The Dingoes: Going Down Again
The eventful career of one of Australia’s great country-rock bands is coming to a close once again, writes DARREN LEVIN.
The Dingoes adventure is over. Two years after reforming for their 2009 ARIA Hall of Fame induction, the band will call it quits for goods following a trio of shows in their native Victoria this weekend and a performance at the East Coast Blues & Roots Festival in Byron Bay, NSW, on April 22. It’ll bring to a close a stellar career, but also one marred by misfortune and lost opportunities.
Following the success of their self-titled 1974 debut – a landmark Australian country-rock release, it sits at #62 in The 100 Best Australian Albums) – the band relocated to the US, where things didn’t exactly turn out as planned. The band lost a member in drummer Ray Arnott (he quit and was replaced by founding sticksman, the late John Lee) and were poised to tour America with southern rock royalty Lynyrd Skynyrd, before their infamous 1977 plane crash. The crash not only scuppered tour plans, but crushed the spirit of The Dingoes’ manager at the time Peter Rudge, who managed both bands.
“It pretty much put an end to things in America for us,” recalls songwriter-guitarist Kerryn Tolhurst from Melbourne, where he’s now based.
Since disbanding in 1979 – their third album Orphans of the Storm was released posthumously – the members of The Dingoes (Tolhurst, singer Broderick Smith, guitarist Chris Stockley and bassist John Bois) have been involved in various individual projects in their respective corners of the world. Tolhurst remained in the states, where he carved out a successful career as a songwriter (a reworked version of his song ‘All Fired Up’ became a hit for Pat Benatar) and it was in his Tucson, Arizona, studio where the band reconvened to record their first album in 31 years, Tracks. It’s since been followed by a live album, which was recorded at shows at The Norwood Hotel in Adelaide and The Northcote Social Club in Melbourne on their reunion tour in August last year.
Now back in Melbourne – “There’s too much going on here,” he says – Tolhurst chatted briefly about the band’s American influences, their reunion and why they’re sailing off into the sunset once again.
The Dingoes are such a uniquely Australian band, but listening to those old records there’s a real American country-rock sound. Is that what you grew up listening to?
Sure. I think we were influenced by that music. Chris and Broderick and myself all started out playing blues in Melbourne in the 1960s. It wasn’t till the ’70s when we opened up to country music and bluegrass and other types of music that were going on at the time, especially singer-songwriters from America. They influenced us a lot. There was The Band at the time, who did a lot of what we wanted to do. They were a great representation of the American panorama. We wanted to go down that route ourselves in Australia, without copying it. But there were definitely a lot of American influences there for sure.
And The Byrds were embracing country rock around that time too.
Yeah, that’s right.
I heard Dave Graney on [Melbourne community station] Triple R say he thought the band was doing a “lap of honour”. Does it feel that way to you?
It does feel a bit that way, yes. There is a finish to this. This is it. It’s all over after this one [tour].
Why the decision to call time on the band?
We came back here to do this as a very limited idea. It wasn’t supposed to take over our lives forever. It was an adventure we wanted to go on at the time, and the adventure is just about complete.
Was geography a factor?
At the time, to some degree, yeah. John [Bois] was in America and I was living in the states last year. That did make it a bit of a problem it have it as an ongoing thing, as it would in the future.
Have you enjoyed this second life as a band?
Yeah, it’s been a lot of fun as it always was. I think we play better this time around. We’ve matured as musicians and I think it shows in the recording and playing.
Was the ARIA Hall of Fame induction the initial catalyst for the reunion?
Definitely. For the first time in 30 years we had to get back into a room together and play. Once we got over that, and it felt so easy and natural like it always was, it prompted us to think what we could do again.
What was it like being back in that rehearsal room together for the first time in so long?
It was odd, I must admit. There’s a lot of water under the bridge over 30 years. But we all kept in touch with each other, so it wasn’t like we were strangers. The moment we started playing it just felt good.
Were there apprehensions about getting back together?
I’m sure there were a few. Everyone individually had their own reasons for wanting to do it, but the sense of the adventure was compelling enough to keep everyone involved and excited about it.
Were you pleased with the response to Tracks?
Yes, very much indeed.
Did you feel that the album gave the reunion a purpose and sense of validity?
Absolutely. We decided early on there was no way we were doing a tour without an album. So there had to be new material. That was the criteria for the whole idea. Once we established that idea then we went and did the album and got on with it.
Lyrically, Tracks is such an Australian record, which is funny because it was recorded in Tucson [Arizona, US].
It was recorded in Tucson, but the songs were written all over the place – from New York to Melbourne. We brought together the sum of our experiences into this album. Those ideas filtered through, I think.
“It was an adventure we wanted to go on at the time, and the adventure is just about complete.”
Is it an album informed by homesickness maybe?
I think that’s one element, or maybe a different perspective from looking outside the country. That’s not necessarily sentimental or homesickness, it’s just a different way of looking at home.
What’s the shelf life of those songs? Had each member worked on them individually?
For my batch they’d been around for 15 years looking for a home, so I’m glad I found one for them.
You never contemplated putting them out on a solo record?
So it’s fair to say you were waiting for the reunion to happen?
Either that, or just finding the right situation. This was perfect for it.
Do you think Tracks brought a sense of closure?
I think the new live one, more so. It features all the old songs played alongside the new ones. It’s a complete wrap-up. It’s like a “best of” of The Dingoes as well. In terms of closure, I think the live one does it for me.
In a live context, the old and news songs pair really well together.
Yeah, that worked really well. It wasn’t a conscious effort it just came about that way from our playing.
There’s a real exuberance to that live recording. What do you recall of the two shows?
They were both really good shows, I remember. The Northcote [Social Club] one was almost the last we did in Melbourne. That was jam-packed and a great show. The one in Adelaide was a really fun night, which shows on the record I think.
Why those two shows in particular?
Well, we were in Adelaide and well into the tour, so the band was playing really well. Our good friend Mick Wordley, who lives in Adelaide, had offered to come down and record it, so we accepted his offered gratefully and that’s what got it going.
Can we expect a similar set-list at the upcoming shows?
Pretty similar. We won’t stray too far from it. There might be a few surprises here and there, but it’d be pretty much the same.
THE DINGOES’ LAST RIDE
Friday, April 1
Prince of Wales, Melbourne, VIC
Saturday, April 2
Caravan Music Club @ Oakleigh RSL, Melbourne, VIC
Sunday, April 3
The Williamstown RSL, Williamstown, VIC
Friday, April 22
Eastcoast Blues & Roots Festival, Tyagarah, NSW