I arrived in Australia from Europe with my family at the age of five years and we settled in Melbourne, Victoria. Shortly afterwards, I began learning classical piano with well-known teacher Alice Wittenberg and studied my way through the formal examinations at the Melbourne Conservatorium of Music. During my last year in high school, out of curiosity I borrowed a school friend's electric guitar. After only a few minutes I became so intrigued by it that I decided to learn to play this instrument.
Just out of high school and having literally no income, I took my meagre savings and from a pawnshop for $30, I bought the only guitar I could afford, a very cheap and nasty second-hand instrument called a Super Twin, apparently made by Japanese company Teisco. I also bought my first amplifier, an Australian made 40 watt Goldentone. Unexpectedly after only one month of intensive practice, I landed my first professional engagement.
I was introduced to well-known pianist Frank Appleton, who was forming a band to play at a nightclub called Birdland in Fitzroy Street St Kilda. Frank auditioned me and immediately offered me the position of guitarist in his band and thus I found myself playing most nights in the heart of the vice and crime precinct of Melbourne.
Working in the same band with top-class musicians of the calibre of Frank Appleton, tenor saxophonist Norm Absolom and drummer Ellis Davis and having to back a variety of cabaret performers and dancers every night, I quickly found out what it meant to be a professional musician. It was an amazing and unforgettable experience for somebody who was still a very naive teenager. Unfortunately, Frank, Norm and Ellis have all died and I am the only musician still alive from that great band.
The money earned from my first professional musical job allowed me to buy a better instrument, so I acquired a beautiful brand new and very expensive 1966 American Rickenbacker 335 Fireglow guitar, one of the first examples of this legendary brand to come to Australia. In fact my guitar was quite rare, as most Rickenbackers were made with cat's-eye shaped sound holes, not the traditional f-shaped variety that my guitar had. I also purchased a better amplifier, a superb American 100 watt Fender Twin Reverb.
Now having professional playing experience, the very best equipment and hours spent practising every day to improve my technique, I began to get a good reputation for my guitar speed and dexterity that I had now acquired. At the tender age of 18, I was offered many engagements and was invited to play with many established bands. But then I then decided to form my own small band and found some good young musicians and managed to get bookings in a number of hotels and clubs.
Leading my own band, I needed a good PA system and microphones so I purchased a second-hand Italian Meazzi Factotum PA system, which had a built-in tape echo effects unit. After using the Meazzi system for a while, I decided to go upmarket and bought the renowned German Klemt Echolette S tape echo effects unit, matching M40 PA amplifier and Klemt LE4 speakers, along with four Sennheiser MD-408 microphones.
Eventually I formed a band called The Untouchables that played in many venues and ultimately ended up in a very high-class St Kilda nightclub called Maas Cabaret, which even had a hydraulic stage. This is where the saga of The Mystrys was born.
This was a very interesting and exciting period in my life and deserves a section of its own. Please go to Main Menu on the left and then The Mystrys to browse through the various pages about this unique one-hit-wonder band in 1966.
Unfortunately just after The Mystrys broke up, my Rickenbacker guitar was stolen. This was a major blow, which meant that I had to quickly buy another instrument. In a music shop in Melbourne, one of the most renowned jazz guitars ever made, a post-World War II model hand-made Gibson ES-175 that was brand new but already three years old had been stored and forgotten. Totally by chance, I discovered this treasure and bought it instantly. This fabulous, literally priceless and highly customised instrument has been my constant companion since then, although these days I mostly play on my beautiful American Fender Stratocaster guitar.
For the next few years I appeared in almost every entertainment establishment in Melbourne, working from one extreme of the music business to the other as a bandleader or taking positions in well-known groups. One moment I would be performing for the cream of high society in the best hotels, restaurants and theatres and then entertaining the most notorious heavily armed gangsters in the huge array of illegal 'sly grog' nightclubs that were then operating every night all over that city.
I diversified my career by working as a session guitarist in many recording studios such as Festival, W&G and the renowned Bill Armstrong studios, recording album backings and advertising jingles. I also played in the orchestra at Her Majesty's Theatre, as well as spending one very amusing period wearing considerable amounts of makeup as a fake Maori in a New Zealand showband. I also appeared on a number of popular national television shows, including The Graham Kennedy Show, The Bert Newton Show and The Don Lane Show.
Performing every night in such an immense variety of venues with many of Australia's finest musicians and unfortunately some of the very worst, those early times gave me a great deal of very valuable experience playing many different styles of music. I took my own bands to to interesting engagements in a variety of Melbourne and Sydney venues, as well as some very enjoyable winter seasons at the popular Kooroora ski resort at Mount Buller.
In 1970, while playing at Melbourne's premier nightclub, Sergio's Rendezvous, I teamed up with top guitarist and musical arranger Joe Paparone and formed a concert duo called Joe and Ziggy, which became one of the most unusual shows in Australia. We constantly toured all over the country, performing as headliners in the most prestigious venues, as well as often being the main support act for many internationally renowned stars and appearing on many TV variety shows. Joe and I were booked solid for sell-out seasons all over Australia.
Increasing family commitments in Melbourne finally prevented Joe from continuing to tour, so the very successful partnership had to end. During the duo's final performing tour in Western Australia in late 1972, I decided to go it alone and devised my solo concert act, adopting 'Ziggy Zapata' as my stage name at this time. My technique allowed me to play complicated classical pieces such as the Sabre Dance, Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca, the famous Hungarian Czardas, excerpts from Bizet's opera Carmen and also popular selections including Fiddler On The Roof, Mexican Hat Dance and Zorba's Dance.
I also performed in many diverse styles with rock and roll, romantic ballads, country and western and bluegrass in my repertoire, as well as singing in many languages. I was able to easily play extremely difficult music on the electric guitar that was originally written for violin, banjo, trumpet and piano.
After a series of concert tours in Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth, in 1973 I decided to base myself in Sydney, where I became a concert performer on the club circuit in NSW. As well as headlining my own shows, I was fortunate to be the main support artiste for international celebrities and household names including Howard Keel, Winifred Atwell, Diane Cilento, Max Bygraves, Johnny Ray, Al Martino and many others. A major highlight of my career was my series of performances at the prestigious Perth Concert Hall with acclaimed Goon Show star, the late Sir Harry Secombe. In fact I was invited to be Sir Harry's main support act in a number of major venues in NSW and Queensland.
I also travelled the world, performing on a variety of cruise ships for English company P&O, Italian company Sitmar, Chinese cruise ship Minghua, a variety of Russian cruise ships of the Black Sea Shipping company and the Far East Shipping Company and a cruise ship of Pacific Cruise Lines, even including TV's famous Love Boat, Pacific Princess.
Right through the 1980s, I also appeared as a feature artiste in many huge productions at the Bankstown Town Hall Theatre Restaurant, which was then the biggest and best venue of its type in Australia. Lavish shows such as 'Sydney Smiles - Bankstown Laughs', 'Copacabana' and many others played to packed houses and my guitar technique and rousing vocals with much audience participation were very popular with the crowds every night.
After many years of performing my cabaret shows, I had a flash of inspiration to try something very different. In 1993, I wrote, produced and starred in my own comedy musical show called 'Viva Zapata', which had an extremely successful season in Sydney's prestigious Bankstown Town Hall Theatre Restaurant. With a cast of talented artistes, musicians and an outrageously funny script, the show gained excellent reviews and was considered to be one of the best and most amusing productions staged at that venue.
In fact the McDonald's restaurant chain became involved and ran a 'Viva Zapata' promotion in conjunction with a special Mexican food menu that included the El Maco burger that still occasionally pops up as a special menu item. One unique and popular feature was that at every performance, a patron would win a Sydney scenic joyflight operated by me, as I was also a commercial pilot. 'Viva Zapata' was modified to suit the club circuit and was presented as 'Mexican Madness' for an extended season with terrific reviews from every venue where it appeared until it was finally retired at the end of 2002.
Throughout this time, I continued to perform my shows and also played as a solo lounge performer, where my ability on guitar created a very different sound to that of most other such entertainers, who totally relied on electronic backing tracks for their performances, although I did use backing tracks to feature my instrumental solo playing. I also devised a concert show using backing tracks, so that I could perform it at venues that did not have bands.
I enjoyed this solo work immensely and I developed an unusual finger-picking style using a plectrum and three steel guitar finger picks, so that I could play my guitar as if it were three instruments - lead, rhythm and bass guitar, all at the same time. My audiences, especially other guitarists, were fascinated to hear such a huge and full sound emanating from nothing more than one guitar and a drum machine. Eventually I retired the drum machine and went 'fully sequenced', using excellent backing tracks for these performances, however all the guitar playing was mine alone.
I was fortunate to have gained an excellent reputation for my solo music work and in 2007, I was honoured by my show business peers by winning the Australian Entertainment MO Award for One Man Performer Band. I was also a finalist nominee in the Instrumental or Vocal Instrumental Performer category.
Continuing to enjoy the recognition of my peers in the music industry, in 2008 I was a finalist in three MO Award categories - Instrumental Or Vocal Instrumental Performer, One Man Performer Band and Three Man Or More Performer Band. I was also nominated for an Australian Club Entertainment Award (ACE) in the category of Solo Guitar/Vocalist.
In 2009, I was again honoured by the show business industry by winning the MO Award for One Man Performer Band. I was also a finalist in two other MO Award categories - Instrumental Or Vocal Instrumental Performer for my concert and cabaret shows and Three Man Or More Performer Band for my group Flying High. And in 2010, my various shows and performances were nominated as finalists in no less than five MO Awards categories.
After this period, despite being invited to accept more nominations, I decided to decline them all and so it has been my policy from that time to not participate in any more entertainment industry awards.
From a very early age, I was fascinated by gadgets and electronics, so I started building crystal sets, valve radios and other electronic projects. From this grew a passionate involvement in radio communications, where from 1963 I started experimenting with transmitters and Citizens Band equipment. Due to my performing commitments, my electronics hobby had to be put to one side, but after I settled permanently in Sydney, I rekindled my interest in this fascinating pastime. In 1978 when UHF Citizens Band radio was introduced, I became one of the first licensed UHF CB operators in Australia and acquired a broad range of knowledge, new skills and techniques, as well as making many friends with the same interests.
At the same time, I decided to teach myself advanced radio communications theory and high speed Morse Code. Shortly afterwards, I passed the formal exams for the top class Amateur Operator Certificate of Proficiency and I was issued my Advanced Amateur Radio Operator licence. Because of my Internet activities, Amateur Radio has taken a back seat, but I am occasionally active, generally on the Two Metre Amateur band.
Having been deeply involved since childhood in electronics and radio communications, computers were an irresistible attraction for me. When home computers became an affordable reality in the late 1970s, I realised their immense potential and decided to learn as much as possible about these fascinating devices. Once I mastered the intricacies of computer hardware and software, I utilised them for my business activities and also for communicating with people all over the world via bulletin boards and Amateur Radio packet networks. My continued interest grew into a computer and information technology consultancy.
These days I use my IT skills by building, setting up, repairing and upgrading computer equipment for a range of diverse clients. I use my own computer network primarily for business and also for MIDI music programming, composition and arrangements, Internet operations, website development and I always enjoy expanding my knowledge of this ever-expanding technology.
Ever since I saw my first aeroplane as a small boy, I always had a burning ambition to be a pilot. Unfortunately an eyesight problem developed when I was a teenager that prevented me from taking up a professional flying career at that time, as well as my heavy commitment to my musical work. However, still intent on fulfilling my childhood dream, in the mid-1980s I commenced flying training with the Camden Aero Club at Camden Airport, southwest of Sydney, as a pupil of well-known flight instructor Les Paull.
In a very short space of time, I earned my Private Pilot Licence with the Night Flying and other ratings and one of my proudest moments was at the ceremony where I was awarded my pilot's wings. Shortly afterwards, I qualified for the Multi-Engine Rating and the difficult Multi-Engine Command Instrument Rating.
Also at that time, I was extremely proud to have achieved a remarkable feat. I scored a perfect 100% in the Gas Turbine examination by completing the two-hour test in ten minutes flat, to the complete astonishment of the examiner, TAFE aviation theory teacher and renowned flying instructor Pat Watson. He had only received delivery of the individually sealed test papers from Canberra a few minutes before the start of the examination. Pat marked my paper on the spot and announced the result to the roomful of astounded candidates as they were all literally just starting their own papers.
I continued to gain more flying experience and then took the flight test for the Commercial Pilot Licence with the very famous aviator, flight examiner and Australian Aviation Hall Of Fame inductee Bill Whitworth, but with a difference. Instead of flying in a single-engined aircraft, I opted to undergo the difficult test in a far more complex twin engined Beechcraft Duchess. I was successful and my professional flying career literally took off. From that day, I operated a joyflight and commercial charter service from Bankstown Airport. Unfortunately, due to some long-term incurable health problems, in 2013 I was regretfully forced to hang up my wings and so I retired from the aviation industry on medical grounds.
I am an avid reader and my favourite relaxation is to curl up with a good book and I also love solving mind-bending puzzles. Travel has always been a big part of my life because of my music and aviation careers and I am always excited to explore new places and languages and sample exotic food. Being so busy, my sporting activities have had to take a back seat in recent years, however until a few medical problems arose, I was a most proficient ice skater.
I live in a beautiful residential suburb of Sydney in this fabulous house designed and built by me and I keep very busy with many diverse interests. As well as performing my concerts and production shows, I plays as a solo musician and also offer my decades of computer experience to clients as an IT consultant.
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