During the period I worked with him at RAM – the late 1970s – O’Grady taught me to write. He was a hard but inspired and motivated taskmaster. It was only in later years that I grew to appreciate the writing and journalistic skills he’d drilled into me.
Eventually I quit as a staff member for RAM but continued to contribute to the magazine for many years. The day I handed my notice in O’Grady called me over to his desk and handed me two freshly rolled joints. “One for now, one for later, good luck dear boy.” O’Grady called pretty much every male in his life – regardless of age – “dear boy.”
O’Grady – who died on December 19 – taught a generation of Australian music and pop culture commentators how to write – and in the process created with RAM a magazine that even after he left became the nurturing and stepping stone publication of choice for those who came after.
Highly respected journalists such as Bruce Elder and Richard Guilliatt acknowledge that O’Grady was the first person to pay them for their writing.
Like Guilliatt, the late Andrew McMillan was still in school at Brisbane when he became a writer for RAM, subsequently going on to write the acclaimed Strict Rules book about Midnight Oil and other books of political and social observation.
Well known political writer Dennis Atkins was a RAM writer. So was author and journalist Clinton Walker. O’Grady nurtured the careers of pioneering female writers such as Jen Jewel Brown, Annie Burton, Elly McDonald, and Karen Hughes.
In so many ways O’Grady was the Australian equivalent of Jann Wenner who founded Rolling Stone magazine in San Francisco in 1967. Both took writing about music and culture extremely seriously. Both had exacting and demanding requirements of their writers and believed their readership expected that quality of insight and observation.
As Dennis Atkins observes, “There had been writing about that before in Australian publications like Digger but that was a broader brief. I’d read in depth 2,000 – 3,000 pieces that placed music in a social context in Rolling Stone but had wanted to see that in Australia. RAM was the first to do it.”
O’Grady was born in 1947, and educated at St Ignatius College, Riverview before attending the University of Sydney where he studied Arts Law, contributed to the student newspaper Honi Soit and wrote two plays for the Sydney University Dramatic Society (SUDS).
Following his university stint O’Grady joined Lintas Advertising Agency as a trainee copywriter. At his funeral old school friend, the composer and former Justice of the NSW Supreme Court, George Palmer told people how O’Grady’s nickname at school was Goldilocks and that during his advertising stint he reportedly coined the name Golden Gaytime for the rebranding of the ice cream flavour in 1970. “Somehow, it seems appropriate that Goldilocks should have invented ‘Golden Gaytime,’” he said.
The first issue of RAM appeared on March 18, 1975 with Mick Jagger on the cover. The second, a fortnight later, featured Skyhooks on the front. Right from the start O’Grady believed that Australian artists should receive the same attention and gravitas as the international superstars.
O’Grady championed many diverse artists – Radio Birdman, Dragon, Cold Chisel (about whom he later penned The Pure Stuff book), Skyhooks, AC/DC, Sherbet and Roxy Music were amongst his favourites and he even persuaded Roxy’s Music’s singer Bryan Ferry to edit an issue of the magazine during an Australian tour.
Having parted ways with RAM and its publishers in the early 1980s, O’Grady continued writing as a columnist for a Sydney newspaper and editing various publications such as the Brash’s chain in-house magazine, and later along with music industry figures John Woodruff and Danny Keenan he launched The Music Network, an insiders business tip sheet and information publication, the likes of which had not existed in Australia before.
O’Grady married Linda Campbell in 1987 and they had two children – Cordelia and Troy – before later divorcing.
In later years O’Grady also co-wrote the programs for the early ARIA Awards with one of Australia’s most successful and respected music managers John Watson, who was then a music writer and had been mentored by O’Grady.
O’Grady also played a lot of golf – a pursuit at which he excelled – much to the chagrin of his non-golf playing friends.
In later years O’Grady contributed many in-depth interviews with important Australian music figures for the National Film And Sound Archive (NFSA) along with contributing to the Sydney Morning Herald and other mastheads.
O’Grady had a kidney transplant nine years ago after some years on dialysis. His health ultimately failed and a variety of melanomas ultimately led to his death.
O’Grady is survived by children Troy and Cordelia and sisters Sharyn and Suellen.