The story of Blackfeather is one of the most convoluted in the entire history of Australian rock. Something in the vicinity of 50 musicians passed through the Blackfeather ranks down the years. The band left behind two genuine classic singles in `Seasons of Change' and `Boppin' the Blues'.
The original line-up of Blackfeather emerged out of the ashes of the Dave Miller Set in April 1970. Even at that stage, 18-year-old Neale Johns was a singer of great power and conviction, and John Robinson was a nascent guitar hero on par with Lobby Loyde and Kevin Borich. Leith Corbett and Mike McCormack moved on quickly to be replaced by Bob Fortesque and Al Kash respectively. The band built up a following on the Sydney and Melbourne hard rock circuit and cut At the Mountains of Madness. It remains a highly regarded progressive rock album, highlighted by Robinson's fluid, inventive guitar technique and a swag of adventurous songs. At the Mountains of Madness came out in April 1971 and reached #7 on the national chart a month later. Reissue specialists Raven later included the epic `Long Legged Lovely' on the essential Various Artists compilation Golden Miles: Australian Progressive Rock 1969�1974 (1994).
The soaring, seductive `Seasons of Change'/`On this Day that I Die' (May 1971) was a national #15 hit (#9 in Sydney) during June. Johns and Robinson had originally written `Seasons of Change' for Fraternity, but the Blackfeather version was strong enough to be issued in its own right. Meanwhile, Terry Gascoigne had replaced Al Kash on drums in March 1971. By the time the single came out, Harry Brus (bass; ex-Amazons, Dave Miller Set, Jeff St John's Copperwine) and Steve Webb (drums) had replaced Fortesque and Gascoigne respectively. A further split occurred in August 1971 when Robinson, Brus and Webb carried on without Johns under the name of Blackfeather.
The singer formed his own version of Blackfeather with Zac Zytnik (guitar; ex-Tamam Shud, Bootleg), Paul Wylde (piano; ex-Starving Wild Dogs, Hannagan), Warren Ward (bass; ex-Flying Circus, Maple Lace) and Jim Penson (drums; ex-Plastic Tears, Maple Lace). Paul Conyngham from the Nova Agency held legal rights to the Blackfeather name and Robinson's Blackfeather soon broke up. Robinson joined Sydney club band Hunger with singer Bobbi Marchini. He then became a part of studio band Duck in 1972, reunited briefly with Dave Miller Set, formed Tramp in 1973 and then issued a solo album, Pity for the Victim, on Festival/Infinity in 1974.
Zytnik left Blackfeather in December 1971, as did Penson at the start of 1972. Billy Taylor (ex-Flake) joined on guitar and the band recorded a new single, `Boppin' the Blues'/`Find Somebody to Love' with The Aztecs' Gil Matthews filling in on drums. By the time the single became a national #1 hit in August, Trevor Young had joined as temporary drummer. He was replaced by Greg Sheehan, and guitarist Taylor also left to return to Flake. The new four-piece line-up relied on dominant boogie-woogie piano as a substitute for guitar, and issued the live album Boppin' the Blues (December 1972) and new single `Slippin' and Slidin''/`Fly on My Nose' (February 1973).
By January 1973, Wylde had left, and guitarists Lindsay Wells (ex-Healing Force, One Ton Gypsy) and Tim Piper (ex-Chain, One Ton Gypsy) joined. Once again, Blackfeather was playing hard rock and the band's set at Sunbury 1973 was issued as the live album Blackfeather Live! (Sunbury) in 1974. The Blackfeather track, `I'm Gonna Love You', also appeared on Mushroom's triple live set The Great Australian Rock Festival Sunbury 1973 (April 1973). John Lee (ex-Sayla) then replaced Sheehan on drums after Sunbury, but by April Blackfeather had split. Johns initially went solo before joining Flake in July. Flake at that stage comprised guitarists John Russell and Billy Taylor, plus two other ex-Blackfeather alumni, Warren Ward and Jim Penson. Flake lasted until the end of 1974.
A short-lived Blackfeather line-up in 1975 comprised Johns, Billy Taylor (guitar), Ray Vanderby (keyboards; ex-Band of Light), Billy Rylands (bass) and Doug McDonald (drums). Johns re-emerged in early 1976 with a new Blackfeather featuring Vanderby, Lee Brossman (bass), Warwick Fraser (drums) and 14-year-old Stewart Fraser (guitar). That was a more pop-oriented line up, but only lasted until November when Johns left to travel to the UK. The rest of the band recruited singer John Swan and guitarist Wayne Smith to became Feather.
In the UK, Johns teamed up with guitarist Con Gallin and recorded an album with session players. Johns and Gallin returned to Australia in 1977 and put together a band called Fingerprint (with drummer Trevor Young and bassist Mark Smith) to promote the upcoming album. In the end, only the single `Play Roulette'/`When I Get Out of Here' (August 1977) came out and Fingerprint broke-up. Johns and Young re-formed Blackfeather in June 1978 with Paul Wylde (piano) and Warren Ward (bass). By October, the line-up had changed to Johns, Ray Oliver (guitar; ex-Friends), Rick Rankin (guitar), Jeff Rosenberg (bass; ex-Hot Air Band) and Huk Treloar (drums, ex-Pantha, Bleeding Hearts, Living Legends). John Strangio (ex-Dingoes, Chariot) came in for a while to replace Rosenberg, but the band was defunct by the end of the year.
By 1980, Johns and Young were playing around the Melbourne pub circuit with Brenden Mason (guitar, ex-Madder Lake) and Kerrie McKenna (bass, ex-Madder Lake) as Claude Rains. Ever the opportunist, Johns revived the Blackfeather name one more time in 1983 with Russell Hinton (guitar; ex-Country Radio), Andy Cowan (keyboards, ex-Madder Lake, Ayers Rock), Cleve Judge (bass) and Joe Vizzone (drums). By then, the band had well and truly run its course and that line-up was short-lived.