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Transcript of Podcast
00.00 – 00.22
Wayne: g’day and welcome to Wayne’s Wonder World this podcast will mainly be about musicians entertainers and actors but from time to time I’ll also have other guests who I find interesting hope you enjoy the podcast please head to WaynesWonderWorld.com and please feel free to follow me on my Facebook page which is Wayne’s Wonder World.
00.22 – 00.46
Wayne: Okay Johnny Chester welcome to Wayne’s Wonder World
Johnny: Thank you very much Wayne it’s a pleasure to be here.
Wayne: fantastic John, John who are you?
Johnny: I’m a singer/songwriter based in Melbourne Australia and I have been writing recording now since 1961.
00.46 – 04.48
Wayne: so John can you tell me about your childhood when and where were you born?CLICK HERE READ MORE HERE
Johhny: I was born in the end of the 26 boxing day in 1941 Mum told me it was a hundred and sixty degrees that day. I gotta say I don’t remember a lot about it. I lived for the first part of my life in a suburb in Melbourne called North Fitzroy and to the best of my knowledge it was a really happy time growing up in the suburbs of Melbourne. My dad was a brake mechanic car brakes that is and it was always destined that I would become a break mechanic when I left school which I did in the end of 1955. I started off as a brake mechanic at 14 years of age and then lost interest probably a couple of years later. By 1959 I had discovered music and started to learn the guitar I emphasize learn because I consider myself a guitar owner not a guitar player. This eventually led to me starting a band. We sort of accidently met each other a bunch of like-minded young people only 17. I think the original band, the youngest member was 14 he played saxophone. And the oldest was 18 and that was his brother who was Albert Stackpal he was a piano player and a very fine dancer which we didn’t discover until a couple of years later. But the band and I started a dance in this small local church hill which I guess being in the right place at the right time developed into quite a successful dance. So much so that we had to move it to the local town hall during 1960 we tried a couple of Saturday nights and they worked okay but we couldn’t get a regular gig there until later in the year. At that point I decided that we needed to advertise a bit more because the town hall was quite a bit bigger than the church hall and we needed to advertise a little more extensively. It was at that point that I met Stan Rofe who was at that time the most popular disk jockey on Melbourne radio. And Stan showed a great deal of interest in the fact that this bunch of young blokes were running a dance and we were still very much a local band. My mother sold the tickets and my dad was on the door. Another mate of mine was he was a bit older then me and a bit bigger he was the bouncer. It was so much that sort of dance when Stan came on board and starting playing it on his radio show. It got a little louder and because all of a sudden we were advertising to the whole of Melbourne not just the suburb we lived in. SO the dance became extremely large so much so that we actually had to hire professional bouncers. Reasonably professional. This of course led to Stan following in 1961 introducing me to Ron Tudor. At W&G records. We auditioned for Ron and the outcome of that was we recorded my first single. Which was the Hokey Pokey.
*Plays Hokey Pokey*
05.03 – 6.14
Johnny: The Hokey Pokey was actually my wife’s idea because my wife then she had heard an instrumental version of it. Because we were mostly doing dances in those days. She thought it was an amazingly good rock and roll song. So that is the way we did it. In 1961 I had an opportunity to work for the first time to work with an international actor when Connie Francis came to Melbourne. So I was asked to be one of the support acts for Connie Francis along with Cole Joy and the Joy Boys. And in fact it was the Joy Boys that backed me on that particular show. On the show Bobby Vee, Johnny Burnett two well known artists from America at that time who were also on the Bill. I got to know Bobby quite well as bumped into each other several times over the years.
6.14 – 8.03
Wayne: What was the Rock n Roll scene like at the time?
Johnny: The Rock n Roll scene in Melbourne at that time was amazing. Mostly bands that later on that year a Melbourne promoter decided to bring Roy Orbison over to Australia. The thunderbirds who were by this time my backing band and also a recording act in their own right were selected to back Roy at the concert and I was asked to once again be the supporting act for Roy. This led to the same promoter bring out the Everly brothers later in the year and the same thing happened. It was quite an interesting time because up until then I had only plated mainly dances and all of a sudden we were playing these much bigger rooms like festival halls the stadium in Sydney which was I think eleven thousand seats. Surprisingly as it was Roy Orbison’s first trip and he wasn’t particularly good at promoting we had I think about 300 people which was pretty disappointing but of course Roy killed it anyway because I don’t think he played to an empty seat the dozen or so times he came back to Australia after that. It was a remarkable thing to be apart of to watch this man who said very little and just relied purely and simply on his wonderful voice and he drained them every night.
8.03 – 10.35
Wayne: Wow can you tell me about the next single you released?
Johnny: My next single was a once again and American song called Can-Can Ladies and by this stage I was getting a lot more confident in my stage presentation. I knew a bit more about recording not a lot but a bit more. Still couldn’t play the guitar really well in fact hardly at all but in fact Can-Can Ladies was a song that once again had a fast tempo and it had a bit in it that said “kick to the left, kick to the right” which I did of course when I was doing it on stage. It was all part of the presentation. One time I was doing a show in this little town called Kyabram Victoria which had a town hall or a local hall which would only be opened certain times of the year because being small time and being reliant on fruit picking because that’s what the main crop grew up around that way. They used to open the hall up and run a dance when the fruit pickers were in town because they didn’t always clean the hall particularly well so there were certainly the time I went there a fairly thick coating of dust on the stage. And the first time I did that particular dance Can-Can Ladies was quite popular and I did the kick to the left kick to the right and my foot slipped out from under me and I went up into the air and landed flat on my back in the middle of the room in the middle of the stage band covered the band in a cloud of dust. And which must have looked fairly spectacular because the next time I came back the next year I had a chap come up to me after the show and say “What you didn’t do that bit?” I said “What bit?” he said “Kick to the left” He thought it was a part of the act. I nearly killed myself. It’s funny when people accept.
10.35 – 18.57
Wayne: John can you tell me the backstory about how you performed with the Beatles?
Johnny: I recorded pretty well the first two or three years. I recorded rock n roll song and they were full on rock n roll, rhythm and blues and all sorts of stuff. Then in 1963 I was invited to be a part of the Slim Dusty 10 show and of course Slim was and still is the most successful recording artist Australia’s ever had. For those who don’t know his name because we are talking internationally now. He was a country singer who would Laura Bush Balladeer I think he preferred to be called. And so all of a sudden I was invited to be a part of his show which he used to do with the Brisbane exhibition which is like the agricultural show. Each year in his tent he used to have a big marquee. I was invited to be a part of it. This is quite interesting for me because it was the first audience I had ever really had who listened because up until them I had basically only performed to teenagers and they showed their appreciation by screaming their heads off if they liked you and screaming their heads off it they didn’t. I didn’t really know, it was noising. Here we were in the show and the people were standing around and this is a true bushed type show you know everything here we had a hypnotist, we had a sharpshooter and Slim and Joy his wife of course plus there was a band and I was sort of the token rock n roll singer. As luck would have it after the first days and I think the second day I developed a really sore throat my voice dropped about two octaves I couldn’t sing rock and roll. The only song that was popular at the time that I could handle that I and the band could learn quickly was a song called “Wolverton Mountain” and that is sort of a D C and that was the way I was singing it. Anyway people were listening and they seemed to be appreciating the songs because it certainly wasn’t me. It was quite intriguing to me that they actually listened then when you finished they clapped you and it was quite amazing to me to have this experience. So on the way home I wrote my very first country song called “The Old Copper Kettle” and I kind of sang it in the same way I sang Wolverton Mountain. It was my first country song and it made me think this is what I would really like to do and as it turned out Frank Foster who was Slam’s manager, business partner at that stage said to me that “Slim and I are going to partner as business partners I would like you to headline the show” and I thought at the time I thought he wants me to be a country singer he really must have been impressed in hindsight he was thinking that he did that type of show was not going to be successful anymore that he should get into rock n roll. So I think my interpretation of the country song was the fact that he thought I need to have a rock n roll singer to headline for the show. But I didn’t realise that I thought he wanted me to become a country singer and of course Liz and I had been together for four years I think yeah it was four years always trying to get married so I said we will get married love we will buy and caravan and we will tour this and she was quite happy to do that and everything was going good and then the following year I was offered to tour with the Beatles. That sort of threw my plans to become a country singer very much on the back burner because even though I did initially knock back the offer because I wanted to take my band and they wanted to use a band they had already selected. I didn’t want to do that. The promoter fortunately was a Melbourne promoter and he said look “We’ve already booked the other band go and talk to your blokes because this is a wonderful opportunity for you.” So I went back to the band and Liz, Mum and Dad and everybody called me an idiot. They said what are you talking about you can’t knock this one back you gotta go and do and the rest is history as they say cos I did do it. They did a tour of Australia and New Zealand and while we were in Sydney with the tour I met up with the ABC and ended up getting my first national television show as a host of Teen Scene it was called. Anybody that’s grown up during that time and saw it they’ll realise it was basically just another version of 6 o’clock rock which had been made very popular by Johnny O’Keefe years earlier. I’ve got some of the audio from the Beatles I did do an album or CD what I’ve been doing over the years is I have been buying back all my old recordings so I had the rights to almost everything I have recorded now and I did an album probably ten years ago a double CD of the rock n roll years. All my stuff by the way is up on iTunes and Spotify and Amazon all those download things. But I don’t know if the Beatles stuff is out there because that was actually owned by Channel Nine because they filmed the Beatles concert in Melbourne so they actually own the audio of that. I was able to do it on CD at the time it was in the hands of the sound and film archives and they were the ones that actually produced the album so I was able to release it there but I don’t own the right to that. Alan Field was the compere of that tour. He was an English comedian. So it’s got his intro Ladies and Gentlemen or whatever he said then he introduced me and it’s wall to wall screaming. Similar to what I said before because it was that sort of show even the lolly boys would get their round of applause it was quite ridiculous the way the whole thing evolved and to be a part of this amazing concert and this happened every night.
18.57 – 22.51
Wayne: Wow, you worked at a TV production company and radio station for UZ can you talk about how you got into working at these places?
Johnny: Teen Scene the show that the ABC put together that I hosted 64 65 when it finished I was at a bit of a loose end I had really planned and I was always one for planning. But I was looking ahead and unfortunately because so many of these things happen so quickly because at that point I had been performing for five years I simply hadn’t planned beyond Teen Scene and when it crumbled I fumbled the ball a little and I didn’t know what I was going to do. I went back to music of course and I’d always enjoyed radio and so I decided I would go back to radio school which I had been doing on and off when time permitted. So I went back to radio and was also playing drums in a band because I had started as a drummer in primary school in the school band. So I got a drum kit and put a band together. I was doing that in the night time and going to radio school during the day time. Then I was offered a job with a television production company. They wanted me to set up a booking agency for their teenage cliental that was dancers and things like that in Melbourne. So I started doing that and then out of that the GM of the company said “We are going to do a television series we’ve sold the idea to 0/10 network called commotion it’ll be on five nights a week on the 0/10 network and I’d like you to be associate producer” So all of a sudden I was doing something that was equally enjoyable but it was very long hours and totally time consuming because we used to work six days a week. Rehearsal at night time as well there wasn’t much time to do anything else but it meant that I just had to leave the music side of it because I just didn’t have time. After the first series of commotion it was just not what I wanted to do because of the enormous commitment I had to it. But what had happened is I had been keeping in contact with some friends at 3UZ the Melbourne radio station because I would go up there commotion was basically a mime show where young people would mime the popular records of the day on television so I would be up at 3UZ a couple of times a week recording songs for the kids to mime to. I established a fairly good repour with everybody up there and when I finished with commotion I was up there at 3UZ I had gone back to radio school and was still playing with the band in the night time. And I was up at 3UZ just on my visit one day when the program director saw me and said “What are up to these days?” and I sort of told him radio school and he said “You should be in radio” and I said “Yeah you know I’ve always had an interest in it.” And he said “Our midnight dawn announcer is going away for a few weeks would you mind coming in while he’s away?” I said that would be wonderful. So that’s what we did and as luck would have it after three weeks or during his holiday he announcer I speak of took ill and so after they asked me to hang on until he got better. He was away for three months. And so stayed working three nights a week midnight to dawn. As it happened I went up there one day to 3UZ after he had returned to see everybody I went in to see the program director and we were just chatting about things. He asked what I had been doing and I said I had been auditioning for a couple of country radio stations but I haven’t heard back. I said I don’t know what I should do next. He said “How bout you don’t do anything, the midnight to dawn announcer has just resigned and we would like you to staff here” So that’s how I got my first job. My first you know was the number one station probably in Australia at that time. I ended up being on salary there for probably ten years even though the last few years I didn’t even go in there I was just on my retainer. It was really probably professionally the most enjoyable time of my life. It was a wonderful station to work for 3UZ I was very very lucky to be a part of it.
22.51 – 28.17
Wayne: In 1961 you got to perform for the troops in Vietnam what was this like?
Johnny: I had the opportunity to go to Vietnam to entertain the troops in 68. I went to the boss and said “I don’t want to take my annual leave is it possible that I could get leave of absence for three weeks while we go over and do this.” And he said oh Lewis Bennett the boss was just a great man and we got to know each other quite well by then. You know we would talk about our families and by 68 we had two kids Liz and I two daughters and he said no don’t worry about that he said you just go and do it that’s a wonderful opportunity and it will be a wonderful opportunity for the radio station that you are doing that we’ll just send your wages to Liz so she won’t lose out on it and yeah off you go. It was a great opportunity to do it and of course we really got so little information about what was happening over there and the situation and I’m only talking about what I was aware of. You know these young blokes over there they would places like Nui Dat had thousands of young servicemen and women literally thousands of photos of that and from that time. And they were just so thrilled to see someone from home. Particularly the females that came from home and we had two beautiful young ladies on the show with us and it was a typically sort of show over there. We had two young ladies Yvonne Barrett and Pat Carroll who were fine singers and dancers and very pretty girls I guess they were both around I don’t know twenty years of age or something like that. We had the band Jigsaw that we had been working together a little bit up to that point. A comedian Jack Derry and that was sort of the show. They used to have Yvonne or Pat to close the show and I would be put on between the two of them to perform and I would say that the soldiers well you know g’day blokes good to be here and you either get me for 15 minutes or you go out and have a cold shower this was right after Yvonne or Pat had been on. You can imagine because these were only young men too of course. You see a very pretty girl leaping around on the stage stopping you would be a bit unkind but they would just so thrilled to see someone from home it was a wonderful experience.
28.17 – 31.39
Wayne: In 1969 you signed with record label June Productions.
Johnny: When I left W&G in the mid 60’s, Ron Tudor left not long after, went to another record company for a while and then in 1969 decided to start his own production of June Productions which eventually led to him starting the Fable Label. Which became a huge success because Ron was one of the, he’s still alive I might add he is 95 next month and we still keep in touch. But he started Fable and he gave me my second record contract. One of the first things we recorded was “Highway Thirty-One” which was a song I had written when I was doing a show with Jigsaw in a little town a hundred kays out of Melbourne called Seymour. As I was driving up the Hume Highway which is the main road between Melbourne and Sydney there were these thirty one signs dotted along the road and you can’t see them in the headlights by the time I had gotten up to Seymour I had written this song. It was buzzing around in my head. So I was sitting around the dance hall and I think I had a paper bag I don’t think I had a pad or anything and I scribbled out the lyrics or at least the basis of the lyrics and while I was writing them out the melody was coming to my mind. Then did the show and went back to 3UZ because I was still doing mid dawn. In the morning I would take out the tape recorder and record the melody because I didn’t have a guitar or anything with me. I found that I remembered it and thought that was a good sign. If I can go and do a while gig and should be able to remember this melody it’s got something going for it I thought. So I took it into Ron and said what do you think and he was always very trusting he would let you have crack if he thought it was good enough. And So Johnny Walker did a wonderful arrangement of it with some of the best studio musicians in Australia at the time. And so Highway “Thirty-One” came out that year and got a bit of attention on radio. When I was in Nashville the last time I recorded it again with Brain Fisher who was a wonderful producer and once again was another bunch of great musicians. We brought that out again and it gained more attention this time than the first time round.
31.39 – 37.24
Wayne: In 1971 you released a cover of A Shame and Scandal in the Family we are going to play a snippet of this and afterwards we will get you to talk about this song.
Johnny: in that in between time before I joined 3UZ and after I finished commotion I worked for a short time for a small record label I was helping a chap he’s trying to get it established I was involved in sort of a casual way. I wasn’t on salary or anything but I was helping him in a few ways. One day he says to me I’ve got this song a 45 of I don’t know where he really got it from. He said I should do this. This was 1965 I guess something like that. He gave me the song and said “You should do this.” I listened to it and that’s very very catchy so I took it up to UZ to a couple of my mates. This was before I started working there, played it to them. They said “Oooh don’t think we could play that.” And as I said this 1966 so I took it home put it in a drawer and forgot all about it basically until working with Jigsaw from 1969 when we started working together on a fairly permanent basis. We were doing hotels, pubs and clubs and things. So I pulled the song out at rehearsals and said this should be some fun to do at the pubs. So we started doing it. It used to go over like an absolute rocket we used to do it six times in a night because people thought it was really catchy and it was a little risqué but hardly rude. So we were doing it on stage and getting great reaction and then when doing a session for Jigsaw one night we finished all that we wanted to do for then and the engineer said you got a half an hour anything else you wanted to do so we did the basic track for Shame and Scandal we had been playing it so much that we only took one take. We just put the track down didn’t do the vocal then and came back a couple weeks later with a slab of beer and giggled our way through the vocal. Then stuck it on an album was only going to be an album track, we did a Johnny Chester and Jigsaw album for Ron Tudor. So the last track on the album.
Wayne: You performed Shame and Scandal on TV and the fans went wild for it.
Johnny: I was invited to do a television show on the Saturday night TV show in Melbourne called the Penthouse Club. It was going to be a big night because Johnny Famechon was a real world champion featherweight boxer I think he was. He was going to be a special guest on the show so there was a lot of attention and I was invited to do a song. Because of the fact they were doing it in a boxing ring because he was going to do a demonstration like a spar with one the co-hosts of the show. It was a whole pretty hard thing but there was a huge audience for it and they were looking for me to do a song. I said I got this song it only goes for 2 minutes and I can mime it because that means the band doesn’t have to get arrangements done and all this stuff. All of this appealed to them, it didn’t cost much money which was another good thing I guess. I did Shame and Scandal on it and nobody had ever heard before other than our pub crowds but according to channel 7 just about wiped out the switch board because all these people starting ringing up asking what it was and where could they get this song. Of course I was on UZ at the time and they knew where I was. The phone was ringing hot at 3UZ and I rang Ron Tudor and said I think we need to get this out as a single mate. Tude was wonderful he said just right I think we had it to radio in two days we got onto the factory and said I am sending a tape over I need you to make me a record. I think it was number one in the states and it was number one in about three weeks. It was all kind of accidental.
37.24 – 41.00
Wayne: In 1972 you released a cover called Midnight Bus we are going to play a snippet of this and then afterwards we’ll get you to talk about it.
Johnny: Back in 1961 I had three singles out that year. The third of which was a song called “Shaking All Over” it was a pretty typical British rock n roll song a couple before had been from America. But shaking all over had been a hit in England for Johnny Kidd and the Pirates a band that had a short life span so I was like cool. But it did alright for me and I was looking for something to follow it up and I was out at a dance. Not playing just hearing some friends playing. A young lady named Betty McQuaid was on the bill Bet did this song of “Midnight Bus” and I thought what a great song I really loved it and the way they were doing it. I thought that would be perfect to follow up “Shaking All Over” that was stuck in the back of my head all night. I was up at 3KZ the radio station that Stan Rofe I mentioned worked for. This was the following week when Betty came in all excited I said “What happened?” she said “I got a contract with Astor Records! I’m going to be recording my fist single.” I said “That’s mighty Bet!” Great lady, she’s passed on, but she was a great lady a really good rock n roll singer. I said “That’s great good on you and well done. What are you going to do?” She said “I’m going to do Midnight Bus!” and I went oh of course I was thrilled for her but disappointed by the same token because I thought it was a perfect song to follow up “Shaking All Over” so I waited eleven years and then I did it. So that was how it all came about it was sort of in my mind. Had loved it for all that time and Betty, she had a top shelf record in Melbourne didn’t do much in other states like many Melbourne records in those days. Get a lot of airplay in Melbourne but not in other states. Betty was a victim of that. She and I planned, being friends a long time, she wasn’t dirty on me for doing it or anything. I still I reckon her version was better anyway. But that’s how it came about. You hear songs, and I still do this, I have a reasonably large collection of song that I have found over the years I put aside just in case one day in fact I have got one I just finished that I found while I was working at 3UZ it has never been a hit but I always believed it could be.
41.00 – 50.56
Wayne: In 1973 you released the world greatest mum we are going to play a snippet of this and afterwards we are going to get you to talk about this song.
Johnny: The mum song came about once again while I was working at 3UZ. By 1973 I was no longer permanently on air I was working sort of internally in the program department. I was also doing quite a lot of production work and promotion work. Which was terrific because it gave me a chance, I was sort of working 9 to 5 Monday to Friday so I had the nights to play with Jigsaw. I was still recording with John Tudor. One summer it was the summer of 72 73 where we were doing the summertime beach promotion and the boss at 3UZ had bought for the station an old Sydney double decker bus and he came up with this promotional idea and sold the idea to Coke Cola. What they did was take the roof off the bus and put a canopy that could fold up or down. So it was like stage on the roof of the double decker bus with a canopy on top. Painted it up and sold the whole idea to Coke Cola for their Fanta soft drink. So it was the 3UZ fun bus for Fanta. They had done it the year before with a Holden panel van which worked reasonably well but the double decker bus was something very special. I had to learn how to drive it which is a skill not many people know I have, not all that handy because you don’t find double decker buses anymore. I’d be terrified to drive it today. Anyway we were down at a little place called Ramano which is not far from where I now live. The idea was chicks and I would be up on top playing a few songs and for the crowd down on the beach and then we would have a few braces and things like that. People had Fanta beach towels and beach hats. Fanta of course. Various other prizes and it was all just a 3UZ Fanta promotion. In amongst all of these prizes we were giving away we used to get stuff from all over the place to give away on the beach. There were these little statuettes one of them was a man standing there with a broken fishing rod and very small fish with the words greatest fisherman written underneath. There was another one with a bloke with a gold stick which was broken and it had the world’s greatest golfer. And another one a lady with this big smile on her face holding a trophy cup and underneath it had the world greatest mum. I was working in programming at the time as I said as well as doing the other stuff. At that time Jimmy Hannon, Jimmy was of course very popular on television and he was also on 3UZ at that time doing a request program Monday to Friday and part of my job was to compile the requests from write ins general. And every day there was a request if not half a thousand for a song for mum. At the time we had a song called “Mama” that Connie Francis sang. Another one by BJ Thomas called “Mama” different song. There was a song called “I’m Your Little Boy” by a Dutch kid named Heintje. Every day one or the other would be played because all these requests for a song for mum so when I saw this thing this little trophy for world’s greatest mum my commercial brain said there is a song in this. So on the drive back in the bus I wrote the lyrics to the world’s greatest mum. I wasn’t driving I might add. I got home and went out into my little office we were living in Melbourne at that point. Sang onto a cassette. Wrote the melody to the world’s greatest mum. At the time I had recorded a new single for Ron Tudor on the one day I rang on and said “Mate, would you mind if I don’t do that song I’ve got another one that I think has a real good chance to work.” Tude as I said earlier really did trust you and I said that and he said ok whatever. Didn’t ask me what it was or anything about it. So next chance we got we went in a recorded the track for the world’s greatest mum. Probably can’t even hear it but there’s strings and quite a lot happening on that track. On the record that all got done. I went to Ron Tude and played it to him because up to that point he didn’t know anything about what we were doing so I played it to him. He said “Yeah man we will get it out for mother’s day.” I said no don’t release it for mother’s day. He said “What do you mean?” By this stage it was probably early April. I said well if you release it now radio will play it right up to mother’s day then they will drop it like a hot spud. I said you gotta leave it til after. Then they will say “Why didn’t you release it for mother’s day?” By this stage I had been working in radio for quite a bit so I had a bit more insight in the way things sort of worked. So he said okay. I said then next mother’s day we will have the album ready and we bring that out for mother’s day. So the light went on in his head. Great. So that was the plan and sure enough we brought it out two weeks after mother’s day and sure enough all people asked “Why didn’t you bring it out for mother’s day?” You know just like we predicted. Then of course it got an enormous amount of play because of the request program. I think Lionel York was doing a similar sort of show in Perth. Various other states their request radio was really big so the mum thing got absolutely flogged then that died off and I reckon Jimmy Hannon quit UZ because he couldn’t play “World’s Greatest Mum” every day for the rest of his life. It’s kind of like that. The funny aspect of it was when we get to the following year we have got the album all ready to go. All’s well. One shop in Melbourne had places an order of 200 copies, that was just one shop. Everything was going to plan. When there was a strike at the manufacturing plant. We didn’t get it out until two weeks after mother’s day weekend! That’s exactly what happened it was not a bad plan initially.
50.56 – 52.06
Wayne: In 1975 you were awarded with a golden guitar.
Johnny: The Tamworth county music awards were the Australasian music awards were held in Tamworth New South Wales. They had only been going a couple of years. I often think back to the world’s greatest mum was just that little bit early, if we waited a couple years we might have been able to put that in there. Anyway as it turned out we did get “My Kind of Woman” up there and it was voted the best selling track. They no longer have that award because I don’t know how they arrived at that time that it was the bestselling track. But obviously they did and I got my first gold guitar which is put in a little trophy case which I had out in my shed. I’m not very big on that sort of stuff but she polished it up and stuck it in this case which hides in the lounge room somewhere.
52.06 – 55.31
Wayne: In 1979 you released a song called “I Love You So Rebecca” we are going to play a snippet of this and then afterwards we will get you to talk about it.
Johnny: It’s funny you get an idea for a song and I get ideas from as you have already heard all sorts of things. By watching my life and generally so many of the songs written come from a title and then taken from there. “I Love You So Rebecca” came about purely commercial reason. I was reading in the Women’s weekly magazine one day they published the most popular girls names of the years before and most popular boys names. Made this top ten list. For the last three years this was about 1975 for the last four or five years Rebecca had been the number one girls name for newly born babies for the last four or five years. So I have stored this away for some time. I thought those little girls are going to grow up and there is a song in this. This was the way I was thinking. I started writing “I Love You So Rebecca” wrote the verses and what they call the bridge and recorded it. Recorded with Ron Tudor. Not with Jigsaw I used studio musicians and it just didn’t work. It just wasn’t. It lacked something but I couldn’t think what. Went back in the drawer and that was it. In 1979 I was sound asleep three o’clock in the morning. The chorus was going in my head. I have woken up with this going through my head so I dashed out to the little office got a cassette player and in a very sweetly groggy voice sang the chorus. By this stage of course I was just independent producing my own records for myself. I didn’t even have a label. I would just lease a label. So I got the band together we rehearsed it. Brought it out and I won my second gold guitar from that one.
Wayne: that’s amazing John.
Johnny: You know four five years probably seven years from the day I wrote it to the day it actually got out.
55.31 – 56.57
Wayne: In 1980 you were inducted into the hands of fame.
Johnny: During the country music festival which is now a massive thing. A great idea when it was first started. It’s grown enormously since then. Amongst the various things they have they have the hands of fame. They also have the noses of fame which I am not in. I got a decent snoz but I haven’t managed. Bit of a fun thing of course. Being in the hands of fame gets you into the park and a little thing there in cement and you plonk your hands in it and they put a plaque underneath it. This is the hand of. I expected the same for the noses but I haven’t got to do that yet. But yeah that’s the hands of fame. It gets you the role of renown which I have been invited to be a part of it. But you gotta be there in Tamworth in January but I just haven’t been able to do that yet. They have quite a few rewards. Lovely to have been invited to be a part of all of them.
56.57 – 1.03.32
Wayne: In 1983 from Fort Worth Texas you received an international country music award.
Johnny: It’s funny how in 1982 and I think it was all based on international awards from various countries because I had a bit of a run with gold guitars over here in 82 in the mail with no explanation I got this huge trophy it was very impressive looking plaque thing with a letter saying congratulations John the International Country Music committee awards have made you the male vocalist of the year on this thing. That’s all it was. There was no further explanation. So that was 82 so 1983 I get a phone call from Fort Worth Texas and it’s a chap who used to live in Australia from Victoria and he had worked with the Victorian tourism authority and was now working for basically the same thing in Fort Worth. He had married an American girl from Texas and he was now working in Fort Worth in a similar capacity on the tourism side of things. He rang me he knew of my of course being from Victoria and he had also worked with my cousin who had been working in the tourism area some years before. I don’t know how he got my number but I think hat may be how. SO he rang and said congratulations you have won the International Award again in Fort Worth. I said yeah what all this about I has got this thing in the mail. He said oh no it’s going to be much bigger. Last year’s we basically sent out the awards this year we are going to have a huge festival over three days. He said they had booked Tom Jones, The Bellamy Brothers, Bobby bear these big name American, at the time this was 1983, we got the top country singer from England coming, the top singer from Germany coming, the top Canadian coming. None of these people I hadn’t heard of any of them except for Tom Jones. So anyway he said “We are having a meeting for the committee and we are asking who we should get to be the front person for it? Somebody who has had media experience.” He had put my name down. So how do you mean he said we need someone to be the spokesperson for the whole thing. He told them this bloke in Australia has done radio, television he’s built me up to this committee. He said they could fly me out a week early, that I could bring my piano player. They wanted me to perform over there. They also wanted me to do the PR lead up to it. It was probably one of the best opportunities I have been given to get some value out of the American market because they had three public relations companies handling the thing. I’m only familiar with the Australian way of doing things where you don’t have any money. You do it yourself or it doesn’t get done sort of thing. Over there of course nothing is too much trouble and they had quite a lot of money behind the whole thing. It was going to be a huge ten year plan. I was flown over a week before put up at the Americana Hotel in Fort Worth which is- I have played in town’s smaller. IT’s this massive big thing. I had a driver and three PR companies looking out for me to get me around. They flew me out to Austin and they flew me over there and I was doing interviews with the Times in New York. It was just this massive thing. The only trouble was I had nothing to promote as far as records. I was going to go to Nashville after that to record. But I had nothing ready and it was just one of those opportunities dropped in my lap and I just wasn’t prepared for it quite frankly. It was a wonderful experience because I got another huge trophy. I have never tried to lift it but it looks fairly heavy. They said you can take this home with you. I asked if they could post it to me because good luck logging that around America. It was a crazy experience and really gave me an insight into the way they do things over there. You do it yourself over here, either in the rock area or the pop area in country music. It’s not like you can afford to have PR companies on call like they do over there. I think they found it refreshing that with me they didn’t have to go through a manager of PR person or anybody else they just talked to me. Running around doing all of these interviews for me, gave me some fantastic memories of observing the way they think over there.
1.03.32 – 1.05.43
Wayne: In 1984 you toured Australia with Kenny Rogers.
Johnny: The Kenny Rogers tour was actually bigger than the Beatles. When I say that I am talking about the amount of people we played to. With the Beatles we did six shows in Melbourne and Sydney. There wouldn’t have been a lot in there, I think the Sydney stadium has seating for 11,000. The current biggest venue as far as theatres go was about 12,000 in Melbourne. Festival Hall where the Beatles played there was only seating for 4,000 people, so it wasn’t very big, they could have filled it 20 times over quite frankly. But we only had the three days two shows a night. With Kenny Rogers the venue was about an 8,000 seater. So that meant that over the period in Australia anyway. I think in Perth we did four shows at the entertainment centre there. I think four shows there. Adelaide we their tennis, it was outdoors. It was lovely in February. So Kenny did huge business in Australia because I didn’t go to New Zealand with him. New Zealand wasn’t particularly big either with the Beatles. It was huge for the time but you know we were doing town halls and things like that. In fact in Dunedin with the Beatles they didn’t fill the whole place. The Kenny Rogers tour was pretty amazing because we brought all his stage presence and his band. It was pretty impressive concert to be involved in.
1.05.43 – 1.08.12
Wayne: In 1986 you toured the East coast of Australia with Johnny Cash.
Johnny: Of all the people that I have been fortunate enough to work with and there has been so many of them now, Johnny Cash was the one that I was totally in awe of. I guess because I had loved his music from well 1955 or something like that. To meet him he was reasonably tall but he wasn’t like 6’6” or anything but he would probably be 6’ but 3” Cuban heels dressed in black with the black hair. He was a very imposing presence. It was kind of like meeting Darth Vader. I was not quite speechless but certainly found it hard to shake his hand nice to meet you type of meeting. You know that part of it. Same with Kenny Rogers like we didn’t see much of each other in the initial interaction. As opposed to the Beatles once again, we flew together, ate together every night. We saw a lot of each other because of circumstances were so much different back then. The time by 64 they had only been really in the public eye in a large way for about 15 months. So they were still in their infancy as far as their careers were concerned. With Kenny Rogers of course he was a huge start by the time I got to meet him. Johnny Cash was an even bigger star. Vastly different, couldn’t even compare them. Tammy Wynette I worked with Tammy in 92 we saw each other all went out to dinner a couple of times. There was a vastly different thing again.
1.08.12 – 1.10.41
Wayne: In 1989 you started to work at Radio Australia.
Johnny: I decided to come off the road I had been touring, working pretty solidly for thirty years and always loved radio. During 89 I got a phone call from a chap that I hadn’t seen since 1965 he was the program manager at the ABC when I was doing the Teen Scene TV show. I got a phone call from him he had since retired of course and he said I have been doing a program for Radio Australia called “Try to Remember.” He said what it is- I think it was fifty years old that year. They were doing things that happened each year since its inception. He had done up to 1964 I think he said. They wanted to continue and he said he was not familiar with what’s happened since then, but he put me in to take over this half hour program devoted to each year from 65 to 89. It was about the music of the year, sporting events all to do with Radio Australia. That was lovely so I met them and just doing that program it sort of I would do a couple one week then away on two then a couple more etc etc. I got a real taste for radio again even thought it was only a half hour program. I had been thinking about stopping touring and as luck would have it after I had finished my involvement in the program they came to me and asked would I be interested to work there full time. So they offered me a two year contract and I took that on. It gave me time to breathe, while I decided what Liz and I were going to do because we had always wanted to do something together.
1.10.41 – 1.13.26
Wayne: John do you have any hobbies?
Johnny: I do like to cook, I’m not very good at it. It’s been years and years and I am just doing what I was doing. Liz was cooking dinner for the kids and myself. When I made the decision to come off the road on a regular basis in 1989 I wanted to do something with Liz because up until that point my life had been doing what I wanted to do and it was never question that this was my business. After thirty years I thought it was about time we did something together than something that kept us apart. So Liz and I bought a little shop at a place called Sorrento in Victoria which is where we had our holiday house. We bought this little general store and eventually sorted out because we had never run a business we decided the best way to run the roster was that I would open at 6.30 in the morning during the day Liz would come in at 9 and I would go home for a couple of hours then come back. Then we would close because she did the ordering and all that stuff. So I was at home and I would cook dinner. This led to quite a lot of disasters I gotta say. Learning how not to burn things and how long this should be cooked for. Learn how to judge how much food for two people, which I am still not good at, we have left overs quite a lot at our house. I guess Liz was relived she didn’t have to do the cooking. She allowed me to cook whatever. As long as it was reasonably edible she would eat it. That was the way it kind of was. It’s pretty much the same today. I still cook half the evening meals. I guess you could call that a hobby.
Wayne: Do you have any strange stories to talk about John.
Johnny: We were doing a festival in Esperance in Western Australia. This particular time we after the- it was a day time festival and we had to fly back that night. So the committee that was running the festival the lady put on a supper for us before we caught the plan back. They gave me these beautiful lamingtons. These ladies were lamington experts. So I had one and they were sitting there so we would sort of eat and have a cup of tea. They offered me one of these and I put it in my guitar case and forgot all about it. I must have put a rag or something over the top of it. I didn’t notice it for a couple of weeks, but by the time I did notice it, it was probably the hardest lamington in the world. It was you know like a brick. It looked comfortable there so I didn’t move it. For about 15 months I had this lamington in my guitar case. I’d open it up at a show and people would see it and say what’s that and I would tell them it’s my pet lamington. This got me some strange looks.
Wayne: I can imagine. Thanks for your time today John and thank you for being on Wayne’s Wonder World.
Johnny: Thanks Wayne all the best mate.
Wayne: Well I hope you enjoyed the podcast. Please head to www.wayneswonderworld.com and please follow me on my Facebook page which is Wayne’s Wonder World.
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