Tuesday, July 25, 2017

The Genesis of British Rock: The Coffee Clubs

Coffee Clubs had their origin in the old Coffee Houses introduced to England in 1652. The coffee club became a male preserve with only serving women encouraged and coffee drinkers, usually the inteligencia, found coffee houses ideal meeting places to do business (often political) and play cards. Much anti-establishment behaviour originated from the new coffee houses and regent Charles II (1630 - 1685) tried to ban them but he was unsuccessful. By the 18th century, London coffee houses preceded many gentlemen's clubs and once the aristocracy had moved out the coffee clubs attracted the middle classes.

By the 20th century coffee houses were popular temperance attractions which were associated with jazz in the US. In the UK and Australia, Coffee Clubs became Coffee Bars and were inseparable from Italian Americana, serving espresso coffee and housing the latest in technology, jukeboxes. They became the Mecca for young teenagers unable to get into the pub.

During the 50s the most influential coffee bar in London was the 2i's Coffee Bar, owned by two Australians. In the basement at 59 Old Compton Street, Soho, the coffee bar had live music which featured many of the up and coming new Rock’n’Rollers, including Cliff and the Drifters, Tommy Steele and Adam Faith among many others. One of the talents was a chap who was going to be invited to join Hank and Bruce in the Drifters but decided to follow a solo career instead. His name was Tony Sheridan who later helped teach the Beatles how to rock.

Sadly all that remains at the original site of the 2Is is a plaque unveiled in 2006. The premises are now the Boulevard Bar and Dining Room with the original basement a lobby area for storage. You can still see what the original 2Is looked like in the video, Absolute Beginners otherwise the building fascia no longer exists.

In 1957, Aunty (BBC) introduced a new program for teenagers called “The Six Five Special.” It was only intended to run for six weeks but ended up an institution. Presented by Pete Murray and Jo Douglas the show initially developed an association with skiffle but also included some Rock’n’Roll and other popular singers too including Michael Holliday, the King Brothers and Jim Dale (of Carry On Films). Jim went on to write Georgie Girl and have an illustrious career on Broadway but not before he became the show’s presenter. Jim may be less well known now but was a regular in the Carry On films. In the fifties he was a mean and moody rocker.

When the young producer of the 6’5 Special was sacked, Jack Good was quickly picked up by a commercial TV station and they brought out a rival teen program called ‘Oh Boy!’ in 1958. It was recorded live and featured one song after another. Top recording artists sang together and separately and older tunes were freely mixed with the hit parade. The frenetic pace and high energy output suited the teen’s right down to the ground and the show was televised at the Hackney Empire, in front of 200 screaming teenagers. The show featured many top British vocalists including Shirley Bassey, Marty Wilde and Billy Fury. “Oh Boy’ also featured were overseas stars including The Inkspots; Conway Twitty and Brenda Lee which increased the program’s appeal to the British youth. The resident band was Lord Rockingham XI who had a couple of hits including “ Hoots Mon” and the immortal phrases “There's a moose loose aboot this hoose" and "It's a braw, bricht, moonlit nicht."

Ironically the music had no real Scottish connection (other than bagpipes at the end) but did add to teenage hip talk at the time and took its place alongside Bill Halley‘s , “see you later alligator” and ’in a while crocodile.’ The star of the Oh Boy series was Marty Wilde (Kim Wilde’s dad) who was a natural performer and came from the Larry Parnes stable of singers.

Parnes was an impresario who liked giving his singers edgy names like Marty Wilde, Tommy Steele and Vince Eager. Marty was doing well when young pretender, Cliff Richard joined the show although the two performers worked happily together Larry Parnes was uncomfortable and decided to pull Marty from the show. Needless to say Cliff took the limelight and although Marty continued to have some chart success as a cover artist, he quickly faded from the scene. Needless to say Cliff grew in popularity until he overtook his main rival Tommy Steele. Steele by this time could see the end of his career as a teen idol and quickly moved into cabaret and theatre.

There was still conscription in the UK and many of the talented performers ended up doing national service which meant by the time they were back in Civy Street, music styles had changed. One very promising act from the 2Is was Joe Brown a brilliant guitarist (left handed) with an infectious and cheeky disposition. Joe enjoyed several hits but not before becoming very good friends with Eddie Cochrane and Gene Vincent.

As the sixties progressed and the Mersey Beat replaced Rock’n’ Roll, many of the early Elvis imitators faded or moved into cabaret but one group from the 2Is cafĂ© set went on to become a musical institution were The Shadows.

Worth a listen:

Tommy Steele
Singing the blues (1956)
A Handful Of Songs (1957)

Cliff Richard
Move it (1958)
Living Doll (1959)
Travelling Light (1959)

Adam Faith
What do you want (1959)
Someone else’s baby (1960)

Jim Dale
Piccadilly Line ( 1957)
Be my girl (1957)
Teddy Bears picnic (1962)

Shirley Bassey
Kiss me honey honey (1958)

Conway Twitty
Its only make believe (1958)

Billy Furry
Maybe tomorrow (1959)

The Shadows
Man of Mystery The Shadows (1960)

Eddie Cochrane
Summertime Blues

Joe Brown
Picture of You (1962)

Michael Holliday
The story of my life (1958)
Stairway of love (1958)
Starry eyed (1959)

Lord Rockingham XI
Hoots Mon (1958)

Marty Wilde
Rubber Ball

Monday, July 24, 2017

Internationally Famous Australian Pop Acts

Where do you begin? There are a remarkable number of Australian acts which have over the decades set the world of popular music on fire, from Frank Ifield who introduced the US buying public to the Fab Four; to AC DC with more than 120 million album sales worldwide. And don’t forget The Seekers (arguably the most famous folkies of all) and Helen Reddy and of course the diva of pop, Kylie Mogue. Apart from talent and perseverance they all have one thing in common; they all had to move away from Australia to establish themselves as International stars. This of course only happened after they had learned the ropes of the business by doing the hard miles in the Big Brown land. Ultimate success in the music business came from selling albums and the small population of Australia and New Zealand was just not big enough, so talented acts needed to try their luck on the world stage which of course mercilessly eats and spits out young talent. So to achieve “15 minutes of fame” requires outstanding talent.

Peter Allen (1944 – 1992) was a song and dance man who gained public attention as part of the Allen Bros (with guitarist Chris Bell), and they became a popular act on stage, clubs and TV variety shows in Australia. They went on tour in the Far East in 1964 and there he met Judy Garland, who recognised their talent and offered them a job as her opening act. They appeared in London then onto the US. Peter and Liza Minnelli fell in love and eventually got married (1967). Stateside, the Allen Brothers became a popular on the cabaret circuit and Liza and the Allen Brothers toured the Playboy circuit until the Allen Bros eventually called it a day in 1970. Peter launched his solo career and continued to write and sing his own material, including "I Still Call Australia Home," "I Honestly Love You." Sometimes he wrote in collaboration with others like Burt Bacharach and Jeff Barry and the theme from Arthur (starring Dudley Moore and Liza Minnelli) was collaboration between Burt Bacharach, Carol Bayer Sager, Christopher Cross, and Peter Allen. Back in Australia, his recording "I Go to Rio" (co-written with Adrienne Anderson) topped the charts. Many other artists clambered to record his material including; Melissa Manchester "Don't Cry Out Loud" (co-written with Carole Bayer Sager), Pablo Cruise covered "I Go to Rio," and Rita Coolidge "I'd Rather Leave While I'm in Love." At the height of his fame in 1992 he died suddenly but his life and times have been beautifully recreated on stage in the musical, The Boy from OZ starring Hugh Jackman in the title role.

By the time the Bee Gees had arrived in London they were consummate performers and had been teen idols in Australia for some time. This of course cut no ice in trendy London where boys from the Antipodes would have to prove themselves all over again. Fortunately the lads had a fairy god mother in the form of impresario Robert Stigwood, a fellow Australian, who got them a contract with Polydor Records. The brothers' first UK single was their own composition “ New York Mining Disaster, 1941.” They followed this up with another one of their songs, “To love somebody” but it made no impact on the charts. Ironically this Bee Gees’ song is one of the most covered from their catalogue. When in 1973 the band fell out with their record company they took the unprecedented action of moving to the US. Teamed with Arif Mardin (producer) they worked on a new sound which exploded with the soundtrack of “Saturday night Fever.” With the passing of Disco, the Bee Gees reinvented themself and were back on top of the charts by the mid eighties with a streams of new hit, including "Woman in love", and "Heartbreaker". The Bee Gees represent one of the biggest pop phenomenon of the 20th century and in their 42 years together have released 28 albums, selling approx 175 million copies. The soundtrack for Saturday Night Fever, the soundtrack remains the best selling soundtrack ever. The end of the Bee Gees came in 2003 when Maurice Gibb died. Over 1,000 artists have performed their songs, from Elvis Presley to Barbra Streisand (Woman in Love, Guilty, What kind of fool). One of their greatest fans of the Bee Gees is fellow Manchurian , Noel Gallagher (Oasis).

Certainly a heartbreaker for me was not, Patsie Anne Noble (Trisha Noble enjoyed some success in the UK), but Olivia Newton John. Olivia (Livvy) Newton-John dropped out of high school and won a talent contest in the late 60s which took her to England where she joined the group called, Toomorrow. This was a made up group assembled by Don Kirshner in the hopes of creating a female UK version of the Monkees. When the project was pair shaped Olivia joined Cliff Richard on tour. She quickly established herself as credible singer and "If Not for You," became a Top Ten hit in 1971. Somewhat of a surprise to all it sold well in the States which gave her a fan base and when three years later her version of the Bee Gees "I Love You, I Honestly Love You," was released it confirmed her position as a singing starlet. The rest of the seventies were a dream for Olivia could not go wrong and released singles and albums all of which were successful. She moved to LA in 1974 to try to establish her credentials as a country singer this met with minor interest but it was her appearance in Grease (1978) where the little English rose from Melbourne fully blossomed in the glare of International stardom. Olivia was now a soft rocker had had a string of hits including "Magic,""Xandau," and "Suddenly.” In 1981 she won another generation of fans with "Let's Get Physical, " and rather a suggestive video. Hits continued through to the mid eighties unabated but popular music tastes changed and Olivia wanted to grow old gracefully and stepped out of the limelight.

One of the most accomplished singer song writers Australia’s ever produced is Brian Cadd. Before moving to America in 1975, he had establishing himself as a formidable rocker in Australia writing and co-writing The Groop's original material. Brian and Don Mudie also wrote Axiom‘s “Arkansas Grass“, “A Little Ray of Sunshine” and “My Baby's Gone“. Other Australian artists recorded his works including Ronnie Burns’ “When I Was Only Six Years Old“ which was later covered by Paul Jones (ex Manfred Mann) and Master’s Apprentices “Elevator Driver” and “Silver People. ” In later years Brian’s songs were covered by many prominent acts, notably the Pointer Sisters, Gene Pitney, Joe Cocker, Ringo Starr, Bonnie Tyler, Yvonne Elliman, Charlie Daniels, Glen Campbell, The Little River Band, Dobie Gray, Johnny Halliday, Sylvie Vartan, Cilla Black, Trini Lopez, Wayne Newton, and many others. In 1991 Brian was invited to join veteran US country-rock band The Flying Burrito Brothers and in 1995 he produced the very first Chinese Country album, actually recorded in Mainland China. Brian Cadd is still on the go and a very much sought after writer, performer and producer.

Worth a listen:

Frank Ifield
I remember you (1962)

The Seekers
Georgie Girl (1967)

Kylie Monogue
Loco-motion (1987)

Thunderstruck (1975)

Peter Allen
I go to Rio (1977)

Christopher Cross
Arthur’s Theme (1980)

Olivia Newton John
Country Road
I honestly love you
Lets get Physical

Olivia Newton John and John Travolta
You’re the one that I love

Bees Gees
New York Mining Disaster (1967)

Janis Joplin
To love somebody (1967)

Dionne Warwick
Heartbreaker (1982),

A little ray of sunshine

Loggins & Messina
Your mama don’t dance (1973)

John Farnham
Don’t you know its magic (1972)

Master’s Apprentices
Elevator Driver

Australian Rock: Third Wave 1970–1975 (Part III)

Dedicated to the loving memory of Billy Thorp, Graeme "Shirley" Strachan, and Bon Scott

1970 to 1975 was a fertile period in Australian Rock with veteran rockers and new performers joining in new formations to develop a more mature, progressive and distinctively Australian rock style. Some acts were successful within Australia and others with considerable international success. Australian music is often distinguished from the rock styles of other nations by its focus on melody and complex rhythms usually accompanied with humorous lyrics which were dry and often self-deprecating.

Skyhooks were the first to write songs in Australia, by Australians, about Australia, and make money doing it. The Melbourne band formed in 1973 and considered themselves counter to glam rock. Skyhooks were ostensibly pre-punk rockers that reveled in camp costumes, lyrics, and on-stage activities that would shock. More importantly lyrist, Greg Macainsh wrote commercial songs about contemporary young Australians. Their first album, Living in the Seventies, rocketed to the top of the charts and stayed there for so long it became the best selling Australian album up until that time.

This was despite seven of the ten album tracks being banned by Australian commercial radio. Compare the glam rock of Skyhooks to UKs Sweet.

Until 1975, all commercial pop radio in Australia was broadcast on the AM band, in mono. Unless pop songs were three minutes long and contained no contentious or suggestive lyrics then they were just ignored and that meant many talented acts went unnoticed. The most commercially successful new wave band was Sydney’s Sherbet (a.k.a. The Sherbs and Highway) who formed in 1969.

They were the first Australian band to reach $1M in record sales and scored a couple of Australian number ones. They started as a soul band doing Motown covers before Daryl Braithwaite joined them in 1970. After they won Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds in 1971 and a few lineup changes, Sherbet became an upfront pop band who wrote many of their hits and toured Australia often to the remotest regions. They had one international hit “Hozat” in 1976 but in 1975 their first Australian was ‘Summer love’ when they were an Australian teen sensation.

Meanwhile elsewhere the world had gone mad for five lads dressed in plaid. By the seventies national popularity was encouraged through of a variety of means. The traditional dance hall and disco were dead and much more reliance was placed upon the media to convey popular music. Changes to broadcasting meant the introduction of Double Jay to FM radio. The Go-set magazine had been introduced in 1966 as the first Australian Rock Magazine. Founded in Melbourne by a couple of university students and aimed at a teenage audience and was soon distributed to other states. A popular feature was a center page spread called The Scene which featured a ‘what’s on,’ this became compulsive reading for acts and their fans alike.

Ian Molly Meldrum wrote a weekly column for Go-Set until its demise in 1974. The introduction of colour television and Countdown had a phenomenal effect, gaining a huge audience which soon exerted a strong influence on radio programmers, because it was broadcast nationwide on Australia's government-owned broadcaster, the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC). Countdown was certainly influential in the rise of many Australian acts including Little River Band.

Little River Band was formed in 1975 in Melbourne, Australia. The first formation of the band included Glenn Shorrock, lead vocals, Beeb Birtles, guitar and vocals, Graeham Goble, guitar and vocals, Derek Pellicci, drums, Roger McLachlan, bass, Rick Formosa, lead guitar. The band were made up of set consummate musicians with a definite soul background and started to produce some funky music. By comparison the Average White Band was Scottish and came out with similar music to Little River Band both could easily have been mistaken for USA bands. Make up your own mind as we play Little River Band, Average White Band with Steely Dan.

The Sunbury music festival which started in 1972 gave rise to a newer generation of tough, uncompromising, adult-oriented rock bands which was continued in the popular in the pub circuit, which followed in the latter part of the decade. Festivals meant big sound bands could get rocking and there was no bigger band than ACDC.

They were formed in 1973 by guitarist, Malcolm Young (Velvet Underground) after his band collapsed. He joined forces with his younger brother Angus (lead guitarist), and Dave Evans (singer), and they played around Sydney. They recorded “Can I sit next to you” which was produced by Harry Vanda (Easybeats) and older brother George Young (Easybeats) but it failed to raise much interest.

Phil Rudd (Coloured Balls) and Mark Evans (bass) joined the group when they moved to Melbourne. Bon Scott (Fraternity and The Valentines) was the drummer and driver and had much more experience in the business than the rest of the lads. When Dave took stage fright, Bon stepped in as lead singer, and when Dave left the band in 1977, Cliff Williams took his place. Bon Scott eventually took over and they were on their way to the top.

One sure influence on Bon in particular was a fellow Scot by the name of Alex Harvey. Alex had been around since the 50s and was a well respected performer, known for his rock/blues background. He started in the skiffle craze moved through the rock’n’roll era and worked the German Clubs and Beer Kellers before ending up as a musician in Hair. He loved mixing theatre (usually Music Hall) with rock and had a distinctive stage presence which included manic look, tight jeans and stripped jumper. So whether Alex and Bon were clones or one influenced the other we will never know. The Sensational Alex Harvey Band (SAHB) scored a couple of hits in the UK "Delilah" (1975), a re-make of the Tom Jones hit, and also with "The Boston Tea Party"(1976). They broke up in 1977.

Worth a listen:
Highway to Hell AC/DC (1975)

Average White Band
Pick up the pieces (1975)

Bay City Rollers
Bye Bye Baby (1975)

Little River Band
Curiosity killed the cat (1975)

Delilah (1975)

Summer Love (1975)

All My Friends Are Getting Married (1975)

Steely Dan
Bad Sneakers (1975)

Fox on the run (1975)

Australasian Rock: The Next Phase (Part II)

The availability of US electric guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computer but then, thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The single greatest influence came from a specky, geek from Newcastle, UK with the unlikely name, Hank Marvin.

Although there had been many singer guitarists before him, he was the very first non American, guitar hero in rock’n’roll. His playing style and the Shadows music gave inspiration to countless young musicians across the Commonwealth.

Local dance bands in Australia and New Zealand played a wider variety of musical styles and musicians would have hundreds of songs in their repertoire. This included popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties as well as the very latest tunes. Many were from jazz, influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy. Notable alternatives to the mainstream pop emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne). Many of these bands later evolved into top Australian groups of the next decade, by merely adding a lead singer. (The Atlantics and Johnny Reb).

The most successful of the Australian surf groups was The Atlantics who wrote their own material and scored an international hit with Bombara (1963).

Many people thought The Atlantics were an American band which actually was an advantage since deejays have confessed that if they had known they were Australian they would not have played their records. No matter The Atlantics became the first international rock act from Australia. Their success mirrored Slim Dusty who scored an international hit with Pub with no beer, in 1959.

The Atlantics shared the international spotlight with other young Australian artists. Frank Ifield (country balladeer) and Rolf Harris. In the UK, Frank epitomized the all Australian male, a handsome new age guy that could yodel and Rolf; the quirky Australian artisan that could capture the public attention with his good humoured novelty and artistic originality. All had a place in the pop charts and all three enjoyed international stardom. The most collectable Beatles’ album is a compilation with Frank Ifield which was released on limited edition in the US. At the time Frank was more bankable star than the Fab Four.

Sun arise, which I rate as one of the best Australian pop songs ever recorded, was orchestrated by Johnnie Spence and produced by (Sir) George Martin. Rolf could not play the didgeridoo nor was there a player in England at the time so the didgeridoo sound was simulated by eight bass fiddles. If longevity is a mark of success and originality these three pioneers are perfect examples, because they all continued to record and perform long after the 60s.

Back in Australia several things were happening which would influence the music, yet to come? The Second World War had brought strong bonds with the US with thousands of military personnel stationed in Australia and New Zealand. Regular troop movements meant entertaining the boys when they were on shore leave. The home base situation continued long after the end of the war, into the cold war, with agreements such as ANZUS (1951), the Southeast Asia Treaty Organization (SEATO), 1954, the Antarctic Agreement (1961), and the Vietnam War. With virtual occupation status, local musicians forged music to suit and naturally absorbed popular stylistic influences such as Motown, soul music and funk genres into their live club performances.

It is impossible to consider Australian rock without reference to New Zealand and to acknowledge the role of New Zealand musicians have played in the development of art form. Many jazz and rock musicians came through exactly the same experiences in Kiwi land (especially Christchurch) before they made the journey across the Tasman Sea to become established acts in Australia like Max Merrit and Dinah Lee.

By the time the Mersey sound had arrived (many of the English beat groups were veterans of the German Club scene) local Australasian musicians were in complete sympathy with contemporary pop mod culture. A quarter of a million British born migrants arrived in Australia in the late fifties and early sixties most of which settled in the east with many in Adelaide. The 17, 412 American born new Australians preferred Victoria. When the more recent arrivals they had just come from seeing the Stones, The Who, and the Beatles so their influence on Australian bands was immense. Once Australian artists started to write their own material with Stevie Wright, Harry Vanda and George Young good creative examples the Easybeats was the first Australian band to consistently top the charts with their own compositions.

Inspiration to others like Johnny Young from Perth, who saw the window of opportunity and was soon knocking out Australia pop tunes.

Despite their immense success the Easybeats enjoyed in Australia they had only moderate success overseas. The same cannot be said for the Seekers and arguably the most successful of all Australian exports in the 60s, the Bee Gees.

Worth a listen:
Slim Dusty
Pub with no beer (1959)

Max Merrit and the Meteors
Get a hair cut (1959)

The Shadows
Apache (1960)

Rolf Harris
Sun Arise (1962)

Frank Ifield
I remember you (1962)

The Atlantics
Bombora (1963)

Dinah Lee
Don't You Know Yockomo (1964 )

Billy Thorp and the Aztecs
Poison Ivy (1964)

The Seekers
I’ll never find another you (1964)

The Easybeats
Friday on my mind (1966)

Bee Gees.
New York Mining Disaster (1967)

Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Australian Rock'n'Roll History (Part 1)

Rock and roll (rock 'n' roll) originated in the United States in the later 40s and spread to the rest of the world in the following decade. As a musical genre it was a hybrid cross-over of blues and country and became rockabilly, with Sun Records in Memphis, the centre of the movement. In truth Rock’n’roll was a systematic sanitization of black music (R&B) for an appreciative young white audience. Rock’n’roll had long been an African-American euphemism for sex but when DJ Alan Freed used the term to describe a music genre, the term stuck. The fast beat with double entendres in lyrics only endeared itself further to the hearts of the baby boomers, keen to shed the doldrums of the post war period. As Jazz was to the Flappers, Rock’n’Roll was to the 50s teenagers. The music’s secret was in its rhythm, which was basically a boogie woogie blues rhythm (8 beats to a bar, and are 12-bar blues) with an accentuated backbeat, almost always on snare drum. In the earliest forms of rock and roll, which date to the late 1940s, the piano was the lead instrument (Fats Domino "The Fat man" -1949/1950).

By the early fifties, the saxophone had taken over as lead, and eventually this was replaced in turn by the lead guitar. By the late fifties rock and roll groups consisted of two electric guitars (one lead, one rhythm), an electric bass guitar, and a drum kit. In most people’s minds Bill Haley’s Rock around the clock was the beginning of the movement, but honours should go to “Crazy Man, Crazy" which first hit the American charts in 1952.

The follow up was a cover version of Big Joe Turner's "Shake, Rattle and Roll," became the first ever rock'n'roll song to enter the British singles charts in December 1954.

"Rock Around the Clock" was recorded in 1954 but did little until it appeared a year later behind the opening credits of the 1955 film Blackboard Jungle starring Glenn Ford.

The film did not appear in Australian cinemas until 1956 but when the single was released by Festival Records it became the biggest-selling record in Australian history (150,000 copies). Keen to cash in on Haley’s popularity there was a follow up film showing Bill Haley in concern which included footage of the crowd hysteria that accompanied his live performances. It was this that gave Australian kids the lead and like every other teenager across the Western World, they jived in the aisles and ripped up the seats. Now inspired to play the music, legions of copyist sprung up everywhere, playing in the suburbs across Australia and thrilling local revelers in the dance halls. The first Australian rock’n’roll record was Frankie Davidson’s “Rock-a Beat’n’ Boogie (a Haley composition) which sold reasonably well although it was generally considered a novelty record.

In the US racial tensions had surfaced with African Americans protesting against segregation, but in Australia that 'race' connection meant nothing. Instead the development of a teenage culture widened the Generation Gap between kids and their parents and young Australians broke their shackles with the Old Country, following the new American heroes of Haley, Presley and Little Richard. Every Australian city developed its own local heroes but that is where they would have remained because distances were too great. Teenagers listened to the jukeboxes in milk bars and were trained to their transistor hoping to catch maverick radio presenters like Stan Rife (Melbourne) and John Laws (Sydney), spinning the latest releases from overseas. All that changed with Johnny O’Keefe who was inspired by Bill Haley, gave up a retail career to bop. Johnnie O'Keefe and the 'Dee Jays' released a Bill Haley song You Hit the Wrong Note Billy Goat in 1957, which was beginning of Australian home grown Rock’n’roll.

Keen to catch the new trend of teenage entertainment Channel Nine launched an Australian version of American Bandstand in 1958, compared by Brian Henderson and a year later, 1959 ABCs "Six O'Clock Rock" went to air with Johnny O’Keefe, at first a regular contributor before becoming the resident host. This was based on BBCs “Six Five Special.”

More often than not in Australia the actual artists were not always available to appear which gave local talent the opportunity to perform cover versions or mime to the latest hits. Popular Australian acts which whipped up excitement included Lonnie Lee & The Leemen, Dig Richards & The R'Jays, Alan Dale & The Houserockers, Ray Hoff & The Offbeats, Digger Revell & The Denvermen and New Zealand's Johnny Devlin & The Devils.

Col Joye and the Joy Boys was the star feature on Australia's Bandstand TV Show and Johnny O’Keefe’s nemesis. Col’s style was more country than rocker but did reasonable cover versions before eventually writing his own material with progressively more chart success than Johnny O’Keefe.

Lee Gordon was a North American millionaire and music promoter who came to Australia in the early 1954. He set up a circuit of venues across the Big Brown Land using open air stadium previously used for boxing promotions. Initially he had brought big name artists like Sinatra, Johnny Ray and Frankie Lane to sing but in 1957, Gordon’s Big (Bog) Show, included Bill Haley and the Comets, Jerry Lee Lewis and Buddy Holly. At first showed no interest in local talent and although Johnny O’Keefe wangled his way into the show the impresario remained ambivalent. Then when Gene Vincent was delayed in transit and Gordon was forced to replace him with Johnny O’Keefe, ‘The Wild One” put on the show of his life and won the crowd over and impressed the impresario so much, he became his manager.

From then onwards the Australian packages had the famous and not so famous, side by side. Sharing the bill with Gene Vincent was Little Richard who wowed the audience, but after seeing a sputnik, thought he had a signal from God and relinquished all his worldly goods to take up religion. Touring dance bands in Australia and New Zealand carried a much bigger repertoire than most and were as likely to need to play the popular standards of the Twenties, Thirties and Forties, as they would the latest tunes. This made Australasian musicians very accomplished with many from a jazz background. Some were influenced by R&B and "jump" music of performers like Louis Jordan, whereas others were inspired by American surf guitar maestros Dick Dale and Duane Eddy. A notable alternative to the mainstream pop fare emerged with 'surf' groups, like The Atlantics and The Denvermen (Sydney), and The Thunderbirds (Melbourne).

Many of these instrumental groups survived into the Beatles era by adding a lead singer, and several evolved into some of the top bands of the next decade. Without doubt the introduction of the electric guitar and availability of US guitars gave macho credence to nerds who today may be found playing with their computers, but then, the nerds thrived on electrifying their instruments and amplifying the sound. The greatest influence in the next phase of Australia rock came from an unlikely source, a specky geek from Newcastle, UK, with the unlikely name of, Hank Marvin.

Worth a listen:

Fats Domino
The fat man (1950)

Bill Haley and the Comets
Crazy Man, Crazy (1952)
Shake, Rattle and Roll (1954)
Rock around the clock (1955)

Frankie Davidson
Rock-a Beat’n’ Boogie

Johnny O’Keefe
You Hit the Wrong Note Billy Goat (1957)
The Wild One

Col Joye and the Joymen
Bye Bye Baby (Goodbye)

The Shadows
Apache (1960)

The Atlantics
Bombora (1963)

Monday, July 17, 2017

John Sebastian and Lovin' Spoonful

John Sebastian was brought up in New York’s Greenwich Village. His father played classical harmonica and his mother was a radio playwright. John (aged 16) enjoyed folk music and sang at the local folk clubs and coffee houses. By the time he was 18 he was a ’sideman’ on recordings. John Sebastian played bass on Bob Dylan's first electric album, Bringing It All Back Home.

Zal Yanovsky was Canadian and moved to New York with Denny Doherty (Mamas and the Papas). In 1964, the flamboyant Zal Yanovsky met John Sebastian in Cass Elliot’s apartment when they were invited to watch the Beatles make their first appearance on The Ed Sullivan Show in 1964. Zal, Cass and Denny were in a folk group called Mugwumps and asked John to join them. John and Zal hit it off and were keen to explore the new sounds of the Beatles so they got together with Steve Boone (bass) and Joe Butler (drummer) to form the Lovin' Spoonful in early1965. The band took their name from a verse from a Mississippi John Hurt blues song and of all the American bands of the time, combined most aspects of popular American music including jug-band into what John Sebastian termed “good-time music”. The name stuck and The Lovin’ Spoonful had seven Top 10 hits in the three years. John Sebastian took lead vocals and sang with rather a flat voice and finger-picked his guitar whilst Zal kept the tunes light and lilting. Kama Sutra Records signed the Lovin' Spoonful in 1965 and they released their first single, "Do You Believe in Magic."

It peaked in the US Top Ten, and was quickly followed by "You Didn't Have to Be So Nice," which did reasonably well but their third single, "Daydream," was a number one hit.

John Sebastian wrote most of the group’s material and was very impressed with the Motown musicians when the Spoonful toured with the Supremes. Through the influence of the Funk Bros and listening to “Where did our love go” and Baby Love, John was able to develop the rhythmic shuffle heard on “Daydream.”

More hits followed with "Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind?," and the classy "Summer in the City," which became their second number one hit.

1967 saw the Lovin’ Spoonful again riding high on the charts with "Rain on the Roof," and the absolutely brilliant "Nashville Cats."

The group’s albums also sold well. When not in the studio the band toured almost constantly and was one of the first rock bands to perform on college campuses. Zal was the clown prince of rock 'n' roll and when he appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show in 1967, he had a rubber frog dangling from the neck of his guitar.

John and he were notorious merrymakers onstage adding considerably to their live performance. In the 70s, Dr Hook and the Medicine Show adopted a similar chaotic live act to very good effect. In 1966, the Loving Spoonful music was very popular and they wrote and performed two soundtrack albums for up and coming directors: Woody Allen "What’s Up Tiger Lily?" (1966) and Francis Ford Coppola "You're a Big Boy Now." (1966).

Their next hit single, “Darling , be home soon" came from the “You’re a big boy now’ album and was followed up by “Six O’Clock.”

Despite their success problems arose when Zal Yanovsky and Steve Boone were ’busted’ on marijuana charges in May 1966. The Lovin’ Spoonful were a “hippy band” (counter culture) and when Zal Yanovsky and Steve Boone named their supplier to avoid prosecution (and deportation for Yanovsky) the Spoonful received negative publicity that seriously damaged their commercial appeal. Zal Yanovsky left the band to pursue a solo career and was replaced by Jerry Yester (Modern Folk Quartet). The band parted ways with their producer, Erik Jacobsen in the same year and their last chart entry was "She's Still a Mystery."

In 1968, John Sebastian left the band to go solo. Joe, Steve and Jerry continued as the Lovin’ Spoonful and had a minor success with "Never Goin' Back" which featured the legendary Nashville session musician, Red Rhodes on pedal steel guitar.

The Loving Spoonful broke up in 1969. John Sebastian started working on solo projects after rejecting an invitation to join a trio of his friends, Dave Crosby, Stephen Stills & Graham Nash. He had a minor chart success with “She’s a lady” which was originally written for a Broadway play called ‘Jimmy Shine“ (starring Dustin Hoffman).

When John Sebastian changed his record company, legal problems ensued and inferior recordings were released. Meantime John made an impromptu appearance at Woodstock (1969) to much acclaim giving him a new status as a rock festival favourite. Despite this however his record sales were disappointing.

In 1975 John was asked to write a theme song for a new television series, ‘Welcome Back, Kotter‘ (featuring John Travolta). Both series and single were instantly successful and John was back in the US charts in 1976 but this was to be his swan song as a pop singer.

John Sebastian carried on performing as a solo artist and has made many guest appearances on other artist’s recordings. In the nineties he formed a jug band called John Sebastian and the J-Band and they played in Greenwich Village venues. The Loving Spoonful reformed in 1991 with Joe, Steve and Jerry and they still perform. After a brief solo career Zal became a restaurateur in Canada until his untimely death in 2002.

Worth a listen:

Lovin’ Spoonful
Did You Ever Have to Make Up Your Mind (1965)
You Didn't Have to Be So Nice (1965)
Do You Believe in Magic? (1965)
Summer in the City (1966)
Daydream (1966)
Nashville Cats (1966)
Darlin' Be Home Soon (1967)
Six O-Clock (1967)
She's Still A Mystery To Me (1967)
Money (1968)

John Sebastian
Welcome Back (1976)

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Burt Bacharach

Burt Bacharach was born in 1928 in Kansas City, Missouri but the family moved to Kew Gardens in Queens, New York in 1932. He started studying the cello, drums and piano aged 12 and dreamed of becoming a professional footballer. The young Burt loved jazz with Dizzy Gillespie and Charlie Parker his heroes and when he realised he was too small to become a professional football player he resigned himself to his music. Aged 15, he had his first 10-piece band and made pocket money playing at friend’s parties and local dances. When he left high school he went to McGill University where he wrote his first song, "The Night Plane to Heaven." His post graduate studies took him to Mannes School of Music in New York and the Music Academy of the West in Santa Barbara, California. Somewhere in-between he did a short stint in the army. During this time he met Vic Damone and later became his piano accompanist. Burt first job as a song writer was for the Famous Paramount Music Company in the Brill Building, New York. When he met lyricist, Hal David, they hit it off and wrote their first hit for Marty Robbins with "The Story of My Life" (1957).

Not long after Perry Como took "Magic Moments" to the top of the US charts and Johnny Mathis had a UK hit with "Heavenly" into the UK charts.

Burt also scored a novelty hit with "(Theme From) The Blob.

Keen to expand himself, he toured with Marlene Dietrich as her musical director and visited Europe and the United States (1958-1961). The sixties saw more hits for Bacharach and Bacharach and David. Burt Bacharach songs combined jazz and pop and Brazilian music, always with memorable melodies but unconventional and shifting time signatures and unique chord changes. This was a new sound which was superbly complemented by Lyricist Hal David’s sharp and bittersweet, melodramatic lyrics which often contrasted with Burt Bacharach's soaring melodies. Technically their sophisticated compositions were meticulously crafted. Whilst they were working with the Drifters, Burt met Dionne Warwick, a member of backup vocal group called, the Gospelaires. Dionne Warwick was a conservatory trained vocalist and possessed a remarkable ability to sing difficult melodies and tempos. Burt and Hal started her as a demo singer in 1961, but soon realised Dionne’s demos were better than other singers. More and more they wrote for her voice alone. Dionne was ambitious and feisty and when she learned "Make It Easy On Yourself" was not going to be her commercial debut, she angrily remonstrated with the songwriters using the phrase "Don't make me over, man!" (slang for don't lie to me). This struck a chord and the angry response became the seed of the song writing duo next project, "Don't Make Me Over," became her first US hit in 1962.

Dionne Warwick had 39 singles co-written or produced by Bacharach, including twenty-two (22) Top-40 hits on the American Billboard Hot 100 charts before their association came to an acrimonious end. Fortunately they did get back together. Meantime Bacharach and David songs were being sung by many artists including the Drifters‘, "Please Stay,” Gene Pitney "The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance," and "Only Love Can Break a Heart", in 1962 Jerry Butler and "Make It Easy On Yourself," (later recorded by the Walker Bros).

Burt collaborated with other lyricists to commercial success: Gene McDaniel’s "Tower of Strength" by Gene McDaniel (co-written with Bob Hilliard), The Shirelles "Baby It's You" (lyrics were by Hal's brother Mack David and Barney Williams).

He wrote “Any day now” with Bob Hilliard which was recorded by Chuck Jackson.

Although Burt had written the music for the Blob movie earlier in his career, wife and actress Angie Dickenson encouraged him to do more and he came up with Alfie, the theme tune for the film of the same name.

He also wrote the film score for Woody Allen’s What's New, Pussycat?, After The Fox, Casino Royale and Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.

"My Little Red Book", from Casino Royale was originally recorded by Manfred Mann, but promptly covered by Love in 1966, and become a rock music standard.

In 1968, Bacharach and David collaborated with Broadway producer David Merrick to work with Neil Simon (playwright) on a musical version of the 1960 Billy Wilder film The Apartment. 'Promises, Promises,’ run for three years. In 1966, Burt Bacharach became a recording artist in his own right with an album which consisted of mainly instrumental re-recordings of some of his best-known songs. Through the decade he has repeated this and on each occasion his records have all sold well. During the 70s changing public tastes created a more competitive atmosphere for pop music. Pressure and disappointments from unsuccessful projects led to a fall out between Burt Bacharach and Hal David. As a result Dionne Warwick felt abandoned when her songwriters refused to work together and they are ended up suing each other and dissolving their partnership. By the eighties Burt had remarried and with new wife and lyricist Carole Bayer Sager, they set to writing. In collaboration with Peter Allen and Christopher Cross the husband and wife team wrote "Arthur’s Theme (Best That You Can Do)" sung by Christopher Cross (1981).

Burt also scored the film. The couple also wrote "Stronger Than Before," Carole Bayer Sager (1981); "Making Love," by Roberta Flack (1982); "That's What Friends Are For," Dionne Warwick and Friends (1985); "On My Own," by Patty Labelle and Michael McDonald (1986); and Dionne Warwick and Jeffrey Osborne "Love Power," (1987).

A collaboration with Neil Diamond resulted in an other hit with "Heartlight” (1982).

The latter part of the 80s was quiet by comparison and it took until the early nineties before Burt was back again with a number of new projects, notably a reunion with Hal David and Dionne Warwick for the song "Sunny Weather Lover" from Warwick's Friends Can Be Lovers album.

In 2000, Burt composed the score and reunited with Hal David and Dionne Warwick for two songs for Isn't She Great, a film based on the life of novelist Jacqueline Susann. In 1998 Burt Bacharach and Elvis Costello began to work together this including writing, recording and touring. Elvis Costello collaborated on a rendition of "I'll Never Fall in Love Again" for the soundtrack to the Austin Powers sequel "The Spy Who Shagged Me," and the duo made a cameo appearance in the film.

Burt Bacharach continues a successful concert career and has been occasionally joined by Dionne Warwick.

Worth a listen:

Marty Robins
The Story of My Life (1957)

Perry Como
Magic Moments (1957)

Johnny Mathis
Heavenly (1959)
Faithfully (1959)

The Shirelles
Baby It's You (1961) and The Beatles (1963)

The Drifters
Please Stay (with Ray Ellis)
Mexican Divorce (with Claus Ogerman)
Let the music play, (with Gary Sherman)

Dionne Warwick
Don't Make Me Over (1962)
Anyone Who Had a Heart (1963)
Walk on By (1964)
Do You Know the Way to San Jose? (1968)
Promises, Promises (1968)
That's What Friends Are For (1982)

Gene Pitney
Twenty Four Hours From Tulsa (1963)

Dusty Springfield
I Just Don't Know What to Do with Myself (1964)
The Look of Love (1967)
Wishing and Hoping

Sandie Shaw
(There's) Always Something There to Remind Me (1964)

The Walker Brothers
Make it Easy On Yourself (1965)

Jackie DeShannon
What the World Needs Now Is Love (1965)

Tom Jones
What's New Pussycat? (1965)

Cilla Black
Alfie (1966)

Aretha Franklin
I Say A Little Prayer (1968)

Herb Alpert & the Tijuana Brass
This Guy's in Love with You (1968).

The Carpenters
(They Long to Be) Close to You (1970)

B.J. Thomas
Raindrops Keep Falling on my Head

Nancy Wilson
Reach out for me

Billy J Kramer
Trains and boats and planes

Manfred Mann
My Little Red Book