POP GOES THE 1970’s – Part 2- DIANA TRASK

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Oh Boy (The Mood I’m In) (T Romeo) – Diana Trask 1975

Diana Trask (1940) was born in Camberwell (Melb.) and her music teacher mother encouraged her to become a singer, legendary vocal coach Jack White became her tutor whilst simultaneously working with the younger Helen Reddy and later other local singers including Olivia Newton-John, Normie Rowe, Peter Doyle and Merv Benton. At sixteen years of age Diana was a young, unsophisticated, precocious, redhead with an attractive soprano voice who dreamt of international success.  Local appearances on Swallows Juniors and Graham Kennedy’s In Melbourne Tonight, encouraged Trask to spread her wings and relocate to Sydney where she regularly gigged at Romano’s, The Sky Lounge, and Johnny Lee’s, and in 1959 she landed a recording contract with Lee Gordon’s Leedon label.

The tenacious 19-year-old then secured support act spots on separate tours of Australia by Frank Sinatra and Sammy Davis Jnr in 1959 and impressed the visiting American stars. Both Sinatra and Davis encouraged Diana to relocate to the States and they promised to open doors for her there, Sinatra was smitten with the younger Diana (he was 40 and she was 19), and after arriving in Los Angeles Trask did briefly live at Frank Sinatra’s Topanga Canyon house. Below -Centre – Mitch Miller

In 1960 Diana was signed to Colombia Records by musical guru Mitch Miller, and she joined such stellar labelmates as Johnny Mathis, Tony Bennett, Guy Mitchell, Patti Page, Frankie Laine, Percy Faith, Ray Conniff, and Aretha Franklin. Miller would produce her first two US singles, Long Ago Last Summer (#26 in ’60) and Language of Love (#44 in ’61), and although Trask found the older Miller to be paternalistic and authoritarian, he was impressed by the Melbourne singer and offered her a 26-week contract to appear on the debut season of the new NBC series Sing Along with Mitch.

A lush ballad so typical of the era, beautiful orchestration and production standards, and a Bacharach/David song as well, Diana’s vocals were right on the money

The show was a popular hit and gave Diana career-defining exposure when she became the first Australian artist to secure an American network contract, so blazing a trail for other Australian performers such as Helen Reddy and Olivia Newton-John who followed her Stateside. Below – Appearing on Sing Along With Mitch, Mitch and the All- Male Chorus, Diana performing Sound Off on the show in 1961.

Throughout the first season of Sing Along with Mitch on NBC in 1961 Di Trask (1940) became a familiar face on American television, she was featured in articles in both Time and Life magazines and released two pop-oriented albums, Diana Trask (’61) and Diana Trask on TV (’62) which were minor hits in the US. She continued to work outside her TV network commitments appearing with Jack Benny on his show at Harrah’s Casino, Lake Tahoe, as well as guesting with Tony Bennett and Mel Torme, but she had met her future husband, and this would seriously sidetrack her singing career in the future. The music vid below was typical of the Mitch MIller formula – an attractive young woman surrounded by an aging male chorus, singing cute, flirtacious, old-school songs, with slightly politically incorrect lyrics, in brilliant monochrome, on a barely-there set, and all the while miming her own voice.

Thom Ewen was an Irish-American divorcee with two children and an existing heart condition, when he and Diana Trask married in Warburton (Vic) in January 1962, he was 33 and she was 21, her parents were dubious, but before that year was over Diana would have delivered their first child, a son they named Shawn, and a second son, Patrick, would arrive soon thereafter. Below Di’s Wedding Day, Thom and Diana at rear, her mother second from left and father extreme right.

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Her American management team were furious at her actions which had not been planned and had upset the scheduling of her future engagements, her manager Mort Farber told her to have an abortion, and Diana flatly refused. Mitch Miller had already decided to sack her because she had dared to ask for a pay rise as advised by Farber after the first series of the show, and also because the relationship between his two female lead singers on Sing Along with Mitch, Diana and Leslie Uggams was frosty. Diana was also unhappy with the controlling attitude of Mitch Miller, and the fact that all the songs on the show were cover versions of other’s songs, and miming of her own vocals was compulsory, leaving little opportunity to promote original songs or perform them live. Her sudden marriage and pregnancies, and the cancellation of her NBC contract, effectively put Diana’s American showbiz career on hold.  

She returned to Australia in 1964, Thom was her new manager, she quickly picked up professional work, appearing on In Melbourne Tonight and ultimately landed her own show on GTV9, the Di Trask Show which ran for thirteen weeks, it was a moderate hit here, but very popular overseas, she returned to the US in 1967, settled in Nashville, and began to re-invent herself as a country singer in the heart of the Grand Ole Opry community.

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Her debut country chart entry was a cover of Roger Miller’s Lock, Stock and Teardrops, which climbed to #33 on the Billboard Country charts in 1968, she followed up with a Joe Tex song Hold On to What You Got, which earned Diana the title of “Miss Country Soul”, the title of her next album release. She toured the country music venues relentlessly, seeking that big hit that would convince her fellow country artists that she was the real deal, and not just a pop crossover careerist on the make from Australia. She took out American citizenship and received the predictable howls of protest from the media back in Australia, Helen Reddy would endure the same treatment in the future.

It would not be until 1970 when Diana first reached the Top 40 on the US country charts with her version of Patsy Cline’s I Fall to Pieces and Beneath Still Waters (a decade later a Number 1 hit for Emmylou Harris). From 1972, Trask had a string of major hits with songs including We’ve Got To Work It Out Between Us (1972), It Meant Nothing To Me (1972), and four straight Top 20 hits with Say When (1973), It’s A Man’s World (When You Have A Man Like Mine) (1973), When I Get My Hands on You (1974), and Lean It All on Me (1974). Below L-R Di Trask, country singer Roy Clark, Helen Reddy.

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By now Diana was guesting on the Dinah Shore Show, Johnny Carson, Merv Griffen, and the Johnny Cash TV Show, performing regularly as a member of the Roy Clark Show in casinos and supporting such lounge acts on the strip as Danny Thomas and Glenn Campbell. Her album From the Heart was a #32 country hit in 1969 in the US, as was It’s A Man’s World which climbed to #25 in 1974, she was nominated for a Country Grammy award for Best Female vocalist in 1968 but lost out to Tammy Wynette. Below – Diana duets with Johnny Cash.

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In the intervening years Diana would take eighteen songs into the US country charts, but she desperately wanted a country/pop crossover hit song and believed that she had found one in 1975 with the Tony Romeo song Oh Boy (The Mood I’m In).

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Diana went into the ABC-Dot Records studio in Nashville to record Oh Boy with producer Jim Fogleson, who was the Head of A&R at Dot Records and a country music producer/arranger of considerable repute. The song was anchored on a sustained pedal steel guitar refrain and a catchy chorus, male backing singers accentuated the emotional content of the song which charted the anguish of marital breakup and the wife’s fruitless search for her husband and father of their child. Oh Boy was not surprisingly country-influenced and is completely different from the Buddy Holly song of the same name. Below- Jim Fogleson

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Tony Romeo was a US music journeyman, whose biggest hit had been five years earlier when the Partridge Family took his I Think I Love You to #1 in the States, and he also had success with Indian Lake (Cowsills) and I’m Gonna Make You Mine (Lou Christie).

By this time Di Trask was a polished performer with an easy-listening country style that resonated with her many fans in the States.

A string arrangement by Bill McElhiney beautifully underscored the warm enveloping soprano voice of Diana and Harold Bradley brought the whole musical arrangement together in a convincing production that should have been a big hit on both the pop and country charts internationally. But when the song needed the full marketing support of the label, ABC-Dot was being sold to another company, and Oh Boy would be a casualty of the corporate realignment of the business. Below Tony Romeo

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Trask’s highest rating record in the USA was Lean It All on Me which hit #13 in 1974 but her biggest hit locally was Oh Boy which was a #10 hit here in 1975. The song was given more of a pop treatment in 1977 by the British quartet Brotherhood of Man, who had won the Eurovision Song Contest the previous year and followed up with Oh Boy which charted #8 in the UK and top ten in several other European countries.

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One of Diana’s last chart appearances in Australia was an album of C&W songs with Allison Durbin entitled Nothing But the Very Best in 1982, and in 1985 the girl who had grown up Warburton (Vic.) would be the featured singer at the 1985 AFL Grand Final, the first female singer so honored, when she performed Waltzing Matilda in front of 100,000 adoring hometown fans. Currently Diana Trask has not been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame yet, and given her career here and within the US country genre, it would seem her status is due to be evaluated. Below Diana was the first woman to perform at the MCG on AFL Grand Final Day in 1985.

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