No. 7 on Go-Set's National Top 40 in August. A string of hits followed on the Australian Kent Music Report Singles Chart (replaced Go-Set charts after August), with Sherbet releasing original Top 10 hits such as "Silvery Moon" (1974) and their first number-one hit "Summer Love" (1975). A total of 11 Sherbet songs reached the Australian top 10.
The band were the darlings of Australia's teenyboppers: for six years in a row they were voted 'Most Popular Australian Group' by readers of TV Week for their King of Pop Awards from 1973 to 1978. From 1975 they made more appearances on national TV pop show Countdown than any other band in the programme's history. Band members - especially Braithwaite - often appeared as co-hosts. According to contemporary musician, Dave Warner, "they had a clean-cut boys-next door image; a big contrast to the bad boy, weirdo, heavy-riff persona favoured by their peers". Sherbet's albums also charted on the Australian Kent Music Report Albums Chart with October 1974's Slipstream peaking at No. 5, 1975's Life... Is for Living reached No. 6, and their first compilation album, Greatest Hits 1970-75, from 1975 became their first number-one album.
From 1974, Braithwaite maintained a parallel solo career with Sherbet members often playing on his solo singles. Braithwaite was voted 'King of Pop' for three successive years, 1975 to 1977. Beginning in 1975, Sherbet's records were produced by Richard Lush who had started as a trainee engineer at EMI's Abbey Road Studios, where he helped engineer some of The Beatles' recordings including Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band. Porter began to take an occasional lead vocal on Sherbet singles, including "Hollywood Dreaming" and "A Matter of Time". Throughout this era, Sherbet toured Australia regularly and with remarkable thoroughness; they were one of the few bands to consistently commit to playing full-scale concerts in regional areas of the country.
International success (1976-1979):
In January 1976, Shakespeare left Sherbet citing 'personal reasons'. He later explained "I couldn't even go out the front of my house because there were all these girls just hanging on the fence ... There was always a deadline for Garth and me - another album, another tour. When it did finally end, I was relieved more than anything because I had had enough. I left the band early in 1976 for reasons I don't want to discuss fully ... but let's just say I wasn't happy about where all the money went". The last single he played on was "Child's Play", which was a No. 5 hit in February. Shakespeare was briefly replaced by journeyman guitarist Gunther Gorman (ex-Home) but within weeks a more permanent replacement, Harvey James (ex-Mississippi, Ariel) joined. Meanwhile, Mitchell had stepped up to join Porter as Sherbet's new main songwriting team. The pair were responsible for penning "Howzat" (1976), the band's only international hit, which was inspired by the sport of cricket. The song's success lead to an extensive international tour in 1976-77. "Howzat" went to number one in Australia, and in New Zealand, it was a Top 10 hit in several European countries - including number four on the UK Singles Chart, number six in The Netherlands, and number eight in Norway. It reached the top 10 in South Africa, South-East Asia, and Israel. The single had less chart success in the United States where it reached No. 61 on the Billboard Hot 100. The album of the same name also made No. 1 in Australia, No. 12 in New Zealand, but failed to chart in the US.
Hoping to achieve further international success, from 1977, Sherbet spent several years trying to make an impact in the US. Their 1977 album Photoplay was retitled Magazine for US release, and featured an elaborate gate-fold packaging. Though Photoplay and its lead single, "Magazine Madonna", were successful in Australia - both reached No. 3 on their respective charts - the retitled Magazine LP failed to chart in the US as did the associated single. In the same year Sherbet provided the soundtrack for the buddy comedy, High Rolling. With US success proving elusive, the band's label RSO Records felt that the lightweight name Sherbet may have hurt their chances. Accordingly, their US-recorded self-titled album, was issued in the US under a new group name, Highway, and re-titled as Highway 1 - despite the change it also flopped.
By this time the band's career in Australia had begun to decline. Though the Sherbet album peaked at No. 3, "Another Night on the Road" (1978) was Sherbet's final top 10 Australian hit. The band's next single, "Beg, Steal or Borrow" missed the chart completely, and January 1979's "Angela" - from the soundtrack to the film Snapshot - just reached the top 100. With their Australian success on the wane, and either as Sherbet or as Highway, the group were unable to come up with a follow-up international hit to "Howzat". Frustrated by the career downturn, after issuing a final single in Australia as Highway - "Heart Get Ready" - which flopped at No. 89, the band broke up in mid-1979. Throughout the 1970s, the group was managed by Roger Davies. The group briefly reunited for the Concert of the Decade held on 4 November 1979 at the Sydney Opera House and sponsored by radio station 2SM - an edited hour of concert footage was broadcast by the Nine Network under the same name and a double-LP was issued on Mushroom Records later that month. During the concert, Mitchell also supplied bass guitar for Neale Johns' set (see Blackfeather) and then Stevie Wright's rendition of his solo hit "Evie".
The Sherbs era (1980-1984):
The breakup did not last long, in 1980, Sherbet reconvened as The Sherbs with exactly the same personnel: Braithwaite, Harvey, Mitchell, Porter and Sandow; but with a somewhat modified progressive new wave sound. This version had some minor success in America, but their almost complete lack of chart action in Australia was in stark contrast to their 1970s heyday.
The Sherbs' first album The Skill was released in October 1980 and reached the top half of the Billboard 200. It was the first album by the group - under any of their names - to chart in the US. An accompanying single, "I Have the Skill", became the band's second US pop chart hit at No. 61. The Sherbs received airplay in the US on album-oriented rock (AOR) radio stations with both "I Have the Skill" and "No Turning Back". They appeared on the inaugural AOR-oriented Rock Tracks chart issued by Billboard in March 1981: "I Have the Skill" debuted at No. 45. The track peaked at No. 14 - the band's highest position on any US chart. However, none of the singles from The Skill reached the Australian Kent Music Report top 100, a huge comedown for a band that had been major charting artists in Australia only two years earlier.
The Sherbs's second album, Defying Gravity, followed in 1981, but failed to produce a single that charted in the either the US or Australian top 100. Although, the band did chart on Billboard's Rock Tracks Chart with the album cut "We Ride Tonight" peaking at No. 26 in 1982. The track's mild AOR success was not enough to ignite album sales in the US, though, and Defying Gravity only reached No. 202 on the album charts. A mini-album, Shaping Up, appeared in 1982. It was critically well received and spawned two minor hits in Australia, but the US issue missed the chart completely. The Sherbs were now in a position where the US listening public were largely indifferent to their releases, and - despite their newer, more contemporary sound - the Australian audience had seemingly written them off as a relic of the 1970s. Porter has said that he found this especially frustrating, as he felt The Sherbs were actually writing and performing better material during this era than in their 1970s heyday.
James left The Sherbs at the end of 1982 to be replaced by Tony Leigh (Harry Young and Sabbath, Gillian Eastoe Band) on guitar. In late 1983, the group announced their decision to disband in 1984, they reverted back to the Sherbet name and undertook a successful farewell tour of Australia and a final single, "Tonight Will Last Forever". Shakespeare returned to co-write and appear on the final single. Both Shakespeare and James rejoined Sherbet on the final tour. Following the group's break-up, Braithwaite continued his solo career in Australia, and Porter and Shakespeare each became successful record producers. In 1990 Sherbet were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame alongside classical composer and pianist, Percy Grainger.
Sherbet have reunited on occasion over subsequent years. Their first reunion was an ABC-TV special on New Year's Eve 1998. They performed "Howzat" and "Summer Love" without Sandow - John Watson (ex-Kevin Borich Band, Australian Crawl) filled in on drums. In March 2001 with Sandow on board, the band reunited for Gimme Ted - a benefit concert for Ted Mulry. In June 2003 Sherbet performed at another benefit show for Wane Jarvis (a former roadie).
At the May 2006 Logie Awards Sherbet reunited as a six-piece: Braithwaite, James, Mitchell, Porter, Sandow and Shakespeare, where they performed "Howzat". The band played three shows in late August 2006 billed as Daryl Braithwaite and Highway. They followed by joining the Countdown Spectacular tour throughout Australia during September and October. 2006 also saw the release of two newly recorded tracks on the compilation album, Sherbet - Super Hits, "Red Dress" (Porter, Shakespeare, Braithwaite, Mitchell, James, Sandow) and "Hearts Are Insane" (Porter), both produced by Ted Howard.
2007 saw the release of a live compilation on CD and DVD entitled Live - And the Crowd Went Wild encompassing material recorded in the 1970s at shows in Sydney, Melbourne and the UK. Sherbet performed on the Countdown Spectacular 2 in August and September. Their song "Howzat" is played at Twenty20 cricket matches. On 15 January 2011 Harvey James died of lung cancer - the remaining members except Shakespeare, who was too ill, performed at Gimme that Guitar, a tribute concert for James on 17 February. On 15 February 2012 Clive Shakespeare died of prostate cancer.