Bill Armstrong AM
Engineer, Armstrong Studios
Bill Armstrong’s extraordinary career has spanned wire recordings, through discs of varying dimensions and speeds, to cassettes and CDs, and he now comfortably operates in the digital age.
Bill was born in 1929, the year that Al Jolson’s Sonny Boy became one of the first records to sell a million copies.From the late 1940s Bill was recording music that played as a steel gramophone needle dragged its way across the surface of a shellac disc spinning at 78 revolutions per minute.
These days – still working five days a week – he works on recordings that will be bought by people who are just as likely to be storing it unseen in The Cloud. Bill has been recording music and sounds since before Robert Menzies was Australia’s Prime Minister and later made wire recordings of some of Menzies’ speeches. Like much of Bill Armstrong’s valuable work these recordings, and dozens more, are held at the National Film and Sound Archive.
But it is Bill’s life of recording music, from the early days with the likes of Graeme Bell and Smacka Fitzgibbon, through to explosive years ofchange as the ‘60s became the ‘70s and Australian music took on the world, for which he is best known. Armstrong Studios became the iconic space in which to record great pop records, and countless careers were launched there, including those of John Farnham, Brian Cadd, Russell Morris, Daddy Cool, Skyhooks, Spectrum, The Sports, the Models andthe Little River Band.
At the same time Bill recorded legendary performers as they toured Australia including landmark albums by the likes of jazz violinist Stephane Grappelli and Cleo Laine, regarded as one of the greatest jazz vocalists of all time. It was Laine’s successful Australian tour that kick-started her international career. And it wasn’t just that Bill kept Armstrong Studios at the cutting edge of recording technologies. At one point Armstrong’s boasted an eight-track recorder that was the only one outside the US; even Abbey Road didn’t have one.
But as, under Bill’s direction, Armstrong’s became the largest studio complex in the southern hemisphere, the artists and those who recorded them understood that it was Bill’s attitude towards them that made the difference. The producers and engineers who worked with Bill to make all that magic speak of a man always open to the ideas of others and with an eagle eye for talent – on both sides of the recording console. Not long before he died last year, the legendary Australian music writer and editor Ed Nimmervoll observed that under Bill, Armstrong Studios had become Australia’s Sun Studios, perhaps even its Abbey Road. No one could argue.
These days Bill is just as likely to be digitally restoring a between-the-wars gem for another collection by Barry Humphries, as he is releasingan album of new music – which he did just this month with the issue of Colleen Hewett’s Black and White. It debuted at No.1 on the ARIA Jazz Albums Chart and this week tops the iTunes blues chart. Bill is back in familiar territory.
Bill appears on the Face The Music 2015 session:
Hall of Fame Exhibition Launch