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Call the noise police

March 24, 2014

Frank Gibson Sr ACHere are a few more introductions to profiles I’ve written for the AudioCulture on-line encyclopaedia (or “noisy library”) of New Zealand music. For the complete profile, click on the names in bold, red type.

  • If anyone deserves the saying “Give the drummer some” it was Frank Gibson Sr (left). He was surely the most influential drummer in Auckland after the Second World War. In the 1940s he played for the city’s top big bands; in 1956 he formed the country’s first professional rock and roll band; and in 1978 he opened the specialist instrument store Drum City in Balmoral, which quickly became a Mecca for anyone intent on keeping the beat.

The phenomenal success of the Howard Morrison Quartet would have been unthinkable without the contribution of Gerry Merito. He was a natural showman, with a sharp ear for the perfect harmony, a guitar strum that was their only accompaniment in their early days, was quick-witted with original jokes, and had an easy style that made everyone comfortable.

  • In the recording scene of the early 1960s, copying overseas hits was often encouraged at the expense of originality. Many local singles were like audition tapes for Stars in Their Eyes. While Toni Williams did emulate the swinging croon of Sam Cooke with aplomb, there is far more to the Rarotongan-born singer than being a covers artist.
  • When she was just 19, Auckland singer Esme Stephens performed in her home town with one of the greatest bands of the jazz era. In 1943, as part of the “American invasion” of US troops on their way to fight in the Pacific, swing star Artie Shaw visited in New Zealand with his US Navy band.
  • Versatility was Kahu Pineaha’s calling card. In the late 1950s, when Auckland’s cabaret scene began to hum, he was constantly in demand for solo shows, which soon revealed him to be as multi-talented as Sammy Davis Jr. A comedian as well as an accomplished singer and instrumentalist, in 1960 Pineaha recorded his only album – I Hear Music – then left for Las Vegas, by way of Australia.
  • Like the Keil Isles, Red Hewitt and his Buccaneers were playing rock and roll in Auckland clubs and dance halls in the mid-1950s, before Johnny Devlin arrived in town. But their status as pioneers has been eclipsed. Perhaps it is because Devlin recorded ‘Lawdy Miss Clawdy’ a year before Hewitt made his vinyl debut, or that it was two months after Devlin’s barnstorming 1959 tour that he was first seen nationwide, as the support act for Johnny O’Keefe, the Australian Elvis.
  • Most New Zealand musicians can only dream about having a career like Mavis Rivers, whose extraordinary jazz voice took her from Western Samoa – via the nightclubs of late-1940s Auckland – to Hollywood and Las Vegas.
  • Julian Lee was nicknamed "Golden Ears" for good reason. Blind since birth, he had acute listening skills that helped him become an internationally acclaimed multi-instrumentalist, producer and arranger. His ears didn’t just help him spot a flat note coming from the back row of the brass section, they also helped him recognise people saying hello in the street, decades after they had last met.
  • New Zealand’s first rock and roll guitar hero began as a Hawaiian-style steel guitarist. Bob Paris was just 11 years old when he started learning the steel guitar while growing up in the New Lynn area of West Auckland.
  • Bill and Boyd were a teenage duo from Naenae who modelled themselves on the Everly Brothers. Bill Boyd Robertson and Bill Cate met at Naenae College in 1957, when the district was experiencing a “ukulele wave”. They began singing together, obsessively practising their harmonies until the early hours of the morning.
  • The Tumbleweeds were hugely influential on country music in New Zealand, yet the group rarely ventured beyond its home base, Dunedin. Their 1949 debut on Tanza, ‘Maple on the Hill’ – originally a “hillbilly” hit for USA act Zeke and Wade – became a standard for country performers, especially in the South Island. For decades, at amateur concerts and talent shows, it was almost compulsory for young artists to perform a rendition of the song.
  • An evening with a Māori showband was a mix of musical comedy and cabaret, tourist variety act, vaudeville show and rock and roll dance. The showbands could perform soulful ballads then a satiric skit, make fun of their Māori culture while also educating the audience, while always displaying dazzling virtuosity yet looking spontaneous. The Maori Hi-Five is considered the first true Māori showband: the group exemplified the genre.
  • The person who would achieve the greatest success from the early Maori showbands was the vocalist Rim D. Paul, who grew up in Ohinemutu, on the lakefront near Rotorua. Blessed with a big, velvety, soulful voice, Rimini Dennis Paul was the son of Tai Paul, the legendary leader of 1950s Rotorua dance band Tai Paul and the Pohutu Boys.
  • Ricky May was a vocal virtuoso, a jazz-pop singer who electrified Auckland nightclub audiences while still in his teens, and became a star in Australia almost immediately after moving there in 1962. He was born in Auckland in 1943 and was destined to be a musician. His Māori mother was a pianist, who died when he was just eleven. His father Keith “Kotcy” May was a saxophonist and the leader of his own dance band, the Rhythm Rascals.
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