Lee Gordon imported American Twist band, Dianne & the Peppermints,
for the opening of the club but despite all the publicity, the club soon
folded. After a bout with drugs and the failure of an unsuccessful
plastic-paint venture, Lee Gordon was falling deeper in debt. His promotional
assets were dwindling and his Leedon recording label was taken over by Festival.
The Lee Gordon Empire was crumbling. The story at the time was that Lee even
tried to get Elvis to come out to
One of Lee Gordon’s old nightclubs in Oxford Street, The Diamond
Horseshoe, formally the Pigalle, was taken over by Dave Wolfe and, as a result
of The Twist craze; the R’Jays were booked in to play with guest artists Lonnie
Lee, Little Sammy and Jerry Jay Wilder. Peter Bazely of Johnny Guitar
fame joined the band on rhythm guitar and with
The Diamond Horseshoe was right next door to the Centennial Hotel where “Brown Fingers” Bruce Wormald and his band would play to an audience full of adoring poofs. After singing with Bruce’s band one night, I was chased down the street by three sailors - two of them got away! (Old joke!). This was the first time I had ever sung without the R’Jays and I was most flattered by the reaction. When the Centennial Hotel closed at the crowd would all pour into our gig at the Diamond Horseshoe. Lonnie and Jon were ‘luckier’ than me. They were the favourites. Much to their embarrassment, every night tables of poofs would wave at them. One dedicated fan who fancied Lonnie would rub tinsel in his hair and dance in front of the band, throwing endless bouquets of kisses.
One night, while Lonnie was singing his latest hit When the Bells Stop Ringing, his fan’s performance was brought to an end by a disgruntled female who threw a beer bottle from the other side of the room and hit our tinseled dancer right in the back of the neck.
All in all, the gig at the Diamond
Horseshoe was going quite well. Each night, a smiling David
Wolfe would come up to me and say (with his American accent), “Play The Twist,
Leon Play The Twist.” Dave looked like Humphrey Bogart with a moustache, so I
always half expected him to say “Play it again,
Meanwhile, suspicious things were going on in the back room of the
Diamond Horseshoe. Food and grog was coming in the front door and mysteriously
disappearing out the back door along with most of the expensive silver that was
left over from the old nightclub days. After about a month, David Wolfe wasn’t
smiling anymore. The gangsters were moving in and Dave had been promised a pair
of concrete boots. A guy called “Nigger” was going to shoot up the place if he
didn’t get his share in the club, as he always had in the past. Just before
payday and without any goodbyes, Dave suddenly disappeared to
The Twist craze had mercifully
come to and end but it looked as though the band had come to and end also. We
didn’t have much chance of recovering our money from Rocky and the gangsters at
Diamond Horseshoe, especially when we found out that our own representative
from the Musician's
After things had cooled down, we
received a call from Dave Wolfe who was hiding in
The Dave Wolfe story does have a happy ending, however. While touring the East in 1977, 15 years and 10 months later with Winifred Atwell, I ran into Dave Wolfe at the Jakarta Hilton where he was the entertainment manager. He paid me the money he owed me from the Diamond Horseshoe! The perspicacity of keeping an accurate diary finally paid off. THE CRAZY BOOK NEVER LIES!
NOBODY WANTS YOU WHEN YOU’RE DOWN...
Meanwhile, back to the decline of rock’n’roll and the rise of fall of the R’Jays (circa 1962)! Despite the Twist, the excitement of the rock’n’roll boom was in the doldrums. As well as radio stations and recording companies watering down the rock, television was also making its contribution. 6 O'Clock Rock lost its bite when JO'K left in 1961. It carried on with Chet Clark and finally ground to a halt in mid-1962. The Johnny O'Keefe Show started on ATN 7 early in 1962 with the release of JO'K's new record Sing, Sing, Sing (And tell the Blues So Long). This was JO'K without the Dee Jays. The show mainly catered for a variety cabaret type of audience with an occasional “mimed” rock’n’roll song.
The Bryan Davies Show featured the clean cut Bryan on ABN 2, before he went to England and grew long hair (shock! horror!). It also featured Neil Williams, singing obscure verses of old jazz standards. Bandstand continued to be a fairly conservative rock’n’roll mime show, compered by Brian Henderson and featuring artists like Judy Stone, the Allen Brothers, Little Pattie, Sandy Scott and anyone else who wouldn’t frighten the oldies. It was, however, a great showcase for Col Joye and the family of Bandstand artists. Brian Henderson’s Bandstand continued on for another ten years. Jon and I played on the very last show, recorded on July 24, 1972. Jon played with Col Joye & the Joy Boys and I played with the Delltones. Jon and Hendo were the only ones to be on the first Bandstand and the last.
At this stage everybody seemed to be keen on wearing three-piece suits and trying to prove that they could appeal to adult audiences. The popular music of the day was restricted to a few ballads like Moon River and the occasional good rock song that couldn’t be suppressed, especially if it hit the Top Ten in the USA on Billboard or Cashbox. We could even count some of our recordings of “commercial trash” as being partly responsible for helping to water down the pop scene. After all rock’n’roll was supposed to be FUN.
It was however, the perfect climate for novelty songs. The only Aussies to have really big hits (Top Ten level) during 1962 were Frankie Davidson with Have You Ever Been To See King's Cross (No.3) and Lucky Starr with I've Been Everywhere (No.1). Geoff Mack who wrote I’ve Been Everywhere put down a demo of the song himself at Festival Records. Festival liked the song but decided that Geoff was a bit too old for the “pop scene”. They wanted a “teenage idol” to record the song. Who should walk in the door at the right time but teenage idol, Lucky Starr?
The Delltones had their first really big hit in mid-1962 with Get A Little Dirt On Your Hands. Unfortunately, their lead singer, Noel Weiderberg, was tragically killed in a car accident a month later on July 7. Other Aussie runners-up on the 1962 charts were Col Joye with Today’s Teardrops, Judy Stone with I'll Step Down and Warren Williams with Girl's Were Made To Love And Kiss, Dig didn't score a hit until right at the end of the year in November when he released the ballad Raincoat In The River.
The biggest hit for the year was from Australia’s Frank Ifield with I Remember You, which was recorded in London, but then again, he was originally a Pom, anyway.
RSL clubs were just starting to do good business with the advent of poker machines. We reluctantly took a three-night-a-week gig for a couple of months at Kensington RSL, with lead singer and qualified trouper Paul Dever. We weren't allowed to play rock’n’roll at all but it was better than starving to death. At least they loved our floorshows. We learnt a lot of useless things like quicksteps, jazz waltzes and barn dances. During this time however, I did pick up a lot of valuable information about chords from Jon, which inspired me to take my first awkward steps into writing and arranging music during the day. This may have been prompted by my impatience with other players to learn their parts quickly so that I could get on with the serious business of bashing away at the drums.
Each night after the RSL gig, we would either go down to the El Rocco to listen to the jazz from the Judy Bailey Quartet or we would end up at Jon’s girlfriends place, where we would play poker till all hours while Jon's girlfriend, Irene, would take all her clothes off and try to distract us, by fondling us while we tried to retain our “poker-faces”.
During these days of RSL boredom, I found time to start another movie epic called Better Late Than Never. We built a beautiful shed and filmed it burning down with Jon inside it. The film didn’t come out so we had to build it again! The next shed we built for the “burning down” shots was a howling success, except the fire got out of control and we nearly burnt down half of Rookwood Cemetery, not to mention our “heroine”, Jon - it burnt off all the hairs on his legs and eyebrows.
Dig came back from tours to New Zealand, Tasmania and Adelaide and we kept a Bob Malcolm, Sunday afternoon dance going at the Buffalo Hall for our loyal fans. One day, Jon rang me all excited and said, “Do you know who Dig's reporter is?” I thought for a moment and replied, “No, I didn't think Dig had a publicity agent. What's it all about?” Jon continued, “I just got a message from my mother. She said that Dig rang to say, tell Jon we’ve got a gig and to ring my reporter.”
Jon and I puzzled about Dig’s reporter for a couple of days until finally Dig rang Jon and said, “Jon did you get the message, did you ring Maurie Porter?” “What bloody reporter?” said Jon. “Not my reporter - MAURIE PORTER, you bloody dill!”
Sure enough, it wasn’t Dig’s ‘reporter,’ it was Rob Egg’s father, Maurie Porter. We rang Maurie and after a short rave about how Rob was going to become an international movie star, he told us that he had lined up a weekly Saturday afternoon dance at the Imperial Arcade. The permanent guest artists would be Dig Richards, Rob E.G., Johnny Devlin and Roland Storm, plus Barry Stanton and Lee Sellers. The R’Jays were augmented to a seven-piece band with Peter Bazley on rhythm guitar, John Greenan (ex Dee Jays) on sax and Rocky Thomas on trumpet. Even this extravagant line-up seemed to be in vain as rock’n’roll dances had had their day. This was not a good time for me to buy a new kit of Ludwig drums for myself for £300! Jon also splurged out and bought a Ford Customline for £500 and by the end of August, 1962 all the dances had “cacked out” and we were broke again. So, the R’Jays moved into the Col Joye Club at Kings Cross with Little Sammy – “Schnabble di oopy crash, mulik, mulik.”
While the rock’n’roll business was looking a bit grim, things had picked up on the home front and I was now living in a nice house at Centennial Park, procured by cousin Ray. I couldn’t afford to buy another car so Ray lent me his Morris Minor from his car yard. This was the least he could do after I had written a radio jingle for him. The R’Jays did the backing and Norm Erskine sang the lyrics to the tune of Chicago: “Does ya car go? Does ya car go? You know what to do - see OK, that’s OK Motors yeah. They have the cars, the cars that you like...etc”. This masterpiece was played on 2KY by Lyall Richardson until some observant soul realized that the tune was a parody on Chicago and it was subsequently taken off-air.
By this time Col Joye's older brother, Kevin Jacobsen, had given up playing the piano in the Joy Boys and had started up and artists booking agency with sister Carol Jacobsen on the phones (while making eyes at Sandy Scott). During these lean times, Carol (bless her heart) saved us from starving quite a few times by booking the band into various odd jobs.
Thanks to brother Kevin's astute business acumen, Col and the Joy Boys weathered the rock’n’roll slump better than anyone with regular Bandstand appearances and well-organized country tours with their own private train. Kevin eventually started a recording studio, ATA, and built up the business to become one of Australia’s leading entrepreneurs. Sure beats playin’ the piano with one finger!
Most of the original rock’n’roll bands didn’t fare so well. Bands like The Devils, The Rebels, The Houserockers etc., had either broken up or faded away into something else. Jimmy Taylor, who was with the Devils, summed it up with the famous quote “It’s not the same anymore man, all the teenagers have grown up!”
Dig wanted to try a new direction. He was desperately trying to live down his “pretty boy” rock’n’roll image and wanted to prove that he was an “all round entertainer”. Dig thought that he would approach Lucky Starr’s manager, Bill Watson, after all, Lucky was doing better than ever now that he had a No.1 record, I’ve Been Everywhere. Bill Watson recalls: “Dig rang to ask me if I would be interested in managing him. He had been to see a few people like Buster Noble and comedian Slim De Gray and decided that he wanted to try club cabaret act to a more mature audience. Dig arranged a night at Millers’ Oceanic Hotel at his own expense and asked me if I would come and see his act. I had only ever seen his act once before at the Stadium, when he was dressed in a ‘lightning flash’ jumper, singing rock’n’roll to a teenage audience. As Dig started to perform at the Oceanic Hotel, it became obvious that the resident band, led by Johnny Wade, were snidely working against him and attempting to upset his performance. Despite Johnny Wade and his dreadful band, Dig’s personal charm and charisma shone through. After the show, I went backstage to tell Dig how much I enjoyed his show and complained about the disgusting behavior of the band. The sax player, who was one of the main offenders, made some snide remark like ‘He’s only a no-talent rock’n’roller anyway!’ so I gave the arsehole a backhander in the face and Dig and I marched out of the place. Without even a handshake or a signed contract, Dig and I had one of the happiest manager-client relationships from that day on.”
Things were so bad at this time, even a job in a pub looked good. I arranged an audition for the band (with Sandy Davis on vocals) at a horrible dive in Pitt Street called the Civic Hotel. The resident singer at the pub, Margaret Hooper, told me that they were looking for a new band. We passed the audition, except as Sandy finished the last strains of I Remember You, the manager, Doc. North, pointed to Ryanny's bass box and said, “What's that booming sound? We don't want that. Besides we only want a four piece band!” Quick as a flash Jon replied “Oh that’s the saxophone!” Doc. North took me to his office.
“The Job is six nights a week and Saturday afternoons and it pays 37 pounds, 11 shillings per week. That's ten pounds a week more than I pay my secretary, and she works 40 hours a week!” he said, looking grossly irritated. To Doc. North, having a band was one of those terrible necessary evils that he would have to put up with so he could keep the crowds coming in. Because Ryanny didn’t sing, we had to have Sandy Davis in the band for good vocal content so Ron Patton and his ‘booming’ saxophone would have to go.
I rang Carol Jacobsen the next day to tell her not to book us anymore for a while and also to tell her that I had the perfect saxophone player for the Joy Boys! At first, Col Joye and the Joy Boys were thrilled at the prospect of having Ron in the band. I carefully omitted to tell them that Ron was a loony and they still haven’t forgiven me! We thought Ron would make a good playmate for their resident maniac John Bogie.
“Serves them right,” said Jon the next day, “I’d love to see the looks on their faces when Ron does one of his fake heart attacks.” Before the Joy Boys realized that Ron was a maddie, he had taken over the new recording studio at Glebe and conned Col Joye into buying him a new car. Ron pulled up outside ATA Recording Studios eager to show off his new car. As he opened the car door - KERRUMP! - A bus ripped the door clean off its hinges. I can just imagine the purple face!
Jon's worst fears had finally been realized now that Sandy had officially joined the band. This would mean that Jon would now have to teach him a few more chords on the guitar. If Jon thought that the Story Bridge Hotel was the pits, the Civic Hotel was even worse. The place was frequented mainly by soldiers or sailors who seemed to like the band okay but when the place was full of soldiers and sailors, there was trouble! A fight would usually start at one table and produce the domino effect. Before long the whole place was into it! There was usually a fight about once every two or three nights and at least one major skirmish per week.
Michael Lawler dropped in to see us one night. “The band sounds great fellas. I don't know what you're talking about with this place being rough. It looks alright to me!” As Michael delivered this last line, a sailor was plummeted head first into a plate glass mirror about three feet away. “Quickly,” said Sandy, “on to the bandstand where it's safe.”
As we all hid behind Margaret Hooper, the whole place erupted. “What do you think now Michael?” I said as a couple of middy glasses flew by our heads. “Shit, you guys deserve a medal for playing here!”
Ryanny was the first to crack. One night a very pregnant girl appeared with her parents by her side. She stopped and pointed at Ryanny on the stage. “There he is. That’s him!” she screamed at the top of her voice. Ryanny left the following week and took a jazz gig at the Playboy Club with Dave Levy on piano. He wanted to continue his studies on acoustic bass and was very keen to play the jazz. Who better to teach him than jazz pianist David Levy? To escape any further dramas Johnny Ryan later went off to England and recorded a whole lot of stuff, including a couple of albums with Cat Stevens and Carly Simon.
The Dee Jays weren't getting too much work at this time, O'Keefe was concentrating on his TV show at ATN7, and wasn’t doing many live shows, so we stole the Dee Jays’ bass player Nosmo King to replace Ryanny, who by now was smoking grass and playing the jazz! Nosmo moved in with me at the Commodore Private Hotel in Kings Cross and the Civic rocked and socked till the end of the year.
Surely we weren't destined to play in lousy dumps like the Civic for the rest of our lives? Still it would be worse if we weren't playing at all. The money didn't matter. The most precious thing to us was the playing. We loved every minute of it, no matter who we played to. We never planned to be stars and so far the plan was working perfectly. Sandy was very enthusiastic about being in the band. He decided that this would be a ‘launching pad’ for bigger and better things. The first rock’n’roll boom was over and some new form of stardom was just around the corner. Sandy’s ‘launching pad’ suffered the same fate as the early American satellites. Instead of being launched into stardom, the Civic gig blew up on the launching pad on January 31, 1963, and we were blasted into oblivion. “No worries boys, this is too good a band to be wasted. I'll get us another gig.” And so saying, Sandy drove off in his Triumph Herald to his day job!
The End – part 1 – to be continued…