Behind the Rock

2

 

THE BEAT OF THE DRUMS

 

 

                         "Hail, hail, Rock'n'Roll,

The beat of the drums loud and bold"

- Schoolday by Chuck Berry

 

LEON:   I have faithfully kept a diary, otherwise known as the “Crazy Book” to those who couldn't understand why I bothered, for every day of my life since 1955. There are three days in August 1956 that I circled in my diary as the best days of that year.

 

DAY 1, SATURDAY, AUGUST 11, 1956: I had just turned fourteen and was in love for the first time with a girl called Pam Mannile. This day I had plucked up enough courage to ask her Italian parents if I could take her out on a date that night to Ashtons Circus. To my great joy and surprise they said “yes”! Pam was even allowed to wear lipstick for the first time. Wow! I was taking out a real live girl. I don’t remember what the circus was like. I was too busy holding her hand and looking at her every minute.

            My thoughts of kissing her goodnight were soon dashed by her father lurking patiently by the front door. But it didn’t matter. I was so excited that I danced all the way from Chiswick to my home at Abbotsford where a party was still in progress with a real live band.

            This was often the case at Abbotsford. My sister Borise was married to a bass player, Alby Hawtin, whom I absolutely idolised. He was forever bringing his musician friends around for a jam. My trick at these parties was to mime Spike Jones and Stan Freberg records. It was quite a big two-story house next to the Animal Quarantine, the “Quag”- my favourite hangout, where I could pretend to be Tarzan. I lived at Abbotsford with my Aunty Glad and Uncle John, their son Ray and my elder brother Van.

Apart from the occasional live band, lots of weird and wonderful people came to our house at Abbotsford. Even Jack Davey the star of stage screen and radio-taxi, came one night, which really impressed the kids at school. So much so, I sold them all autographed photos for a penny each. Cousin Ray seemed to know everybody! He was engaged to Dawn Lake, who later married Bobby Limb when they swapped girlfriends. I remember Dawn quite fondly. I thought she was beautiful. She bought me a pair of football boots for my birthday and I wore them to bed. I think I must have been in love with all of Ray’s girlfriends.

Cousin Ray was truly amazing; he was my hero. He took me to the Sydney Stadium and introduced me to Louis Armstrong and his band. I can still remember the thrill I got when Ray introduced me to my idol Buddy Rich who seemed to know him. I got his autograph. “Here you are kid,” he said patronisingly. A couple of Ray’s ‘real’ musician friends Terry Wilkinson (piano) and Johnny Green (sax) didn’t even have day jobs and had actually played with Frank Sinatra! Ray really did know everybody. He probably knew Al Capone. After all, Ray was a used car salesman!

            Aunty Glad and cousin Ray both played the piano and even my dad, Andy, played the banjo.  I used to refer to dad as “the man who comes around” as I had always thought that my aunt and uncle were my parents. I had been living with them ever since my mother was killed in a traffic accident when I was two years old. Much to my father’s disgust, my first “drum” was one of his old banjos, which I used to bang on for hours, playing along with every record in the house. My brother Van had started learning the drums and when he gave up I took over. It all seemed to come so naturally. This was better than playing the piano. This was something I could get my teeth into. Meanwhile, back to my three great days of 1956. The best was yet to come.

DAY 2, AUGUST 12:  Spent a pleasant Sunday on our pushbikes, following Pam around Abbotsford like a puppy dog.

DAY 3, MONDAY 13: My Aunty bought me my first real drums! Bought on hire purchase from Harry Landis for £49/10/- (forty-nine pounds, ten shillings) - a gleaming white set of Olympic drums consisting of a bass drum, snare drum and cymbal. I spent the rest of the day and night playing for anyone who would still listen. I was on top of the world despite the shattered look on my aunt’s face as she pondered the wisdom of her purchase.

            Nothing could stop me know. They were indeed the best three days I could ever wish for. I might even get to kiss Pam Mannile next week at the pictures (and for the record, I did!). From then on, when we had parties at our place or any place for that matter, I could play the drums and pretend I was a “real” drummer.

            Well I didn't set the world on fire right away. After all, I was still at school. The records I used to practise with on my radiogram (remember radiograms?) started to change towards the end of the year. I remember my brother Van brought home a 7”, 45 r.p.m. record and we marvelled at the look of it. That was only the half of it when we put it on it blew my head off! It was Bill Haley & the Comets singing Rock around the Clock. “A novelty fox trot”. And I've still got it!

            Later in 1956, on Monday, October 1 to be exact. I went to the pictures with my new girlfriend, Pam Mannile to see the movie Rock Around The Clock. Now I’d been impressed by some movies before that, namely The Glenn Miller Story, The Benny Goodman Story and The Man With The Golden Arm (or was it The Man With The Golden Horn?). I nearly took up the trumpet on the strength of that one. Thank God I didn’t as I nearly passed out when I first blew one.

            Anyway, this movie was different. The whole audience was bopping and shaking in the aisles and wearing strange new clothes. Something was happening. Rock’n’roll was rearing its ugly head and I wanted to be right along in there.

            By the start of the next year, January 1957, there they all were at the Sydney Stadium – Bill Haley and his Comets and Freddie Bell & the Bell Boys. This was no movie. This was real! Even the fact that Bill played the songs a little faster than the records didn’t put me off nor anyone else, judging from the reaction of the crowd.

            By this time, I’d practised with every rock’n’roll record I could get my hands on. Not to mention all my old jazz records that I dearly loved – Gene Krupa, Buddy Rich, Louis Bellson etc. I was very passionate about my records even then. They were like personal friends. I remember wearing out one 78 rpm record and when it finally broke we buried it in the garden with a little cross inscribed, “Here lies Rudy’s Rock”. Playing the drums with records was all good practice but it was about time I got out and played with a real band (or anybody for that matter!).

            My best friend, JOHNNY RYAN, “RYANNY”, who looked like James Dean, had an elder brother Vince, who played saxophone in a band at the “rock n’ roll dance” on Sundays at the Parramatta School of Arts. It was hardly a rock’n’roll band but Ryanny and I would hang around hoping that I could play the drums with the band. I thought I was pretty good at this stage and so did the band. I had absolutely no fear. Vince actually got me my first paying job in 1957; Saturday August 3 at the Callan Park Hotel, opposite the “Loony Bin”. I was paid three pounds, ten shillings (£3/10/-) – fantastic! Saxophone, piano and drums were not exactly rock’n’roll but who cared! The next job at Ryde Masonic Hall paid the princely sum of £4. A bloke working a few nights a week could get almost £20 at that rate. In 1957 the average weekly wage was a lot less than twenty pounds.

            But back to the real world. I had left school and would no longer hear those endearing words “Get out Isacka, ya mongrel!” I had also left my beloved Abbotsford and moved to a small house in Enfield. Yuk!

            Now it was time to get the obligatory day job.

            After failing an interview with Channel 7 (cousin Ray said he knew the General Manager), I got a job in the record department of Eric Andersons for £5/8/9 (five pounds eight and nine pence) a week. Record and music stores were the meeting place for all would be musicians so I thought I would be right in the thick of it. I mean even the guy in the office was a “real” musician. Harry played the tuba in Graeme Bell’s Jazz Band. The guy working with me was Richard Meale who later became quite a distinguished classical composer. No wonder he was disgusted in my choice of records! Not only was I a “musical troglodyte” but I played the drums as well!

            My dad was never impressed with me taking up the drums either until I sat in with the band at the Enfield Boulevard Hotel, just around the corner from our new house. The band was Serge Ermol Snr., Johnny Golden and Mickey Kaye. On Tuesday September 24, 1957 I won the talent quest playing The Golden Wedding and my dad just couldn’t believe it.

 

MASSACRE AT MASCOT

           

As 1957 and my job at Eric Andersons’ drew to a close, Ryanny and I went to one of the first rock’n’roll dances at the Sydney Town Hall on Monday, December 16. It starred Johnny O’Keefe whom I had seen earlier that year at the Stadium on the Little Richard Show. We paid our seven and sixpence admission and the dance started with Alan Dale and the Houserockers. Ryanny and I weren’t too interested in dancing although I do remember “cracking onto” a chick called Coralie who was jiving around in a white, flared skirt. We were there to see the bands.

            The line up of the Houserockers was Don Prouse on drums, Keith Sharratt on slap bass, Brian Turvey on piano, Sonny Neville on guitar and Alan Dale on vocals. They certainly had the right spirit for rock’n’roll. It looked like we had come to the right place. The next band was Col Joye and the Joy Boys, who didn’t sound too bad either except they didn’t have a bass player. Their guitarist was fantastic! The line up of the Joy Boys was Dave Bridge on guitar, Laurie “Zeke” Irwin on sax, Kevin Jacobsen on piano Col Joye on vocals and rhythm guitar. At that time, younger brother Keith Jacobsen had not joined the band on bass. He was still busily trying to build one as it was impossible to buy an electric bass anywhere in Australia.

            When the final band came on – Johnny O’Keefe and the Dee Jays – it was magic! This was the first time we’d seen an Australian band with an electric bass and not one sax but two! JO’K came out in his canary yellow suit with a cape and the crowd went crazy. This really was a rock’n’roll band. The line up was Lou Casch  “The Witchdoctor” on guitar, Dave Owens from USA on sax, Johnny Greenan on sax, Keith Williams on electric bass, John “Catfish” Purser on drums and Johnny O’Keefe on vocals and occasional piano. After talking backstage with JO’K and some of the guys in the Dee Jays, I was really inspired to get out and form a band.

            I notice at the end of my 1957 diary that cousin Ray came good and conned up a gig at Mascot RSL on New Year’s Eve with his friend Bruce “the Goose” Hyland on bass. Ray played the piano and we were paid seven guineas each! I even attempted to sing my first song (You Hit The Wrong Note), Billy Goat. I imagine that I must have hit quite a few wrong notes, myself!

1958:

With my ever-trusty friend Ryanny by my side, we went off in search of musicians who could play rock’n’roll. We had heard about a band called Warren Williams & the Squares playing at Mascot Masonic Hall. The band wasn’t too bad but the guy on the piano, Jimmy Taylor, must have been the best rock’n’roll player we had ever seen. He could play all the Jerry Lee Lewis solos, note for note. I sat in with the band on drums and Jimmy and I must have decided then and there to form our own band.

            Although there was no booze allowed in the hall, (Sydney was still operating under the dreaded ten o’clock closing laws for hotels) just after 10pm all the older drunken rockers would crash into the dance and try to pick up chicks. Failing this, the next best thing was to pick fights. Ryanny and I seemed to be a prime target that particular night. We had just sung the vocal backing for the song Daddy Cool with Warren Williams and were sitting on the stage surrounded by girls. A procession of guys came up to us, saying “We’re going to get you after the dance”. I could feel myself getting more and more unnerved as sporadic fighting was breaking out all over the hall. One rather obnoxious looking bodgie with slightly protruding teeth was bugging me continuously. “Do you guys wanna fight?”, “We’re gonna get you guys!”, “You guys are poofters!”, “Are you guys too scared to fight?” etc. Too scared? He was right.

            Suddenly my fear was shattered by a blow to the side of my face. I felt a rush of adrenalin as I stood up and instinctively threw a punch, which happily landed right in the middle of his ugly face. He landed flat on his back. I don’t know who was more surprised, him or me!

            I felt somebody grab my arm. It’s alright, we’re on your side!” he said. After moving back to safer ground near the very nervous band, I saw more fights break out. One guy was being mercilessly pounded up against a wall. Much to my horror, I recognised him through the blood on his face to be the one who said he was on my side. All too soon the dance was over. I was reminded by a few comforting souls that the bodgies were all waiting for us outside the front door. While Bert Gobbe was anxiously carting his drums to the front door, a voice called out, “Quick, follow me. There’s a side exit. You can come in my car!” It was the guy who ran the dance, Harold Haggerty. Ryanny and I quickly shuffled out the side door and into Mr. Haggerty’s little Morris Minor. As he put the key into the ignition I could hear a voice calling “There they are, there they are!” A pitiful sound came from the ignition “un nu nu nu nu nunnah err!”

            All at once we were surrounded by a gang of bloodthirsty rockers clawing at the windows. Then “hun nu nu nu nunnah …BROOOOOM!” What a beautiful sound! The little Morris Minor sped out onto the road with fists pounding on the doors and bodies falling off the bonnet. We had escaped with our lives. The one consolation was we had found a piano player for our proposed rock’n’roll band and the guy I had smashed in the face no longer had protruding teeth!

 

GET ‘IM FOR THE BAND!

           

Jimmy Taylor and I did form a very short-lived band called “The Thunderbirds”. Our only claim to fame was that we went in a talent quest at the Kirribilli Hotel and won ten shillings each. We gave up the idea for that band when we realised the singer, Clive Glover, couldn’t really sing. In those days it was a bit hard to tell right away because the P.A.’s were so bad.

            So it was back to the search for band members. On Wednesday September 17, 1958, we decided to go to the Johnny O’Keefe dance at the Leichhardt Police Boys’ Club where we finally found a singer – Ray Hough. Ray got up and sang with the Dee Jays and all the girls went crazy. He looked a bit like Eddie Cochran. Jim and I were impressed. This was the right guy for our band. We signed him up for rehearsals in Jimmy’s lounge room. “Get ‘im for the band,” said Jim.

            We now had a singer and a name for the band “RAY HOFF & THE OFF BEATS”, managed by our failed ex-singer Clive Glover. After overhearing some people in the train talking about a new band called “Ray Hoog & the Hoof Beats”, we decided to get Ray HOUGH to change the spelling of his name to HOFF, to go with OFF.

            Getting an electric bass player was another story. They were about as scarce as rocking-horse shit. We found a guy called Laurie Skewes whose claim to fame was that he played for a couple of weeks with the Dee Jays while their bass player, Keith Williams, went on holidays. Laurie wasn’t too keen on practising with the band. He had a homemade bass that looked like a boat paddle. We didn’t get much joy out of Laurie but his paddle returns to the story later on.

            At that time procuring any halfway decent rock player was difficult. Jim, Ray and Leon, the faithful trio, practised on. We seemed to go through an endless succession of guitarists and sax players who couldn’t pass the audition. Most of the sax players came from the Neville Thomas School of “rude” players and soon got the “hook” from Jim who sneered at them from the piano. Jim didn’t suffer fools gladly, especially if they couldn’t play rock’n’roll.

            We were afraid that it would be all over by the time we got a permanent band together. I remember one day we were practising at Johnny Debien’s place. Johnny was a friend of mine; from across the road at Abbotsford, whose father drove us around in a left-hand drive 1957 Oldsmobile Rocket convertible – Wowee!

We stopped practising Summertime Blues to watch a live band on Bandstand,          “DIG RICHARDS & THE R’JAYS”. “See,” someone moaned, “even those guys have got their shit together!”

            Jimmy finally left his band the Squares after being caught practising with the Off Beats and was replaced by Billy Hucker. Clive lined up a few more jobs for Ray Hoff & the Off Beats, the most memorable being the dance at the Mascot Marina Theatre the same week that Buddy Holly, the Big Bopper and Ritchie Valens, Ray Hoff’s hero, were killed in a plane crash. We still had no permanent sax player, so good old Vince, Ryanny’s elder brother played with us.

            Meanwhile, I continued my drum lessons with my favourite drummer, Frank Marcy. I wanted to be able to “read fly shit off the wall” just like he could. I used to watch Frank playing in Bob Gibson’s huge Ford Show orchestra at radio 2GB and would marvel at the way he knew just what to play and when to play it. And he always played it beautifully!

            Reading music didn’t help much at this stage of my musical career, so I took a few paying jobs with a rock’n’roll pub band called the Stoneagers with Teddy Lees on vocal and guitar and Roger Keyes on piano, of course (“Keys on piano, get it?”). They played in some pretty horrible places.

            One night, June 17 to be exact, after playing at the Erskinville Hotel (I still wasn’t old enough to be allowed into a hotel!), Teddy had a girl in his 1939 Buick and I was sitting in Roger’s car with Roger. Suddenly, Roger disappeared and I was sitting in Roger’s car with Teddy. What was going on?

            Roger reappeared after a short time and said to me, “She wants you now.” I didn’t want to appear too young and uncool so I went over to Teddy’s car and looked in the back seat.

            “Come in,” beckoned Shirley. I looked around feeling rather embarrassed, then opened the door and got in. My embarrassment turned to trembling trepidation when I saw that Shirley had absolutely not a stitch on! Shirley threw her arms around me and grabbed me in a sensitive place. “You don’t feel too excited,” she whispered. I was too numb to speak. “We’ll soon fix that, darling,” she said in my ear and well… she did!

            Another embarrassing moment of a different kind occurred when the Stoneagers and Ray Hoff & the Off Beats were booked to do a spot at the Matraville RSL, on the same night. I was playing the drums in both bands! We played to a somewhat bewildered audience of elderly people. Here is a quaint extract from the local Matraville ‘Rag’ dated July 12, 1959:

 

“FOUR O’CLOCK ROCK” AT MATRAVILLE R.S.L. CLUB

Great how-do-you-do at the Club last Sunday afternoon when “Rock’n’Roll” music was the vogue.

Two bands “competed” for honours and favours during the afternoon and fears were held for the safety of the roof, which very much looked like lifting.

First the Stoneagers took the stand and promptly “went to town” led by guitarist and vocalist, Ted lees, a very self-assured and capable entertainer, who gave us the whole “book”, ending up with Why Am I A Teenager In Love?.

The next band, the “Off Beats”, led by vocalist, Ray Hoff, started off their repertoire with the classic, I Met A Big Fat Woman. The pianist in this group, as with the first, forsook the piano stool (strictly for squares) and stood on his own two feet, giving as many gyrations and facial expressions as the vocalist, who of course, these days is expected to go through these gymnastics.

All these boys gave an excellent example of modern day rhythm and entertainment and, from the expressions and foot-tapping that went on, it could safely be said that the afternoon was very enjoyable.

 

            Because of the lack of suitable venues for rock’n’roll, Johnny O’Keefe conned the Police Boys’ Club to run rock’n’roll dances on a permanent basis. These became a bit of a showcase for the limited amount of good rock’n’roll bands and singers in 1958-9. Col Joye & the Joy Boys also had a permanent dance at the Paddington Police Boys’ around about the same time.

            Along with Jimmy Taylor and of course my best friend Ryanny (who didn’t actually play anything), we eventually got to see Dig Richards & the R’Jays “live” at Leichhardt Police Boys’ (April 4 1959) where I first met their bass player Peter Baker. On the way to the dance, one of the girls in our party assured us that the R’Jays was a fantastic band and that the singer, Dig Richards had the cutest rosy cheeks. The line-up of the band at that time was Barry Lewis on drums, Peter Marris on silver Selmer saxophone, Jay Boogie on piano, Peter baker on electric bass, Jonnie Hayton on guitar and Dig Richards on vocals.

            Peter Baker invited Ray to get up and sing with the band and Jimmy also sat in on piano, courtesy of Jay Boogie. I can’t remember if I ever got to talk at length to the guitarist Jon Hayton (my co-author) and neither can he!

            Another foray to the “famed” Police Boys’ (June 27, 1959) revealed a newly formed R&R band on the scene – Johnny Rebb & the Rebels. They were Sonny Neville (ex-Houserocker) on guitar, Keith Williams (ex-Dee Jay) on electric bass, Johnny Charter (one time Houserocker) on piano, Jimmy Slogget (jazz player from New Zealand) on tenor saxophone, Johnny Burns on drums and Johnny Rebb on vocals. They had a great record out at the time called Hey Sheriff, with Johnny Charter doing the little piano licks. The gentleman of rock’n’roll, Johnny Rebb gave a fairly conservative performance but all the girls still loved him. He looked like the sexy Peter Baker from the R’Jays (or was it the other way around?).

            Their band was very professional with a nice “fat” sound. The musicianship of some of the rock players was now becoming really first class. Ray didn’t get up and sing with the band this time because he was too busy punching some guy who called him a poofter. Consequently, Ray was thrown out and banned for a week. To their credit, the police ran a pretty tight dance.

 

RYANNY GETS A PADDLE

 

SATURDAY, AUGUST 15, 1959: Johnny Devlin & the Devils, from New Zealand, started a permanent Tuesday night dance at Surryville and were advertising a band competition. We had just acquired a permanent guitar player for the band – Darby Wilson. We first saw Darby on 6 O’Clock Rock playing Johnny B. Goode. Although we had entered the band competition for Tuesday, August 18, we still had no permanent electric bass player, so Jim lined up Fred Lawrence, known as Flooby Fred. Fred earned the name “Flooby” because he had one of the biggest dongers known to mankind. Why it should have been called a “Flooby” is a mystery that has been lost to antiquity.

            Ryanny and I were waiting for the guys to come to rehearsal when the phone rang. It was Jim. Flooby Fred had let us down. What were we going to do? We only had three days. We couldn’t go on at Surryville without an electric bass! Ryanny and I sat there looking at each other. We were devastated.

            “Even if we got somebody on bass they wouldn’t be able to learn the songs in time,” I moaned. Ryanny nodded. “He would have to have been to every rehearsal we’ve ever had.”

            “Wait a minute Ryanny! You’ve been to every rehearsal! Not only that, you can play a bit of piano and you told me that you learnt the violin at school.”

            “I hated the violin!” Ryanny said, “I used to purposely leave it on the train and in bus sheds but people used to keep returning it all the time. Besides, where would I get an electric bass?”

            “I know!” I said, excitedly racing to the phone. “We can buy Laurie Skewes’ ‘paddle’. He wants to sell it.” I rang Laurie.

            “Ten quid?” I said disbelievingly.

            “Where else can you get an electric bass?” Laurie replied. “OK, we’ll be right over.”

Ryanny was protesting all the way there. “What about the notes?”

            “Don’t worry, they’re the same as the violin,” I lied. I wasn’t going to be put off at this stage. “We’ll get Laurie to write the notes on the fret board in pencil. You only have to learn five songs for the band competition.”

            Except for the silly look on his face, Ryanny looked quite at home with the paddle hanging around his shoulder. We set to work teaching him how to play 12 bar blues. Ryanny was still protesting. “Jimmy will never go for it.” Just then the phone rang.

“Keep on practising,” I said as I answered it. It was Teddy Lees from the Stoneagers. Teddy told me we had a job that night at Matraville and did I know any electric bass players? Did I ever!

“I’ve got just the guy you’re looking for,” I replied as I looked across at Ryanny struggling to master a 12 bar blues pattern.

Despite reassuring words from me, Ryanny stood petrified on the stage at Matraville RSL, looking down the fret board of his paddle. “It’s in C,” Roger Keyes the piano player called out as we were about to start. Ryanny checked the pencil marks for a ‘C’ to start on and we ripped into the first number. After a few bars Teddy and Roger looked back with big smiles on their faces. They had never played with an electric bass before. I had to admit it didn’t sound too bad at all! The only problem was that when they did a number that wasn’t 12 bar blues Ryanny just kept playing on through. Teddy and Roger didn’t seem to notice. They thought he was great. The first hurdle was over.

 

JIMMY’S PLACE, MONDAY 17: This was going to be the real test for Ryanny and his paddle. I got the reaction that I expected when I tried to convince Jimmy and Ray about my great plan to “Get ‘im for the band”. I could tell by the scowl on Jim’s face and the cynical look on Ray’s, as we struggled into Jim’s lounge room carrying our gear, that they weren’t impressed. This was the first and last rehearsal that we could have for the band competition tomorrow night. I counted in one of the numbers we would be playing and as we played the last chord, Jim looked around at Ryanny in disbelief. Ray started shrieking with laughter. “Ryanny can actually play that bloody thing!”

At the end of the rehearsal, even Jim had to admit that it was sounding pretty good. He stayed up all night, cutting out pink cardboard stars to stick on Ryanny’s paddle so that it wouldn’t look too daggy.

 

SURRYVILLE, TUESDAY NIGHT 18: The Band Competition: Nervously we stood and watched Johnny Devlin’s band the Devils. They were really great, and so tight! The Devil’s line up was Claude Papesch on piano and sax, Peter Bazley on lead guitar, Neville Chamberlain on rhythm guitar, Ron Martin on electric bass, Tony Hopkins on drums and Johnny Devlin on vocals. The Devils had a great little instrumental they used to start with called Devil’s Rock, which they recorded on the Teen Label. Johnny Devlin was played off with Link Wray’s Rumble while the girls tried to rip off his satin shirt.

            Now it was our turn. Somebody said, “Here they are, Ray Hoff and the Off Beats!” We launched into Little Richard’s Lucille riff. Ray came on in his white coat, and all the chicks started screaming. The crowd went berserk. The band sounded magic. Better than it ever sounded in Jim’s lounge room. We didn’t look too bad either, except for Darby who wore a Canadian jacket.

            Darby wore a Canadian jacket in case somebody thought the band was crook. Then he could tell them that he wasn’t really with the band, he was only just “sitting in”. Darby wanted to give the impression that he could play “the jazz”. Darby was an impostor!

            The band competition was a no-contest (we won!) but the best accolade of the night for me was when Claude Papesch, the blind piano player (Claude had been blind since birth and boy, could he play!), put his hand on my shoulder and said, “Great drumming, man – really solid. The band was a gas!”

            Part of the prize for winning the competition was a contract with Teen Records, owned by John Collins and George Hilder, who were Johnny Devlin’s management. George Hilder peered at us through his “Coke bottle” glasses and nodded his approval. He lined up a few paying gigs for us at Surryville, Phyllis Bates and other venues. We were quite happy with that. At least we finally had the band together. Things were really starting to move.

            The following week, August 27, 1959, I got a phone call. “Hi Leon, it’s Johnny O’Keefe. We want to put Ray Hoff on 6 O’Clock Rock.”

            “Wow, that’s great! What about the Off Beats?” I answered.

            “No, we can’t use the band. He’ll have to sing with the Dee Jays like everybody else.” A discussion then followed about suitable numbers that Ray could do and we settled on Freddie Cannon’s Tallahassie Lassie.

            But we don’t do it exactly like Freddie Cannon.” I explained, “We go up a semitone and…”

            “Don’t worry,” JO’K interrupted, “You guys can come to rehearsal at the old church opposite the ABC at King’s Cross. See you Saturday morning”.

            Ray’s mother made him a purple suit with leopard skin lapels (what else?). Ray really looked the part and the number went great. The exposure on television would be good for the dance we were arranging the following week at the Lidcombe Paradance. We booked the hall and my brother Van printed the posters.

            The dance roll-up was more than we ever hoped for. Two of the girls in the crowd had “Ray Hoff & the Off Beats” painted on the back of their leather jackets. The band sounded fantastic. Even Darby took off his Canadian jacket!

            This was also my first chance to wear my 13”, pegged, black pants with the silver thread and, of course my green luminous socks. After paying for the hall and other expenses, we all ended up with more than £10 each. It seemed like we were finally on our way to rock’n’roll success.

            Our plans to make this a permanent weekly dance were soon dashed by the police. The Paradance refused to hire the hall to us again because the police had complained about the huge crowd and noise outside the place. Such is life for a budding rock star!

************                                                                      5,585w

 

 

To Chapter 3 - I Wanna Love You