Monday, April 9, 2012

The Wanderers (1961-1970)

Terry Gordon & The Wanderers
Updated: 22 July 2012

One of the more prolific live groups on the local circuit throughout the sixties were The Wanderers. Originally formed in Unanderra in the late fifties, The Wanderers went through numerous line-up and style changes, playing residencies at almost every venue in the region during their almost ten-year existence.

The roots of The Wanderers can be traced back to 1958 when local kid Neville Palmer "turned up with a guitar", inspiring his mate Rod Maloney to do the same. Having practiced in Palmer's bedroom the duo picked up their first gig in a local milkbar in December that same year. This was soon followed by a show at a Dapto coffee lounge.

Playing a set consisting solely of instrumentals, the pair sought to fill out the band with another Unanderra local Tommy Merrilees brought in on third guitar and Charlie "Leadfoot" Farrell on drums.

Following some disagreements with Farrell, Maloney tried his hand at the drums, before he discovered his first bass guitar. Not knowing what to do with the four-string, or even how to tune it, the boys took it into Piper's Music (then situated in Globe Arcade) and asked store-manager Dick Piper for some help. Maloney then set about learning to play by turning his Gene Vincent, Little Richard and Bill Haley records up to 78 to hear the bass clearer.

In 1960 Dennis Seaward joined the band on drums and they played their first paid gig at Unanderra Hotel under the name of The JD's.

Having scored the Friday night residency at Unanderra, the boys backed it up on Saturday nights at Mt Kembla Hotel, where crowd favourites by the likes of Duane Eddy, The Shadows and The Ventures were played with increasing finesse.

In 1961 Maloney received an unexpected call from Terry Gordon, frontman of The City Five. Gordon was looking for something new and suggested he join The JD's to add vocals to their instrumental repertoire. Gordon was invited in for a rehearsal where they ripped through Johnny Cash and Cliff Richard tunes. Terry Gordon and The Wanderers were born.

As it happened Gordon shared a flat with Allan Hoy, who at the time worked at Channel 4 (WIN TV). This fortuitous relationship lead to The Wanderers being the first band to play on that station's Dance Date - a Saturday morning music show which Hay compered.

With momentum building The Wanderers entered Ossie Byrne's home studio in Tarrawanna at no cost, and cut a handful of tracks. These recordings were never released to the public, but served as an important confidence builder for the young band.

In 1962 the band picked up a Sunday afternoon residency at Rex Hotel in Thirroul. Maloney remembers the rider consisting of a baked dinner and beer. And what's more, the band were paid.

Despite such luxuries 1962 was to be a difficult year for the band. Scheduled to play a show at The Royal Hotel (cnr Crown & Keira Sts) Gordon failed to show following a local scandal. Adept at instrumentals, the band were able to go on without him, but when it became apparent that Gordon was not returning, decisions about the bands' future needed to be made. It was around this time that Merrilees announced his departure, and Seaward was given his marching orders.

But from adversity comes triumph. The remaining members built themselves a fresh line-up, and one that for many was considered the definitive Wanderers line-up.

Wally Buczma of The Clubmen was brought in to replace Merrilees and former City Five skinsman Harry Butler filled Seaward's space. Meanwhile Maloney stepped up to the microphone and took on vocal duties. The band picked up a Sunday afternoon residency at Albion Park Hotel, followed by a Sunday evening residency at Shellharbour Leagues Club.

They soon added Friday and Saturday night residencies at the Cabbage Tree Hotel, though they would occasionally divert from these regular spots and pick up sand dances at Towradgi, Port Kembla and Thirroul.

In 1966 the band entered the local heat of the inaugural Hoadley's Battle of the Sounds. Held out at Thirroul and presented by 2WL, 15 local acts were on show. The Wanderers won the heat and duly headed to Canberra in June for the regional heat. Unfortunately the band came away empty-handed, though the heat was not without controversy. Legend has it that the winning band had a family member on the judges' panel.

The Wanderers went in for round two in Warrawong Community Hall the following year. Again they were met with some fierce competition with newcomers Rev. Black & The Rockin' Vicars giving the band a run for their money. Again The Wanderers were successful in the local heat, but this time they were also successful in the regionals.

The band were flown to Melbourne for the nationals where they were placed fourth (The Groop received top prize). The Wanderers however did walk away with "best dressed" award.

As a result of their success in Hoadley's, the band entered Ossie Byrne's new studio in Hurstville and recorded four tracks. Again these tracks would go unheard to the general public.

Back home, The Wanderers persevered, playing weekend after weekend,  residency after residency, all the while struggling to maintain full-time work and life in the real world. The cracks began to show when, in late '69, the band were offered a contract with Wollongong Leagues Club. The offer was as a full-time house band at full wage.

Maloney, by this stage suffering depression, declined the offer and dropped out of the band. Gary Williams who had stood in for Maloney from time-to-time replaced him and the new-look Wanderers commenced the full-time residency. Though the money was good for a local band, it wasn't enough to justify leaving regular employment for. Palmer was working in the mines and refused to quit his job when the band were offered a trip to the UK.

Things came to a head one night when Palmer quit the band mid-gig at the Leagues Club. Frank Schnepf of The Del-Fi's happened to be in the audience and offered to finish the gig in Palmer's place. Schnepf was soon offered the position on a permanent basis.

With the two originating members gone, The Wanderers again shifted direction, adding Peter Phipps on trumpet and Joey Epps on trombone and adopting a Tijuana slant.

Following a two week stint at the Catalina Club on the South Coast The Wanderers again were forced into a line-up change. Heading out for yet another gig one night, Butler's young son looked up at him and asked if he was going out again. Realising his absence was having an effect on his family Butler opted to hang up his sticks. Jimmy Markham was brought in to replace Butler and the band also added Lance Martin on keyboards.

Despite this new injection of creativity, the band would soon play its last gig at Thirroul Leagues Club.

Following his departure Rod Maloney headed for Tamworth before returning to Wollongong to form The Silver Links, a country-act fronted by Noelene "Angel" Toms - herself a successful country music artist.

Rod also played with Harry Butler in Whiplash, a local country act whch won the inaugural Gong Award in 1986.

Terry Gordon had earlier relocated to Queensland and began shaping a solo career in country music. In 1995 he was inducted in Tamworth's Country Music Hands of Fame, and in 2000 published the most complete online discography of country and rock n' roll related records between 1951 and 1964. (http://rcs-discography.com/rcs/index.html)

Wally Buczma also built a career on music, becoming a professional musician in the early-seventies. Immediately after The Wanderers split Buczma joined The Frat's resident band The Royal Five, before forming The Wildwood Greens and then The Combination. Buczma was also the mastermind behind a session band which he cleverly christened Banned.

Dennis Seaward was killed in a car accident on the notorious stretch of Appin Road about 6 months after his departure. He was just 18 years old.

Neville Palmer, Gary Williams and Harry Butler still live locally as does Wally Buczma. Rod Maloney resides in Sydney. The whereabouts of the remaining members is unknown.

Exclusive downloads:
Ossie Byrne Recordings (download)
Live at Wollongong Workers' Club 1966 (download)
Live at Wollongong Leagues Club, 1967 (download)
Various Live Recordings (download)

Resources:
Interview with Rod Maloney, 23 August 2011
Interview with Wally Buczma, 19 February 2012
Interview with Harry Butler, 22 July 2012
Terry Gordon biography
Ossie Byrne wiki entry
'The rock tragic' (Sydney Morning Herald, 05/07/04)
'Return of the Jaguar'

Special thanks to Rod Maloney whose passion remans after all these years. I wish you well, Rod. Special thanks also to Wally - a true gentleman whose patience and friendship have been invaluable. Thank you also to Harry Butler who took the time out to speak despite his poor health.

3 comments:

  1. Neil Porter (Marksmen)April 18, 2012 at 11:27 AM

    Firstly, Alan Hay should be Allan Hoy. He later became manager of WIN4.

    When my brother, Ian, later well-known in his Country Living band in the 70s and 80s, turned 18 he had a party in a neighbours house (more room). Either Neville or Rod worked at the same place as my mother and she had booked them for the party. I was not yet 16 at the time. So, there they were, a couple of real, live electric guitarists playing in the lounge room right in front of me! I was totally transfixed.

    I know that there was a lot of drinking, laughing and kissing and stuff going on that night but I pulled up a chair and sat about 2 feet in front of Neville (lead) and Rod (rhythm) and sat and watched them all night long. About a dozen or so instrumentals would pass and I would ask for a request and they would always comply ..... and it was always Guitar Boogie! They must have re-played it about ten times, just for their only real fan! Two gentlemen! In my eyes they were amazing, guitar hero rock stars that night.

    A couple of years later, when my own band kicked off, and we got around town more, I was able to become friends with them. There were rival bands in those days but they were always friends. Good days.

    ReplyDelete
  2. Nice article Warren, regret not looking at the update sooner & shown Dad. Tracy

    ReplyDelete
  3. Harry passed away today :( RIP

    ReplyDelete