Friday, January 23, 2015

Melbourne song of the month: "Shame, Shame, Shame"/The Spinning Wheels (September 1965)

A band’s name can tell you a lot about them, even before you hear their music. Take The Spinning Wheels. Even my old Aunty Lil, with her Vera Lynn records and True Detective magazines, would’ve been able to make the Rolling Stones connection. But unlike so many Melbourne groups of the time with aspirations to be our own Mick, Keef and co, The Spinning Wheels got there first. 
Early line-up of The Spinning Wheels. L-R: Glen Sievers, Don Hirst, Graham Lord, Rod Turnbull, Mike Perrin.
When The Spinning Wheels formed in early 1964, the Stones hadn’t quite taken off in Australia and Melbourne’s live music scene still had a strong rocker element. But the screaming tidal wave of Beatlemania had already landed; and the floodgates opened pretty fast after that. 

But where the Fab Four were loveably pop, many of the other British groups that emerged in their mop-topped wake were tougher, heavily influenced by black American blues and r’n’b. The Stones, The Pretty Things, The Animals and The Yardbirds (to name a few) — these were the bands that inspired guitarists Don Hirst and Michael Perrin, and drummer Graeme Lord, to blow the folk/skiffle scene they’d been hanging round in and embrace the beat explosion.
The band playing at daytime CBD venue The Bowl in 1964
Add singer Rod Turnbull and bassplayer Glen Sievers (lead guitarist Tom Cowburn came a bit later) to the equation, and The Spinning Wheels were born. Not everyone welcomed them with open arms: in their early days, they were occasionally beaten up by rockers who didn't dig their rootsy sound or mod aesthetic. They also copped a tongue-lashing from the judges of the talent show, "New Faces", who thought they were filthy reprobates! 

Fortunately, music promoter Brian de Courcy had better taste, and invited the Wheels to play at a popular weekly dance he ran in Mentone. Then Stones hysteria kicked off like a herd of stampeding wildebeest and suddenly every booker in town (and Lorne, but that’s a story for a different post) wanted a sound-alike. 

No prizes for guessing who they called. While most other local wannabe Stones combos were still getting their act together, The Spinning Wheels were already firing on all cylinders.
Anyone know what that cool guitar with the Florentine cut-outs is in the background?

The song

Not surprisingly, the band was snapped up by HMV, with whom they released four singles. Their high-spirited version of Jimmy Reed’s classic, “Shame, Shame, Shame” was the B-side of their third single, “You Can’t Catch Me” (the Chuck Berry number), and was recorded at St Kilda’s Telefil Studios with sound engineer Roger Savage (whose name has popped up in this blog more than once).

Where the original is cool and soulful and swingin’, The Spinning Wheels rendition is gritty and over-driven and struttin’. Rod Turnbull’s vocals are a world away from Reed’s southern tones, being closer to the snotty style of someone like Jim Sohn (Shadows of Knight).

In place of the bluesy harmonica solo that distinguishes the original, the Wheels let rip instead with a wild guitar rave-up, leaving the harmonica in the background. As close to fuzz as guitar got in those days, Tom Cowburn’s blistering sound was achieved when Savage split the cone in Cowburn’s little practice amp, cranked up the volume, and miked it up from behind — a trick he’d learnt back in London, where he'd worked with the Stones themselves.

A scorchin’ slice of r’n’b in the best blue-eyed British style, “Shame, Shame, Shame” doesn’t possess that indefinable ‘Aussie sound’ evident in some of the other songs featured on this blog, but it’s still a Melbourne classic… 

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