Eagle Rock (R Wilson) – Daddy Cool 1971
Ross and Pat Wilson had returned to Australia via the international hippie trail from London to Melbourne in 1970, the local music scene was depressed due to a polarizing dispute between record labels (APRA) who wanted radio stations to pay royalties for the right to play their artists songs and radio stations (FARB) who claimed that by playing the music they effectively marketed the songs and therefore should not have to pay for the right to do so. Fundamentally it meant that while cover versions of international hits by local artists would flood the market – such groups as the Mixtures, the Strangers, Liv Maesson, Jigsaw, Matt Flinders, Town Criers, and others – profited from the dispute, those artists with original music to record and tour were effectively shut out and had to take menial jobs outside the music industry to survive.
Ross Wilson had taken employment at the For Lib warehouse packing books, and there he met Gary Young whose family had emigrated from the USA to Australia in 1953, Young was drumming with a Carey Grammar schoolmate Roger Treble (guitar) and bass player Wayne Duncan in a group known as the Silhouettes who later became the Lincolns, and were gigging at the Preston Town Hall, the San Remo Ballroom (Fitzroy) and the Reservoir Circle.
Ross Hannaford was combining studying art at Prahran College and playing in a Dylan covers band known as Quinn, Wilson offered Eagle Rock to Quinn, Hannaford liked the song, but his bandmates famously rejected it, so changing the course of musical history for this legendary song.
Wilson had been an acolyte of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention for some time and he was also intrigued by early rock and doo wop music, as well as the boogie blues of John Lee Hooker and other delta bluesmen, the formation by Wilson of the Sons of the Vegetal Mother, became the vehicle for him to assemble like-minded musicians and explore these musical genres.
SOTVM was a musical collective with as many as ten members which included multiple drummers and guitarists and featured Ross Wilson, Gary Young, Wayne Duncan, Ross Hannaford, Mike Rudd as well as a brass section of tenor sax and trumpet players. It was a special occasion band which performed at multimedia happenings, art gallery openings and the TF Much Ballroom in Brunswick St Fitzroy, its speciality was an esoteric, progressive, satirical and parodic brand of rock and roll, and they performed songs about tripping, psychedelia and macrobiotic food.
The sub-text to the music of SOTVM was a fascination with three chord rock and roll and doo wop from the 1950’s that was shared by the four bandmates who would become Daddy Cool – Ross Wilson (guitar/vocals), Ross Hannaford (guitar/vocals), Wayne Duncan (bass) and Gary Young (drums), the band’s name reflected Ross Wilson’s knack of using family names such as mother and sons, as well as his long-time admiration of Zappa’s Mothers of Invention, Daddy was chosen and the addition of Cool was obvious.
The songs that would launch Daddy Cool onto the Australia market were an eclectic mix of vintage R&R and R&B covers and catchy originals, they emerged as a classic rollicking good-time band who stood out from the rest of the pack when psychedelia and heavier musical genres were dominant. They also dressed the part, Ross Hannaford’s art student girlfriend Margot Barrett designed their stage outfits – Mickey Mouse ears for Wayne, helicopter beanie for Hanna, Gary’s red devil costume, and Ross’s fox tail and ears – in the future though, their music would require no gimmicks nor artifice to convince the public that a great new rock band had arrived.
Eagle Rock had been a work-in-progress for Ross Wilson over several years, the basic riff had first appeared in a song he wrote for the Party Machine entitled Woman of the World. Whilst living in England as a member of the band Procession he wrote the verses and subsequently completed the chorus upon his return to Melbourne in 1970.
The Eagle Rock was originally a dance performed by African-Americans with arms outstretched and rocking their bodies from side to side, it had featured in the lyrics of the song Ballin’ The Jack written by Jim Burris and Chris Smith in 1913, which had become a ragtime, pop, and trad jazz standard and a dance hit – “…stretch your lovin’ arms out in space/ then do the Eagle Rock with style and grace …”
Ross Wilson has also noted as an inspiration, a caption under a picture of negroes dancing in a dirt floor juke joint in a London Sunday Times lift-out magazine, which observed ‘Some negroes “cut the pigeon wing” and “do the eagle rock”, and of course it was also a bluesy metaphor for sexual intercourse.
The song is catchy and engaging, handclaps and Ross Wilson’s bluesy opening guitar riff leads us to his opening invitation “Now listen/Oh, we’re steppin’ out/ I’m gonna turn you around/ Gonna turn you round once/And we’ll do the eagle rock,” – the loping rhythm section of Wayne Duncan (bass) and Gary Young (drums) chimes in and delivers a wallop and momentum shifts as the whole band heads for the anthemic chorus ”Hey, hey, hey good old/ Eagle rock is here to stay/I’m just crazy ‘bout the way we move/ Doin’ the eagle rock.”
Ross Wilson has said that he came up with the memorable opening riff while he was practising guitar- picking and trying to sound like John Lee Hooker, he has described the signature riff as a guitar version of a ragtime piano refrain, which reflected the Mississippi country blues influences that inspired him.
The song is very true to its origins, Eagle Rock wasn’t really a dance song, it was more concerned with mating rituals – “Come on fast/You can come on slow/I’m just crazy ‘bout the way we move/ Doin’ the eagle rock” and front- man Wilson knew how to convey that message between the lines.
A guitar solo at the bridge leads the band back to where they started and then they head for home, the simple structure of the song created an infectious, rollicking sing-a-long vibe which was enhanced by the fact that the band never seemed to take itself seriously – Hannaford’s helicopter beanie and goofy grin, and Wilson’s foxtail were comically endearing – the flipside, a Wilson /Hannaford composition Bom Bom, was another rollicking slice of 1950’s doo wop, and almost as good.
The band were being managed by Peter Andrews and John Pinder’s Let It Be Agency, who promoted the TF Much Ballroom gigs and were instantly alive to the great potential that Daddy Cool had with their rock and doo wop brand of music. They booked them into college/university student gigs, music festivals, the Aquarius Blues Festival in Adelaide, the Odyssey Festival at Wallacia (NSW) and the Myponga Festival (SA), but it was to be their performance at the Melbourne Town Hall on March 7th.1971, when four thousand ecstatic fans crammed into a venue with a maximum capacity of 2,000 people, that Daddy Cool captured the imagination of the country, Robie Porter saw them and immediately signed them to a record deal with Sparmac.
Counter-intuitively Porter decided to record the band’s debut album first rather than release singles and build up momentum for an album, he knew that that the band already had unstoppable momentum. Literally days after signing the band he accompanied them into Bill Armstrong’s studios in South Melbourne to record Daddy Who?… Daddy Cool, on an eight- track recording system, with Ernie Rose and Roger Savage engineering, Robie Porter producing and playing lap steel guitar, Dave Brown on tenor sax and flute, and Jeremy Noone on keyboards and sax, they cut the album in two marathon all night sessions.
Porter showed his experience and production know-how by having the album mixed and mastered in Los Angeles where he and John Golden took seven weeks to produce a record of the highest quality with sharp audio fidelity and a guitar sound that was clean and resonant without any reverb.
The original songs included the first two singles lifted from the album, Eagle Rock and Come Back Again, both Ross Wilson originals, Bom Bom (Wilson/Hannaford) and three more Ross Wilson songs – At the Rockhouse, Blind Date and Zoop Bop Gold Cadillac. The five cover songs were an eclectic mix of early rock and doo wop and included hits by the Rays (Daddy Cool), Chuck Berry (School Days), Marvin and Johnny (Cherry Pie), The Rivals (Guided Missile) and Etta James (Good Rockin’ Daddy). The cover art was designed by Ross Hannaford and Go-Set staffer Ian McCausland who produced the cartoonish rendering of the band members which would become the iconic logo for the group in the future.
Daddy Cool became a dominant musical force when Eagle Rock entered the charts at #20 and then went straight to #1 in the second week after release, it stayed there for 8 weeks and occupied the top 40 for six months, it became the biggest-selling record of the year. APRA rated it the second- best Australian song of the 1926-2001 era, after the peerless Easybeats classic Friday on My Mind, and alongside Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone, Eagle Rock heralded a new wave of Australian popular music in the 1970’s.The album Daddy Who?…Daddy Cool similarly exploded onto the charts becoming the first Australian album to chart at #1 nationally where it stayed for seven weeks, and the first local album to sell over 100,000 copies.
Elton John was touring Australia in 1972 when he first heard Eagle Rock and he and Bernie Taupin were so impressed that upon their return to the UK and they produced their own creature classic, Crocodile Rock, and acknowledged their debt to the Daddy Cool song when Bernie Taupin was pictured on the back cover of Elton’s 1973 album Don’t Shoot Me I’m Only the Piano Player, wearing a Daddy Cool badge. Marc Bolan also revealed that he plundered the song’s riffs for his Ride a Wild Swan single, and Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers were also big fans of the band.
The promo video, by Chris Lofven, who had shot a similarly engaging video clip for Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone, was the band’s vision of 1950’s Americana transplanted to the Melbourne suburbs. In the opening scene Ross enters a fast food shop to be greeted by two female fans who dance with him to the song, this scene was shot in a fish and chip shop at 239 Clarendon Street South Melbourne which had a jukebox on which the record was playing, Hanna and Gary are seated and pretending to play their instruments while Wayne is dressed in a soda jerk hat and uniform behind the counter. The clip is intercut with shots of eagles at the Melbourne Zoo, performance footage of the band at the Myponga Music Festival (SA) with a pregnant Pat Wilson rocking along in the front row, Hanna doing handstands at the band’s appearance at the Sydney Myer Music Bowl SSAAF charity concert, intercut with footage of a performance inside The Maze Club at 378 Flinders St (Melb). The final scene depicts the boys running from the Aussie Burgers shop on the Upper Esplanade, St. Kilda, opposite Luna Park, towards Gary’s FJ Holden.
The video has become a treasured piece of Australian music history, it cost $200-$300 to shoot and captured the very essence of the band, irreverent, authentic, ebullient and completely in sync with the zeitgeist of the era, its format and ambience would also be reflected some years later when it inspired the Pretenders promo clip for their debut hit Brass in Pocket, in 1980.
Eagle Rock has given rise to the “Pants Down” tradition amongst the students of the Mining Engineering faculty at the University of Queensland who drop their trousers when the song is played, an endearing but potentially dangerous practice when the song is played outside the student union refectory; fans of both the AFL side West Coast Eagles and NRL rugby league team Manly Warringah Sea Eagles also sing the song, after especially meritorious victories.
The song is adored in NZ, on release it charted #17 in 1971, re-released in 1986 it again climbed into the top 20 (#18) and then blitzed the charts again in 1990 when the Kiwis sent it all the way to #1, Eagle Rock has now sold well over 100,000 copies, and we can agree with Ross Wilson that “Good old Eagle Rock’s here to stay…”.