This is a famous Australian song about an iconic country hotel which was immortalized in prose and then became an international hit song, because it ran out of beer – but who was the composer of the song, and which was the actual “pub with no beer,” are questions that have been the subject of claim, and counter-claim, for over fifty years.Undoubtedly the song itself and specifically the lyrics were derived from an original poem written by Irish-Australian sugar cane farmer Dan Sheahan (below) after he had ridden 32 klms to arrive at the Day Dawn Hotel (Ingham Nth.Qld) (above) for a drink, only to be told by the publican Gladys Harvey, that US serviceman stationed in the area, had drunk the place dry the day before. To express his frustration at this disruption of his daily tipple, he penned the poem A Pub Without Beer in protest, which was published in the North Queensland Register on January 1, 1944, to this day neither Dan Sheahan nor his family, appears to have benefited from the success of this song, for which Dan had penned the original lyrics.The original inspiration for the song was this hotel in North Queensland which is now licensed as the Lees Family Hotel.(below)The original poem was longer than the song’s lyrics that were ultimately adapted and a verse that was deemed to be indelicate due to the obscene nature of the lyrics, was subsequently deleted from the recorded version. The music itself was composed by timber-cutter and songwriter Gordon Parsons (on the right in the record artwork at the top of this blog), who adapted the Dan Sheahan poem and added a musical refrain which owes a substantial debt to the song Beautiful Dreamer written by American Stephen Foster in 1865.Parsons was also aware of a hotel in NSW named the Cosmopolitan Hotel at Taylors Arms which is near Macksville between Coffs Harbor and Kempsey on the NSW north coast (below), an area close to where Slim Dusty (David Gordon Fitzpatrick) was born. This hotel had also run dry once when it was cut off by flood waters, so this pub was the inspiration for the Gordon Parsons composition which is based on the original poem penned by Dan Sheahan. Subsequently its name was changed to “The Pub With No Beer”, to capitalise on the reputation of this famous song, much to the annoyance of Queenslanders, who rightly claim that their hotel in Ingham was the original inspiration for the song.The Father of Australian Country Music, Slim Dusty, was at the time one of a handful of country stars including Smoky Dawson, Reg Lindsay and Chad Morgan who toured the well-populated hinterland of Australia as part of a lively and healthy country touring circuit. A young David Kirkpatrick had grown up on a dairy farm at Nulla Nulla, just inland from Kempsey (NSW), and dreamed of making his own music as he listened to the early American hillbilly songs on the radio; at age eleven he decided to adopt the stage name “Slim Dusty”, and pursue a career as a country singer. He struggled to get his songs recorded, but in October 1946, he proudly released his first 78 rpm record on the Regal Zonophone label, a self-composition titled When The Rain Tumbles Down In July. Slim would marry his life partner Joy McKean (together below) in 1951, and in 1954 they would join the Foster family of showground attractions, touring the agricultural show circuit with acts that combined country songs with vaudeville, comedy, memory acts, and dental trapeze ( performed by strongmen who would hold aerial trapeze artists in their teeth as they cavorted high above the audience). They took their own country music show on the road in 1964, and over the next seven decades would become the most revered icons of country music in Australia. Slim Dusty was known to Gordon Parsons, who offered him A Pub With No Beer to record, Slim recorded the song in EMI’s Castlereagh Street Studio (Syd) playing his new Gibson Sunburst guitar and accompanied by Reg Robinson on bass guitar, and according to the actual record Dick Carr and his Bushlanders, although there is little evidence of anyone other than Slim and Reg, actually playing on the record.
Slim Dusty considered the song had only some novelty value and it famously became the B-side to a single with an A-side entitled Saddle Boy, the “novelty” song took off in Brisbane initially, and then swept across the country for a career-defining hit for Slim Dusty.The cultural roots of country and western music in this country were North American, performers such as Jimmy Rodgers (below) and Canadian Wilf Carter had strongly influenced the vocal phrasing of Australia’s early country singers such as Tex Morton, Buddy Williams and Slim Dusty, but on A Pub with No Beer, Slim Dusty achieved a more mature and convincing Australian accent that resonated both here and overseas.The song is a genuine slice of rural life in a country dominated by urban coastal fringe dwellers, lyrical portraits of the pub’s patrons abound – Billy the blacksmith and his long-suffering wife, the swagman, the cook, the maid, and the stockman are all vivid, credible images, sustained by a simple melody and an infectious sing-a-long chorus.
The song was Australia’s first gold record, it hit #3 in the UK, and for decades it was the biggest selling Australian-produced record of all time, Slim recorded several sequels, including The Answer to a Pub With No Beer, and Sequel To A Pub With No Beer, both in 1958, but they were only minor hits.Cover versions abound, the most successful being by Belgian entertainer Bobbejaan Schoepen (below), who recorded German (Ich steh an der und ich habe) and Flemish (Café zander bier) versions and took them to #1 in Austria and Belgium and #6 in Germany. Over time such entertainers as Tom T. Hall, Johnny Cash, the Dubliners, John Williamson, the Pogues and Midnight Oil have all been inspired to record this iconic song.APWNB was the 10th biggest-selling record nationally in 1958 and Dusty would return to the charts again in 1980 with his second national #1 hit, again a song about the great Australian traditions of beer-drinking and mateship – Duncan.( pictured below are Slim and Duncan Urquhart, the person referred to in Pat Alexander’s 1980 hit song Duncan, outside the Town and Country Hotel, St. Peters (NSW)In 2001 APRA rated The Pub with No Beer the 5th best Australian song of the period 1926-2001, in 2008 APWNB was added to the National Film and Sound Archive’s Sounds of Australia Registry as a song of cultural and historical significance.On September 12th 2003 famous American country singer Johnny Cash died, one week later Australia’s most famous country singer, Slim Dusty, would also pass away.(the cartoon above by Dean Alston, imagines what the two singers might have observed about the hereafter, upon their arrival there). David Gordon “Slim Dusty” Kirkpatrick AO, MBE (1927—2003), was a legendary country music singer-songwriter and producer, with a career that spanned nearly seven decades, he recorded songs that reflected the legacy of Australian poets Henry Lawson and Banjo Patterson, the Australian bush lifestyle, and the lives of the nation’s long haul truck drivers. Dusty was the first to take an original Australian song to #1 with A Pub With No Beer, he received an unequaled 37 Golden Guitar and two ARIA awards and was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame and the Country Music Roll of Renown. At the time of his death at the age of 76, his domestic record sales in Australia had surpassed seven million.