Sunday, March 30, 2014

La De Das - Anthology-Rock 'n' Roll Decade

 Original line-up: BRYAN HARRIS (drums); TREVOR WILSON (bass); BRUCE HOWARD (organ/sax); PHILLIP KEY (lead vocals); KEVIN BORICH (lead guitar).
The band formed in New Zealand in 1965 and after reaching the top there (with their single, 'Hey Baby' which made number one), they left for Sydney two years later.
On their arrival in Australia they received little attention from their recording company who at first refused to let them record. As a result they fell into a rut working steadily, but uneventfully, in Melbourne and Sydney. Then early in 1968 they decided to buy new instruments and develop a new act. The change brought with it a renewed interest in the band and in March, 1969 they released their highly acclaimed Happy Prince album.
Two months later they left Australia to try their luck in England. Other, more renowned groups, had tried before them without success and the La De Das found the going just as tough. They returned in April, 1970 minus Trevor and his place was taken by RENO TEHEI (ex-Genesis and Compulsion). In the meantime their album had sold steadily during their absence, and later in the year Bryan left and he was replaced by KEITH BARBER.
More line-up changes occurred in January, 1971 when Bruce left to form a duo with Trevor, and Reno also moved out. The band added PETER ROBERTS and reformed as follows: PHIL KEYS (vocals and guitar); PETER ROBERTS (bass); KEITH BARBER (drums); and KEVIN BORICH (vocals and guitar).
They consolidated with the new format and released a new single, 'Sweet Girl'/'I Can't Find A Reason'. Then in November, '71 came the breakthrough they had been waiting for when they made the charts with 'Gonna See My Baby Tonight.' Another hit was achieved six months later with 'Morning Good Morning.'
But, just as they seemed destined to become the superstars they had tried so long to be, the band experienced another setback. In September, 72 Peter and Phil left to form the Band of Light. But not to be discouraged, the band took on RONNIE 'PEEL (ex-One Ton Gypsy and Thunderclap Norman) to play bass and worked as a trio.

The new three piece format created a new vigour, with Kevin having to work harder on guitar, and in November, '72 they released an exciting single called 'I'll Never Stop Loving You.' From there they settled into a hectic pattern of work and in July, 1973 they issued their notorious Rock'n'Roll Sandwich album.
The following year was their last together, but included a single, 'The Place' (May, '74), a tour with Gary Glitter (July, 74) and also a re-entry into the charts with Chuck Berry's old rocker 'Too Pooped to Pop.'
Kevin went on to form Kevin Borich Express while Ronnie recorded under the alias of Rockwell T. James as well as playing with John Paul Young's All Stars.

Teenage schoolboys have always dreamed of becoming rock and roll stars, but it's a fair bet that such a fantasy was more prevalent in 1964 than all the other years combined. Certainly it was for four Auckland lads who, midway through 1964, pooled their musical talents and aspirations to become the long-forgotten 'Mergers'. The Mergers became such hot property on the Auckland school / fotball club dance circuit that the occassional weekend work became a regular occupation and mid-week engagements began to roll in as well. The quartet soon decided their name was a little too quaint and intended chnaging it to something a little tougher. When Trevor Wilson's mum heard that they were about to become The Criminals, she reprimanded, "You might as well call yourselves the La De Das". What, with mums knowing best and all that, they took her suggestrion.
During all this fledgling activity, Phil was struggling throgh high school. Trevor (the yougest, 16) was working as a delivery boy, Kevin was laboring on his parent's orchard (and would cycle 20 miles to rehearsals) and Brett had just left school. Phil had not yet begun to sing, so Kevin and Trevor were handling all vocal duties.

In April 1965, the film 'Those magnificent Men In Their Flying Machines' opened in Auckland and TV producer Robert Handlin cooked up an idea for promoting it on TV. Having heard some impressive reports about a 'happening' young group around town, he caught them in a club one night and made an offer they couldn't possibly have refused.
Resplendent in black suits, white shirts, bow ties and bowler hats, the La De Das mimed the film's theme song in prime time on national network television - an ingnominous fate for proud blues purists! Handlin, who certainly owed them a favour after that episode, liked the group enough to record single with them in a vaguely adequate 2 track studio.

17 year old Kevin Borich was the forefront of the session. He wrote the ballad "Ever Since The Night" amd co-wrote (with Trevor) "Little Girl". Ironically this was to be his last recorded composition/s for five years. Kevin's recording experience actually predated his associates for many years. When 12 Years old, he had made a private recording for Astor with two your sisters who lived in a neighbouring poultry farm in Huapai, Judy (11) and Sue Donaldson (9) later became a popular Auckland recording group called The Chicks, around the same time the La De Das were chart topping (sue now records as Suzanne in England and also sings with Cat Stevens). Kevin's withdrawl from a focal position in the group, until he finally took control in 1973, is puzzling indeed and indicates just how strong was the leadership of Wilson and later, Key.
In 1965/6, New Zealand's local pop industry was enjoying a bouyant boom, new bands were forming each week, record companies were snapping up as many acts as they could find, the public was buying local hits and gigs were plentiful. The most popular acts were mass-appeal soloists like Mr. Lee Grant, Allison Durbin, Peter Posa, Sandy Edmonds, john Hore and Maria Dallas, but popgroups were also making great strides in the footsteps of national heroes Ray Columbus & The Invaders and Max merritt's meteors. They sprung up from all over (mostly) the North Island; the most notable being Peter Nelson and the Castaways, The Crescendos, The Underdogs, The Gremlins and Larry's Rebels to name but a few. Nightspots were also thriving, in Aukland one could rage to good young R & B bands at dives like the Oriental ballroom, 1480 Village, Galaxie and Monaco. In all, it was a vibrant healthy atmosphere for the develoment of good rock music.

The hottest beat club in Auckland in 1965 was 'The Platterack', run by wrestler cum footballer cum bouncer, Dave Henderson and partner, Fred McMahon. The pair were continually reminded by one or all of the La De das of the group's decided suitability for this hallowed venue, but were a little unsure of the musicalability of 4 idealistic kids. An opportunity finally came late in 1965 when Red McKelvie's band was unable to play a full night and the La De Das were given a try-out. they were reasonably well recieved and sparadic bookings continued.
By Christmas 1965, Phil had left school and the La De Das went fully professional. The Platterack, which they were now packing out almost every night, engaged them as resident group for the fine sum of twelve poundsa week and they gradually became known around Auckland as N.Z.'s Rolling Stones. A regular quiet admirer from the balcony was one Bruce Howard, a formally trained young pianist. It didn't take long to figure that, with the holiday season requiring up to eight hours playing a night and a keyboard being good for a lengthy solo every few songs, Bruce could become a valuable addition to the outfit. He was summarily invited to join and , with restrained fervour, accepted.

The excitment being generated from the PLatterack soon found its way to the attention of Eldred C.Stebbling, a wiley manager/record producer who actually owned his own studio. Through his Zodiac Records label, Stebbing had launched Ray Columbas & The Invaders and was ever on the lookout for another promising act. He was impressed enough to take on the La De Das and devote considerable attention to breaking them nationally.
In January 1966, Stebbing produced their first Zodiac single (The Blue Magoo's) How Is The Air Up There? The studio was under his house, "He had four single track Telefunken tape recorders patched together" is how Phil Key remenbers it. "There was hardly any privacy, the wife and kids would wander through and people would call by, but we got such a great sound it didn't matter."
When released in Feburary, "How Is The Air Up There?" was an instant smash, climbing to number four on the national local artist chart and establishing the group as a major entity. For the next two years, nobody in the country could rival them for popularity and record sales. Only Larry's Rebels came near but their teenybop status was never matched with high sales or chart action.

Phil Key again recalls, "The hits just inspired confidence in us.We became totally involved in getting dressed up and going out to gigs, the gigs and rehearsals were everything. Nothing worried us, we were so busy consuming what was happening around us. We were super aware, on top of every trend in music and clothes and language. We tried to be honest and sincere with our music, only playing and recording what we liked. The guys in the good record bars dug what we were doing and they got in all the latest English R&B records for us. We were listening to Zoot Money, John Mayall, Manfred mann, The Animals, all that sort of stuff, and trying to create that sound. We were different from groups like the Underdogs who just played 12 bar blues all night, we tried to be a lot more imaginative about what we did".

Despite being featured regularly on the C'mon T.V pop show, the La De Das generally lacked a strong P.R machine and more press ink seemed to be devoted to The Gremlins and Larry's Rebels. Although Stebbing was an effective manager, his flair was more toward production than promotion.
The second Zodiac single "Don't You Stand In My Way" a Wilson/Howard original almost stiffed butv the third finally broke them on the major national chart. "On Top Of The World", a frantic John Mayall song issued at the end of 1966, hit number three and migled with the Hollies, Gene Pitney and Herman's Hermits.
Life for the La De Das was, by this point, a living fairy tale. "We had no idea what we were earning on tour, we just spent what we wanted and ploughed the rest back into the band. We had our way with girls, bought more clothes and equipment and just enjoyed being stars" admits an almost embarrassed Phil. Most of their popularity however, was Auckland based, they were yet to become a pnenomena in the South and other areas of the North Island. Brett Neilson at the time, told a straight women's magazine , "It's good in Auckland now but when we go away to places like Whangerei, it's like starting all over again." Shy Brett was, along with Kevin, attracting the bulk of adoriing fans and pleading letters by this point, with Phil a close third. Trevor and Bruce were the musical leaders - determining with Phil, the direction / repertoire of the band. Borich, as best as he remembers, just played what he was told and went along for the ride. His musical dexterity was still in apprentice stage.

The choice of a follow-up to their first big hit was crucial and finally came from legendary blind pianist Claude Papesh (one of Johnny Devlin's original Devils). In a club one night, he played them a soulful version of Bruce Channel's classic "Hey Baby" and the group fell in love with it. In March 1967 the La De Das version was released and five weeks later it knocked Penny Lane out of number one on the national charts. Not only that, it was also the very first local group recording to hit number one. Eldred Stebbing promptly sent off a telegram to Brian Epstein informing him of the event (he must have been pleased!)

The next step was quite inevitable. Kevin, Bruce, Trevor and Phil, who were all living a consumate bachelors existence together in one Auckland house, knew that they had conquered New Zealand, for all that it was worth, and that if they were to grow musically they would have to journey to more demanding pastures. England and America were worlds in another galaxy but Australia was comfortably in reach, so it was on this barren land that they set their ambitious sights. Brett was not quite so enthusiastic; although he was a fine drummer ("Looking back now, he was very together, we didn't have to tell him a thing" says Kev) he was almost involuntarily caught up in the pop-star game and, being basically shy and conservative, began to feel frightened by its threat to his domestic security.

The La De Das impeding departure was announced with a great flourish by Stebbing; "Shortly the La De das will branch into a new concept of pop music, concentrating on soul music and giving their own interpretations of Negro spirituals. because of this we want to make some appearances on Australian television shows. We eventually hope to get to America" he told the daily press. True to their word, in May 1967, with "Hey Baby" still topping the charts and another hot single in the can ("All Purpose Low"), the group flew to Sydney to begin their great rock 'n' roll adventure.

Found of Cannapower

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