Redgum

The principal members of Redgum were drawn together via their involvement with Flinders University, in Adelaide, South Australia. They were John Schumann, on vocals and guitar; Verity Truman on flute, saxophone and vocals; Michael Atkinson, vocals and guitar; and Chris Timms, on violin. The group formed in 1975.

Redgum’s first album, ‘If You Don’t Fight You Lose’, was released in 1978. In total, the band released six albums, the most successful of which was ‘Caught In The Act’, in 1983.

In 1980, Redgum was signed to record on the label, Epic, a subsidiary of CBS. This fearlessly outspoken folk-rock group was fervently nationalistic and, by 1983, had become one of Australia’s favourite live bands. It campaigned inexorably to better the lot of Aborigines, veterans of the Vietnamese War, the unemployed, and for the preservation of the environment. Redgum also opposed the influence of America on Australia’s culture.

The single, “I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)”, was released in 1983 and, in May, spent two weeks atop the Australian chart.

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I once heard an interview with John Schumann, who wrote the song, in which he stated that he had been approached with a lucrative offer from America for the rights to “I Was Only 19 (A Walk In The Light Green)” but he turned it down as to accept would have led to the Americanisation of its lyrics.

“I’ve Been To Bali, Too” followed, in 1984, and peaked at No.9. Those were the days when tourists to the Indonesian island mainly had to be wary of being caught out by the operators of dodgy tours. Some twenty years later the real concern was not to become the victim of terrorism and be killed en masse in an attack by bombers.

Redgum’s third and last entry into the Australian singles chart came in 1985 when “The Drover’s Dog”, a political commentary put to the music of Gilbert and Sullivan, reached No.5.

Chris Timms had left the group in 1982, when his replacement had been Hugh McDonald. John Schumann did likewise three years later, in order to embark upon a solo career. Verity Truman remained until the group, itself, disbanded in 1990.

Alvin Stardust

Bernard William Jewry was born, in September of 1942, in London. While he was still a child, his family moved north to live in Nottinghamshire.

Bernard was a roadie with the group, Shane Fenton and The Fentones, and when Shane Fenton (nee John Theakstone) died, as the result of having rheumatic fever as a child, he was invited to become the new Shane Fenton.

The combination had four relatively minor hits covering a period of twelve months from October of 1961. The last of these, “Cindy’s Birthday”, was also the largest, ascending to No.19 on the singles chart in Britain. It was actually a cover of Johnny Crawford’s recording that had risen to No.8 in America, just a few months earlier. Johnny played Mark McCain in the highly popular television series, ‘The Rifleman’. In the series, his father, Lucas McCain, was portrayed by Chuck Connors; back in what truly was the golden age of television.

Once Shane Felton and The Feltones had disbanded, little was heard of Bernard. That is, until the early 1970s when he re-emerged having acquired the persona, Alvin Stardust, in the era of glam rock.

Alvin’s first single, “My Coo-Ca-Choo”, entered the British chart in November of 1973 and, in spite of peaking at No.2, was to spend some five months there.

Nineteen seventy-four was to be Alvin’s most successful year. He took “Jealous Mind” to No.1, “Red Dress” to No.7, “You You You” to No.6, and “Tell Me Why” to No.16.

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Alvin’s only real achievement, in 1975, was to have “Good Love Can Never Die” reach No.11. Thereafter, a hiatus of some six years ensued before “Pretend” rose to No.4. The song had been a hit for Nat ‘King’ Cole, in 1953, and Gerry and The Pacemakers, in 1965.

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Three more years passed before “I Feel Like Buddy Holly” (No.7) established him as an extant recording artist, yet again.

In late 1984, “I Won’t Run Away” followed, reaching its zenith, at No.7, in early 1985.

In Australia, Alvin’s “My Coo-Ca-Choo”, was virtually his only hit, having risen to No.2, as it had in Great Britain. To my knowledge, he remains an unknown to the vast majority of Americans.

The Easybeats

The members of The Easybeats first met as they were being accommodated in a hostel for migrants, at Villawood, a western suburb of Sydney.

Leading guitarist, Harry Vanda (22nd of March, 1947) and bassist, Dick Diamonde (28th of December, 1947) were Dutch, while vocalist, ‘Little Stevie’ Wright (20th of December, 1948), rhythm guitarist, George Young (6th of November, 1947) and drummer, Gordon ‘Snowy’ Fleet (16th of August, 1945) were British.

George Young, a Scot, is the older brother of AC/DC’s Angus and Malcolm Young.

The Easybeats formed in 1965 and tasted immediate success when “She’s So Fine” went to No.1 on the Australian pop charts. Before year’s end “Wedding Ring” (No.6) and “Sad And Lonely And Blue”/”Easy As Can Be” (No.9) had followed it into the Top Ten.

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Nineteen Sixty-Six was even more sensational for the group, for in the first six months it had racked up three consecutive number one hits: “Women (Make You Feel Alright)”, “Come And See Her” and the 45 r.p.m. EP (extended play), “Easyfever”, which included “Too Much” and “I’ll Make You Happy (Just Like Your Mama Wants)”.

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Understandably, The Easybeats decided that it was time to spread its wings and the band was soon en route to England. Meanwhile, “Sorry” reached No.4 on the Australian charts.

It did not take long for The Easybeats to realise that it had gone from being a big fish in a small ocean to being a small fish in a big one. Nonetheless, Harry Vanda and George Young managed to pen “Friday On My Mind”, which symbolised the thoughts of many teenagers in the rebellious ‘Swinging Sixties’.

Recorded in London, the single occupied six weeks at No.1 back in Australia, and entered the British charts, peaking at No.6. It even received airplay across the Atlantic, where its zenith was to be No.16.

However, the excesses that could become available to those who achieved success were starting to take their toll on at least one of the group’s members. Homesickness for Australia, and the fame that that country had represented, also became a factor in the unease that had developed within the group, and it was eventually decided that the five should return.

Even there, things were not as they had been and the best result the group achieved, during its remaining three years as an entity, was that of taking the double A-sided compositions of Vanda and Young, “Heaven And Hell”/”Pretty Girl”, to a height of of No.11, in mid-1967.

Harry Vanda and George Young formed their own group, Band Of Hope, and, in 1972, Marcus-Hook Roll Band. Neither was noticeably successful, however, the pair was to become notable as producers of records. In 1974 and 1975 they produced the first two albums by AC/DC: ‘High Voltage’ and ‘TNT’.

They formed and wrote for another Australian group, Flash And The Pan. It experienced two hits in Australia, “Hey St. Peter” (No.2, in 1977) and “Down Among The Dead Men” (No.8, in 1978). Then, quite out of the blue, the band found success in the United Kingdom, when, in 1983, “Waiting For A Train”, reached No. 7.

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In 1974, Vanda and Young resurrected Stevie Wright’s recording career when, as a solo artist, he took “Evie (Part 1)” to No.1 and “Guitar Band” to No.16. In fact, the pair’s compositions were recorded by many Australian artists; with one further example being that of John Paul Young’s international hit, “Love Is In The Air”, which climbed as high as No.7, in the United States, in 1978.

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You will find “She’s So Fine” on my list of favourite recordings, located in the suggested playlists. I remember turning the volume on my radio up, to make the single’s introduction as loud as possible.

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Billy Ocean

Billy Ocean was born as Leslie Sebastian Charles, in January of 1950, on the island of Trinidad. His family moved to live in London when he was eight years of age. There, the West Indian rhythms, to which he had been exposed, became influenced by the music of The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Animals and American artists such as Sam Cooke, Ben E. King and Otis Redding.

Against his parents’ wishes, Billy became apprenticed to a tailor. He also began to learn how to play the piano. This eventually led him to perform in British clubs at night. The selection of his stage name was inspired by the film, ‘Ocean’s 11’, which starred Frank Sinatra and Dean Martin.

Although Billy was to sample success with his debut single, “Love Really Hurts Without You”, in 1976, it was not until 1984 and the release of the catchy “Caribbean Queen (No More Love On The Run)”, that he was propelled to global stardom. The album, ‘Suddenly’, was marketed to coincide with the release of the latter single. This was followed by the albums, ‘Love Zone’, in 1986, and ‘Tear Down These Walls’, in 1988.

The single, “When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going”, became the theme to the highly successful film, ‘Jewel Of The Nile’. More hits followed, including “There’ll Be Sad Songs (To Make You Cry)” and “Get Outta My Dreams, Get Into My Car”, ensuring that the name, Billy Ocean, is there among those on the list of the most prominent, solo male artists of the 1980s.

The names of more hits by Billy Ocean can be located in the suggested playlists. Whilst you are there, why not peruse the list of my favourite recordings? I shall be adding to it from time to time.

The Oak Ridge Boys

Richard Sterban, Duane Allen, William Lee Golden and Joe Bonsall won five Grammy Awards. The four were collectively known as The Oak Ridge Boys and their first such award came in 1970, when the group won for the Best Gospel Performance.

The quartet was to win this same award thrice more: in 1974, 1976 and 1977. The Oak Ridge Boys possessed distinctive vocal harmonies and as the aforementioned awards show, became legendary performers of country music via a background steeped in gospel singing.

In 1978, the C.M.A. joined in declaring the singers to be Vocal Group Of The Year, and in 1981, this same organisation named “Elvira”, Single Of The Year. Nineteen eighty-one also marked their receipt of the fifth Grammy, this time for the Best Country Performance By A Duo Or Group With Vocal. “Elvira”, while providing the group with a recording atop the country charts, also entered the pop charts, where it peaked at No.5.

William Lee Golden departed from the group, in 1987, when he was replaced by Steve Sanders. “No Matter How High” became The Oak Ridge Boys’ most successful hit, on the country charts, in 1989.

The names of more recordings by The Oak Ridge can be located in the suggested playlists.

Clarence Clemons

Born in Norfolk, Virginia, in January of 1942, Clarence Clemons appeared destined for a career in sport, as opposed to one in rock and roll. This changed, however, when he received severe concussion in a car accident, which was to sideline him for two years, away from his beloved professional football.

Clarence had been playing the saxophone since the age of nine. He firstly became a member of Norman Seldin and The Joyful Noise, and it was while playing in Norman’s group that he met Bruce Springsteen. From there it was only a matter of time before Clarence joined Bruce’s E Street Band.

In 1983, Clarence found himself with some spare time and decided to embark upon his first recording as a solo artist. The result was the release of the album, ‘Rescue’, credited to Clarence Clemons and The Red Bank Rockers. From this LP came the single, “A Woman’s Got The Power”. The opening track, “Jump Start My Heart”, instantly reminds me of “Nutbush City Limits”. The last two tracks are the pick, “Savin’ Up”, written by Bruce Springsteen, and a cover of “Resurrection Shuffle”, which had originally been a hit for the British outfit Ashton, Gardner and Dyke, in 1971.

Two years later came Clarence’s second album, ‘Hero’, known best for his duet with Jackson Browne, “You’re A Friend Of Mine”. In my opinion it is a superior album to ‘Rescue’. The only track I wouldn’t care to listen to again is “The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore”, a cover of The Walker Brothers’ original from 1966. Some recordings are so good they just shouldn’t be revived!

Clarence passed away in June of 2011, at the age of sixty-nine. He had suffered a stroke a week before his death.

Ronnie Milsap

Being born blind presented Ronnie Milsap with a myriad of additional challenges. One of the first was the rejection of both he and his father, by his mother, shortly after Ronnie’s birth in Robbinsville, North Carolina, in 1943. As a result, the pair moved in with Ronnie’s grandparents.

The radio introduced Ronnie to country music, and he was enrolled in a school for the blind, in Raleigh, in 1949. He studied to be a lawyer, in Georgia, in 1963 and 1964. One night, he attended a concert, in Atlanta, that featured Ray Charles. Ronnie was invited to meet his idol after the show and it was during this meeting that Ray encouraged him to follow his dream and pursue a career as a professional musician.

In 1965, Ronnie secured his first recording contract, in New York, where he was viewed to be a performer of rhythm and  blues. He moved to Memphis, in 1968, where he played and sang on the recording of Elvis Presley’s hit “Kentucky Rain”. A chance meeting with Charley Pride, the most popular singer in country music at that time, prompted Ronnie to try and make headway in Nashville. Still, it was to take until 1973 before his recordings would begin to enter the country charts.

A long succession of number-one hits followed, spanning a period of almost twenty years. Some even crossed over to the pop charts, with Ronnie’s most successful of these being “(There’s) No Gettin’ Over Me”, which peaked at No.5, in 1981.

The names of more tracks by Ronnie Milsap can be found in the suggested playlists.

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