After a Saturday afternoon charity concert at Waverly, a group of screaming girls were waiting out the front. I ignored the warnings from the rest of the band and ventured out the front door. It looked pretty safe to me. “They don’t want me,” I thought. “They’re all waiting for Dig.” As my innocent face appeared, the squeals went up an octave. I panicked. These girls didn’t care who they chased. It must have been quite a sight as I ran down the main street of Waverly followed by a screaming horde of about twenty girls. Luckily I escaped by running into the bar of the nearest hotel. It was just like a scene out of a western movie. The hotel bar went deathly quiet as the drinkers all turned their eyes toward this the stranger. I stopped puffing, composed myself and casually walked up to the bar like a regular drinker. It must have worked because somebody bought me a beer and the bar immediately resumed its normal buzz. When the coast was clear, I quietly snuck out the side door. It was only then that I realised I still had my blue band suit on. How embarrassing!
The following week at a concert in
The dances, unlike the concerts, were a lot more informal. They were just like big meetings of the Dig & the R’Jays’ Fan Club. The kids would surround the bandstand and we were all happy to mix in and become part of the crowd.
The prime requisite for a “rock star” at the end of 1959 was a pair of sunglasses, pegged pants and, most important, an FJ Holden. With my new fame and fortune I settled for a cream and green 1948 FX Holden for £335 and spent Xmas holidays at Nelsons Bay where Lonnie Lee had procured a couple of gigs at the local hall. At this time I still wasn’t old enough to drive, so Lonnie took the wheel. The following night he took the car! He drove some chicks home to Maitland and managed to blow the piston up. This was before I’d even had a chance to drive it! So much for my very first car
Lonnie’s band at
Lonnie was desperately trying to form his own
band at this time, a subject that we often discussed, whilst lying on the beach
and counting the number of airplays for Ain’t It So?. One Sunday at
The break up of the Devils and Off Beats proved to be fortunate for Lonnie as there were now enough players floating about to start a new band. We came up with Peter Bazley and Claude Papesch (ex-Devils), Darby Wilson and Johnny Ryan (ex-Off Beats). This sounded like a great line-up for Lonnie’s band, which we called The Leemen. I had to include Ryanny. After all, I was responsible for getting him into this crazy business in the first place. I agreed to play drums until they got the band into shape provided it did not clash with any R’Jays’ dates. I saw quite a lot of Lonnie during this period mostly because I was in love with his young sister Liz. But that’s another story!
Lonnie was about to release a new song called Starlight, Starbright, which he played for me on the old piano at his house at Greenacre. We laughed about the fact that Johnny O’Keefe, Lonnie and I all had one thing in common. The three of us played piano exactly the same – really crook but honest! With JO’K’s help the new record was a great follow up for Ain’t It So? It was a pity that Dig didn’t have JO’K producing the R’Jays’ long-awaited new release instead of leaving it the hands of the Festival Philistines.
It took about six months to finally get The
Leemen together. One memorable gig with Lonnie was on February 6, 1960, at
Bathurst Trocadero. We picked up Lonnie, Peter Bazley and support singer, Ian
Crawford, from 6 O’Clock Rock at Channel 2. My brother Van was driving
and Lonnie said he knew a short cut to
I should point out that, at this time, for some reason it was considered bad form for anyone besides the singer in the band to sing. If anyone in the band could sing, they just didn’t! Even the vocal backing was taken care of the specialists in that field i.e. The Delltones, The Crescents, The Graduates. When Dig & the R’Jays played the same gig at Bathurst Trocadero, March 11, 1960, Jon Hayton got bored playing instrumentals and decided to sing a few songs. He was soundly castigated by Dig’s manager – “Dig’s the singer, you just play guitar!”
The Leemen finally got going in May 1960 when
Bob Malcolm started a Sunday night dance at the Ironworker’s Hall in
Lonnie was pushing JO’K to have the Leemen back him on record but JO’K didn’t want to spoil a successful formula. This proved to be the right move as Lonnie’s next release I Found A New Love, written by Nat Kipner, was perhaps his most successful record. JO’K did make one concession and agreed to put The Leemen on record playing an instrumental Johnny Guitar but they would have to wait until JO’K and Lonnie returned from the ill-fated JO’K tour in June. The near fatal JO’K car accident at Kempsey on June 27, 1960 is pretty well documented except for the fact that it was Lonnie in the following car who quickly confiscated the bag of grass concealed in the left-hand side hub cap of JO’K’s car before the police arrived. This was the first hint of drugs in the rock’n’roll scene but it certainly wasn’t widespread. It had probably been going on for years amongst a small group of older jazz musicians, who liked to get stoned and listen to records. “Far out and groovy, man!”
The Sydney Stadium was a wonderful old tin
shed opposite the park at
The atmosphere at the Stadium still contained the stench and sweat of gladiatorial combat. This ambience was even more evident as I entered the fighter’s dressing rooms for the first time in January 1960. All the Australian rockers on the show knew each other quite well. However, when the American contingent arrived we were surprised to find they didn’t seem to know each other at all. Duane Eddy and his band, the Rebels, Johnny Restivo, Santo & Johnny and Floyd Robinson were all asking who the hell Crash Craddock was? Indeed, Crash didn’t seem to be too sure himself! He asked Lee Gordon when he was supposed to be on? To which Lee replied, “You’re on last, boy! You’re the star!” To the amazement of Crash and the other American acts, it was true – he was the star!
This would not have been the case in
Even Lee Gordon was held in absolute awe as his
American accent betrayed him as being one of THEM. Lee had been almost entirely
responsible for promoting Crash Craddock in
All the Americans were very friendly except for
Duane Eddy who seemed genuinely shy and was sulking in the corner because he
didn’t have top billing. He also wasn’t too happy about Jonnie Hayton using his
Gibson Maestro amplifier. He had good reason to worry for, if given the chance;
Jon was one of the loudest guitar players in
The Dee Jays’ pianist Mike Tseng also played with Duane Eddy’s band. Poor Mike should have received a double fee as he played with nearly everyone on the show. Mike Tseng joined the Dee Jays when they needed a piano player for JO’K’s TV show 6 O’Clock Rock, which started back in February 1959. Mike and the Dee Jays started rehearsing Crash who didn’t seem to know too many songs and had to resort to a few standard 12 bar blues rockers like Whole Lotta Shakin’. It wouldn’t have mattered what he sang, the crowd were going to love him anyway. He was pleasantly surprised when Bob “Bluto” Bertles belted out the opening bars of Boom Boom Baby on the saxophone, exactly the same as the record!
After lunch, Dig & the R’Jays finally had a small rehearsal with The Graduates who were going to sing vocal backing for our spot. We came back to the dressing room to find Dig’s father and manager, Gordon, holding Johnny O’Keefe upside down while Johnny Restivo was looking on in horror and disbelief.
Apparently JO’K had noticed that Johnny Restivo was a little “thick” (naïve), so he was trying to con him into going on the show before him. JO’K always insisted on being last on amongst the Aussie acts. He thought he would try to take his prestige a little further. After JO’K continually bugged poor little Restivo, Dig’s father finally got sick of it and told JO’K to leave him alone to which JO’K replied, “Shut up you old bastard!” Gordon Richards, who was an ex-policeman from Narooma, immediately grabbed JO’K and turned him upside down till all the money fell out of his pockets. “Don’t ever call me an old bastard again,” he said as he bonked O’Keefe’s head on the floor. Although surprised, JO’K seemed to take all of this with good humour and he certainly never called Gordon an old bastard again! In fact, Johnny O’Keefe and Dig’s father became pretty firm friends from that day on.
The smell of past boxing events at the Stadium seemed to do something to JO’K. On a later show he punched Freddy Cannon in the head for falsely accusing the Dee Jays of playing out of time!
As the start of the show grew closer, the excitement and adrenalin was mounting. I felt like a gladiator about to face the lions in the Colosseum. We had the unenviable task of opening the show. If the crowd hated you, you died. If they loved you, you were gloriously spared. We ran down the aisle toward the boxing ring and the deafening roar from the crowd was both encouraging and frightening. Once we were on the revolving stage the fear subsided and we were “into it”. We were doing what we knew how to do best and they loved it. We were spared! As Jon blew the cobwebs out of Duane Eddy’s amp, the thumbs were up and the crowd was bopping. I must admit to some relief to finally getting off the merry-go-round effect of the revolving stage. We were so carried away I forgot where the steps were. Now, the final running of the gauntlet through a police cordon, staving off menacing outstretched hands. That was the end of our first show and we were still alive! After surviving all of this, the rest of the shows would be easy, and they were.
At the end of the dressing room aisle I was
standing with Johnny Restivo watching JO’K whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
Restivo was a little
The crowd didn’t get going again until after
Restivo was followed by Santo & Johnny, a couple of tough little Hispanic
Brooklyn kids who carried flick-knives and also had only one hit, an
instrumental called Sleepwalk. They thought that Jon’s Rex guitar was made by
the same people who built the
The whole week was a fabulous experience for us. I had fulfilled my lifetime ambition at seventeen. What could I possibly do now?
By the time we did another Stadium show later
that year in September 1960, with Ricky Nelson, we felt like old hands at the
game. Ricky suffered the same fate as Johnny Restivo, except this time at the
Jon and I thought Ricky Nelson and his band
were great, especially the guitarist, James Burton, but after
As Ricky came off the stage surrounded by police, a fan prostrated herself in front of him screaming “I love you, Ricky!” to which he replied “Fuck off!” as he stepped over her and ran to the refuge of the dressing room. Maybe being famous is not all it’s cracked up to be,” I remember thinking, “I think I’ll stick to the safety and anonymity of being in a band!”
Dig Richards & the R’Jays had to have a new single for the start of the year, 1960, and Festival’s general manager, Ken Taylor, had it all worked out for us. He came up with the grotesque idea of a rock’n’roll version of Annie Laurie, which we dutifully recorded. My first recording session at Festival Records in December 1959 was a rather rude awakening to the latest recording techniques. The R’Jays were called into the studio to rehearse the songs for our new single. While we were there, we were also required to record three tracks for Rob E.G. (Robbie Porter) who was there with his ‘stage father’, Maurie Porter auditioning for Ken Taylor and Hal Saunders.
I couldn’t believe the trouble they had recording drums. I assumed it must have been my inexperience in the studio that was causing the problem. The only way they could record a reasonable drum sound was if I threw a blanket or something similar over the drums. Worse still, they didn’t seem to be able to record the bass drum at all! Every time I played it, all the speakers broke up and made such a dreadful farting sound that we had to leave the bass drum out altogether. I solved the snare drum problem by putting a handkerchief on the skin (a la Jerry Lee Lewis). With Hal Saunders conducting, eyes closed and being completely ignored, we put down Rob’s first record Your Cheating Heart, closely followed by a rock song he wrote called Seven Foot Two.
During the third song Pretty, Pretty Baby, I was even more astonished when the engineer, Robert Iredale, bought in a phone book for me to play on! As I thumped away on the phone book everybody in the control booth smiled and thought how wonderful it sounded. I was speechless! Did this mean I had been practicing drums all these years only to end up doing my first recording session on a bloody phone book?! “Catfish Purser from the Dee Jays played on a phone book for Lonnie’s first record,” Robert consoled. “Not only that!” said Ken Taylor, smiling proudly, “We got John Bogie from the Joy Boys to play a TYPEWRITER on Col Joye’s latest record (Oh Yeah, Uh Huh)!”
To add insult to injury, Robert then appeared with some skulls he wanted to try out. I shuddered at the thought of what they had in store for me to play on Dig’s new single. I ignored Robert’s skulls and continued to play the snare drum as we rehearsed Annie Laurie and South Of The Border. The recording of these tracks for Dig Richards & the R’Jays were completed on December 17 and 18, 1959. It’s in the “Crazy Book”!!