View Comments
Picture: Sharon Smith/The West Australian

At one of her low ebbs a couple of years ago, Chrissy Amphlett told fellow musician Rick Grossman: "Nobody remembers me in Australia". Her close friend of more than 30 years, who played bass with Divinyls from 1982-87 before joining Hoodoo Gurus, could barely hide his surprise. "You're joking," Grossman replied.

Amphlett returned home from New York last year, when her husband Charley Drayton was drumming in Cold Chisel.

She jumped on stage to sing alongside Jimmy Barnes on the tour.

"And she saw what she meant to Australia," Grossman said yesterday. "I wish she could see today what's happening here. She's on the front page of all the papers."

The outpouring of tributes, grief and memories that have accompanied Amphlett's death on Monday after a long battle with breast cancer and multiple sclerosis have been worthy of her status as one of the most original and brilliant singers this nation has produced.

Grossman last visited Amphlett in New York, where she had lived with Drayton since the late 90s, in December.

He will fly to the US on Tuesday, after Hoodoo Gurus' national tour wraps up in Perth.

"We talked a couple of times a week, usually," he said. "If we were having a fight, we wouldn't. That's the sort of relationship she and I had - honest, really honest friendship, which was great."

The bass player first encountered the firecracker in a school uniform in the early 80s when he was playing in Sydney rock band Matt Finish.

"The Divinyls used to do gigs with us in their very early stages and we all used to get to gigs early to see Chrissy," he recalled. "She had that X-factor, that stage presence. She wasn't really leaping around or doing much then. She was really shy on stage. But I loved her voice, very unusual voice and she was, and remained, absolutely drop-dead gorgeous."

After Matt Finish split in 1981, Grossman joined Amphlett and gun guitarist Mark McEntee in Divinyls, performing on their first two albums, 1983's Desperate and 1985's What a Life! He played on such great songs as Only Lonely, Casual Encounter, Pleasure and Pain, and In My Life.

"She and I just became really close friends," he said. "We used to say it was because we were born just a few days apart. We were kind of similar. We became really good friends and remained that way.

"I was a huge fan of hers. Her singing, she was so passionate and she sang what she believed."

Grossman describes Amphlett's style as a unique blend of the Pretenders' Chrissie Hynde, AC/DC's Angus Young and - oddly - Barry Humphries.

"Barry Humphries had a persona - he had many personas - and Chrissy had a persona that she would put on before she went on stage that enabled her to do all that stuff," he explained.

Amphlett matched the great Oz rock frontmen, including Messrs Barnes, Garrett and Neeson, whose bands took Divinyls on tours around Australia's beer barns in the rough-and-ready 80s.

"She was in a league of her own as far as women go in Australia," Grossman said.

"And all those guys were huge fans of hers. When we played with those bands, they were quite sheepish around her."

And pity any punter who dared mouth off at the feisty singer.

"She used to love to jump into the audience and one of us would have to pull her out," the bassist laughed. "She was usually attacking somebody who yelled something at her. Chrissy had really bad eyesight, so she usually attacked the wrong person, some poor fan."

Grossman recalls Divinyls' three nights at the Old Melbourne, playing to a volatile audience brimming with Perth skinheads.

Even then, Amphlett would not take any lip from the audience.

"There's a rule of thumb: pause when agitated," he said. "She wouldn't do that. She'd act before she thought."

His five-year tenure in Divinyls came to a sad end when he went into rehab for heroin addiction. The band replaced him four days into his stay at a detox clinic. "I had to leave. It was awful, it broke my heart. Broke her heart too," he said.

In 1988, after getting clean, Grossman joined Hoodoo Gurus and continues to play with the Oz rock greats - ARIA Hall of Famers, like Divinyls. But he remains very proud of what was achieved in those crazy days with Chrissy and Mark.

"The Divinyls was much more a dysfunctional family - emotional, really emotional all the time," he said. "People being thrown out of cars, fist fights and all that kind of stuff. While you're in the middle of it, it's awful, but in retrospect, it was pretty good."

'She used to love to jump into the audience and one of us would have to pull her out. She was usually attacking somebody who yelled something at her. Chrissy had really bad eyesight, so she usually attacked the wrong person, some poor fan.'