ARIA HALL OF FAME HEROES

 

Hillbilly Attack on Olivia Newton—John.

 Let Me Be There (J Rostill) – Olivia Newton-John 1973

 John Farrar and Bruce Welch had worked closely with Olivia Newton-John to select songs for her debut album, several country tracks were selected and the standout for a single release was a Bob Dylan song off his New Morning album released in 1971 – If Not for You. The track had already been covered by no less a performer than George Harrison on his All Things Must Pass album, which featured a distinctive slide guitar backing which was replicated on Olivia’s version of the song. Fans generally agreed that Olivia gave this country-tinged song a new lease of life with her sweet, breathy vocals, it charted #7 in Australia and the UK and #25 in the US for her break through international hit.

The follow up was Banks of the Ohio which was a traditional American murder classic, originally recorded by Red Patterson’s Piedmont Log Rollers in 1927, and reminiscent of other murder ballads of the time, such as Pretty Polly and Omie Wise. This was a surprising change of material for ONJ, and not one that she particularly favored, but she took this murderous ditty to a national #1, a #6 hit in the UK, and it was the #8 best- selling record of the year in Australia, however it failed to chart in America, where it had previously been covered by Joan Baez, Pete Seeger, and Johnny Cash.

 

 

Let Me Be There had a strong connection with the Shadows via John Rostill, former bass guitarist for the band, and Bruce Welch, another Shadows bandmate, who co-produced the session. Let Me Be There was another country-influenced song which featured steel guitar and the resonant bass harmony vocal backing of Mike Sammes, who with his vocal group the Mike Sammes Singers, provided backing vocals on hundreds of recordings throughout the 1960’s and 70’s. Mike also provided distinctive bass vocal backing on Banks of the Ohio and If You Love Me Let Me Know for Olivia, although the advent of doubletracking and synthesizers in record production would cause a decline in demand for such backing singers in the future.

Let Me Be There became Olivia’s first top ten hit in the US at #6 and charted #11 in Australia, it was a US million seller and it won ONJ her first Grammy Award for Best Country Vocal Performance, Female in 1973.

Olivia had beaten a field of C&W stalwarts including Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Tammy Wynette, and Lynne Anderson for the Grammy, and she innocently and somewhat naively commented at the time that “It’s probably the first time an English person won an award over Nashville people.” The traditionalists within the C&W community had long been suspicious of Newton-John as she racked up no less than three hit country singles and an album between 1971-73, so her comments on Grammy night went over like the proverbial lead balloon, and soon thereafter the hillbillies descended on her with barely disguised contempt.

Things only got worse when the Country Music Association voted her the 1974 Female Vocalist of the Year over Loretta Lynn, Dolly Parton, Anne Murray, and Tanya Tucker – you could hear the howls of protest from Butcher Hollow, Pigeon Forge, Locust Ridge, Itawamba, Smithsville, and Grand Forks. Tammy Wynette and her husband Jack Jones rallied the troops, including such luminaries as Dolly Parton, Porter Waggoner, Dottie West, Faron Young, Bill Anderson, Conway Twitty, and Barbara Mandrell, to protest the outrage about someone who was “as “country as a kangaroo, couldn’t play a guitar, and had never set foot in a Nashville recording studio much less the Grand Ole Opry”, taking home awards that were rightly theirs. Minor C&W singer Johnny Paycheck summed it up for the rednecks when he commented “We don’t want somebody out of another field coming in here and taking away what we’ve worked so hard for.”

At this time Olivia’s US manager Lee Kramer was too inexperienced to adequately prepare her for the negative reaction from the Nashville community, her naïve comments in media interviews were fuel to the fire of controversy; when she heard a Hank Williams song and said that she would like to meet him, she was advised, to her embarrassment, that he had died in 1953.

Clearly Olivia was just doing her thing, recording songs that she described as straightforward, honest, and not requiring a passport nor union membership to be accepted internationally. What she had never counted on, was the xenophobia and hypocrisy of the Nashville C&W community, who craved international acceptance of their music, but would not extend a welcoming hand to non-Americans who dared to invade their turf. Loretta Lynn and Stella Parton never aligned themselves with the protesters and ultimately Dolly Parton reproached herself for so doing and joined her sister in supporting Olivia in the future. The country cross-over phenomena, which Olivia had inadvertently championed, was unleashed, it would enable performers to move both ways between pop/rock and C&W, and John Denver quickly followed in Olivia’s footsteps, followed some years later by Keith Urban, Shania Twain, Taylor Swift and others.

 

I’ll Never Find Another You (T Springfield) – The Seekers 1964

The Seekers formed in 1962 and played the folkie clubs and coffee houses of Melbourne until their classic lineup was completed in Melbourne in 1964, when two employees of the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency, a young secretary by the name of Judith Durham (real name Judith Cocks) and an advertising executive Athol Guy, met and Athol invited Judith to join his group.

At the time the Seekers were a Weavers- style folk group, who were performing at the Treble Clef Coffee Lounge in Toorak Rd (Melb) and needed to replace their existing tenor singer.

Keith Potger and Athol Guy had come from R&R bands – the Trinamics and the Ramblers respectively, and Woodley via a doo wop group, the Escorts, all three had been students at Melbourne Boys’ High School. Jazz singer Judith Durham was invited to fill-in for the Seekers as lead singer at the Treble Clef when original tenor singer Ken Ray was no longer able to continue to perform with the group.

Despite a lifelong struggle with bronchiectasis, Judith was an emerging jazz/blues vocalist with the Frank Traynor Jazz Preachers, her influences included Mahalia Jackson, Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Joan Baez, Bessie Smith, Ronnie Gilbert (of the Weavers) and Odetta, she joined the group and quickly became the lead voice of the Seekers.

Athol Guy landed the group a job as the on board entertainment on Sitmar’s SS Fairsky cruise to the UK, and upon arrival they were introduced to Tom Springfield (real name Dion O’Brien), via his sister Dusty (real name Mary O’Brien), with whom they had performed at a concert in Blackpool.

Tom would become the trusted mentor and manager of the group and would write most of their international hits over the next five years. In many ways the Springfields were reincarnated in the Seekers and it would be easy to imagine the Springfields singing I’ll Never Find Another You and the Seekers singing the most recent hit for the Springfields, Silver Threads and Golden Needles.

The Seekers achieved a beautiful balance of vocal harmonies that characterized their live performances and many recordings, Keith was a versatile tenor who possessed excellent arranging skills, Athol’s resonant bass voice and Bruce’s baritone provided a harmonic plateau on which the crystalline soprano of Judith Durham would soar, talent scouts at EMI’s Columbia label agreed, and signed them to a recording contract.

Legend has it that Judith Durham slept in and was late for this recording session and when she arrived all the instrumental parts of the song had been recorded so she just added her vocals and Tom Springfield brilliantly pulled the whole thing together.

The promo video of the group “recording” the song at Abbey Road Studio 3 is fascinating, the opening shot is over the shoulder of Tom Springfield at the recording desk into the studio where the four Seekers are assembled, after some opening guitar tuning by Keith Potger, Athol Guy says “ok, ready, right, let’s make this the one”. Judith Durham in red dress, twin pigtails and black stockings with her hands behind her back looks like a shy schoolgirl, Potger commences his signature 12-string acoustic guitar intro, Woodley and Guy join in with guitar and upright slap bass, Judith starts to sing the opening line “There’s a new world somewhere/ They call the promised land/ And I’ll be there someday/ If you could hold my hand…” she moves her hands onto her hips in a more confident and assured manner, nailing the vocals with ease, and  remains like that for the rest of the  “session”, job done, no fuss.

Guy’s slap bass anchors the song, Tom Springfield also provided percussion effects via a cabasa and conga-drum, and the guitars and tambourines deliver the rhythmic accompaniment. The lyrical structure of the song is simple with the hook (the title), being repeated at the end of each verse.

Unlike a traditional folk ballad, there is no unfolding story, just a reflection on the importance of the loved one to the narrator, the endearing charm of this song, and the folk-pop hits of the Seekers, was to be found in their sublime harmonies, and the innocence and naivety of the lyrics, which optimized the accessibility for the listener in this song, by not actually naming the two lovers.

 

But getting exposure for the record in the UK was difficult, without the support of their manager Eddie Jarrett of the Grade Organisation, who secured their early gigs; Australian DJ Allan Crawford at the pirate station Radio Caroline who played the record, and several appearances on the Ronnie Carroll Show, the record may have sunk without a trace, but once it made the lower reaches of the top 40, the BBC were obliged to play it, and then it took off.

This was the group’s first UK release and it made a huge impression, it stormed to #1 in Aust and UK and #4 in USA, they became the first Australian band to sell over a million copies of a single, to date it has sold 1.75 million copies, and it became the template for future Seekers hit songs. It was also the first record by a local group to simultaneously occupy a top 5 position in the Australian, UK and US charts

I’ll Never Find Another You would also be an apt eulogy for Judith Durham’s late much-loved husband Ron Edgeworth who sadly succumbed to Motor Neurone Disease in 1994.

 

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