Way Out West (K Tolhurst/J Lee/J Bois/B Smith/C Stockley) – The Dingoes 1973
In the mid-sixties Broderick Smith (vocals, harmonica) and Kerryn Tolhurst (guitar, mandolin, dobro) were members of the Adderley Smith Blues Band, their passion was US delta blues; the music that was fueling the R&B hits of so many UK bands of the time.
National Service interrupted their careers for two years and following their discharge they headed in opposite directions, Tolhurst to the country rock-oriented Greg Quill’s Country Radio via the group Sundown, while Smith joined boogie blues band Carson, after performing in the local stage version of the rock opera Tommy.
In 1973 they were reunited when they formed the Dingoes with former Axiom guitarist Chris Stockley, bassist John Bois from Country Radio, and drummer John Lee (Blackfeather). The Dingoes played a laconic version of country rock within a bluesy milieu, their live performances at the Station Hotel, Prahran (Melb) featured a heady fusion of acoustic country crossover and sweaty pub rock, they were talented, ambitious and embraced democratic ideals of co-existence within the band. Three of the band had solid claims to leadership, front man Broderick Smith, lead guitarist Chris Stockley and songwriter/guitarist Kerryn Tolhurst, particularly the latter as he wrote most of their songs, but no one really pressed their claims. Bassist John Bois has inferred in his 2012 memoir The Dingoes Lament, that this created a leadership vacuum within the band that was never filled, and a dysfunctional democracy persisted into the future.
The Dingoes were an early signing to the fledgling Mushroom label and they went into the TCS studios (Melb) with producer John French and engineer John Sayers to record their eponymous debut album in 1973, with the classic single Way Out West being pre-re-released in November of that year. This song was reminiscent of the Quill/Tolhurst classic Gypsy Queen recorded with Country Radio, but here wistful harmonica by Broderick Smith replaced Tolhurst’s lilting mandolin refrain from Gypsy Queen.
The lyrics unerringly reflected the conditions of the FIFO (Fly-In-Fly-Out) employees working in remote north-western Australia’s oil and gas fields, the isolation, emotional deprivation and sheer dislocation of the lives of the economic conscripts who inhabit “single men’s quarters”; where escape from the tedium and misery of their existence is too often found in alcohol and drug abuse, violence, and pornography.
Broderick Smith’s vocals have an authentic world-weary ring to them, acoustic and electric guitars propel the song forward, the heat and vastness of remote mining locations seems to inhabit the song and accentuate the struggle between nature and those who would seek to depredate that land and wrest its natural wealth from it. Kerryn Tolhurst wrote the song on his own, but the egalitarian ideals of the group demanded that all bandmembers be equally credited with its creation and the subsequent royalties. Initially the song was a moderate hit climbing to #40, but the returns were more substantial after James Reyne and James Blundell’s jaunty cover version soared back into the charts at #2 in 1992.
In 1974 the band toured nationally in support of Bad Company, Leo Sayer, Bo Diddley and Freddy Fender, they also performed at the third Sunbury Music festival that year, but in a sour note, drummer John Lee had the misfortune to be shot in the stomach by notorious Melbourne criminal Dennis “Mr. Death” Allen. The hitman was attempting to gatecrash a party in the Melbourne suburb of Brighton, when Lee gave the villain his marching orders, wore the consequences, and was unable to play for several months.
The debut album was a classic of the country rock genre and charted #24 nationally, the Stockley/Smith-penned Boy on the Run was another fine track, which became the band’s next single release, but was under-appreciated and struggled to #55 in June 1974. An opportunity to break into the US market presented itself later that year, and after much clumsy contractual haggling, comically captured in John Bois memoir (The Dingoes Lament 2012), and the temporary defection of John Lee to the UK, the band ultimately arrived in Toronto in 1976 to begin their conquest of North America.
The band were signed to a two-album deal with A&M and their manager was the esteemed Peter Rudge, then currently tour manager for the Rolling Stones and Lynard Skynyrd. After enduring a soulless period living and working in Toronto, the band were relocated to Mill Valley northern California and soon gathered at His Masters Wheels recording studio in San Francisco with producer Eliot Mazer (Janis Joplin, Neil Young) to record the Dingoes third album, Five Times the Sun with such legendary session players as keyboardists Nicky Hopkins and Garth Hudson from the Band – they were recording with their idols, in a state-of-the-art studio and with a very savvy production crew – what could go wrong?
The album comprised five new original songs and three re-recorded tracks – Way Out West, Boy On the Run and Smooth Sailing, were cleverly re-interpreted and the band breathed new life into classic compositions.
Way Out West featured revelatory piano accordian riffs by John Bois and brilliant keyboards by Nicky Hopkins, the song starts with a snare and cymbal crash, guitar line, harmonica and then the piano accordian glides in, it sounded like the Band were jamming with a zydeco group, it was a brilliant re-invention of a great song. The Tolhurst-penned Smooth Sailing was country rock with a bite as Broderick Smith channeled his inner Bon Scott, and Boy on the Run was a beautiful acoustic interpretation with Stockley’s mandolin riffs a standout feature.
The band toured the States intensively throughout this period and were booked as support on a national tour of the US with Lynard Skynyrd, when on October 20th 1977 the band’s plane crashed in Mississippi killing Ronnie van Zandt, Steve Gaines and his sister Cassie Gaines, other band members were also seriously injured, the tour was abandoned, the opportunity to promote Five Times the Sun in the US disappeared, and the Dingoes were facing bankruptcy.
The album was a creditable hit locally at #25 but the single Smooth Sailing stalled at #70, a third album, Orphans of the Storm, was recorded in New York at the Hit Factory studios with producer John Anthony, by this time John Lee had been “consciously uncoupled” from the band, the album was released in 1979 and climbed to #35 in Australia but no singles charted and the band split up later that year.
In 2009 the Dingoes were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame by Richard Clapton, along with Kev Carmody, Little Pattie, Mental as Anything and John Paul Young, their stellar performance that night encouraged the band to reunite and record a final album which they did at Kerryn Tolhurst’s studio in Tucson, Arizona, the album Tracks was issued in 2010 and was warmly received by all Dingoes fans,
John Lee had sadly passed away in 1999.