Wednesday, 2 December 2015
Wild Weekend/Delilah/Machine Gun/Teen Scene/Theme From 'The Ratrace'/New Orleans Beat
Formed- 1957 Style: Rock 'n'roll
Original line-up: Laurie Bell (lead guitar, vocals), Mickey Borg (guitar, vocals), Don Henderson (rhythm guitar, Marion Grossman (piano, vocals), Frank Tenni (sax, Harold Frith (drums)
Drummer Harold Frith formed the first line-up of The Thunderbirds in September 1957.
That line-up was short-lived, in early 1958, Frith and Bell re-formed The Thunderbirds with Murray Robertson (piano) and Peter Robinson (bass). Colin Cook (ex-Sapphires) then joined on sax. Graham Lyall (sax, flute; ex-Sapphires) joined towards the end of 1958. By that
stage, The Thunderbirds had also incorporated three featured vocalists into the line-up, Billy Owen, Billy O'Rourke and Judy Cannon. The Thunderbirds became resident group at Earl's Court in St Kilda, playing there Saturday night ,Sunday Afternoon and Sunday Nights
The Thunderbirds achieved an enormous level of popularity. they were the bastions of Melbourne's early 1960s rock scene alongside The Phantoms, The Strangers, The Chessmen
The Breakaways, The Saxons, The Fabulous Blue Jays, The Marksmen and The Playboys. The Thunderbirds backed many solo singers on the Melbourne dance circuit, and' virtually became resident band for Ron Tudor's W&G label during the early 1960s. Interestingly The Thunderbirds were not the first Melbourne rock'n 'roll group to record (Henri Bource All Stars are credited with having issued the very first Australian rock'n 'roll album, Rock'n 'Roll Party, on the Planet label in 1958 ).
In late 1959, The Thunderbirds signed to Festival's Rex label which resulted in the release of two EP's and two singles. Owen, O'Rourke and Cannon sang a song each on the band's debut EP, Rex 4 Star (completed by one instrumental track,Henry Mancini’s `Peter Gunn' later covered by Duane Eddy).Owen and O'Rourke sang two songs each on the second EP, The Thunderbirds, and the debut single `Running Bear'/`Blue Woman' (1959). Judy Cannon took vocal honors on the second single, `Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me'/`Laughing on the Outside' (April 1960). Laurie Bell left the group shortly after these recording sessions to pursue a career as a 'Jazz guitarist and Musical Director, he was replaced by Charles Gauld.
By the end of 1960, The Thunderbirds' line-up comprised Frith and Robertson, plus newcomers Henri Bource (sax, flute; ex-Henri Bource All Stars)Gordon Only (bass; ex-Malcolm Arthur and the Knights) and 17-year-old Charles Gauld (guitar).
Colin Cook had also left the Thunderbirds by this time and went on to enjoy a very successful solo career. Peter Robinson, joined Sydney band 'Ray Hoff and Offbeats' and eventually went on, to found 'The Strangers in 1961. The Thunderbirds left Rex and, with help from top Melbourne DJ Stan Rofe, signed a new deal with the W&G label. The Thunderbirds recorded for W&G as an instrumental outfit. The band's run of singles comprised a cover of The Rockin' Rebels' `Wild Weekend'/`Theme from the Rat Race' (February 1961), `New Orleans Beat'/`Delilah' (April 1961), The Riptides' `MachineGun'/`Teen Scene' (June 1961) The Royaltones' `Royal Whirl'/`Yippee Hoedown' (December 1961), `Dardanella'/`What Me Worry-' (1962), 'Wild Weekend'/`Yippee Hoedown' (reissued 1962), The Markeys' `One Degree North'/`Amarillo Stomp' (1962) and `Pink Dominoes Walk on the Wild Side' (1962), 13, 10 and #16 respectively.
All six sides of those three singles appeared as the EP The Thunderbirds' Big 6 in late 1961. English label Oriole Issued the `Wild Weekend' and `New Orleans Beat' singles in the UK. The Melbourne label also issued `Wild Weekend' in the USA.
`Wild Weekend' must rank alongside The Atlantics 1963 hit `Bombora' as one of the most successful Australian instrumental singles of all-time. At the end of 1961, The Thunderbirds supported and provided the musical backing for Roy Orbison, Jack Scott, Ray Peterson , Dion and Johnny Chester on their package tour of Australia. That was followed with a support slot to Cliff Richard and the Shadows, alongside The Allen Brothers, Andy Ellis and Judy Stone. In 1962 The Thunderbirds appeared on the live album Quite a Party issued on W&G's budget Gem label. The band featured on three instrumental tracks, as well as providing backing for Johnny Chester, Noel Watson and Jillian Buckley.
By that stage, The Thunderbirds had backed a number of solo artists both on record and on tour. They included Johnny Chester, Colin Buckley, Betty McQuade (`Midnight Bus'), Bobby Cookson and the Thin Men. Tony Buchanan (ex-Premiers, Planets) played sax on the Thin Men's single `Here She Comes'/`Sorry (I Ran All the Way Home)' having replaced Henri Bource, who joined The Planets. Normie Rowe and Marcia Jones also began their
singing careers fronting The Thunderbirds at the Preston Town Hall dances. who were were augmented by a brass section of Ken Jones (baritone sax), Norman Robertson (tenor sax) and Ivan Cocking (trombone) for their appearances at Preston Town Hall.
The Thunderbirds went on to appear with Helen Shapiro, Fabian, Lonnie Lee, Johnny O'Keefe, Lucky Starr and The Bee Gees at various concerts. In 1964, Terry Clark replaced Murray Robertson on piano. A year later, Clark and Gordon Onley left The Thunderbirds and by the end of 1965, the band had called it a day.
Gauld and Frith formed The Charlie Gauld Trio with Frank McMahon (bass; ex-Chessmen). Noel Tresider (ex-Premiers) later joined on keyboards. Gauld went on to be resident guitar player for W&G Records, and lead guitarist and musical arranger for the Brian May
ABC Show Band. Frith played with Nite Trane, Doctor Feelgood, The Promised Band and 1970s country-rock band Saltbush. Bource performed with The Planets and The Johnny Donohue Quartet before retiring following a near-fatal shark attack in November 1964.
Murray Robertson became musical director for Merv Benton, and in 1983 he and Bource formed The Allstars. Billed as `Australia's most authentic 1950s group', The Allstars included
former members of The Planets, The Blue Echoes, The Chessmen, Jigsaw.
In 1983, The Thunderbirds re-formed briefly for a 1960s revival concert. The line-up was Charles Gauld, Henri Bource, Murray Robertson, Gordon Onley and Harold Frith. The night also included performances by Judy Cannon, Betty McQuade, Malcolm Arthur and Billy Owen.
In 1990, the Canetoad label issued The W&G Instrumental Story which included 17 Thunderbirds' tracks on the collection. .Other bands featured were The Strangers, The Cherokees, The Phantoms, The Breakaways, The Marksmen and The Saxons.
Canetoad also compiled most of The Thunderbirds' best-known tracks for the collection.
The W&G Instrumental Story Volume Two.
In the mid-1990s, Frith, Peter Robinson, Dan Robinson (vocals; ex-Wild Cherries) and another Melbourne mainstay, Les Stacpool (ex-Chessmen, Merv Benton and the Tamlas, Levi Smith's Clefs, Rockwell T. James and the Rhythm Aces), formed Rite on the Nite.
In 1996, at the suggestion of promoter, Greg Lynch, The original Thunderbirds Harold Frith, Laurie Bell, Henri Bource, Peter Robinson and Murray Robertson got together for a one off concert at The Elvis Presley Fan Club dance at the Moorabbin Town Hall. The reception the guys received was so enthusiastic that further concerts were inevitable and a decision to continue to record was made. Over 40 tracks are now in the archives. The guys continue to work together in the studio, and plan to release a lot more archival and newly written titles
on a regular basis.
In 2007 the Thunderbirds celebrated 50 years together with a group of Concerts at leading Melbourne venues coinciding with the release of their CD " The Thunderbirds in the 21st Century. They continue as the original group to perform and record
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop, Ian McFarlane