The two significant bands that I played in were Johnny and the Strangers (see picture, Graham Nicol far left) and Ray Hoff and the Offbeats. My short exposure to fame was between 1962 and 1966, and I was one of many who were knocked over by the new rock and roll music which hit us in school in the late 50s. The music was exciting, and soon after reaching puberty we also noticed the attraction that the girls had towards the singers.
It wasn’t that hard to learn the rudiments of playing the hits, and the popularity of simple guitar instrumentals at that time meant that you didn’t have to sing to have a chance at fame. Playing guitar seemed easier than being a good dancer and conversationalist, too.
Early artists such as Bill Haley, Elvis, Buddy Holly and Eddy Cochran soon vanished off the hit parade as they died, were jailed, enlisted in the army or lost the plot, and were replaced with slick songs by slick singers whose names often started with ‘Bobby’. Curiously, many bands around Perth were still belting out those early tunes to enthusiastic audiences. There was a disconnect between live performance and radio playlists which turned out to be the situation throughout Australia and the UK. The Beatles and the whole UK music invasion filled this vacuum, reinventing and reinterpreting those early exciting sounds – and in the process bringing the music back home to the USA. There was the twist, the stomp and a lot more dance crazes, but essentially it was the same music throughout the early 60s.
This era was pretty much pre-nightclub, although they were starting to appear. Generally though, the bands played in local halls – Swanbourne, the Cygnet in Crawley, the Fiesta in Scarborough, the Police Boys Club in Fremantle, the RSL basement and the Embassy in Perth. Many of the regular weekly dances were wholly paid for and organised by the groups themselves; The Strangers held the first midnight dance at the Trocadero in Rockingham – read the book, there’s a story on that!
Jive, Twist and Stomp (December 2010) is available from Fremantle Press.