JON: with the New year well and truly celebrated in Melbourne at the Flagstaff Hotel (a bit of a comedown from the London), we headed back to Sydney for a week of our usual dances. These of course, included the dreaded Hornsby Pacific Cabaret, which would never be the same for me again. I could never get over the embarrassing, humiliating and frightening feeling of being dragged out of the dance in front of everyone by the constabulary. I was still hanging in limbo waiting for the outcome of the court case, not knowing whether or not I would be spending the next fifteen years in jail. After this week of dances we headed off on a short tour of the South Coast. This tour was not a major financial success but it did turn out to be a very pleasant holiday, with some national publicity from the Australian Women’s Weekly. It was sort of R&R (Rest & Recreation, not rock’n’roll)!
Our support acts on this tour were Barry Stanton, Judy Cannon and Sandy Davis. Sandy was at the time a country & western singer but we soon confiscated his check shirt, cowboy boots and hat and turned him into a rocker. He also held a guitar! Transport for the tour was only two cars. For the amount of gear we had, a truck was hardly necessary. One of these cars was Dig’s brand new 1961 FB Holden which was to see us through two more long tours before it finally croaked.
We played Milton, Bega, Narooma and Moruya. Narooma was Dig’s home town and, of course, was the biggest crowd. Everyone turned out to see the local-boy-made-good. We based ourselves at the Narooma Hylands Hotel for the whole four days and spent the daytime swimming, fishing and all the other things the local people do. Nighttime, as usual, was a succession of parties, not as wild as most but very pleasant with a lot of Dig’s laid-back childhood friends.
This little tour was just what the doctor ordered for me as my nerves were shot to pieces over the court case. Unfortunately, the first dance in Sydney after this little rest was Hornsby Pacific Cabaret! This brought me back to reality with a rush. But, as luck would have it, this was the last Hornsby we would ever play. Can’t say I was sorry!
Back in Sydney, February saw the start of a new dance on Saturday nights at Bankstown Capital. This dance was an attempt by the promoter. Bill McColl, to revive the once booming venue made famous by Col Joye. Unfortunately, it wasn’t nearly as successful as in Col’s day, but we did meet some new people who were guests at the dance, namely, Digby Wolfe who was the host of the very popular TV show Revue ’61. This show was always recorded in Studio A at Channel 7, while we were in Studio B doing Teen Time. Digby Wolfe was a charming Englishman who was a little out of place at a rock’n’roll dance! Also, the irrepressible Norman Erskine was there. “Erko” was a jazz singer and also out of place! No wonder the dance wasn’t a success!
One person who wasn’t out of place was Digger Revell. This was Digger’s emergence on to the scene and after some very successful performances with his band The Denvermen we kept them on as permanent support band at Bankstown. Sometimes, we used to drag some of the kids on stage to make fools of themselves. One of these was “Ted the Leg” who did a sort of Red Indian dance to Apache – on one leg! He was sort of our answer to the Joy Boys’ “Alf the Arm” who features later on.
February 28 saw another court case and I thought I would be enlightened one way or another as to my future. Not so! Yet another remand! When were they going to put me out of my misery? At least I had Irene as a girlfriend and I thanked my Les Morrisons (Lucky Starrs) as she consoled me one more time in the back of the ute. I also had one more thing to console me as well.
On February 27, I purchased from J. Stanley Johnstons a brand new Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar and a Fender concert amplifier. This was the first of the American imported gear, except for Lou Casch’s concert amp, which O’Keefe brought him back from the States. Lou’s amp was actually better than mine! But this was the best equipment that you could buy in Australia. At the same time we got a well deserved raise on Teen Time, to nine guineas (£9/9/-) per show. This was lucky for me because I had to load myself up to the ears in hire purchase to buy all this gear.
On March 11 we played a show which I believe was the high point in our career as Dig Richards & the R’Jays. It was at Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne to fifteen thousand frantic, frothing-at-the-mouth, Victorian teenagers. Fifteen thousand was a REAL BIG crowd then, and to us it was ENORMOUS! I had all my new gear with me and I was very proud as I watched the Melbourne guitarists drooling over it.
“Wow, man! Dig how loud that amp is! (All 60 watts of it),” exclaimed one as I ripped off one of my best licks at almost full volume. Is there another volume? “Listen to the sound of that guitar,” said another. I was in my glory!
“Still using the old Maxim amps, I see,” I said to the envious Melbourne musos. “Yeah, they’re the best we can get down here,” moaned one of the droolers. We get all the best Yankee gear up in Sydney now you know,” said I, turning on the vibrato on the amp and waggling the Bigsby whammy bar.”
“For Christ’s sake Jon stop posing off with that gear will you, I’d like to run through a couple of songs before tonight, if you don’t mind!” The voice came from a man with a military bearing, which he tossed in the air and caught (Thank you, Spike!). It was none other than our fearless leader, Digby George Richards, Party Pooper! Dig had a way of bringing people down to earth when they least expected it.
The show that night was unbelievable. The local entourage went on first to a rather mixed reception. They were waiting for the big ones. Lucky Starr was third last on before us. “Jesus, what a crowd,” he said as he came off, dripping with sweat, “You guys are gonna have a ball out there.”
The next to come off, after three encores, was Wanganui’s pride and joy, Johnny Devlin. “Follow that!” said Devo. Did I detect a note of rivalry? Follow it we did! Ten songs and TWELVE encores later, we fell backstage. The show was magic – kids crushed up against wire fences, incessant, unstoppable screaming and rows and rows of people swaying to the music. How come something great always happens when I buy a new guitar? Devlin managed a “Great show, boys!” through his teeth as we came off.
On April 17 something happened that convinced me that this was my lucky month. I made my final appearance at Redfern Children’s Court!
It seemed, that after all my agonising, hanging out on a limb waiting for a verdict, all she had to say in the dock was, “I TOLD HIM THAT I WAS EIGHTEEN!” Mind you, the make-up and grown-up clothing helped a little as well! The following night was a combined party at Peter’s house to celebrate his 21st and my 19th birthday. Needless to say, I got very drunk and disorderly!
The Merry, Merry Month of May saw us Merrily back in Fester-ville studios recording some “Merry” ditties with Dig & the R’Jays. The “Merriest” of all was a disgusting little piece of schmaltzy trash for Dig, selected by Ken Taylor and ACME Records of course, called Alice In Wonderland – Yuk! This was part of all record companies’ policies at this time, not only Festival, to groom their artists toward performing to a “more mature audience,” namely, adult. They didn’t have much faith in rock’n’roll and this was the beginning of its decline, thanks to them! Fortunately, we were allowed to record our first original instrumental single. The A side was a tune written by Peter Baker entitled Midnight Stage – and a damn good instrumental for its time as well! The flip-side was Ron doing a very nice job of an old tune called Ebb Tide – complete with waves!
On May 30, we left for the Sunshine State for the first time and our first taste of disaster! The Queensland promoter who was to promote, as all promoters should, had shot through with the money and left us stranded at the Story Bridge Hotel where we were booked to stay for the duration of our Brisbane gigs.
Leon had the right idea. “Well, we’re here and there’s nothing we can do about it, so we might as well have some fun. Let’s go and make some movies around here with my new camera.” As if the old one wasn’t nuisance enough! We were getting a little tired of hearing “Stop here you guys, I want to get a shot of you doing…” We had little else to do while poor Dig tried to find a way of getting some work in Brisbane. We ran around the little park, underneath the Story Bridge at Kangaroo Point, making sped-up films of me being mugged.
When we got back to the pub, we met for the first time a man who was to become a firm (well maybe a little flabby) friend for many years to come, namely the twenty stone MR. VICTOR LEDWIDGE, or “The Fat Gay”, as he used to call himself. The word “gay” in those days did not mean homosexual but exactly what it said: happy-go-lucky, debonair, witty. For all of his twenty stone, Victor was all of these and a thorough gentleman, if a little rough around the edges.
“Not to worry boys, these things are sent to try us,” said “Uncle Victor”, uttering the first of many words of wisdom, “I’ve managed to con the owner of this establishment into letting you play here. A lovely fellow he is. Don’t you boys worry now, Uncle Victor will look after you.”
Seeing as how we had to play all night and all week, Leon thought that he would teach the band the mime act that he used to do when he was thirteen, namely the parody version of Sh’Boom by Stan Freberg. At first, we were not too sure about making fools of ourselves but we reluctantly agreed when Leon assured us that the crowd would love it if we used it as part of the floorshow. The most willing participant in all this was our compere Brisbane DJ, Graham Webb. Graham was a natural ham who loved being on stage. Most DJs have an ego the size of a house but not Graham. He had a great time with us for the next few weeks. Sure enough, as Leon predicted, the mime act brought the house down.
We played five nights a week at the Story Bridge to a mixed crowd of Army, Navy, bikie, black and white rock’n’rollers. It was predominately an Army pub so there were generally bulk fights when the Navy or the bikies turned up. We had never played pubs before, let alone rough ones! It was quite an education for us.
As well as the Story Bridge, we plated two nights at the Lands Office Hotel where we went over very well to a slightly more sophisticated (for Brisbane anyway) audience. The leader of the resident band in this pub was the black and ever smiling Clayton Davis on bass. It ended up being only “expense money” that Victor could wangle out of these places for us. We were all pretty broke and decided to quit while we were behind and fly back to Sydney.
It was the third of June, just a sleepy dusty delta day: back in Sydney for the Ironworkers Hall. Lucky Starr was on with the R’Jays and Dig. After the dance Lucky asked me if I’d like to go with him for a week at the Park avenue Hotel in Rockhampton. This would be the first time I ever worked without Dig & the R’Jays but I had itchy feet and a trip further north into Queensland sounded perfect. Peter Bazley from the Leemen took over for me and I headed north in Victor’s FB Holden station wagon with Lucky taking the lead in his Singer Gazelle. “That’s because he’s the lead singer!”
It was arranged that I would team up with Dig & the R’Jays again in a week’s time when they would drive up here to meet me to start a tour of the north Queensland coast, organised by Victor. I was already looking forward to playing with our well-rehearsed band (the R’Jays) again, owing to the fact that when I said to Lucky’s sax player, Neville Cluff, “What will we play for our first tune in Rockhampton?” Neville replied, “Jazz in C!”; no particular tune mind you – just JAZZ IN C!!
LEON: “We’ll all be in the gutter by October!” announced Peter Baker as we were excitedly discussing our plans to tour the Queensland coast in June and July. There was a moment of silence. Could this be true? It hadn’t occurred to anyone else. Everyone stopped to look at Peter.
Peter was the studious practical thinker in the band and was capable of profound statements when you least expected them while the rest of the band had always been happy just to bumble along and take things as they came. “There’s a credit squeeze on, you know,” continued Peter, “Our dances are starting to fizzle out and if we go on this tour we’ll lose Teen Time.”
It was true. Besides the occasional big show or concert, our dances and TV shows were our bread and butter and guaranteed each of us at least £45 a week. Without them, things would become increasingly difficult. “Well what’s the answer then?” said Digby, looking up from the map of Queensland. Peter took on his typical studious look. “There’s no guarantee we’re going to make any money on this Queensland tour, so I’ll stay behind and look after Teen Time; otherwise, the band will have nothing to come home to.”
I was very excited at the prospect of touring the Queensland coast. This would give me a chance to try out my new 8mm movie camera. His was a hobby that I had taken up in earnest earlier this year when I decided that I was going to be another Cecil B. de Mille. My first movie in February 1961, was titled The Adventures Of Bog, which was inspired by a Goon movie called Running, Jumping, Standing Still. The members of the band were obvious choices to star in this silent epic with a “walking bass” soundtrack.
In one scene, I decided to have Ron Patton taking a bath on the railway line near Rookwood Cemetery, while a train passed by on the alternate track. The logistics of this scene nearly proved fatal for Ron. On our first attempt, we put the bath on the wrong track and nearly got wiped out by a train. After the train passed, the bath was replaced on the track and hurriedly filled with water. Ron assumed his position in the bath as the next train thundered by about three feet from Ron’s soap-sudded head, while Ryanny played the double bass (in his dressing gown) on the other side of the track.
We all agreed to Peter’s gallant proposal to stay behind so our first problem was to get a bass player to replace him on the tour. The Leemen broke up in May 1961, so we tried to get Ryanny but he had taken a job in New Caledonia for a few weeks. When we tried to contact him, we found that he had run off into the jungle with a native girl called Fifi and was living in a grass hut.
Peter came up with a replacement bass player – one of his pupils, MIKE LAWLER. Michael was a fresh-faced young lad who looked like he had just dropped out of university. In fact, he was still doing a course at Technical College. Michael was offered the gig when he went over to Peter’s place to buy Peter’s acoustic bass. Electric bass was still frowned upon by most legitimate musicians, so Peter bought an acoustic bass to prove that he was a real bass player! We weren’t convinced. We hated the bloody thing, mostly because we could never hear it, so it was christened “the silent monster”. The new owner of this dreaded instrument was signed up for the Queensland tour (provided that he didn’t play the silent monster of course!) and on Monday 19, June, after a Teen Time show, we teamed the unsuspecting Michael Lawler up with Ron Patton in his beloved green VW Beetle and set off for Queensland. Nobody bothered to tell Michael that Ron had already rolled his Beetle about three times already.
Armed with my new movie camera and a brown paper bag full of scones, baked especially by Dig’s mum, Digby and I drove for 25 hours straight, to the Park Avenue Motel in Rockhampton where Jon had already been playing for the last week with Lucky Starr. Jon seemed very pleased to see us. From Rockhampton we teamed up with the rest of the show and drove straight to Mackay.
Two smashed windscreens later, we arrived at the Boomerang Motel for our first rehearsal. It was vital that we run Michael through Dig’s numbers before the show that night. During the rehearsals I kept jumping up and down and screaming at Michael, “No! That’s not the way it goes! No, Michael, no!” Jon wasn’t helping matters either. He kept mumbling something about “Why don’t we just play jazz in C and forget about it.” It was quite frustrating after being used to our own bass player, Peter, playing everything so well. Finally, Dig called me aside. “Can’t you see?” he kept saying.
Digby sat me down and an amiable smile came to his face. “Can’t you see, Leon?” he said quietly, “He can’t play!” There was a pause as I tried to think of an answer. There wasn’t one. Dig had just taught me a valuable lesson about acquiescence. At the time, I didn’t even know the meaning of the word but Digby’s eyes said it all. All my overzealous ranting and raving wasn’t going to change the situation if Michael couldn’t play anyway. Well, Michael may not have been able to play like we wanted at the start of the tour, but after being left to his own devices as Dig seemed to suggest, to our amazement by the end of the tour he certainly could play!
Our support artists on this Queensland tour were, our protégé, Sandy Davis (billed as ‘Country & Western Top Performer’) and a spunky, female vocal duo called the Cherrytones, consisting of Dee and Nola, (billed as ‘TV Bombshells From Sydney’). Of course, no tour would be complete without a benevolent promoter. Ours was Victor Ledwidge who had been responsible for rescuing us on our last tour to Brisbane. He had also previously promoted a Queensland tour for the Maori Troubadours in partnership with Bill Watson, a promoter who surfaces again later in the story. For now, the mere mention of Bill Watson’s name was enough to send the usually jolly Victor into a mumbling rage.
Ron was immediately appointed by Jon as “The Minister for Transport and Packing”, a job which he carried out zealously. This title appealed to Ron’s ego as a job of importance. We didn’t have the heart to tell him that he had just been made the official roadie.
Under Victor’s guidance, the splendours of tropical Queensland were unfolded. The splendours of the Cherrytones were also unfolded, much to the delight of Digby and myself. While Sydney shivered in midwinter, we sat on antique hotel balconies, watching the tropical moon shining orange against the blaze of a distant sugarcane fire. The coconut palms swayed gently in the breeze on the golden sands of Ellis beach. The romantic walks through rainforests and waterfalls in Paronella Park while multi-coloured birds filled the balmy air. The enormous tits. Oh yes… and the audiences were good too!
Of course, all this romance came to an end halfway through the tour when Digby and I waved a tearful farewell to the Cherryones at Townsville Airport. They flew back to Sydney and were replaced by a Maori girl called Esmay, a friend of Victor’s. We were surprised to learn that Victor seemed to have an “aunty” in every town we visited. We soldiered on for the rest of the tour until we finally worked our way back to the Park Avenue Motel in Rockhampton. By now Mrs. Richards’ scones were the same consistency as housebricks!
At one show in Rockhampton, unbeknownst to us, there was an 18 year old local boy by the name of Kevin Johnson sitting in the audience. Years later Kevin would become one of the best singer songwriters in the country. Kevin remembered it this way:
“The compere, Les Hardman, introduced Dig Richards and the spotlight went over to one side of the stage. The crowd screamed as they waited for Dig to appear. I remember I thought it was quite funny when Dig finally appeared on the opposite side of the stage wearing a canary yellow suit. He purposely crept on from the wrong side of the stage and it got quite a big laugh. I was inspired and it was around about this time, I can still remember when I bought my first guitar…”
Twelve years later in 1973, Digby would record Kevin Johnson’s classic song Rock’n’Roll (I Gave You All The Best Years Of My Life) at RCA studios in Hollywood. Although Kevin had written the song about himself, it was uncanny how the song paralleled Digby’s own life, even down to the references to London and America and especially to the girlfriend Susanne, who was always one step behind him. Coincidently, Dig later married his long-time girlfriend Sue. Perhaps Kevin’s song was so successful because it accurately summed up those early years and seemed to touch a chord in everyone’s heart.
On our return from Queensland, we played our last week of Teen Time with Lew Luton, the replacement compere for Keith Walshe. Walshe was later fatally electrocuted on stage while he was doing one of his comedy routines in Adelaide. Peter Baker could see that the popularity of Teen Time was waning but he had kept the show going during our month away. The spontaneity of the show was lost when they decided to pre-record all the music and get everyone to mime the songs. The R’Jays’ instrumental Midnight Stage, written by Peter, had just been released so it was fitting that we played it on the last show on Friday, July 14, 1961. This would also be our last week with Peter. His mother and father thought rock’n’roll was a communist plot and they finally convinced him to leave the band and get a “real” job.
Despite Peter’s prophesy of doom, we couldn’t wait to get the band on the road again. Victor offered us another month in Brisbane, so with no weekly TV show to worry about, we drove off to the Story Bridge Hotel with our new bass player for this trip, “Flooby” Fred. Fred was the obvious choice as Michael Lawler was still going to College and another attempt to contact Ryanny in the jungles of New Caledonia was unsuccessful. No phone in the grass hut!