Tuesday, 16 November 2010


(John Mills, far left, with Johnny Young and Graham Nicol in Johnny & the Strangers.)

Jive, Twist and Stomp is clearly a labour of love. How long has the idea been brewing?

Four years or so. I have a unique collection of seventy-four interesting black-and-white photos of the popular rock groups I was in in the 60s. Just the thought of the photos ending up in either one of my daughters’ cupboards gathering dust or even dumped in the Rubbish Bin Of No Interest was the beginning of this project. So with this in mind I decided with Murray and others to share them. Fortunately I know quite a number of musicians from that era and they too started to become interested in sharing their historical stories and photos before it becomes too late. Initially we had a slow response, but with time the interest mounted and so did the enthusiasm.

Was there a particular song or artist that grabbed your attention and got you involved in the rock and roll scene in the 50s?

Bill Haley and the Comets ‘Rock Around The Clock’ featured in the classic film Blackboard Jungle, followed by the musical films Rock Around The Clock and Don’t Knock The Rock with the best guitar solos from Fran Beecher. By the time the instrumental groups The Shadows and Ventures started to become famous, I was very determined to play electric guitar. I started late actually, in the early 1960s at twenty-one years of age.

The Perth music scene in the 50s and 60s was vibrant and growing – what were the factors supporting it?

It was the beginning of the ‘rock and roll’ era with this music being played on some radio stations. It was inspiring enough for teenagers to do their own thing (as they always do). It didn’t seem to be difficult to get them to come to dances in halls everywhere our ‘rock and roll’ music was pumping out and they could let their hair down and dance to the driving beat. Many mums and dads weren’t too happy. Tough! I also remember that some radio stations were still playing the Doris Day, Frank Sinatra type material which was so boring to most of the teenage set, the bodgies and widgies etc.

Tell us about a highlight of your early rock and roll days.

I was a muso in Johnny and the Strangers, and we won a Perth talent quest against over seventy other local groups. The prize was a guest spot on three shows as support act for the Johnny O’Keefe Show at the Capitol Theatre, Perth in mid-1964. We played to packed houses.

What also comes to mind is the speed by which Johnny and the Strangers became so popular. I was the rhythm guitarist and organised the gigs and we were all bowled over with the reception we got at many shows. Felt surreal.

Did you often get a chance to ‘jive, twist and stomp’ yourself, or were you too busy providing the tunes?

Interestingly I was a jive teacher (at eighteen years old) for a short time at the Wrightsons’ Dance Studio at the corner of Pier and Murray streets upstairs, three years before I took up guitar. Once I got confidence on the guitar I was kept pretty busy playing in various rock groups for the people who would jive, twist or stomp or whatever was in vogue at the time. I can only see it from a working musician’s point of view. Talking about views, some of them were very nice! Gets the heart goin’. This all happened in a variety of venues. Probably my two favourite venues were the hall on Broadway Nedlands at nighttime, followed by the Anzac Basement dance on St Georges Terrace, Perth on a Saturday afternoon with Johnny and the Strangers.

Western Australia still has a healthy music scene, with lots of local bands getting national (and international) attention. How would you describe the connection between Perth bands of the 50s and 60s and Perth bands now?

The modern musician has so much more available at their fingertips to learn from: high schools, all the musical instruments, the internet, hundreds of books, sheet music, music schools, DVDs with instructions on all instruments.

We had to learn from 45 records, mostly by ear, as there were no ‘rock & roll’ music teachers. In the 50s and 60s at high school level you could only be taught to read music, play violin or piano, all classical and that’s the way it was – boring.

What do you hope this book will achieve?

A historical and quite fascinating insight into the WA pioneers of rock and roll bands in the 50s and 60s and what they achieved and what they were thinking and the stories they can openly tell (not all stories can be printed!). Think of the enjoyment of the musos’ families scanning the hundreds of photos, seeing the fashions and what their dad or grandad and some ladies used to look like in various outfits as they performed. This fascinating, interesting quality book will be passed on to the next generation. Something to have forever.

Jive, Twist and Stomp (December 2010) is available from Fremantle Press.

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