|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975||Groups & Solo Artists|
Les Green (guitar)
Tex Ihasz (guitar)
Alan Crowe (bass)
Phil Bower (drums)
Peter Burbridge (sax) 1961-63
Ron Patton (sax) ?
Digger Revell (vocals)
Second lineup: (1965)
Mick Liber (guitar)
Kenny Kramer (bass)
Phil Bower (drums)
Frank Kennington (vocals)
Roy Cooper (vocals)
Sydney band The Denvermen was one of the premier Australian surf-instrumental groups of the early 1960s and although they have been somewhat overshadowed by their better-known contemporaries The Atlantics, they certainly deserve more recognition. The original lineup was formed in late 1961, by members of two earlier Sydney groups, Digger Revell and the Lonely Ones and Paul Dever and the Denvermen. Denvermen guitarist Les Green brought the Denvermen name with him when that group split and he joined Digger Revell. The group began by organising its own dances but gained national prominence thanks to appearances on the ABC's pioneering rock'n'roll TV show Six O'Clock Rock hosted by Johnny O'Keefe.
The Denvermen soon gained renowned as one of the best live instrumental groups in the country, and they reportedly invested in some of the best sound equipment available at the time. Les Green was one of the first guitarists in Australia to use effects boxes on his guitar, notably the Klempf Echolette. This was one of the first portable tape-delay echo machines and the same device used by Hank Marvin to achieve the distinctive rippling echo and reverb effects on The Shadows' classic recordings. According to Ian McFarlane, Les was also greatly influenced by American singer-guitarist Duane Eddy.
Rock encyclopedist Noel McGrath recounts that the band's name was constituted from the first letters of the birthplaces of the six original members -- Dubbo (Digger); England (Allan), Norway (Tex), Villawood (Phil), Epping (Ron), Randwick (Les) -- however, Who's Who records Tex Ihasz's birthplace as Hungary, so Noel's account might not be 100% accurate.
The group was 'discovered' at the Teenage Night-club in Sydney in mid-1962 by New Zealand-born rocker Johnny Devlin, who offered to take over their management. He arranged for an audition tape to be made of two of the group's instrumentals, "Outback" and "The Mexican". The tape was sent to EMI Records, who were so impressed that they issued them as a single, released on HMV, but unfortunately their debut was not a success.
In late 1962, The Denvermen began working on a lyrical, "Sleepwalk"-styled instrumental, conceived by their lead guitarist Les Green and producer/manager Johnny Devlin, that was eventually named "Surfside". Devlin added sound effects of breaking waves and when it was released in December 1962, "Surfside" hit the Sydney Top 40 during the second week of January 1963, and soon reached #1. It also did very well in Melbourne, where it peaked at #6 in Melbourne, and by April it had made the charts in every state, thus becoming the first Australian "surf" hit. This was a significant achievement, since capital city radio was still very parochial at that time and it was common for records by Sydney bands to be ignored by Melbourne radio (and vice versa). "Surfside" was also released in the USA on Capitol; over the years it has been included on many anthologies of surf music and is rightly considered one of the perennial classics of the genre.
Saxophonist Phil Burbridge left the group in early 1963. Their next single, "Avalon Stomp" (written by Les) came out mid-year and became another major hit in Sydney, reaching #5 in August. In June they made a tour of New Zealand with Revell, for which they were reportedly paid £8000 -- a staggering sum, considering that promoter Kenn Brodziac had been able to secure The Beatles for their Australasian tour -- which was taking place at the same time -- for just £2500.
Johnny Devlin who was appointed as the A&R manager / house producer for the new Australian division of the American RCA label and its probably no coincidence that in September 1963 The Denvermen were one of the first local acts RCA signed. Digger and the Denvermen's first single for RCA was a pop version of "Over The Rainbow", which appears to have been the very first Australian pop single issued on the new label. Although their version was not successful, a very similar rendition became a #1 for Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs in 1964. The Denvermen also backed Johnny Devlin on "Stomp The Tumbarumba", which was a minor hit in Melbourne (#30, Nov. 1963)
The band released a string of 'surf' instrumentals on RCA from 1963 to 1965 and usually these were closely followed or preceded by vocal singles with Digger. Many of their RCA releases were produced and written by Devlin, including the novelty song "My Little Rocker's Turned Surfie" (a #9 hit in Sydney in Jan. 1964) and instrumentals like "Stomp Fever" and "The Sun Seeker". Digger and the Denvermen became one of the first Australian acts to cover a Beatles song with their version of Lennon & McCartney's "Tip of my tongue", which was released as the B-side of"My Little Rocker's Turned Surfie".
Over this period, Digger started being co-billed with the Denvermen on their records and RCA increasingly promoted him as a solo artist, although he continued to record singles with the band during 1963-64. The Denvermen band also backed many other RCA artists, such as Tony Weston, who released the novelty single "Hootenanny Stomp".
By late 1964, with Beatlemania in full flood, Digger and the Denvermen had bowed to the inevitable and were now mainly performing Mod and 'beat' material. Their early 1965 cover of The Everly Brothers' "Bird Dog" was the group's first vocal recording without Digger. Their final single with Digger -- and their last for RCA -- was a cover of The Platters' "My Prayer" b/w Jerry Lee Lewis' "High School Confidential"; it was another major hit, reaching #4 in Sydney and #12 in Melbourne in May 1965.
The same month original bassist Alan Crowe left the band and was replaced by Kenny Kramer (ex Bluedogs). Revell was had by this time become estalished as a solo artist and he went on to record several solo singles for RCA, backed on which he was backed by orchestra (directed by the great Tommy Tycho). He increasingly moved into 'middle of the road' music in the late 1960s but reinvented himself as a country performer in the 1970s.
Les Green left the Denvermen late in 1965 to join The Sundowners; he was replaced by Mick Liber, while and Digger was replaced by Frank Kennington. This final version of The Denvermen returned to HMV for their last single "I Can Tell" / "Time will bring everything" (Nov. 1965) and evidently broke up soon around the time that the single came out. Kennington and Liber formed the first version of Python Lee Jackson in December 1965.
In 2006 original Denvermen guitarist Les Green took part in the making of Delightful Rain, a DVD/CD project celebrating Australian surf music and beach culture over the last five decades. Filmed and recorded between May 13th and 27th 2006, in the Freshwater Surf Life Saving Club, the Delighful Rain album was produced by Kerryn Tolhurst and recorded by Mick Wordley, the Freshwater sessions included The Atlantics, Les Green (performing a new version of "Surfisde"), Richard Clapton, Rob Hirst and Martin Rotsey of Midnight Oil, The Backsliders’ Dom Turner, Tamam Shud, Pete Howe, Tim Gaze, Celibate Rifles, GANGgajang, Cruel Sea founder Dan Rumour and his band, The Pigram Brothers, Beau Young and Andrew Kidman.
Surfside and Other Great Instrumentals (Canetoad CTLP 008) LP
Outback / The Mexican / Surfside / Lisa Maree / Nightrider / Blue Mountains /
Avalon Stomp / Harbour Cruise / Stomp Fever / The Sun Seeker / Mystery Wave / Spanish Sands / The Rebel / Vaquero / Surfers Blues / The Proud Ones / Route No. 1 / She's Gone
Let's Go Surfside With The Denvermen (Canetoad CTCD-030) CD
Collection of all the A-sides and B-sides, their RCA album, plus a bonus track. 8 page booklet with liner notes by surf historian Steven McParland.
Avalon Stomp / Back Rip / Blue Mountains / Harbour Cruise / Ho Dad / Let's Go Surfin' / Mystery Wave / On The Beach / Outback / Surfside / The Mexican / Lisa Maree / Nightrider / Quiet Beach / Route #1 / She's Gone / Spanish Sands / Spanish Sands / Stomp Fever / Summer Siesta / Surf City Stomp / Surfer's Blues / Surfer's Blues / Surfer's Cha Cha / Surf Patrol / Surfside Romance / The Proud Ones / The Rebel / The Sun Seeker / Vaquero.
References / Links
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)
Encylopedia of Australian Rock (Outback Press, 1978)
Chris Spencer, Zbig Nowara & Paul McHenry
Who's Who of Australian Rock (Five Mile Press, 2002)
Delightful Rain website