|the MILESAGO interviews
Dave was interviewed by Steve Kernohan on 26 November 1999, on Steve's weekly music program For What It's Worth, which airs every Friday from 8-10pm on Stereo 974 (97.4 FM) in Melbourne.
We are indebted to Steve and
Dave for permission to transcribe the interview.
[The program opens with the title track from the 1970 Dave Miller-Leith Corbett LP Reflections Of A Pioneer]Steve Kernohan: We opened the show tonight with a track from an album from 1970. The song was called Reflections Of A Pioneer, which is the name of the album, and it's by a couple of gentlemen, Dave Miller and Leith Corbett. Dave Miller - name sound familiar? Well, Dave's with me in the studio tonight and he's here to talk about his career in music, right through to that point when that album was released back in 1970, and maybe beyond - and he's here right now. Good evening, Dave!
Dave Miller: Hello Steve, and hello to your listeners.
SK: Great to have you along.
DM: Thank you. I'm looking forward to this, I hasten to add!
SK: Oh good, good, good ... Dave, I'm not an expert on the Dave Miller Set. Mr Guy Fawkes is a classic track and we're going to play that later in the program ... and I guess some of my listeners might be in the same boat as me - they don't know a lot about you. They know you have the reputation of recording a classic, an Australian classic, but there's a lot more to the story...?
DM: There is, and just to sort of start the program off so that people can identify with it ... The Dave Miller Set was never played on Victorian radio. We had hits in just about every other state, but not Victoria in that late '60s phase. The band eventually - after I had terminated my time with the band and went to the UK - they for a short space of time became Blackfeather. Now your audience will know Blackfeather somewhat better than that. But one of the things that has stood out for us over time is that song that we did in 1969 called Mr Guy Fawkes, which has been rated by music industry people as one of the milestones in Australia's music. I'm proud of that, and I'm also proud that the magazine Go-Set, which was the bible of the music industry at that time, rated Mr Guy Fawkes as the best Australian Single of 1969, so I'm pleased about that. So I do hope your audience can hang in there and perhaps learn about one of the Australian bands that I felt should have got a little bit more air time here in Victoria in its time. Stan Rofe was the only person that ever played us.
SK: Is that right? Gee, good on ya Stan Rofe! All right ... the Dave Miller story - and we've got to cover the period prior to The Dave Miller Set, and there's some great music, and were going to play a little bit of it tonight. Let's go right back - you're from New Zealand?
DM: I originally came from New Zealand, I came to Australia in 1966, but I started my career in 1963. I joined a band called The Playboys in Christchurch. That band had been formed (by) my brother [drummer Graham Miller] (and) a guitar player that had been in Ray Columbus' group The Invaders [Brian Ringrose]. It had two singers, a male singer [Phil Garland] and a female singer. The female singer, her name was Diane Jacobs but she changed her name professionally to Dinah Lee. That's legendary - everybody from the '60s knows that Dinah Lee was extremely big across the Tasman and sort of took Australasia by storm.
I replaced both those people as the front person of that band, and because we were running into confusion very quickly with the likes of Gary Lewis and The Playboys, that was charting with hits in those days - and of course there was the up-and-coming big name for Australia, Normie Rowe with his Playboys - so they didn't need another Playboys. To avoid the confusion we became The Byrds - we beat them! But we had to stick my name out the front after that in New Zealand because our first hit single was a thing called Bright Lights Big City,which is a 12-bar blues thing by Jimmy Reed - but also at the same time there was Mr Tambourine Man and believe me the confusion was paramount. People just didn't know which Byrds belonged to what, and we'd do gigs and we'd be asked to do Mr Tambourine Man. It was getting confusing, so we stuck my name out the front.
SK: So before you left New Zealand the band became Dave Miller & The Byrds?
DM: Dave Miller & The Byrds, yes, otherwise it would have survived - bearing in mind that at the time the name types for bands were The Kinks, The Animals Pretty Things - whatever it was. It was an overall identity for the band. I didn't aspire to be further out the front from the rest of the band, but for expediency we'd established the name The Byrds, we couldn't change it again, so the obvious thing to do was to stick my name out front.
SK: And what was the New Zealand scene like at that time?
DM: Well, we were very lucky. It was a very small country; there was at that time only three million people over two shaky isles. We seemed to be on and off ferries, in and out of our little cars and things, and playing some hideously outlandish sort of places. But we did move eventually, when we became professional, to Auckland, being the biggest city of course, and it did have some extra discos, as they called them or discotheques at the time, and we did manage to get a residency in one of those places. The importance of that was that it actually paid us a weekly wage to survive in music. None of us became millionaires of course, but it was rather fun and it was good grounding, I hasten to add. And I think that's why you've seen such a lot of Kiwis come over and been so successful - and I refer to people like Ray Columbus & The Invaders and Max Merritt & the Meteors, whom I'd put on a very high pedestal.
But over time there's been a lot of Kiwi bands, and I think it's by virtue of the fact that we all had to work like workhorses - rather like the Beatles in Hamburg, we would work for many hours each night. We'd play of an hour solid, and get a two or three record break - bear in mind they were three minute records at the time, that wasn't very much of a break, I can tell you! And that's how we worked.What did happen of course, we crafted out art so well that, I mean, we could almost do great things in our sleep. In the end you would just eat sleep and drink music. We had become very, very professional, very slick and very smart, and I think that that's the story. I'm an old advocate of the fact that if you're ever going to make your mark in the eyes of the public, you've got a lot of hard slogging to do out there. And if you can get into venues to do that, then that's the way that you actually really do shape yourself as a muso.
SK: And what was the perception in New Zealand of Australian music? Was it something that musicians would aspire to - "I've gotta cross the Tasman, I've gotta get to Australia" ?
DM: I think the real idea was the fact that the population was here, which meant better and bigger venues, more work, more often, probably better money. That was the thing, It wasn't motivated by money of course, but if you are professional, you've got to at least have some reasonable basis by which to keep yourself together, to carry on like that. There was never any animosity towards Aussie musos, because we were all in awe of people like Thorpie and Ray Brown and those sorts of people. Johnny O'Keefe had toured there a number of times in my absolute youth, before I was ever in the business, and like Johnny Devlin ... I mean they were the archetypal rock artists that we all wanted to see. We couldn't get Elvis! And so those people were very good, and people like O'Keefe had a great stage act. You know that- it doesn't need me to tell you. And over the years, the combinations within Australia have been fantastic, because there's been an intermarriage of musos from both countries for a long, long time and they've come up with some very good stuff all the way through the 60s... I s'pose right up to Crowded House, in more recent times
SK: We have some very good music were going to be playing tonight. We'll play something from Dave Miller & The Byrds in just a moment. We've got some of the Dave Miller original material in here, that Dave Miller himself has kindly re-recorded - not for my benefit, I think he recorded these some time ago - some of the other material they did, all by himself. He plays all the instruments, and I guess well get him to explain that particular process as we start playing some of those to air throughout the night.
DM: Yes, if you'd like. I mean, they're just novelties, and they've been designed for my own benefit, but I'll tell the audience about that a little bit later.
SK: OK, well, if you'd like to introduce the first track here?
DM: Well, we've come to the big monumental hit we had in New Zealand! We were told it was going to make the top 20 in its first week and we sat on the street in the car - the only one with a radio - and we got into the Top Ten - and we were very disappointed. All of sudden we heard the opening strains at #8 in our first week out into the Auckland Top 40, we were thrilled. It's Bright Lights, Big City.
[Cue Bright Lights, Big City by Dave Miller & The Byrds, followed by a Dave Miller home recording of Heart Full Of Soul]SK: And that was one of those home recordings - that's what I'll call it anyway - by Dave Miller. And Dave's right here in the studio, and he can explain ... it was Heart Full Of Soul, and it was the Yardbirds, and a very nice performance...
DM: Well, thank you very much. They're things I did for my own amusement. They're not commercial recordings, they're not demos or anything like that. Over the years I've often been asked "What sort of material did you sing?" "What were the artists?"- that sort of thing. And when I came back from the UK, because I'd lived there for a great proportion of the 70s ... when we came back to Australia in the early part of the 80s, I had a daughter born in '83, and we'd moved to Melbourne, and I was off the road as touring musician ... and what I used to do sometimes ... I got myself an old TEAC 4-track reel-to-reel deck, and I'd sit down there if I wasn't inspired to write something new, and I'd sometimes just do one of the old things that I'd performed a long time ago.
I hadn't even heard what I might sound like on some of those things, because in those days we didn't even have cassette players or portable things that we'd carry around with us, We certainly didn't have a recording industry that went into live venues, so I can tell you I don't really know what the Dave Miller Set sounded like. Yet I know we played some fantastic gigs and I wish I had a few better memories than that. So I just did those to appease myself, so I do hope your audience will indulge me. They've just been done with a drum machine, and bass and guitars and me singing a few voices over the top...
SK: Yes, well you're not thrusting them upon me! You gave them for my own pleasure and I thought, well this is good stuff, I want to play some of this on air. And I've enjoyed them through the week. OK, so we got to the stage (where) we had Dave Miller and The Byrds in New Zealand - what happened then for you to come to Australia?
DM: Well, I came over because my wife's family were here - well, she was my fiance at that particular stage. I wanted to come anyway, 'cos all my contemporaries like Ray Columbus and Max Merritt and Dinah Lee, they'd all come over. I wanted to do that as well. I came over in 1966 and I got a job in a place in Sydney in Castlereagh Street, called The Bowl, which was owned and operated by Ivan Dayman, who had the Sunshine stable. You'd appreciate, that means Normie Rowe and Mike Furber and Tony Worsley and Peter Doyle and a whole range of people like that. So I was sort of the singing compere, cum disc-jockey, cum general factotum of the place. Got to meet a lot of musos, sang on stage, introduced people on stage, went through the whole scream thing introducing Normie on stage - that type of thing.
I was eventually asked if I would mind putting a band together when they changed the concept of the place and they wanted a house band. And so dutifully I did that, and I got in touch with Ray Mulholland, the drummer whom I had been very friendly with in Auckland, New Zealand. He was in a group called The Rayders, spelled with a 'Y' like The Byrds - I don't know, Kiws seems to have a a penchant for sticking 'Y' in things! - and he was coming over anyway. So along with Harry Brus - who played in Blackfeather, and went on to work with Renee Geyer and people like that - we put the nucleus of The Dave Miller Set down ... which doesn't resemble the one that made the first records of course.
And then as soon as I'd got the band together, as luck would have it, in that time the powers that be decided to change the course and direction. So there I was with a band on my hands and nowhere to place it. I managed to get a gig at the Sydney Royal Easter Show, and that launched the band, and that was at the height of Johnny Young & Kompany, and the start of a burgeoning career for Ronnie Burns. So that was a very good starting for us, and ultimately it came towards recording ... and my recording came about with the Spin Record Company, because I really bounced off an American gentleman called Nat Kipner, and Nat Kipner was the father of Steve Kipner, of Steve and The Board. And Nat was a great songwriter in his own right and saw a lot of potential in what he thought I had to offer, and he also knew what we'd achieved in New Zealand. So that's how I ended up recording with the Dave Miller Set, their very first recording on Spin ,called Why Why Why
SK: And we'll play that in just a moment. What was in the repertoire of the band, Dave?
DM: Well, for expediency when this band was being mooted of course, it seemed ... people like the Yardbirds, Jeff Beck, those sorts of artists were coming to the fore. There was the Animals, there was The Kinks - those sorts of bands, and I had performed those things in Auckland with The Byrds, and we took some of the same repertoire, because already I knew it of course, and we formulated that, along with new things that bridged the gap between me leaving there and coming over. But Harry and I were both inspired by things like Heart Full Of Soul ... Jeff Beck ... things like The Nazz Are Blue, which we did, and Over Under, Sideways, Down, and those types of things. So that's why I did that particular song. I did perform it in New Zealand, but it did bridge the gap between The Byrds and The Dave Miller Set.
SK: Alright, so the first single, Why, Why, Why, backed by a track we won't play tonight, Hard, Hard Year.
DM: Why, Why, Why I got it from A group called Paul Revere and the Raiders, and it was written by their bass player, a chap called Philip Volk, if I remember rightly. It was in 3/4 time, but our esteemed producer Pat Aulton - who stayed with us all the way through, who produced Normie, etcetera - decided in wisdom that we ought not to have two 3/4 things on the one record, because A Hard, Hard Year is in the same time signature. So we flattened it out to a 4/4 thing and I suppose there are elements of The Dave Clark Five - or a lot in it [laughs]- it was a bit thumpy, but it worked very well.
We didn't have a hit with it in Australia but we toured the band in New Zealand at the end of that year and New Zealand were in the throes of changing their whole structure towards Top 40 and in Auckland they had a pirate radio station - much along the lines that they had in the UK. And this thing was anchored out at sea a bit, and they had and onshore station where they recorded interviews and did various different things. We happened to time it there for Why Why Why's release and they embraced it and we had a minor hit on our hands in New Zealand, thanks to this pirate radio station called Radio Haraki.
SK: Well we've got that single lined up now - Why Why Why, released in October 1967 - The Dave Miller Set.
[Cue Why Why Why]SK: The Dave Miller Set from late 1967, Why Why Why. Dave, we didn't mention John Robinson in that lead-up there very much...
DM: Well John Robinson certainly was the lead guitarist on that, and that was in his early days within the band. When we first started, for this disco bit, we had Harry Brus on bass; there was a chap from a Sydney band called The Bluebeats, Mick Gibbons, on guitar; there was a keyboard player, Greg Hook; there was Ray Mulholland and myself. The band had a totally different direction, and it was going to be different from The Byrds as well, because I hadn't had keyboards in there. But once we got to the Sydney Easter Show, we had changes sort of right at that particular time, and it was Harry Brus who was instrumental in getting John Robinson into the band, and Mick Gibbons phased out at that point.
Once John was in the band though, he wanted to team himself up with his previous bass player, an English chap called Bob Thompson. They had worked in 1965 in a group called Monday's Children and they had an empathy together - they were very used to being just a drums-guitar-and-bass sort of thing. Well, I sort of acquiesced to that because ...we'd made a good impact on the Sydney Easter Show, but I couldn't see lots of money coming in a hurry, so the less I had in the band, the less mouths I had to feed, the better chance we had of survival. So during the course of that year, Nat Kipner had sort of picked up on me, so when we went into the studio the lineup for the band was John Robinson on guitar, Bob Thompson on bass, Ray Mulholland on drums and myself as vocalist. It was just a three-piece instrumental lineup, rather like The Who and eventually Zeppelin and bands like that ...
SK: And John Robinson, let's talk about him for a moment. Was he a "guitar wizard" - or whatever tag he ended up with later - at that stage?
DM: Well he'd evidently gone through the Shadows era somewhere here in Australia. He'd gone into this band called Monday's Children. I know nothing really about that band, and I never heard anything. I don't think they really recorded anything as such. But I believe that they'd got themselves into a tight little unit. But John wasn't a standout guitarist at the beginning - I'll say that fairly, and I think he would probably agree with that. But the time, the era, changed all of that very, very quickly, in that the guitar heroes were starting to come to the fore. There was Jeff Beck, that carry-over from the Yardbirds; certainly Eric Clapton in Cream, who'd moved from John Mayall's Bluesbreakers; there was Peter Green of course in Fleetwood Mac. Those guitarists were really starting to come out of the woodwork and then they were pushed to all extremes by Jimi Hendrix. Well, we were sitting there with the right type of lineup; we needed a guitar hero in a hurry, and we couldn't afford to import one, so we had to make John into one. So we literally - like Mr Bean on the high-diving board - we pushed him up there and made him go for it!
SK: But obviously, technically he must have been very good? That doesn't happen overnight.
DM: No. He had great aptitude, he had very good styling, and very good ears. He had a very set direction about the types of things that he wanted to do, and conceptually how he'd go about doing that. And certainly he ended up with fairly legendary status, and I know that the band very, very quickly became a "boy audience" type of band. I hope that doesn't sound like some silly sexist remark, but it was still a male domain industry in those days; they were male groups - four, five guys in bands, etcetera. We were the archetypal head-bangers', air-guitar-players' band. They doted on John Robinson, and later on when Leith Corbett came in with his flying mane, and his theatrics on stage - well, I mean the rush, and the queues on the street were to stand in front of either the bass player or in front of the lead guitarist. That's the type of thing that it had, and The Dave Miller Set - particularly in Sydney NSW and its excursions to Queensland and some of the industrial areas - were quite legendary for being trendsetters and paving the way. I hope that doesn't sound like I'm blowing my own trumpet to your audience out there, but that was the type of band; we were in front of those things. We've been tagged with sort of being a Led Zeppelin band, but if one was to be really, really honest, we were quite Led Zeppelin-ish in our own way, before Zeppelin was even thought about.
[Cue: Dave Miller's home demo of Red House]SK: Red House. I guess most people would have heard Jimi Hendrix's several versions of that over a period of time, but that was Dave Miller on his own.
DM: Yes it was. Apologies to all percussionists (laughs).
SK: Dave, look, we were talking off-air, so I guess I'll just get you to repeat what you were saying. If one was to go back in time and sit on the floor in front of the Dave Miller Set at a gig somewhere, you would hear something like Red House, and you would hear extended guitar solos, and just lots of improvisation...
DM: Yes .... sometimes it's been cast aside as being over-indulgent, but the great thing was that we did take the structures of a lot of these pieces - and fortunately having musicians of the calibre of John Robinson in the band, we had some very interesting chord progressions, we had some very good structures, and we did take them to all sorts of places,. But our audiences did demand that of us as well. We would play many uni gigs where people would sort of sit cross-legged on the floor. The auditorium might smell of all sorts of different substances, I hasten to add , but they wanted to be transported aurally as well as visually. And that was the psychedelic era. But it was great, because not only did it give us the freedom to play a lot of those things, and there was a lot of improvisation, but there was a lot of real, structured things that just developed on the spot, which eventually got turned into ideas, riffs, all sorts of things came out of that. But it meant that we were consciously trying all of the time to take our music in directions that were going to be exciting, 'cos there's no way in the world any artist standing up on stage wants to lose his audience. When I made the reference before to the fact that we didn't have a recording industry on location in those days, or even corny little cassette player that we could have set up on the side of the stage ... I would like to know how we sounded. That's the fact - going back to things like Red House - that was me just sort of having a bit of fun, paying a bit of homage to Jimi Hendrix, but it was for me at home, really - but I hope your audience do share that with me ...
SK: But you didn't play an instrument on stage?
DM: No, not until towards the latter part of the Dave Miller Set, and by the time I really picked a guitar up as a very latent sort of instrumentalist was in 1971-72, after the Dave Miller Set, and I was in a band called 2000. Just goes to show you - that was 28 years ago and 2000 is almost upon us. It was a band that was numbered, in fact - it was the first band that ever had a number. Dave Miller's always tried to do things that were a little bit different from everybody else [laughs]
SK: Alright, well you might have to recap on the lineup in the band at this stage, but I'd like you to take us up to the second single, which was released in April 1968. That was, what, six months after Why Why Why - a single called Hope ?
DM: Hope, yes, and to this day that's one of my favourite tunes. It was written by a guy called Buddy Buey, and a chap called Adkins, but Buddy Buey's track record goes on to Classics Four, who did Spooky and Windy and those sorts of things and ultimately ended up being the mentor behind the Atlanta Rhythm Section of the 70s, and that's another band that I liked. I liked Hope then and it's still one of my favourites.
[Cue Hope by The Dave Miller Set]SK: Who played the piccolo, Dave?
DM: I cant tell you that - you've really caught me. It was one of those things that ... we'd worked with Pat Aulton, that did such very good work for Normie, and I really do rate Pat Aulton as one of the great people ... in fact, I'd put him on a pedestal for Australia much in the way George Martin has been put on a pedestal for The Beatles of course. He was a very talented musician, very good producer, very good singer, could sing all sorts of harmonies and things like that. Pat, because he had such a good record industry reputation with the hits that he'd created, he organised the orchestrations over the top. So I can't tell you who the piccolo player was. When it came down the era of Mr Guy Fawkes, we used members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra so ... I presume they were some of those sorts of people ...
SK: Now maybe you can just explain to someone like me who wasn't in the position to see first hand, what was it like recording at that time, in those late 60s days?
DM: I found it a bit daunting, personally. It was fairly difficult ... they had huge big barns and they just partitioned the group members off. There wasn't really a close identity. You had to sort of sweat on trying to hear and be there ... I mean you had headphones and those sorts of things ... but it's a bit of a sterile environment and I think you have to live in it for some considerable time to be comfortable in it. The Dave Miller Set was not a prolific recording band - it was very renowned for being a live band, and as its reputation increased, we were one of those privileged bands who actually got to work for seven nights a week, almost constantly. We were one of those sort of hard-slogging bands that you hear about being on the road for 300 days out of each year. The band was that, so we didn't have too many excursions into the studio. I like to think though, in retrospect, that the records - to my ears to this day - are nothing that I have to wince too terribly at. I think we made some interesting records, anyway
SK: Not only were you playing almost seven nights a week, but you were playing department stores during the day, you said off-air? Tell us about working for Amco.
DM: Well, for all those young musicians aspiring to break into the industry - and you have my absolute best wishes - but you do anything, sometimes to make it work that you can survive on at a professional level. I mean for example ... all of a sudden you get a cancellation and you're in Sydney ... you get a cancellation from some band through sickness or something ... there's a gig going in Newcastle - and you get the phone call "Can you get to Newcastle today?" - you take it. If you've got someone working in a bank or a fish-and-chip shop, whatever it might be, you have to say "No I can't" because, you know, Freddy can't make it. The reason I say that is not through being silly, not through being mercenary or anything like that ... if you can provide a source of income so that the band didn't have to think about the nine-to-five situation it made it very much easier for you to do that
We got a contract with the Amco people to promote Amco gear. It served its purpose, they paid us pretty well at the time, but they also outfitted us quite often, so the band got to get out of smelly jeans and jackets and things like that [laughter]. But it did bring us into contact with a guy called Ward 'Pally' Austin who was the big afternoon show host on Sydney radio on 2UW, and fortunately when it came to Hope, I didn't have to push that in his direction. He loved it and as a consequence, with enthusiasm, he played it on the air, and he got us a Top 20 hit on NSW radio, for the most part, with Hope.
But it was great because it started the band being thought of as being a serious entity. It got us to play the teenage places ... because, you bear in mind there were very few pubs that had licenced venues, and they still closed the pubs at 10 o'clock ... so you had to take all of that into account. So it was still the relics of the teenage dance days. There were licenced discotheques in the city that went to 3am but they were as scarce as hen's teeth to get into, because they had resident bands. But the hit managed to get us to do some universities, to get us to do the teenage things, and gradually it got us to get our feet in the door of some of those other places. For example, if a band went on tour or something like that, we might get four or five nights in there substituting for them. Bit by bit, if you can get your foot in the door, you start to make it. Hope actually broke down a few doors for us and I was really thankful for that.
SK: One of the other home recordings you kindly let me put onto CD so we could play it tonight is Mr Pitiful, which I know from an Otis Redding CD I've got. What great singer he is. I think he wrote it as well, because he put pen to paper several times ...
DM: Yes, he did a lot with Steve Cropper as well ... There was a phase as we started to get our feet in the door of some of those licenced places that went til 3am ... it was in the grips of "soul mania" ... I mean it was the era of Wilson Pickett and Otis Redding and Arthur Conley and Sam & Dave and all of those types of acts ... we had to do our quota of soul-type music. I don't necessarily think that I, as a singer, totally suited that sort of thing, but we did choose some things that I think we were quite dynamic with. And when I gave you that one, it was really pinpointing and denoting to you specifically that that was a part of an era that we had to indulge ourselves in. We didn't mind it, mind you, because the guitar-hero thing was just starting to emerge as a parallel to that, and there were songs that I liked ... and of course Otis Redding was unique in his own right, and it was paying a bit of homage to him, I suppose - like Jimi. I chose to do Mr Pitiful because we used to perform that as well.
[Cue Dave Miller home recording of Mr Pitiful, followed by I Don't Believe It, from Reflections Of A Pioneer]SK: A track from the album Reflections Of A Pioneer- Dave Miller and Leith Corbett and friends. A track called I Don't Believe It, Dave.
DM: I Don't Believe It - it was one of my favourites of my earliest compositions, and it was a song that I performed in 2000 and the reshaped Dave Miller Set in 1973, and I performed it in the UK as well. I liked it. I have to tell you - and I'll indulge the audience as well. Leith and I - Leith had come from Heart'N'Soul, but when Leith and I did that album - he was also the bass player in The Dave Miller Set- we'd been involved with everything that was mono, because they made all the singles mono in those days, of course. We had the luxury of making that album in an 8-track studio, and because we were essentially producing it for ourselves it was a case of two kids being allowed in there to go a little bit mad by themselves - it was the first time that we had stereo, and we did indulge the stereo, folks - you might have got that [laughs] ...
SK: Dave, this is interesting ... You and I have got to meet each other on the phone - only tonight in person - but on the phone a few times now... and mainly because I was out at Vicious Sloth [Records] at Malvern, I think, oh months ago now, and the chap out there, Glenn Terry said "Steve, you might be interested in this." and he showed me four or five reissues of some classic progressive rock Australian albums, one of them being this album here ... and I of course bought the thing, took it home and thoroughly enjoyed it; and you and I have since made contact.
What am I leading up to? I'm leading up to the question of what do you stand to benefit? ... Do you stand to benefit financially from the reissue of these albums? I'll tell you why I ask, A) because I'm interested, and B) because someone - Tim Gaze - one of Australia's really good guitarists ...
DM: Yes, I know Tim quite well ...
SK: ...and of course he worked with Mike Rudd, but much earlier he worked with Tamam Shud .. and he worked with Kahvas Jute as well ...
DM: Yes he did, and he came to England at one stage, and we socialised a bit together while we were over there too ...
SK: Well, there was bit of chat in a chat group on the Internet on an Australian music site just a couple of days ago, and Tim bought into that and mentioned that for many years, he had tried to track down what had happened to the artist royalties due to him and some other artists from a surf soundtrack ... which was an album which sold gold record sales exceeding $50,000 in 1971 - a lot of money ...
DM: ...mmm, yes it was ...
SK: ...and because the deal was done directly between the production company and the record company, all the artist royalties went directly to the [production] company. He said he almost gained nothing from that. By the time they split it up amongst a few members of the band it was a couple of hundred dollars each for an album that had made $50,000 ...
DM: Yes, yes, I think that's a very black mark against the Australian record industry. Now I don't want to say too much about that, because I'm also in the position now of having Reflections Of A Pioneer be faithfully digitally remastered, but at no stage was I ever consulted - and they are my own original compositions. I too don't quite know where we stand on that, but that's been reissued, because for something like more than twenty years it's been one of the most requested albums internationally through Scandinavia, Europe, Japan, even the United States. It means of course that its a fairly obscure and fairly rare item, but I do know that original vinyl copies of the album have changed hands for considerable sums of money. But ... to answer your question in a very roundabout way, I'm going to have to investigate those avenues myself ... so I can understand where Tim's coming from. And I really do think that for an era that gave so much to the Australia industry, we were totally ripped off in those days. I hope that that's being addressed in this day and age.
SK: Well, the Dave Miller story - I've got the track lined up now - Get Together. Now in trying to research for tonight and trying to prepare, you kindly sent me a tape with some of the material we're playing. And I saw in your discography that you had a song out called Let's Get Together and I thought "Oh, I don't know that song". I looked up the Billboard Top 40 charts from the beginning of time up until about five years ago, and sure there was a song called Let's Get Together recorded by Hayley Mills in 1961, from the movie The Parent Trap - and I thought for goodness sakes, don't tell me ... but no, its not the same song.
DM: No its not and I was so embarrassed about that because ... I was born in the Forties, and when that thing came out by Hayley Mills it was sitting in the ... "Bobby and Johnny" era of pop music before the Beatles came along to kick a little bit of butt ... but the truth was, that was embarrassing. Now that was purely just an internal Festival problem where someone in the label department whacked "Let's" into it and it was meant to be "Get Together" and it is the Chet Powers/Youngbloods version. When we put it out in '68, that was year after the Youngbloods had first released it; it was a very minor hit for them. I think it sort of languished somewhere around about the Top 80 or something like that ...
SK: Can I just tell you that in the Billboard charts it made #5...
DM: Yes, but the thing was it had a second release. In its first phase of release it only made about the 'eighties. We picked up on it, twelve months later. We put it out. We suffered the same fate in many respects because their version was issued again a year after our version .. and the thing is .. by that stage it had become the anthem for the culture, the Woodstock genereation at the time, and of course it had astronomical sales. Well, we sort of missed the boat but saw the potential. But there is a slight compromise - it was 14 weeks Number One in Suva, Fiji. We had toured through there, and on this version that you're going to hear ... John Robinson, the legendary guitar player, had commissioned one of the oldest and most established companies in India to provide him with a sitar It was handcrafted to his own design, it was the most magnificent instrument, and I remember the day we got it from Mascot airport in its huge great big crate ... It was this gorgeous thing - I mean, in terms of handcraft, it was wonderful.
Well of course he played sitar on this, and when we toured through Suva and the Pacific islands, we did concerts there etc ... well of course there's a large Indian population - I think the sitar must have sat nicely with them - or at least our endeavours to make it sit nicely with them - and so we had a big hit with it there. And that's really the story of Get Together. It got a lot of airplay in Australia ... it just didn't sort of brace the charts at the place that we wanted it to.
SK: Dave, just before we play the track, I'm looking at a Go-Set from February 26 1969 in the Letters section and from "A Dave Miller Fan Forever" - that what she calls herself - Lesley McQuinn, from Mount Pritchard in NSW: [reads from letter]
"Dear Go-Set,Are you missing one of your shoes?
I read Go-Set every week and it's just gas. I would like to say that The Dave Miller Set is just fab, and the really send me. I heard them once at an 870 Club pop concert and I got one of Dave's shoes, and one of John Robinson' as well ..."
DM: Well, I lost a watch and an arm bracelet on television, on stage - I was pulled off stage and I ended up with concussion on the floor - they wheeled me out - it was in the scream era ... [laughter]
SK: [continues letter] ... and this Dave Miller Fan Forever concludes:
"Dave is gorgeous. I saw them on the Orcades on our trip. They were in the Sound Lounge and did a floor show in Noumea. I just hope this gets published so that Dave may see it."And I guess you did back in 1969?
DM: Well ... the method in my madness in those days - as your audience might be deducing - I had a career in New Zealand which spawned me some chart action over there and we had a pretty big reputation. One of my selling points with Nat Kipner and people like that, to get my recording contract here in Australia, was the fact that we did have a market place that was already opened up. In those days they didn't fly anybody everywhere - it was just too much of an expense. Of my own volition, I approached the P&O shipping company, and I managed to get a deal by which the band was transported - at no cost to me - but the deal was that we had to provide them with ten hours of music on board the boat, and they gave us the accommodation, first class accommodation and provided meals, etcetera, and we had passenger port privileges, so we didn't have to stay on the boat. And we did that for two consecutive years and we toured New Zealand, we picked up another boat and came back And that was one of the most fun times of my life, because it's one huge party on those things. And I have to tell you that the first night we started playing about 8 o'clock and we were still going at 8 o'clock the next morning - so we did our ten hours on the very first night, and it was truly fantastic.
I've not ever seen that letter but that person was right, we did do a featured floor show, but we were dragged out of the audience to do that ... and it was fun on those boats. Again, The Dave Miller Set was a bit pioneering in many aspects of its career and because of the success that we achieved on board those P&O liners, the company were absolutely enamoured at what we had been able to achieve - they hadn't tested the waters prior to that. And it then opened up an industry for Australian artists to work the holiday passenger shipping lines which they do to this very day. But we were the ones that instigated that.
SK: Good, good ... Alright you historians out there, get the eraser out - it's not called "Let's Get Together" - it's Get Together - The Dave Miller Set.
[Cue Get Together by The Dave Miller Set, followed by a Dave Miller home recording of Tired Of Waiting]SK: And that was Dave Miller with another one of those recordings from the '80s and a song that I suggest may have been part of his repertoire with The Byrds. Tired of Waiting by The Kinks.
DM: It certainly was - that goes back to The Byrds' era,and I like the song as well. I thought things like ... oh, their big hits, like ...You Really Got Me ...
SK: ... All Day And All Of the Night ... Waterloo Sunset ... well, that was a little bit later ...
DM: Well those hits they had initially were very good to perform ...
SK: Set Me Free, I imagine you would have done?
DM: I don't think we did Set Me Free, but those other things were a bit grungy ... I mean the younger people that are listening out there, they will understand. There's nothing that will motivate you more than a good grungy guitar sound, with a fair bit of amplification. And they were the sorts of textures, they were good to take on stage - we really enjoyed them.
SK: Well, we've had a look at a little bit of correspondence from Go-Set ... Go-Set obviously wasn't the sort of magazine that would have featured the Dave Miller Set very much ...
DM: No, we became very much, I suppose, the darlings of the university set. If there are people now around about 50 years of age that remember the Dave Miller Set, they will know that we were particularly liked in doing those university gigs. We worked with some of the biggest names in the country, of course, doing those. But they were fun because the time limitations were not there, and the experimentation with music was a big part of it.
SK: Yes, yes ... I'm just lining up a piece now and this is starting to sound, dare I use the word?- psychedelic - which may not be appropriate. But I think this is the B-side of Get Together, is it not? Bread & Butter Day?
DM: Yes, it was one of the first songs that I wrote ... I wrote a couple of songs in New Zealand with Brian Ringrose in the early days because we came to the conclusion, as young people, that if Lennon and McCartney could do it, why couldn't we? So we had a couple of those things, and I've got them on demo tape somewhere ... but the method in my madness - and this does go back to what we were talking about with Tim Gaze before. It seemed to me, trying to keep all this together ... the title's very prudent of course, in the circumstances - that when they sold 45s, it's a product embracing two sides. The B-side, whether it ever got airplay or not or was played in a discotheque, it in point of fact rendered an equal amount of money pertaining from the sales of the thing. So for example, if you had a song like Mr Guy Fawkes, which was the obvious A-side and it sold the record, the B-side also accumulated exactly the same amount of money in royalties. So I figured, well, the smart thing to do was to write the B-side. So I suggested it to the band, and they all sat around yawning, and saying, "Yeah, that's a good idea" but no-one did anything about it, so I decided to. And that was one of my first big brave efforts at writing a song, Bread And Butter Day, and of course it did provide a little bit of extra bread and butter I suppose ...
SK: Now, you said to me something the other day that I thought was interesting, and in fact it makes absolute sense as well, but interesting for you to have brought it up. We could talk about, maybe there was psychedelic period that the Dave Miller Set went through, but if I were to ... its true to say that you in that period didn't know that psychedelia was happening as such - you don't know you're in an era until in fact you've left the era and moved on to something else?
DM: Absolutely, and its only when any particular time frame gets a tag put upon it - and if you happen to be in it ... I mean, if you go back to 1954 and a young Elvis coming out of the woodwork, you've got an era which now is known as rockabilly. Well psychedelia was part of the culture because all of a sudden, people were starting to do things for themselves, were bucking establishment rules. There was the Vietnam war, which was not particularly a thing that the younger people embraced. We all know that, it doesn't need me to tell you that ... But in conjunction with the whole lifestyle of the time, people wanted the freedom ... I mean there was a sort of 'free' everything that was going at that time. People started to use their own talents. They started to make their own clothes, they carved sandals and belts - they did all sorts of things
SK: ...run magazines ...
DM: ... all those types of things. There were people all of a sudden ... instead of just the rock stars up there on stage becoming legendary, they wanted to get into the technical aspects of it. They started to make attachments and gadgets and fuzz boxes - all sorts of things. And people started to make amplifiers and different technology. There was one chap in Sydney who ended up with a legendary reputation; he went under the pseudonym of Ellis D. Fogg and of course he was the first on the scene with those multicoloured oil bubble panoramic things on the back of theatres and disco backdrops and the like.
SK: In Sydney, Dave?
DM: Yes, he was the first on the scene with smoke machine sand things like that. He was an interesting character, but it was aping, I suppose the Bill Graham-Fillmore places, east and west, where all of those things had started to burgeon, along with Jefferson Airplane and Grateful Dead and things like that. Well, all that was part of the melting pot, at that stage of course there were still a lot of other influences. If you look at the charts - if you go back to those Go-Set magazines, with the charts - you'll see two totally divergent paths. You've got The Archies, and Yummy Yummy Yummy I've Got Love in My Tummy, and all this contrived pop stuff - and then you've got artists that are coming out of the woodwork like Zeppelin, Hendrix, Cream of course, Emerson Lake & Palmer, Yes ...
SK: King Crimson, I keep mentioning them [laughs]
DM: Well, they didn't have a place in the Top 40, of course ... All of those things started to feature into a whole lifestyle, and that ended up being denoted as the psychedelic era - which probably terminated after the Woodstock thing. But it was a fun time, and if I'm not indulging too much of your time chatting ... The Dave Miller Set did a huge big Sunday night concert at the Town Hall in Sydney on one occasion. We were headlining, so we didn't' have to be at the theatre until well on into the program, apart from sound checks during the day, etc. And I'll tell a little story out of school: John Robinson had very, very poor eyesight, terribly nearsighted, and always wore glasses in those days. He chose the John Lennon [look], little round frames...
Well the old Sydney Town Hall had a stage that was a fairly high stage, and it had an orchestra pit down underneath this thing. Well, the moment the Dave Miller Set came out, and I think we we opened with a Zeppelin thing called How Many More Times, driving riff, and I used to introduce the band on. Within the first two or three minutes of being on the stage - I'd got the band on etc - old Ellis D. Fogg had gone completely off the rails with his fog machine. We couldn't see what we were doing, we couldn't see anything, The band almost froze, and I can finally remember John Robinson saying - he must have been very close to a microphone - "Where's the edge of the bloody stage, I don't want to fall off!" [laughter]... And it was dead funny .. we had to get a roadie to say discreetly "Can you get rid of the fog so the guys can see where its safe to walk?"
SK: And a very visual band, you were saying earlier, the Dave Miller Set. I can imagine during Bread & Butter Days, it must have been a fairly wild ...
DM: Well, we have a slightly naughty notoriety and it adorns my scrapbook somewhere ... we actually did a huge concert at the Myer Bowl, and when the Dave Miller Set came on, they (the audience) climbed the cables and everything and stopped the show. So the Dave Miller Set has a moment in Melbourne's past ... we were sort of slapped over the knuckles I think. But it wasn't anything that was intended, it wasn't one of those things that we contrived to do - it was just that we weren't quite the pop persona, and for once they were getting a heavy metal projectile that they hadn't had too much of then.
SK: And here's a sample of that from September 1968, the b-side to Get Together, this is Bread And Butter Days.
[Cue Bread And Butter Days, followed by a Dave Miller home demo of I'll Tell You Wot!]SK: ... and that was obviously another Dave Miller home recording, a song called I'll Tell You Wot!
DM: Yes, another one of those songs that I wrote .... we had a roadie and his catch-cry was "Oh I tell you what, man..!" Everything was "Oh, I tell you what..!", that was his exclamation,and in the end I decided to make it into a song, and I performed that with 2000. And I performed another song which is in this listing called Nuttybrook Farm, and they were very, very popular parts of the stage show. So much so that the thing I was really proud about with 2000 was the fact that we insisted from the word go that we'd only play original material. And to hear mass audiences singing those songs was, oh ... absolutely wondrous. It really made me feel that life was worth living, at that stage, to know that people liked your music enough to want to do those sorts of things. And Nuttybrook Farm in particular, it was done by The Dave Miller Set, it was done by 2000; Leith and I even recorded it in London, and to this day he plays it. He has a little band in the country in the south of NSW and he still figures on Nuttybrook Farm. It's gone through many phases, I hasten to add, from a strict minor-key blues ... in the hands of John Robinson ... it went from being rather Carlos Santana-ish under Leith's tutelage to being totally Zappa-esque with John Robinson [laughs]
SK: Well I'm not sure how I would describe the Dave Miller solo, unplugged ... uncooked recipe that we're about to hear, but it is a great-sounding number. It's probably my favourite of the home demos you've done.
DM: Oh that's great. Oh well, I'll have to come back sometime and play you some more contemporary things that have been done in the '90s.
SK: Yeah, that sounds good, Dave. We'll go to Nuttybrook Farm right now.
[Cue Nuttybrook Farm]
SK: Dave Miller solo - Nuttybrook Farm. Good number.
DM: Thank you
SK: Some very competent playing too there, Dave. Nice bass playing especially.
DM: Yeah, well I've tried to play all those things, but I've tried to treat them as fun ... just starting off laying down as many parts as possible to try and keep the immediacy up. I think it become sterile if you manufacture parts and you labour over putting parts down. I don't care if there's little bits of imperfections there. That's what music is all about, isn't it?
SK: Look, we're going to jump over Mr Guy Fawkes because we're going to play that as a way of closing the show tonight. So we're going to go to the next single from The Dave Miller Set, I hasten to add. Because again the record books, people's discographies, are referring to Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? as being a Dave Miller solo recording.
DM: Yes, well that's not true. It was certainly the Dave Miller Set that did that and the B-side of Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? is another song that I wrote, called NO Need To Cry. It had developed significantly by the time we got it into the studio because it was a very live performance song and it was a very popular number. It was one which really I suppose is the only last recorded that ... it gives some indication of where the Dave Miller Set was before I finally disbanded the group
SK: And speaking of disbanding the group: Go-Set, from 4 April 1970 ... I'm not sure who wrote this column, here there's a headline: DAVE MILLER SHOCK
"This week the Dave Miller Set released a new single Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?. This is their follow-up to their very successful Mr Guy Fawkes which sold over 40,000 copies. We expected to hear from the group about the new record, and instead we've heard that Dave had disbanded the Dave Miller Set. A couple of months ago Dave negotiated a private ...and a couple of words are cut off here - something to do with a promoter, Peter Gromley?
"...since then he has been working on the set trying to get them into shape for overseas. Last week he decided that the musicians in the group, while being good, were not the combination to take overseas, so he disbanded the group entirely. After they fulfill their current commitments the members of the Dave Miller Set will go their separate ways, and Dave will begin auditioning musicians for the group that he will take overseas."DM: Well, that all news to me ...
SK: You're ruthless !
DM: It's news to me - I'm hearing it for the very first time. I don't even remember that to be honest. The reason ... I disbanded the group was because we had worked so hard, with no backing from record companies publishers, anybody. We didn't have management. I didn't find anybody that I thought had the acumen to manage the way that I wanted it go - and it doesn't mean that I was some sort of dogmatic dictator or anything like that. There were probably very good managers out there but they never came into my sphere of life so I did all of that for myself, and for the group of course.
But what did happen - after Mr Guy Fawkes was starting to come down the charts we had a great run and it had done particularly well for us - there was a huge industry ban. The record companies and the radio stations locked horns. they wouldn't play anything that the international companies had in terms of their product. In a nutshell, really what it was, was that the record companies believed that the radio stations should be paying for the product that they provided them with. The radio stations correspondingly turned round and said, well without us playing this stuff you're never going to hear it anyway and you'll never sell it . So for more than two years there was a lockout.
We were caught up in that because we were involved with the Festival corporation, who released international stuff. As a consequence, when we did put out Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?, we put it right out on the zenith, of the deadline of where they brought this whole action against each other. And it immediately did not get airplay, so we had no way of building on and consolidating the success of Mr Guy Fawkes.
I tried to labour on for another 3, 4, 5 months even, with the band but it was starting to be difficult. We really did need to have that extra single to consolidate what we'd really set out to achieve. I was very disillusioned, I was very upset I suppose - I wasn't upset with the band, but I had realised that there was no way in the world that I was going to be able to continue, to keep on like this I did mention to your audience before - to try and keep the band professional was very important to me and I could tell our bookings were starting get less and less, the notoriety had died down for a bit - it needed that next injection to pull it up again.
So I decided, I'd worked like a Trojan in New Zealand; I had here in Australia as well; I was enjoying song writing and I really needed a rest from all that, so I disbanded the group, and in retrospect I think that I probably did a favour to the musicians in my band, and that it freed them immediately to be able to seek a new recording deal for themselves, which meant that Blackfeather that Blackfeather didn't have to get locked out in the two-year ban. They immediately went on with Seasons OF Change and Mountains of Madness, and things like that. It probably did them a huge favour,and yet we've never sat down to talk about it, really.
SK: The B-side to Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is? No Need To Cry - who composed that?
DM: I wrote that
SK: It's a fairly lengthy piece
DM: It's six minutes of Dave Miller Set as you might have expected to hear it in 1970
[Cue No Need To Cry]SK: The Dave Miller Set - No Need To Cry - the b-side to Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?,
DM: Yes, and that's probably a very collectible item because they would never had printed very many because of that industry ban that I was talking about
SK: Dave. we're almost out of time so we're going to have to put a couple of pieces of music up before we finish and I think we need to go back to the album that started it all for me Reflections of a pioneer.
DM: The one that created the interest about me and my time of course. That album is available through Vicious Sloth Collectables, and they're in High St in Malvern,. It's on the Vicious Sloth label. I'm pleased about the fact that they managed to get back to the original master tapes and digitally remaster it. That much I'm very pleased about.
SK: The album ,as you said - if you were after the vinyl, it was passing for big dollars, like $400-$500
DM: Yes, oh absolutely astronomical, and stupid in the end .... but nevertheless, that's what it was ...
SK: Well I picked up the CD and it does sound fantastic - for $20 - so there's the difference. And I buy these things for the music. The fact that I don't have it in the 12" format doesn't keep me awake at night. It'd be nice to see it sometime though. We're going to play another track from it. Now all the instruments on it are played by you and Leith, except for the drums, and you used three or four different drummers - I think we mentioned that earlier. We're going to play a track Good Psychology, another Dave Miller composition.
DM: Yes its another one that went very well on stage, particularly when we went back and did some of those things with 2000. I though that Mike McCormac, when he was with The Dave Miller Set, and with Blackfeather, was one of the "John Bonham" type of drummers in the country, and he was very good. And he plays on this.
[Cue Good Psychology from Reflections Of A Pioneer]SK: Well Dave we've saved the best 'til last - I think most people would agree - Mr Guy Fawkes. Not an original song. You must tell me ... I understand it came from an English album, you told me that ...
DM: Yes, it was an Irish group called Eire Apparent, and it's off their album. It was loaned to me by the Polygram people at the time - they solicited my opinion as to whether I thought it should have an Australian release or not. But I liked this thing Mr Guy Fawkes. Being a Kiwi, I'd grown up in a country where they celebrated Guy Fawkes' Day. Of course I didn't realise that here, because of the summer, the heat and the fire bans and things like that ... it wasn't as well known here. But when I got that thing - in the days of having no tape recordings and cassettes to review things - I had to give the record back. I taped the thing onto my mother-in-law's old reel-to-reel deck. I liked the idea, but it was about a nine minute marathon. So I got out the scissors and cellotape - not splicing tape! - and I sat down and I cut out all of the superfluous bits ... and compacted into what I could hear in my mind, that I could make it into. Brought Leith in who was totally enamoured with it, so he was a soulmate for me on that and we worked on the nucleus of this silly thing, off an old tape recorder, with its terrible splices, out of sequence of course, just with cellotape. But he knew what I was on about. Then we presented it to the band. John wasn't particularly happy in the beginning, because he hadn't been brought in at the early stage, but everybody got very enthused with it. So that's the story of Mr Guy Fawkes. I'd had the record lent to me, and I'd sort of spliced it together to bring it down to the four-minute version that we have to his day ... and it has the members of the Sydney Symphony Orchestra on it. Pat Aulton did a magnificent production, I might say ...
SK: Yes, absolutely. Now ... Ed Nimmervol said it was the best Australian single of 1969, which is a big statement, because The Real Thing came out the same year, Russell Morris - and Glenn A. Baker in, fact compares it with The Real Thing, in terms of production.
DM: Yes, I think that both those things, for Russell and myself - it was that the production, the ideas, (that) were credited for taking the Australian music industry, turning a right-hand corner, and starting to go on to where production was very important in the Australian industry. It got rid of the four-tracks, and people started getting into 16 and 24 tracks and things like that. They're the two milestones that turned Australian record industry around.
SK: Dave, we've run out of time, and I've got a feeling there's a lot more we could have covered tonight. We've hurried that last part there, unfortunately. Thank you very much for coming in.
DM: It's my pleasure, and thank you to your listeners for indulging my little home-grown things [laughs]
SK: ... and I'd like to get you back again and not only finish the story properly, but maybe talk about some other things to do with Australian and New Zealand music ...
DM: I'd love that!
SK: ... 'cos it's a real bubbling thing now isn't it?
DM: Yes absolutely. While there's an interest in me here, it's happening in New Zealand as well - so I sort of feel like a John Mayall grandfather of some form of Australasian rock
SK: Thanks again Dave
DM: Thank you
SK : Ladies and gentlemen this is The Dave Miller Set and - as Ed Nimmervol said: the best Australian song from 1969 - Mr Guy Fawkes.
[Program closes with Mr Guy Fawkes]