Melbourne, 1957-65 and later reformations

Original lineup, Sep. 1957
Laurie Bell (lead guitar, vocals)
Mickey Borg (guitar, vocals)
Don Henderson (rhythm guitar)
Marion Grossman (piano, vocals)
Frank Tenni (sax)
Harold Frith (drums)
Harold Frith (drums)
Murray Robertson (piano)
Charlie Gauld (guitar)
Henri Bource (sax, flute)
Gordon Onley (bass)
Ken Jones (baritone sax), Norman Robertson (tenor sax), Ivan Cocking (trombone)
Tommy Clark (vocals)
Laurie Bell (lead guitar, vocals)
Harold Frith (drums) 
Murray Robertson (piano)
Peter Robinson (bass)
Bill Hamilton (tenor sax)
Colin Cook (sax) recording only
Graham Lyall (sax, flute) recording only
Harold Frith (drums)
Terry Clark (piano)
Charlie Gauld (guitar)
Tony Buchanan (sax, flute)
Gordon Onley (bass)
Laurie Bell (lead guitar, vocals)
Harold Frith (drums) 
Murray Robertson (piano)
Peter Robinson (bass)


The Thunderbirds was one of the first rock'n'roll bands in Australia, and they are widely regarded as one of the best bands of the era. This pioneering Melbourne group was in the vanguard of rock'n'roll in Australia, alongside other now-legendary bands like Melbourne's The Phantoms, The Planets, The Knights, The Chessmen, The Breakaways, The Saxons, The Blue Jays, The Marksmen and The Playboys, and Sydney's The Dee Jays, The Joy Boys, The Leemen and The Denvermen. 

The musicians from these groups collectively became the "engine room" of Australian pop-rock music in the 1960s and beyond. All were highly skilled and very versatile performers, most of whom had a solid background in jazz. It's no exaggeration to state that these early Aussie rock'n'roll bands were as good as (and often much better) than their more famous overseas contemporaries, as Peter Cox records in his article on Dee Jays guitarist Lou Casch. The talent and versatility of their members enabled many of these bands to survive the dramatic changes of the Beat Boom, and several groups evolved into the regular backing bands for solo vocalists like Tony Worsley and Normie Rowe.

Both individually and collectively, The Thunderbirds have exerted a significant influence on Australian music. Victoria's feeedback kings The Elois, for example, were just one of the young groups who were influenced by them -- in fact, one of the very first numbers they learned was The Thunderbirds' "Wild Weekend", and Elois guitarist Dennis Fiorini is one of many who consider it "a classic". 

Drummer Harold Frith formed the original version of The Thunderbirds in September 1957; they ran their own dances at Ascot Vale Progress Hall for several months and played opposite Henri Bource's All Stars at Maison Deluxe in Elwood before breaking up. In early 1958 Frith and Bell were approached by promoter Kevin McLellan to replace The Planets at Ormond RSL, so they put together a new lineup of The Thunderbirds with Mickey Borg, Murray Robertson (piano, vocals), Peter Robinson (bass), Bill Hamilton (tenor sax) and Tommy Clark (vocals, and hip-shaking). During this period the band recorded an unreleased acetate at AWA Studios in Melbourne, which contained "Hard-headed woman" (sung by Billy O'Rourke), "Twenty Flight Rock" (sung by Laurie Bell), "Rebel Rouser" and "Big fat woman" (sung by Mickey Borg).

By early 1959 The Thunderbirds had added three permanent featured vocalists -- Billy Owen, Billy O'Rourke and Judy Cannon -- and they took up a residency at the Earl's Court venue in St Kilda, playing three times weekly on Saturday nights, Sunday afternoons and Sunday nights. They became very popular during this period, and were soon being described as one of Melbourne's top groups, and they were also much in demand as a backing band for the many solo singers on the Melbourne dance circuit. Interestingly thuogh, they were not the first Melbourne rock'n 'roll act to record -- that honour goes to the Henri Bource All Stars, who are credited with the very first Australian rock'n 'roll album, Rock'n 'Roll Party, issued on the Planet label in 1958.

Their successful stints at local dances like Earls Court and Preston Town Hall led to a recording offer in late 1959 from Festival's subsidiary label Rex, for whom The Thunderbirds recorded two singles and three EPs. Owen and O'Rourke sang one side each on the T-birds' debut single "Running Bear" / "Blue Woman" (1959), and on their first EP Owen and O'Rourke had a song each and Cannon two songs. The three singers had one song each on the band's next EP, Rex 4 Star, which was rounded out by their instrumental version of Henry Mancini's "Peter Gunn" theme (featuring Graham Lyall) and two songs each on their second EP, The Thunderbirds. Judy Cannon sang on their second single, "Ma, He's Making Eyes at Me" / "Laughing on the Outside" (April 1960). Founding member Laurie Bell left shortly after these sessions to pursue a career as a jazz guitarist and Musical Director, and he was replaced by talented 17-year-old guitarist Charlie Gauld.

During 1960, The Thunderbirds' settled into the "classic" line-up of Frith, Robertson, Gauld, Henri Bource (sax, flute; ex-Henri Bource All Stars) and Gordon Onley (bass, ex Malcolm Arthur & The Knights), the personnel that recorded the famed W&G instrumentals that cemented the band's reputation. Colin Cook went on to enjoy a successful solo career, while Peter Robinson joined Sydney's Ray Hoff & The Offbeats before founding The Strangers in 1961, who became one of the top Mebourne bands of the Beat Boom, the resident group on The Go!! Show and the mainstay of the Go!! label.

With the help of leading Melbourne DJ Stan Rofe, The Thunderbirds signed a new deal with the W&G label, and they became one of the most prominent bands of the surf music boom; they released a string of excellent instrumental singles and also backed many W&G vocalists on record. The Thunderbirds' W&G recordings include their classic cover of The Rockin' Rebels' "Wild Weekend" / "Theme from the Rat Race" (Feb. 1961), "New Orleans Beat" / "Delilah" (April 1961), The Riptides' "Machine Gun" / "Teen Scene" (June 1961), The Royaltones' "Royal Whirl" / "Yippee Hoedown" (Dec. 1961) and "Dardanella" / "What Me Worry" (1962).

Three of these singles were Top 20 hits -- "Wild Weekend" reached #13 on its first release in 1961, and when reissued in 1963 it peaked at #31, spending a total of 18 weeks on the charts; "New Orleans Beat" fared even better, peaking at #10, and "Machine Gun" reached #16. English label Oriole also issued the "Wild Weekend" and "New Orleans Beat" singles in the UK and W&G also issued "Wild Weekend" in the USA, and rock historian Ian McFarlane rates "Wild Weekend" alongside The Atlantics "Bombora" as one of the best and most successful Australian instrumental singles of all-time. All six sides of the three hit singles were compiled on the EP The Thunderbirds' Play Their Big Six released in July 1961.

At the end of 1961, The Thunderbirds supported and provided musical backing for a package tour featuring Roy Orbison, Jack Scott, Ray Peterson, Dion and Johnny Chester, followed by a support slot on another package tour headlined by their idols Cliff Richard & The Shadows, with The Allen Brothers, Andy Ellis and Judy Stone. They appeared at many "big shows" at Festival Hall from 1960 to 1962, backing many visiting overseas acts including Jack Scott, Dion, Ray Peterson, Fabian, Helen Shapiro, and Australia's own Col Joye and Johnny O'Keefe. 

In 1962 The Thunderbirds featured on the live album Quite a Party, issued on W&G's budget label Gem, contributing three instrumental tracks, as well as providing backing for singers Johnny Chester, Noel Watson and Jillian Buckley. The Thunderbirds regularly backed leading Australian solo artists, both on record and on stage, including Johnny Chester, Lonnie Lee, Colin Buckley, Betty McQuade ("Midnight Bus"), Bobby Cookson, The Thin Men, Johnny O'Keefe, Lucky Starr and The Bee Gees. 

Both Normie Rowe and Marcie Jones began their singing careers fronting The Thunderbirds at the legendary Preston Town Hall dances, where the band was regularly augmented by the brass section of Ken Jones (baritone sax), Norman Robertson (tenor sax) and Ivan Cocking (trombone). The group continued working through 1963-64, but they made no more recordings, and there were several personnel changes -- Tony Buchanan (ex-Premiers, Planets) replaced Henri Bource, Terry Clark replaced Murray Robertson on piano and Clark and Onley both left during 1965.

The Thunderbirds eventually called it a day at the end of 1965. Gauld and Frith then formed The Charlie Gauld Trio with Frank McMahon (bass, ex Chessmen), later expanding to a quartet with the addition of by Noel Tressider (ex-Premiers) on keyboards. Gauld became the resident guitarist at W&G studios, and later became the lead guitarist and arranger for the Brian May ABC Show Band. Frith played with Nite Trane, Doctor Feelgood, The Promised Band and 1970s country-rock band Saltbush. Murray Robertson became musical director for Merv Benton until Merv's forced retirement in 1967. In 1983 he and Bource formed the aptly-named Allstars, whose lineup included a veritable "Who's Who" of Australian rock'n'roll, with former members of The Planets, The Blue Echoes, The Chessmen and Jigsaw.

After leaving The Thunderbirds, the remarkable Henri Bourne played with The Planets and The Johnny Donohue Quartet, but his career was dramatically interrupted by a near-fatal shark attack. Bource, a keen skin-diver, was swimming with seals off Lady Julia Percy Island in November 1964 when he was attacked by a Great White shark, which tore off his left leg. He barely survived, losing more than three litres of blood in the attack, but he recovered and produced and went on to direct the film Savage Shadows, the pioneerng action-adventure doucmentary which screened successfully in Australia and was sold to many other countries.

Nearly twenty years after they split The Thunderbirds re-formed briefly in 1983 for a Sixties revival concert, with the 'classic' line-up of Charlie Gauld, Henri Bource, Murray Robertson, Gordon Onley and Harold Frith, featuring guest performances by old friends Judy Cannon, Betty McQuade, Malcolm Arthur and Billy Owen. In 1989 the Canetoad label began its project to reissue the W&G catalogue with The W&G Instrumental Story, which included two Thunderbirds tracks, alongside  by The Strangers, The Cherokees, The Phantoms, The Breakaways, The Marksmen and The Saxons. Canetoad subsequently compiled the bulk of The Thunderbirds' W&G recordings on the companion record, The W&G Instrumental Story, Volume Two.

In the mid-1990s Frith, Robinson, singer Danny Robinson (Wild Cherries) and legendary guitarist Les Stacpool (Chessmen, Tamlas, Levi Smith's Clefs, Doug Parkinson In Focus, Greg Quill, Rockwell T. James' Rhythm Aces) joined forces to form Rite On The Nite. In 1996, at the suggestion of promoter Greg Lynch, the core of the classic Thunderbirds lineup -- Frith, Bell, Bource, Robinson and Robertson -- reunited for a one-off concert at The Elvis Presley Fan Club dance at the Moorabbin Town Hall to a rapturous reception. Further concerts and recording were scheduled and to date over 40 tracks have been laid down. In 1998 Canetoad released a new CD combining archival and newly-recorded material, although sadly the year was marred by the loss of the inimitable Henri Bource, who died of leukemia in September.

In 2007 the Thunderbirds celebrated their fiftieth anniversary, playing concerts at leading Melbourne venues to promote the release of their CD The Thunderbirds in the 21st Century, and they continue to perform and record. For more information and recent news on The Thunderbirds, we encourage you to visit the band's official website at

Image courtesy of Peter Robinson
A room-full of legends -- members of The Deejays and The Thunderbirds, with promoter Brian De Courcy, Melbourne, 2002.
(Image courtesy of Peter Robinson)



"Running bear" - vocal by Billy O'Rourke / "Blue woman" - vocal by Billy Owens (REX RS-006)

"Ma, he's making eyes at me" - vocal by Judy Cannon / "Laughin' on the outside (crying on the inside) - vocal by Judy Cannon (Rex RS-014)

February 1961
"Wild Weekend" / "Theme from The Rat Race" (W&G WG-S-1103)
- also released on Oriole (UK) CB-1610 

April 1961
"New Orleans Beat" / "Delilah" (W&G WG-S-1170)
- also released on Oriole (UK) CB-1625

July 1961
"Machine Gun" / "Teen Scene" (W&G WG-S-1180)

October 1961
"Royal Whirl" / "Yippee Hoedown"  (W&G WG-S-1292)  

July 1962
"Dardanella" / "What! Me Worry?" (W&G WG-S-1461)

Feb. 1963
"Wild Weekend" / "Yippee Hoedown" (W&G WG-S-1556)
- also released on Melbourne (US) 1499

May 1963
"Amarillo Stomp" / "1 North" (W&G WG-S-1628)

Feb. 1964
"Pink Dominoes" / "Walk On The Wild Side" (W&G WG-S-1826)


[title unknown] (Rex)
A: "Blue woman" - vocal by Billy Owens / "Running Bear" - vocal by Billy O'Rourke
B: "Laughing on the outside (crying on the inside)" - vocal by Judy Cannon) / "Ma, he's making eyes at me" - vocal by Judy Cannon
Rex 4 Star (Rex RE-1001)
A: "Laughing on the outside (crying on the inside)" - vocal by Judy Cannon) / "Peter Gunn" (featuring Graeme Lyall)
B: "That lucky old sun" - vocal by Billy Owens / "No more" - vocal by Billy O'Rourke
The Thunderbirds (Rex RE-1007)
A: "Warrant for your arrest" - vocal by Billy O'Rourke / "Rock & roll baby" - vocal by Billy Owens)
B: "Answer me, my love"- vocal by Billy Owens / "Meet me in the alley Sally" - vocal by Billy O'Rourke
July 1961
The Thunderbirds' Play Their Big Six (W&G WG-E-1191)
A: "Delilah (from The Man with the Golden Arm) / "Wild Weekend" / Machine Gun"
B: "Teen Scene" / "Theme From The Rat Race" / "New Orleans Beat"


Quite A Party (Gem GEM-38) LP
- includes four Thunderbirds tracks:
"Theme From The Great Imposter"
"Candy man" w/ Murray Robertson
plus tracks by Johnny Chester, Jillian Buckley and Noel Watson, backed by the Thunderbirds.

- - - - - - - - - -

The W&G Instrumental Story Vol.2 (Canetoad CTLP-011) LP
"Wild Weekend"
"Theme From The Rat Race"
"New Orleans Beat"
"Machine Gun"
"Teen Scene"
"Royal Whirl"
"Yippee Hoedown"
"What ! Me Worry?"
"Amarillo Stomp"

"1 North"
"Walk On The Wild Side"
"Pink Dominoes"
"Theme From The Great Imposter"

- - - - - - - - - -

The W&G Instrumental Story (Canetoad CTCD-008) CD 
- same track listing as CTLP-011

- - - - - - - - - -

The Thunderbirds (Canetoad CDCT-017) CD
"Go Downtown"
"House Will Rock"
"Rollin' On Sunset"
"Botswana Beat"
"We're Gonna Teach You To Rock"
"Henri's Groove"
"Royal Whirl"
"Rompin' And Stompin'"
"Raunchy Voodoo "
"Wild Weekend"
"Brothers Go To Mothers"
"Rockin' Is Our Business"
"Bell Boogie"


Thunderbirds tracks have been included on numerous compilation LPs and CDs.

"Yippee Hoedown" is on Remember This One: 15 Original Hit Parade Performances (W&G WG-B-1194) and Australia's First Hootenanny (Gem GEM-79, 1963)

"Laughing On The Outside" is on Everything's Swinging (Popular E-232)

"Wild Weekend" is on:
- Australia's Best: All The Hits By The Stars (W&G WG-B-1564, Feb. 1963) with "New Orleans Beat"
- Discotheque Wild Weekend Go! Go! Go! (W&G WG-25/2675, Dec. 1966)
- Rockin' 'Neath The Southern Cross 1958-64 (Time-Life RRC-E 31/840)
Australian Rock Heritage Vol.1 (Astor ALPS-1063) 1981

"Walk On The Wild Side" and "Royal Whirl" are on The W&G Instrumental Story Vol.1 (Canetoad CTLP-010 LP) 1989

"Meet Me In The Alley Sally", "Warrant For Your Arrest" and "Rock & Roll Baby" are on Rock From The Other Side - Vol. 3 (Down South Records, DS-9213, Holland)

"Machine Gun" was included on Juke Box Bop - A Compilation Of Australian Rock And Pop Recordings 1956-1963 (Screen Sound Australia SSA/EA-0018)

References / Links

Special thanks to Peter Robinson.

Thunderbirds official website

Ian McFarlane
Encyclopedia of Australian Rock & Pop (Allen & Unwin, 1999)

Noel McGrath
Australian Encyclopedia of Rock (Allen & Unwin, 1999)

Eric Reade
The Australian Screen
(Lansdowne Press, 1975)

Geoff Jermy
"The Thunderbirds"
2 Good 4 Words, Edition #10, July 2006

Vernon Joyson
Dreams, Fantasies & Nightmares: Australia (Borderline Books 1999)