When the mountains get too high, too steep to climb
Dig Richards arrived back in
When he arrived home with his album, he was surprised to see that his original band, the R’Jays (Jon, Michael and Leon) were still together, only now we were playing with Winifred Atwell.
While listening to the album tracks at Dig’s house in Northbridge, we were most impressed with Dig’s version of Rock’n’roll (I Gave You All The Best Years Of My Life). It sounded just like Digby’s own autobiography, with his wife Sue as one of the main characters. “Wow, Dig! That’s one of the best songs you’ve ever written,” I said. Dig just smiled and said, “I’m sorry mate but I didn’t write it.” It was hard to believe that it was actually written by another great Australian songwriter, Kevin Johnson, who was completely unknown at the time. When Dig heard the demo in the States he asked Kevin if he would mind if he sang it on his album before Kevin’s was due for release.
It was a perfect opportunity during the 1973 Xmas break to get the old band back together and rehearse up all of Dig’s new songs from the album. We certainly weren’t going to call the band the R’Jays again. Those days were long gone, just ‘Digby Richards’ was sufficient. After a rehearsal at our old mate Lucky Starr’s place we were ready to try the show out at a string of record promotional shopping centre gigs covering the entire month of January 1974.
Dig’s father, Gordon Richards (the blunderer) was thrilled to see us all back together again, as he was our original manager back in 1960. He almost had tears in his eyes when we played our first club date at North Sydney Leagues. It was our first appearance together for 10 years.
We followed our live
performances with a spot on the Channel 2 show GTK on February 6. Two
shows were recorded featuring
Lucky Starr was inspired by Dig’s recording success and he booked some time in at Col Joye’s ATA studio so we could put down some tracks for a truck-driving album. Trumpet player Rocky Thomas was a strange choice for the producer of a country rock album, but after we banned him from the studio we managed to put down enough tracks for Lucky’s Big Wheels album. Lucky included a remake of his hit I’ve Been Everywhere as well as a few standards like; King Of The Road, He’ll Have To Go, Muleskinner Blues and Mama Hated Diesels. Lucky wrote a couple of originals, Sunday Mornin’ Street and T. F. Much, and in a fit of trucking inspiration Mr. Muckle wrote Diesel Dan.
I also managed to fit in a
couple of other sessions at ATA that month. One was a country session for John
Laws with our old mate Milton Saunders on piano. God knows what the song titles
were, but I do remember
BACK IN THE POOH
Before we started back with
the Pooh, Mr. Muckle married his long-suffering girlfriend, Christine, on
January 29. Christine was known as the ‘Boomerang’. She used to leave Michael
at least once a month, but she always came back. It looked like this time the
Boomerang was here to stay and she was about to make an honest man out of our
Mr. Muckle. Michael was too busy to take Christine on a long honeymoon, so they
decided to wait until later when she could join us all in
The grand Winifred Atwell tour
commenced in March and our international flight took us directly to
It was my brother-in-law
LONNIE LEE, who we hadn’t seen since he sailed off to
Lonnie filled us in on his
three-year escapade in the States with Roy Orbison, and the next day was spent
After a short flight to Geraldton for a show with Winnie at the Sunseeker Hotel, we caught Lonnie’s show at the Old Melbourne Hotel when we returned. Lonnie still sang all of his old hits, which included Starlight Starbright, Ain’t It So, When The Bells Stop Ringing and I Found a New Love.
We introduced Lonnie to Winnie the next day at the hotel pool. She wasn’t too sure who he was at first, but her eyes lit up when I told her that he was Lizzie’s brother. During yet another game of Scrabble Winnie told us that our three performances at the Perth Concert Hall were all booked out and they wanted us to do an extra charity matinee for the pensioners on Saturday afternoon. She won again! How were we to know that a zo was an African cow?
Winnie received the usual
Perth Concert Hall reception as the
Winifred wins 1750 hearts
Winifred Atwell captured the imagination and enthusiasm of about 1750 people at the Perth Concert all last night during the second concert of a ten-performance tour of the state.
After a restrained melodic beginning she went crashing into lively ragtime tunes as only she could. This was our Winnie. The guitars and drums of her backing group, the three-member Magic Pudding, lent good support throughout the concert.
Her interpretation of Sinatra’s “My Way” was so powerful that it became a matter of hanging on, waiting for each note, as if grasping each ledge momentarily on the way down a cliff face. Miss Atwell gave some time to classical material and her treatment of this was no less delightful and precise. She is a concert pianist in her own right. – John Bryant. (15/3/74)
On Sunday night the crowd mixture at the Perth Concert Hall was certainly different. It was our night off and we were invited to the Sherbet concert after our show in Fremantle for the WA premier. Daryl Braithwaite and Sherbet sang up a storm and the kids went wild. Even though they didn’t get all the standing ovations that we did with Winnie, it still made us yearn for the old rock’n’roll pop scene.
Michael’s new wife, Christine (the Boomerang – now Mrs. Muckle) had arrived a few days earlier. There would be no more night clubbing for Mr. Muckle. He was now officially on his honeymoon.
Carefully guarding his camera from Jon, the
Dwarf packed our gear and drove us down to the Bunbury Bussell Motor Inn. The
best part of this trip was being invited by one of the locals to join him on
his boat for some crab fishing. In no time at all we caught over a dozen blue
swimmers, and after they bit a couple of our inexperienced crab catchers, they
were added to the grand feudic supper at the end of our second show. Then
it was on to Albany Centennial Oval Hall and back to the Park Towers Hotel
where a cute little singer from
At our request the promoter
for our next show loaded the three of us onto an over-night train to travel to
“It was accommodation that was unbefitting an officer,” said the belligerent Jon. The truth was we actually had a great time singing a cappella songs all night to the passengers in the dining car.
Our army Captain redeemed
himself the following day, when he drove us to
Before he knew where he was, the apologetic policeman had completely forgotten about our speeding ticket and we were escorted to the airport in record time. Rank certainly has its privileges!
Three more WA shows followed
at Katanning, Merredin and
ANOTHER DAY IN
MARCH 31, 1974: We were booked into the Kuala Lumpur Hilton to play four shows on the top floor in a room called the Paddock, which overlooked the Racecourse. Just by coincidence, whom should we run into at the KL Hilton? None other than the famous LUCKY STARR! - Or as Jon liked to call him – ‘The Fortunate Planet’. Luck had been booked by Bill Watson to do the early show in the Paddock for a total of four weeks. Once again the place was absolute luxury, and Lucky joined us for a few banquets that put some of our previous feudic suppers to shame. Lew also made it plain that while we were there we were not allowed to play behind Lucky. “That’s all right,” said Luck, “I’m getting used to these local guys.”
“That’s all very well,” said Jon with a grin, “But can they play truck songs?” Lucky thought for a while and sadly shook his head.
The reaction to our first show seemed to be more of a curiosity, as most of the Asian audience sat there with their mouths wide open. A few Pommies must have joined the audience for the next few nights as the audience reaction returned to normal and the conservative locals enthusiastically joined in.
Jon soiled his reputation as an officer and a gentleman by doing a giant brown eye in the pool. Lucky’s wife, Gloria, was horrified along with a few of the well-heeled guests, but otherwise our stay in the luxurious (and expensive) Hilton went without incident. Luckily for us the management was so thrilled with our shows that all our extra expenses were wavered. Thank God! The bill was enormous.
It was a beautiful warm
We then flew to
It was wonderful to be back
home with the family and we quickly changed from dinner suits and poof-fronts
to our rock’n’roll gear for a show in Dapto with Digby Richards. The Paul
Hogan Show on ATN7 was receiving big ratings at the time and we were
flattered when Paul Hogan asked us to do a spot on his show. Tommy Tycho added
a few strings to
In June Winnie and Lew decided
that they needed a much longer break in
SOLID SOUND AT THE SEALS
I welcomed the break with a
4-night-a-week gig at Maroubra Seals with MARGARET HOOPER, a tall redheaded
singer that I knew from the sixties when she was a recording artist with
Festival Records. The band was managed by her husband, DICK WOODLEY, who also
operated the sound system. And thus the name of the band was the ‘SOLID SOUND’.
Dick had been hounding me for ages to join his little group. He always conned
his way into some good paying gigs and he liked to surround Margaret with the
best musicians that were available. Dick Woodley’s best included: RAY ALLDRIDGE
on piano and keyboard bass and PAUL NOTT on bass and guitar. Ray was originally
There were a lot of advantages in playing in a good group, and after a few months in a permanent job I was starting to feel very relaxed. Dick Woodley arranged a few gigs down at the snow and a couple of luxury cruises to break the monotony. Dick could talk his way into any gig. In fact, Dick never ever stopped talking! We finally christened him the “Electric Jaw.”
I always felt sorry for our guest artists at the Maroubra Seals. The audience was completely indifferent to their performances and they seemed to resent the interruption to their dance sets. One of our most successful guest artists was a buxom black American girl called Ruby. When Ruby finished her opening song it was received with the usual response, which was practically nil. After this deafening silence, a lone voice cried out “Show us your tits!” Undeterred, Ruby immediately flopped out her two enormous black breasts. The crowd was stunned. She grabbed the left one and said “Anybody want a chocolate milkshake?” The management wasn’t impressed, but the audience certainly was. Ruby finished her set with unprecedented attention and applause.
Meanwhile, Jon and Michael
were itching to get Digby’s show up and running with a tour of NSW and
While I was having a relaxed
time at the Seals, I renewed my acquaintance with Johnny O’Keefe’s cousin, Des
Renford, who was a regular. Des was a very generous person, and when I told him
that I had pulled a muscle in my back while jackhammering a hole for pianist
Ken Bennett’s pool, he turned up the following week with an ultra-violet lamp.
Des reckoned that it fixed all the aches and pains he received from his
marathon swims across the
There were a lot of things to
do at home, and I started writing a lot of sheet music for various publishers.
There were a lot of new songs and new bands coming out. One of the new albums
to hit my desk for transcription was Breakfast
At Sweethearts, by a brand new Australian band – Cold Chisel. The publisher was a bit worried about the lyrics,
especially a line about the Marquis de Sade – ‘but all the whips in
We all still kept in touch with Winnie and Lew, and when they arrived back in Australia they came over for dinner a couple of times – and vice versa. Lizzie was invited to their first show with a new band, but she was disappointed. It wasn’t the same with the new group. It was more embarrassing when Lew later doubled the offer, but I thought I needed at least 12 months break to play some other music and keep a low profile.
Johnny O’Keefe found out that
I had left Winnie and he came over to see me twice at Maroubra Seals in June.
His offer for the old Rajahs to join his new show was untimely because Jon and
Michael were about to go away to
Farmer Jon and Muckle returned
from Digby’s tour and I went out to see them perform at St. George Leagues Club
in December. The support band for Digby Richards was the MIXTURES – or the
remnants thereof. The Mixtures had just returned from
The Digby Richards show had come together nicely, and as well as Jon and Michael they had Billy Hucker on piano, and Louis Burdett took my chair on the drums. A couple of chick back-up singers also added a sweet touch and Digby’s original songs were very well received. It was a warm summer night, and after the show at St. George we all ended up in the pool at Dig’s place. Dig had a little cabana room next to the pool where he and Jon had spent some time during the year writing songs together.
They were preparing for a Farmer John album. Dig reckoned he was going to make Jon Hayton a star in 1975.