Wednesday, 16 December 2015
Bama Lama Bama Loo/Tossin' & Turnin'/Lookin' For My Pigs/Let's Go, Let's Go, Let's Go
Raymond Hough only had to effect a small tweaking of his birth name but it gave him one of the coolest handles in Oz rock: Ray Hoff & the Offbeats. From the rock'n'roll cauldron of the late 1950s and throughout the beat and soul-funk era of the 1960s and beyond, it was a name that commanded respect in Australian musical circles even if it was not always familiar in the nation's households.
Kept from a level of prominence enjoyed by his peers - and indeed some lesser talents - by the lack of a signature hit or a solid body of recorded work, Hoff's fame, as it was, centred around his gruff, powerful, soul voice. Like Max Merritt & the Meteors, his formidable reputation as a song stylist and his energetic sidemen always commanded enthusiastic audiences.
Born in Strathfield to Sydney and Margaret Hough, at the end of a line of four brothers and two sisters, he lost his father at two weeks of age and developed a passion for singing while in short pants. In 1958 he fell in with two seminal Australian rock'n'rollers, drummer Leon Isackson and flamboyant pianist Jimmy Taylor, who saw him take the stage for an impromptu warble with Johnny O'Keefe's Dee Jays at Leichhardt Police Citizens Boys Club and were impressed as much by the frantic femme response he occasioned as by his pipes.
A few band competitions later - with Isackson enticed away by Dig Richards & the RJ's but with Taylor still pounding his keys maniacally - Hoff was on Six O'Clock Rock and he and his Offbeats were setting Sydney alight with rock'n'roll as part of a pioneering elite headed by O'Keefe, Col Joye & the Joy Boys, Johnny Rebb & the Rebels and Alan Dale & the Houserockers.
It was a heady environment for a time but without a record deal (Teen Records promised but withdrew) and with fairly formidable competition from what mostly became multiple-hit acts, Hoff moved to Adelaide, then Perth, where he was warmly embraced. But it was not until he returned to Sydney in 1965 and put together a new line-up of the Offbeats that things began to fall into some sort of place.
Signed to RCA Records, the group recorded four tracks for the label, one of which, a thumping version of Chuck Berry's Little Queenie, became as close to a hit as he would have. It could have strongly established the act had not Billy Thorpe spirited away two of his Offbeats to form a new Aztecs, leaving Hoff floundering and losing momentum. Despondent, he made his way back to Perth, where he assembled an eight-piece horn-dominated R&B powerhouse version of the Offbeats, which was signed by Clarion Records for an album - the only LP he would record until the last decade of his life. During eastern visits this commanding unit was known to give the reigning likes of Jeff St John & the Id a bit of a scare.
Hoff was one of the most active Australian performers in Vietnam during the war, although due to his soul leanings, he was heard far more by American than Australian servicemen. During one tour of duty he met a go-go dancer called Kay, who became his wife of 25 years. (Glen A. Baker)