Thursday, April 09, 2015

Ray Hoff & The Off Beats

Australian rock'n'roll star of the late 1950s and throughout the beat and soul-funk era of the 1960s and beyond was a name that commanded respect in Australian musical circles around Australia.

Like Max Merritt & the Meteors, his formidable reputation as a song stylist and his energetic sidemen always commanded enthusiastic audiences.

He was repected and enjoyed by his peers and indeed some lesser talents by the lack of a signature hit or a solid body of recorded work, Hoff's fame, as it was, centred around his gruff, powerful, soul voice. 

In 1958 he fell in with two seminal Australian rock'n'rollers, drummer Leon Isackson and flamboyant pianist Jimmy Taylor, who saw him take the stage for an impromptu warble with Johnny O'Keefe's Dee Jays and were impressed with his voice.

A few band competitions later - with Isackson enticed away by Dig Richards & the RJ's but with Taylor still pounding his keys maniacally - Hoff was on Six O'Clock Rock and he and his Offbeats were setting Sydney alight with rock'n'roll as part of a pioneering elite headed by O'Keefe, Col Joye & the Joy Boys, etc.

Hoff moved to Adelaide, then Perth, where he was warmly embraced. But it was not until he returned to Sydney in 1965 and put together a new line-up of the Offbeats.

He made his way back to Perth, where he assembled an eight-piece horn-dominated R&B powerhouse version of the Offbeats, which was signed by Clarion Records for an album - the only LP he would record until the last decade of his life.

Hoff was one of the most active Australian performers in Vietnam during the war, although due to his soul leanings, he was heard far more by American than Australian servicemen.

He was diagnosed with cancer, although he performed with guitarist Phil Emmanuel at the Tamworth Country Music Festival in 2008. 

Two strokes, the most recent and severe last November, erased his voice.

Sadly Ray passed away peacefully on March 19, 2010, aged 67 years.

The below is some interesting reading by former member Graham Nicol. A must read.Email

Ray was Mr Cool right from the first time you saw him. I was still in school in 1960 and starting to go along on weekends to Colin Nichol’s Coca-Cola hop at the Embassy Ballroom. Bill Blaine & the Dynamics were fine and all we knew back then. This particular day we had a spot performance by a new band in town just in from Sydney (civilization) – Ray Hoff & the Offbeats. What a knockout! These guys actually sounded like the records we heard on the Top Forty! They announced that they were playing regularly on Friday nights at the Fiesta in Scarborough, so I just had to get there to hear them again.

When you lived in South Perth and didn’t drive in 1960, a trip to Scarborough wasn’t something you undertook lightly. It didn’t seem to be much closer than Bunbury. Anyway, my mate and I managed it on public transport and made our entrance into the Fiesta, a suburban picture theatre converted into a hall, complete with red lighting (the hall’s still there, though I dunno about the lighting). Those lights were so dim it made the challenge of asking a girl for a dance even more daunting for us bashful types – you could barely make out that you were talking to a girl, let alone whether she was attractive!

The Offbeats’ line-up had changed considerably during that short time, probably due to the extreme difficulty of making money out of music in the early ‘60’s (has it changed?). There’s a story that the band stole chickens out of local backyards to eat! I remember that the original line-up included Terry Walker on lead guitar, Mike Downes (guitar & harmonica), Ken Kramer (bass) and Morey Pearson (drums). Attrition (and deprivation?) had reduced the Offbeats to a 3 piece, with Terry and Mike gone and replaced by Alan Ingram (ex Johnny Devlin’s Twisters!). 

Doing a spot on that night was, I guess, the inaugural Nomads, which were then just Colin Risby and John Eddy. They did two numbers; Ram-bunk-shush and Lullaby of the Leaves – both sides of a 45 by the Ventures. I reckon those guys – the Offbeats and the Nomads – were responsible for me (and probably a lot of other then wannabes) getting into music.

Colin and John joined up with Ray later as the next incarnation of Ray Hoff and the Offbeats. They had a regular gig at the Fremantle Police Boys Club, and in my opinion were the best band in Perth – just listen to the recording of Chuck Berry’s ‘Little Queenie’! Colin later went on to join Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs – a truly great guitarist whose life was tragically wasted and cut short by Huntington’s chorea.

Most of the musos that came and went from the Offbeats over the years moved on to contribute their talents to other bands, taking a little bit of Ray Hoff & the Offbeats with them. For me, it was fulfilling to become a member of that band and record ‘Bama lama, bama loo!’ and ‘Let’s Go, Lets Go, Lets Go!’ with Ray at Martin Clark’s studio.

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