Tuesday, February 19, 2019

The Rajahs ‎– Beatlemania 7" (1964) & The Festival File Volume Fourteeen (1964-66)

Dig Richards and the R'Jays / The Rajahs

Dig Richards and the R'Jays played an important role in the early days of Australian rock and went on to support a huge range of Australian acts during the early sixties. Originally called the Red Jeans, the band started out as a loose collection of hopefuls around teenage guitarist Jon Hayton. Joined by good looking singer and front man Digby 'Dig' Richards, - who they recruited when they heard him singing as he worked at Waltons Department store - they changed their name to Dig Richards and the R'Jays, expecting their red jeans to go out of fashion).

Their first gig was at a dance at Castlecrag in August '58, featuring a line-up of Dig Richards (vocals), Barry Lewis (drums), Kenny Konyard (rhythm guitar), Peter Morris (sax), Jon Hayton (lead guitar) and Roger Paulfreman (tea chest bass). The line-up changed frequently, mostly because the band was unable to hang onto sax players for long. They were difficult years for young bands, with US equipment hard to get, so when Peter Baker replaced Paulfreman on bass, he had to make his own - which he called the 'Off-fender'.
Despite the problems, the band proved a hit, and were signed to Festival soon after. Their first single 'I Wanna Love You', which also proved to be their most successful, peaked at #8 on the charts in Sydney. It was enough to establish them, and no doubt with the help of Richards' good looks and natural charm, both Richards and the band landed a two-year stint with their own TV show 'Teen Time' on Channel 7. They were also the first band to play live on Brian Henderson's 'Bandstand' and became regulars on Johnny O'Keefe's 'Six O'Clock Rock'.
Increasing success led to increasing pressures on the band and shortly after one too many a prank, it was decided that drummer Barry Lewis had to be replaced. Leon Isackson, ex- Ray Hoff and the Offbeats, was persuaded to sign up, and stayed until the end. At about the same time, in late '59, Dig Richards was injured in a car accident on Sydney Harbour Bridge and put out of action for a couple of months. The band soldiered on, bringing in Lonnie Lee as a temporary replacement for Richards, and working through a succession of sax players, including Brian Smith, Bob Bertles and Rob Patton.
The R'Jays also landed the job as Festival Records' 'house band', supporting a wide range of acts over the following years, including Noeleen Batley, Jimmy Little, the Delltones, and Johnny O'Keefe. Conditions were primitive by today's standards and drums notoriously difficult to record - Isackson routinely had to play outside the studio to avoid overpowering the rest of the band.
Despite all this, their own records achieved only modest success, and it was their reputation as a live band that kept them in work, with perhaps the highlight of their career coming in 1961, when they played to an audience of 15,000 at the Myer Music Bowl in Melbourne. It was also a time of change in the industry generally, with successive music styles making life difficult for the original rock'n'roll acts. Late in 1961 the EFS agency informed them they had booked good gigs in Adelaide and Canberra - however Adelaide wanted Dig by himself and Canberra wanted the R'Jays alone. They accepted and it was the beginning of the end for the partnership. Dig Richards went on to a successful solo career while the band continued on its hard-working path. The music scene was changing around them, and although they adapted and survived, they never achieved the same prominence.
1964 saw more changes, with Nosmo King joining on guitar and the band undergoing a final change of name, to the Rajahs, which was suggested by Johnny O'Keefe who used them as his backing band (complete with turbans). Their last hurrah came in the form of being promoted as 'Australia's Beatles' having released a six track EP of Beatles covers which was then promoted heavily by the Sunday Mirror. Their last notable actions were to tour Vietnam, becoming the first band to make the trip. Together with Lucky Starr, they were hired by the US Navy to entertain US troops in 1965. While there they managed to perform a number of free concerts for Australian troops. They returned in 1966 with Sheryl Blake. Having survived a number of changes in the music world, they found on their return that the world was changing yet again, and the band called it a day


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