For­mer record la­bel chief and close friend to the stars Fifa Ric­cobono shares some high­lights with Si­mon Collins

The West Australian - - TODAY - Fifa Ric­cobono gives a key­note ad­dress and Q&A at the State Theatre Cen­tre on Novem­ber 1. For more, visit

In 1968, a 16-year-old girl from Si­cily landed a sec­re­tar­ial job at Syd­ney record la­bel and pub­lish­ing com­pany, J. Al­bert and Sons. In June this year, she be­came a Mem­ber of the Or­der of Aus­tralia (AM) in the Queen’s Birth­day Honours for ser­vices to mu­sic — specif­i­cally for nur­tur­ing the ca­reers of AC/DC, Easy­beats icons Harry Vanda and Ge­orge Young, John Paul Young, the An­gels and Rose Tat­too.

Not only did she work with two of the great­est and wildest front­men in Oz rock his­tory in Ac­cadacca’s Bon Scott and the Easy­beats’ Ste­vie Wright, Fifa Ric­cobono be­came the first fe­male chief of a record la­bel in this coun­try when she took the top job at Al­berts in 1999.

Help­ing black-eyed bruis­ers like Scott and Wright climb the long way to the top must have been a hard road. (Sorry!)

But Ric­cobono, who will be the key­note speaker at this year’s WA Mu­sic con­fer­ence (WAMCon), says grow­ing up as an Ital­ian im­mi­grant in post­war Aus­tralia pre­pared her for a life­time of mix­ing it up in a male-dom­i­nated in­dus­try.

“I had al­ready done my time be­ing a new Aus­tralian and had to find my back­bone grow­ing up,” she says from her Syd­ney home. “It re­ally held me in good stead for when I had to stand up to some of the peo­ple that I worked with.”

How­ever, Ric­cobono found the per­fect pro­fes­sional home at

Al­berts, where she started bash­ing out let­ters on an old

Royal type­writer for her di­rect boss, Henry Adler. The Ger­man-born man­ager put to­gether the best­selling 1001 Hit Songs sheet mu­sic an­tholo­gies.

Adler was Ger­man. La­bel owner Ted Al­bert’s fam­ily came out from Switzer­land. Ge­orge Young and younger brothers Mal­colm and An­gus were Scot­tish, and Vanda was Dutch.

“We had quite an ar­ray of na­tion­al­i­ties,” Ric­cobono re­calls. “It was re­fresh­ing to go into a com­pany where there was no prej­u­dice shown at all. I’d grown up (with racism). I came out in the wog era . . . so go­ing into a com­pany like that was just won­der­ful.” Ric­cobono moved into a pro­mo­tional role when Vanda and Young re­turned from the UK in 1973 af­ter the demise of the Easy­beats. She helped es­tab­lish the Al­bert Pro­duc­tions la­bel with the song­writ­ing leg­ends, who cre­ated a string of hits for John Paul Young, Ted Mulry and Wil­liam Shake­speare.

She also wit­nessed first­hand Wright’s se­cond bite at the rock’n’roll cherry in the mid-70s with the Hard Road al­bum and three epic con­certs at the Syd­ney Opera House (with a young Mal­colm play­ing hard­edged rhythm gui­tar along­side Vanda and Young). “He was a won­der­ful per­former and ex­cep­tional on stage,” Ric­cobono says of Wright, who died in 2015 af­ter a life trag­i­cally de­railed by drug abuse. “He had his demons. He fought against it but al­ways suc­cumbed. It was very hard to see it all go so pear shaped.” While Wright did not suc­cumb un­til long af­ter his hey­day, Scott died in 1980 when AC/DC were on a roll. Ric­cobono cher­ishes her time with the Fre­man­tle-raised rock icon — a big rea­son why she loves vis­it­ing WA. “Bon was won­der­ful,” she says. “He was an in­cred­i­bly colour­ful char­ac­ter. His im­age was one thing but what he was as a per­son was some­thing to­tally dif­fer­ent.

“The first time I met him, I was so taken aback be­cause I thought he looked ag­gres­sive and crass. But he was al­ways very con­sid­er­ate and car­ing. He was a very good friend.”

Scott would often call Ric­cobono from the road ask­ing her to send money to a mate in need. “He was very gen­er­ous. He was no­to­ri­ous for hav­ing a good time and suf­fered the con­se­quences later.” While she re­mem­bers Scott as a leg­endary front­man, the more prom­i­nent mem­ory is of her friend that would al­ways keep in touch. “He’d write to me. He’d call from wher­ever he was. Ev­ery week I’d hear from him,” Ric­cobono re­calls. “Out­side of that he’d send me post­cards and in the end I had an en­tire wall of post­cards in my of­fice from Bon.”

Some of the high­lights of her time at Al­berts came dur­ing the post-Bon era, when An­gus, Mal­colm and Brian John­son (the Ge­ordie singer who joined AC/DC in 1980) played to gi­gan­tic crowds all over the planet.

Ric­cobono can still feel the en­ergy and heat of 400,000 fans at Rock in Rio in 1985 and the over­whelm­ing sight of a mil­lion peo­ple stretch­ing into the dis­tance at Mon­sters of Rock in Moscow in 1991.

She was some­what sur­prised when Guns N’ Roses front­man Axl Rose — hardly renowned for his punc­tu­al­ity or healthy in­tra-band re­la­tion­ships — re­placed an ail­ing John­son three years ago.

“I thought this could be a mar­riage not made in heaven,” she laughs, “but Axl was very re­spect­ful . . . he did what was asked of him.”

Is Ric­cobono sur­prised that Acca Dacca have lasted so long, even be­yond the re­cent death of Mal­colm, the driv­ing force along­side the show­man­ship of An­gus?

“No,” she says, “be­cause they’ve al­ways man­aged to read their au­di­ence. They know their au­di­ence. They’ve al­ways been a work­ing-class band and they play to work­ing-class peo­ple.

“Mal­colm was fun­da­men­tal in his think­ing. He knew what he wanted for the band. The band knew what the au­di­ence wanted. And they de­liv­ered . . . and they stuck to their guns.”

Not only has AC/DC’s sonic style barely budged since 1975 de­but al­bum High Volt­age, but the Young brothers al­ways seemed un­fazed by fame and for­tune.

Ric­cobono says An­gus still likes a cup of tea. “He’s a fam­ily man. He’s cer­tainly not one that par­ties. He lets all of his

steam off on stage and then likes to re­treat to his home,” she says.

“Ge­orge and Harry drummed into them very early in the piece that you should treat suc­cess with the same con­tempt you treat fail­ure.”

Ric­cobono de­scribes her own rockin’ role in the Al­berts story as a “pro­tec­tor” of the bands. Right from when she was work­ing in pro­mo­tions with Vanda and Young in the 70s, she tried to match her “en­ergy and pas­sion” to their tal­ent, do­ing “what­ever it took” to get songs on the ra­dio or in the press.

“When I say ‘what­ever it took’ that does not in­clude (brib­ing disc jock­eys with) drugs or any­thing else,” she clar­i­fies. “It means work­ing hard . . . to see the la­bel own the charts in the 70s was phe­nom­e­nal.”

Speak­ing of drugs, did Ric­cobono ever in­dulge with the rock gods?

“I went to par­ties but I knew where my lim­its were,” she says.

Ric­cobono fin­ished at Al­berts in 2006. To­day she ad­vises on mat­ters re­lated to AC/DC and the la­bel’s other key acts, and is heav­ily in­volved in mu­sic-based char­i­ties Sup­port Act and Nord­off-Rob­bins Mu­sic Ther­apy.

While Scott, Wright, Ge­orge and Mal­colm Young, Mulry, Shake­speare, Billy Thorpe and Doc Nee­son are all gone, Ric­cobono has re­mained close to those rock­ing on to­day.

“Even if they haven’t been on the la­bel or I haven’t been work­ing with them for a while, the friend­ship is still strong.”

‘Colour­ful char­ac­ter’ Bon Scott. Ric­cobono with AC/DC gui­tarist Mal­colm Young.

The mighty Ac­cadacca led by Fre­man­tle-raised singer Bon Scott in 1976.

Be­tween Easy­beats leg­ends Ge­orge Young and Harry Vanda, with Ted Al­bert on the back of a boat.

Tea drinker An­gus Young.

With An­gry An­der­son.

With Brian John­son.

For­mer Al­bert Mu­sic chief Fifa Ric­cobono.

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