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The History of
Australian Rock 'n' Roll

The First Tours

Taking the 'city' to the country

An overview from the forthcoming Starlite Records' CD Rom publication..
'The Roots of Australian Rock-n-Roll'

Quite amazingly the country areas of Australia had not seen much, if anything of the stars they heard on radio and read about in the magazines until 1959 ! Of course there were the country music shows that went around in their caravans, the tent shows such as the famous Sorlies and the circuses, however these did not feature the really big stars that radio broadcsat across Australia.

It was not until a few months after the ABC TV show 'Six O'Clock Rock' went to air, that it was considered a reasonable enough financial risk to take out large shows with the big record stars. In USA they had their 'Bandstand Cavalcade of Stars' and the big shows promoted by the Fell family, however here we had to rely on good old Lee Gordern to do it.

The first of these tours started out in Mildura and went through the country towns of Victoria ending in Geelong. On it was Johnny O'Keefe and Lonnie Lee as well as Melbourne stars Malcolm Arthur and Beverly Dick. The tour was an amazing success and the Aussie bush had its first taste of 'Rockamania'

After this, a few tours started going that were promoted by people such as George Hilder, Ted Quigg, Colin Baker and others however it was Lee Gordern who took out the biggies! The first really long tour was in May/June 1960. It was a month of one nighters starting in Casino NSW, going all the way up to Cairns and back. This tour featured once again Johnny O'Keefe and Lonnie Lee, as well as Barry Stanton and others. Once again it was an enormous success and opened the way for many tours throughout Queensland.

Tours to the capital cities had been going for some time but other than the biggest Australian stars of the time, they mainly starred USA imports. Only Newcastle and Wollongong were to see any of the big US rock stars of the time and that was only a few shows. The costs were too high and the venues too small.

How they did it!

All of the travel in those days was by car and the production was supplied by the venue. Consequently it was not too good most of the time however the screams were so loud in the theatres they wouldn't have heard anyway!

The venues were mostly big old movie theatres which had the charm of the old variety days. They held from 6/700 to 2000 people and must have buckled with the scream noise and foot banging. The artists stayed in the local hotels as motels had not yet been introduced and when one looks at these hotels now, it shows there was not too much luxury on tour in those days.

The usual scenario as the cavalcade of cars came into the town was that many of the kids who happened to catch a glimpse of the stars, would start yelling and rushing after them to get autographs. Usually the stars would get out and sign them and this attracted more and more people until the police or the local store keepers got everyone to move away.

After the show it was much of the same, screaming fans just everywhere around the hotels and theatre just waiting to get a look at their favourite stars. Some of them managed to get into the rooms and either create havoc there until turfed out, or be a welcome guest of a band member for a few hours.

From 1959 when all this started, the tours went out for many years until the late 70's when finally it started winding down. There was only one boom time for the country tours and that was 1959 to 1965. After that the shows were presented free in the clubs instead of the theatres and the star system started to erode.

Yes - Rock'n'Roll took the 'city' to the country and it has never left!

The Starlite publication of 'The Roots of Australian Rock-n-Roll' will be released early 2000 to coincide with the Anniversary of Australia's music industry...If you are would like to be on the e-mailing list to be notified when it is due for release. Please email you name, address, phone and e-mail address.

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Last updated 1st June 200219:52:37