OUT ON OUR OWN
LEON: Home again, what a tour! What a financial disaster! So much for sharing the profits of Victor’s banana bending tour - there weren’t any! It seemed that Peter was right about October after all. When our intrepid band of troupers returned from Queensland in the middle of October 1961, we were stony broke! It was easy being broke at Ellis Beach but back in the real world, it was a different story.
Our future prospects looked even worse. Jon’s car had been repossessed because he was away for so long he forgot to send any money home - not that there was any money to send home anyway! My FJ panel van had broken down and it was towed away in my absence. Dear old Bob Malcolm (bless his heart) was still trying to keep the dying rock’n’roll dances going with some of our loyal fans still in attendance. Dig & the R’Jays started back at the Buffalo Hall near Central Station. Apart from that, there weren't too many gigs on the horizon. The band needed a permanent gig to get us up on our feet financially. It looked like we’d have to resort to a pub gig. How degrading! Still, beggars can't be choosers.
I arranged for the band to do an audition (even more degrading!) at the Millers’ Brighton Hotel on November 9. One thing we had learned during our tours was the ability to entertain people. Besides the rock’n’roll, we already knew how to do floorshows and comedy routines etc., but we had never played all night, for six nights a week including Saturday afternoons, in the same place. With such a big workload we recruited Sandy Davis in the band to do most of the lead vocals and play rhythm guitar. We couldn't subject Digby to this degrading step. Besides, the job only paid about £25 a week each and we were used to getting that for one night! Oh, how the mighty have fallen!
“Don’t you know any standards?” said the Millers’ hirer-and-firer, Johnny Wade, during the audition. Wade was an ex-Hawaiian guitarist who hated rock’n’roll with a passion. Through his very friendly relationship with the Millers’ Hotel management, he had been appointed musical director for the chain of Sydney hotels.
“What’s a standard?” said Jon, looking puzzled and rather bugged. Jon thought he was talking about a car. “You know? Songs like How High The Moon, The Lady Is A Tramp or some popular jazz waltzes,” said Johnny Wade with an officious wave of the hand.
“We wouldn't play that shit even if we did know it,” mumbled Jon who looked at me despondently and said, “What are we doing here anyway?” After checking that we were all in the Musicians' Union. Johnny Wade said “Don’t call us, we’ll call you” or words to that effect!
Back at dig’s place after the audition debacle, we were all feeling a little dejected with the whole business. Dig's father consoled us with a drink. “You boys mustn't let your talents go to waste,” said Gordon Richards as we drank all his beer. “Don't worry,” added the ever optimistic Dig. “Something will turn up. We can't all be rock’n’roll stars forever you know.”
A week later, November 17, 1961, Dig Richards & the R’Jays with guest artist Lee Sellers played at the Lithgow Police Boys Club with bassist Mike Lawler back in the band. The show was very successful and we made £17 each. If rock’n’roll was dying, they forgot to tell the kids about it. That night as we drove home through the blinding rain, Digby explained that an agency called EFS had arranged a couple of good gigs for us in Canberra and Adelaide.
When Dig and I went to the office of the EFS agency (Col Farquar and Eddy Santos), it turned out that the gig in Adelaide was for Digby only and the gig in Canberra was for the R’Jays only. This was a turning point for the band. We had to face the fact that this could be the end of Dig Richards and the R’Jays.
Dig and I looked at each other and shrugged as we signed our separate contracts. The money was good and there was nothing else in the offing. The R’Jays had never worked without a lead singer before, so five nights a week at the Fiesta Coffee Lounge in Canberra would give us a chance to get lots of vocals and floorshows together. A band that sang together would be something new. It could be fun! Not only that, there was enough money to book the weekly guest artist of our choice.
The R’Jays (Jon, Leon, Ron and Michael) with our guest artist for the first week Paul Dever, headed off for Canberra. We drove down in an FJ Holden owned by Paul’s band vulture friend, Ricky Dell (“Ricky Smell”) who was liable to get up on stage and sing with the band if you didn't watch him. Ricky forgot to close the bonnet on the car, so about half way up to Canberra, while we were doing 80 miles per hour, the said bonnet flew up and enveloped the windscreen and half the roof. Not to be deterred by this frightening event, we tied the crumpled bonnet back down with a piece of rope and plowed on. If we could survive a tour around Queensland, we could certainly survive a trip to Canberra!
CAUGHT IN THE A.C.T.
JON: “Christ it's all so bloody neat and tidy!” roared Ricky ‘Smell’ over the noise of his FJ Holden as it rumbled down Northborne Avenue with the bonnet tied down. “Yes, this city is perfectly designed,” said Ron with an air of pious authority. Yes perfectly designed to get lost in, as we were to find out many times!
“Bullshit, Ron!” I said angrily, “Is this the Ron Patton discourse on architecture?” “Settle down you guys,” said Paul Dever amiably. Paul seemed to have taken over Digby’s job of mediator and peacemaker.
Leon had the right idea. He changed cars at Mittagong and was now on his way down with Michael Lawler in his ‘college boy’ Austin Healey Sprite (the bug-eyed model) and his ‘college boy’ haircut.
Soon enough, we pulled up outside the Civic Centre where, upstairs, lurked the Fiesta Coffee Lounge, the place we would be playing for the next month. Our gear was coming down by train and we would have to pick it up at the station later in the afternoon. Upstairs we found the proprietor of the Fiesta, Herr Klaus Hauffman unt his lovely frau. They seemed to be very nice and we were plied with coffee and strudel till it came out of our ears.
“Where are we staying, Klaus?” I asked anxious to have a kip before that night. “Vell you are schtayink at some loffly people’s house called the Lovejoys out at Denman, isn't it?” Klaus put “isn't it?” after every sentence whether it fitted or not. El Cheapo Accommodations had struck again. Somebody’s house! For a month! Come on now! I made a mental note to speak with the ‘drumming superfluity’ on his arrival. Leon had arranged this gig he had to cop the whinges.
The band-leading Baby Drummer arrived with Mick at about this time. “What’s this shit about staying at some people's place?” I said bailing him up in the doorway before he even said “hello”. “Buggered if I know,” said the Drummer, “It’s the first I've heard of it. By the way Michael, I think I’ll take you up on that offer to stay at your uncle’s with you.” Cunning as the proverbial shithouse rat that Drummer! So saying, Mick went to his uncle’s with Leon as a very willing guest and I left with Paul Dever, Ricky Smell and the walking encyclopedia, Ron, for the Lovejoy's house out at Denman, wherever the hell that was!
We played our first coffee lounge gig that night, Wednesday, November 29, to a rather “beatnikish” bunch of people. We couldn’t play much rock’n’roll and we couldn’t play loud, much to my disgust. I placated myself musically by playing an acoustic classic guitar in some softer bossa nova (“do-the-boss-a-favour”) numbers in which Ron played some nice flute. Whatever I have said about Ron, he did play very well. When he was hot, Ron used to play some of the best roaring rock solos on sax that I’d ever heard and his flute playing was very tasteful. Paul Dever sang some very nice songs as guest artists and altogether things were very nice. Not much energy, just nice.
The next day, a plane scheduled for Canberra went down into Botany Bay on take-off. Michael was booked on that plane until he cancelled and decided to drive down. Lucky one Michael!
On the second night, Ron developed a rather strange musical quirk. He said “I’m writing songs now you know?” During our breaks, which could be anything from 15 minutes to 45 depending on whether we were chatting up a bird or not, Ron would sit up on the stage on a stool, set up a music stand with a sheet of blank manuscript paper on it, pick up my classical guitar and ‘sproing’ across the open strings, he would then write down one single note. Now the note would have to be either E.A.D.G.B or E. Ron’s note however could be anything from F sharp to Z, proving that all this “artistic” display was utter bullshit! He would keep repeating this performance until someone would say, “What are you doing Ron?” whereupon Amadeus would reply, “Oh, I’m a songwriter, you know?” I put up with this crap for a few nights and then banned him from touching my guitar. Undeterred, he switched to bass of which he knew even less. We gave up. At least it kept him out of our hair!
On the third night, we did one of the mimes, in the floorshow. We had a new one: Stan Freberg’s St. George and the Dragonet. We were already doing a couple of others as well as Sh'Boom. Ron was the fire-breathing dragon standing on a chair with a blanket around him. Leon was St. George and Michael and I were the knave and maiden who were almost devoured by the dragon. “He breathed fire on me; he boined me already!” “How can I be sure of that ma’am?” “Believe me I got it straight from the dragon’s mouth!” The crowd went wild. Our floorshows became the talk of Canberra. Lord knows, there was little else to talk about! We had become an instant ‘show band’. “Perhaps I should paint myself black and do the Haka?”
That following night at the Fiesta we met a bass player who played in the Con Lianos tent-show on the showgrounds. Lianos was Laurel Lea’s father. The bass player was the inimitable Lindsay Doig, alias NOSMO KING (No smoking - get it?) Nosmo joins us in part two; don't worry you wont miss him! We also met another bass player who loved to get up and sit in with us. He wasn’t a very good bass player but he made a top British Secret Service man. It was none other than 007 himself from Her Majesty’s Secret Service. “My name is Lazenby, George Lazenby.”
At that time George was only a 002, licensed to sell cars in Canberra and sit in on bass with visiting bands, provided he lent his 1948 Ford Pilot to the lead guitar player to take home his new girlfriend, Dot. Thank God, George came along! I was getting sick of spending so much money on taxis to Mrs. Lovestick’s and not being able to get sheilas in the back of a car!
George soon got tired of me bludging the Ford Pilot every night to consummate my torrid affair with Dot, so he sold me a 1954 Vanguard from the car-yard where he worked. The Vanguard cost £30 and had a lovely big back seat, much to Dot’s and my delight!
Leon went back to Sydney for two days to recruit a new guest artist. He arrived back with none other than Little Sammy. I was very pleased to see Sammy again and we all had a great time when he was on stage. A bit more rock’n’roll, thank you! Sammy stayed at the Townhouse Motel and we had some “preeetty cool” parties there!
After Sammy went home, we didn't get any more guest artists owing to the great amount of floorshow material that we'd accumulated. We could handle the whole night by ourselves. The R’Jays had now become a self contained band without a lead singer. We could survive on our own!
Armed with this reassuring thought, we said our goodbyes to Klaus and Marge Hauffman, who had been very kind to us during our stay, and also to Dot and George and all the other friends we’d met in, this, our National Capital. Leon, Ron and I piled all our gear in the Vanguard and headed home for Xmas. We made it all the way to Newtown, just near the railway line, when the brakes failed on the Vanguard and I plowed into the car in front. I reversed back to check the damage and, of course, with no brakes I rolled forward and hit him again! The guy thought I was doing it on purpose so he drove off while he was still in one piece! Thanks a lot for the great car, George!