Si Senor (I Theenk) (R Porter) and 5,4,3,2,1 Zero (R Porter) 1962 and 55 Days At Peking (D Tiomkin) 1963 and When You’re Not Near (R Porter) – 1964 Rob E.G.
Lap steel guitar player extraordinaire from Sydney, Rob E.G. (real name Robert Porter) was seen performing a version of Santo and Johnny’s Sleepwalk on Sydney television and was signed to Pye records in 1960 and had two minor hits, an instrumental version of the theme music from the early Australian TV series Whiplash which starred Peter Graves and an original composition Railroadin’.
He incurred spinal injuries in a car accident in 1961 which forced him to stand while he performed, but he bounced back to compere the Channel Nine talent show Opportunity Knocks and sign a new deal with Festival Records.
His teen idol good looks and musical flair, ensured that his point of difference as a clean-cut instrumentalist who did not directly compete with the bawdier rockers of the day, enabled him to enjoy considerable mainstream chart success in the period 1962-63 with a succession of national instrumental hits – Si Senor (#2 1962), 5-4-3-2-1-Zero (#13 1962), Jezebel (#4 1962) and 55 Days At Peking (#1 1963).
Si Senor charted at #2 for Robie’s first top five hit, the song traded on the popularity of other contemporary songs with a Mexican flavour such as Tequila by the Champs (#1 US ’58), Lonely Bull by Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass (#6 US ’62) and particularly Speedy Gonzales by Pat Boone (#6 US ’62) which used the voice of Mel Blanc to animate the cartoon character Speedy Gonzales.
This voice was copied on Robie’s next major hit 5-4-3-2-1 Zero which was inspired by the advent of Russia’s first space satellite Sputnik, the Mel Blanc-inspired voice appears in a vocal insert near the end of the record when the rocket crashes to Earth. Mel was better-known as the distinctive voice of Bugs Bunny and many other Looney Tunes animated characters.
In 1963 Robie scored his only #1 hit with an instrumental cover of the Brothers Four vocal tribute to the popular movie of the time about the Boxer Rebellion and U.S. gunboat diplomacy in imperial China, 55 Days at Peking starring Charlton Heston, Ava Gardner, and David Niven. The arrangement, orchestration and production of the record, combined brass, strings, military-style snare drums, backing vocals, the resounding crash of a Chao Bullseye gong in the finale and Robie’s crystalline steel guitar riffs, it was remarkable for its time given the two- track recording technology available.
Surprisingly it was not until 1964 that Robie revealed his vocal strengths when he wrote and recorded the power ballad When You’re Not Near, it was another superb production, the musical arrangement and big band backing was impressive and Robie’s surprisingly convincing baritone vocals carried the song to #7 nationally for his last top ten hit in Australia.
Robie had written most of his big hits and was unique in the industry in this regard at the time, he subsequently pursued a highly successful career as a music businessman (Sparmac Records) and respected record producer, promoter, and artist manager, both here and in the US, working with such acts as Daddy Cool, Healing Force, Marcia Hines, Hush, Air Supply, and Rick Springfield.