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… 

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Time-tripping in the 1966 Lincoln Continental that belonged to Ford Australia’s head honcho

So apparently the GM of Ford Australia in the 1960s drove a 1966 Lincoln Continental – a right-hand drive model that was hand-built shipped over from the US especially for him. There doesn't appear to be any documented evidence to support this claim – but trust me, it’s the truth. How do I know? Well, because I was a passenger in this very car over the Christmas break!

And here it is. Holy Yank tanks, Batman, would you get an eyeful of that?
Check out that rectangular beastliness: if that doesn’t look 70s, I don’t know what does. But no, this rumbling road-hog is definitely from 1966. Supposedly the 60s Lincolns were a deliberate departure from the fins and chrome-plated flamboyance of the 50s models.

Can’t you just imagine this thing cruising the mean streets of Geelong all those years ago? Personally I find it a bit odd that the top dog of Ford Australia didn’t support the national product by driving a Falcon XP, but hey, when you’re the boss, you can do what you damn well please. 

Imagine parallel parking this thing!
The Continental is currently owned by a Wollongong-based motoring enthusiast named Rob (let's just say it's one of his many two- and four-wheeled vehicles). Rob bought it off an old bloke called Kevin in Bathurst, who told him that Mr Ford Australia drove it until 1968 or 1969. Then he sold it to his mate, who subsequently sold it to Kev in 1981. But because the car's history started in 1960s Gee-troit, it more than qualifies for this blog.

Effortlessly outshining the ugly modern cars in the background
So what was it like to ride in? Smooooth, baby. We were driving through downtown Albury so there was no opportunity for hooning, but the sense of coiled power just waiting to be unleashed was palpable. Rob says the fastest he’s driven it was about 110 miles an hour:
"Whilst is it still amazingly smooth at that speed (approx 170kph), you are aware that you're moving a 5.6-metre and 2.5-ton object with only 1966 combination disk (front)/drum (rear) brakes to avoid Armageddon. I lack that bravery, I must say."

Inside, it’s super-flash, with all sorts of controls and fancy details. Some of them may be commonplace today but would've seemed positively space-age back in 1966.

Dash detail
Take a deep breath and repeat after me: ashtrays and cigarette lighters for every passenger (and the driver, of course), eight-way electric seat settings, cruise control, an eight-track player (Cosmo’s Factory by CCR was our motoring soundtrack) and separate AM/FM radio (with a foot switch to change the station!), air con and power windows (including power quarter vents). If you’d asked me whether power windows even existed in 60s Australia, I would’ve said hell no.

Inside door detail 
But wait, there's more! (Minimalism clearly was not a word in Lincoln's vocabulary).
Individual interior light switches for each passenger, vacuum-operated door locks on the driver's side to lock your passengers in, a foot-operated handbrake, hazard lights, variable-speed windscreen wipers, automatic boot release from inside the car... all topped off by a gas-guzzling, 462 cubic inch (7.6L) engine that Rob admits is "obscene and quasi-unspeakable by today's standards! Fuel consumption? Of no significance in 1966!"

No wonder the Lincoln Continental was the car preferred by US Presidents (although as Rob points out, "it didn't do JFK any favours -- a roof may have helped.")

It was also a hit among US mobsters, thanks to probably its most noteworthy feature: rear-hinged ‘suicide’ doors. Yep, the back doors open backwards! Rob explains that suicide doors "allowed their dames to gracefully alight from the vehicle when draped in classy evening frocks (which was pretty much all the time). This, along with the car's vacuum locks and a trunk big enough to fit three bodies made it a firm gangster favourite."

Could that be why Ford Australia didn’t introduce them into any of their locally manufactured vehicles?