Daddy Who? by Craig Horne
Book review by Ian McFarlane © 2018
There are many fabulous tales to be told in Australian rock’n’roll and the story of Daddy Cool must surely rate as one of the most entertaining. This is the kind of book that I had hoped to read one day... and now musician and author Craig Horne has delivered the goods.
Daddy Who? tells the full tale of one of the country’s great bands, indeed one of the most enduring and best-loved local bands of all time. The tag line on the back cover states: “Daddy Who? is the story of a phenomenon, a band that in eighteen short months changed the course of Australian rock history.”
Daddy Cool was definitely the first great wonder band of the Australian 1970s rock scene. DC comprised four musicians who together had the kind of band chemistry that is rare and precious but individually they were distinct and recognisable characters in their own right.
Ross ‘The Boss’ Wilson was the cheeky faced, bopping front man who enthralled audiences with his mage-like showmanship. Ross ‘Hanna’ Hannaford was the lanky, gyrating guitarist who knew the best licks but never overplayed a note. Wayne Duncan was the laconic, stony faced bassist with the boyish charm. Gary Young was the musical drummer who could steal the show with his turn at the microphone. In fact, all the guys could, and would, often upstage each other but together the combination was unbeatable.
Like most people of a certain generation, ‘Eagle Rock’ was the song that did it for me. I was eleven years old when it came out in 1971 and I couldn’t get enough of it, alongside the likes of ‘Come Back Again’, ‘Bom Bom’, ‘Lollipop’, ‘Flip’ and ‘Long After Schooldays are Through’. The music was fun and accessible, informed by the past yet capturing the zeitgeist of the times in a resounding fashion. ‘Eagle Rock’ was a #1 hit and the whole nation grooved to the rockin’ beat.
The thing about ‘Eagle Rock’ that got me right from the start was Wilson’s opening shout of “Now listen! We’re steppin’ out tonight”. Part invitation, part clarion call there was no way you could avoid the proposition. It’s like another great band song introduction... “Come on and hear, come on and hear Alexander’s Ragtime Band”. You just had to go with the flow.
Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! was the hit album, but later on it was the second album Sex, Dope, Rock’n’Roll: Teenage Heaven which captured my imagination. Songs like ‘Hi Honey Ho’, ‘Daddy Rocks Off’, ‘Baby Let Me Bang Your Box’, ‘Love In An F.J.’ and ‘Make Your Stash’ sounded incredible. And that album title and the “Lips” cover... wow! There was something going on here and I wanted a piece of it. Then Wilson went on to produce Skyhooks, the band that ended up stealing DC’s thunder at the top of the charts, and the local floodgates opened.
Above: Hanna's famous “Lips” cover
But enough yakking about my adolescent adventures... what does Daddy Who? hold for the reader? One of the key things to understand is that Craig Horne was the perfect person to write the tale. Over the years he’s worked regularly with Hanna, Young and Duncan in his band The Hornets, as well as knowing Wilson well. He’s been close to the guys for years, so with an observer’s keen eye he was up to the task. He’s also written a couple of enjoyable novels, Bureaucracy Blues (1995) – the hilarious tale of would-be rock star Brian Smith and his band Shooting Gallery – and Alpha Jerk (2000), so he’s got runs on the board.
Horne has the musician’s sense for the minutiae of life on the road and the author’s flair for telling a good story. He also provides great insight into the music of the 1960s and 1970s which gave rise to a band such as Daddy Cool, by placing it within the political milieu of the day, a time of enormous social change and cultural revolution.
Horne sets the scene by exploring each member’s early careers; Wilson and Hanna in The Pink Finks and The Party Machine, Young and Duncan in The Rondells, then the formation of Sons of the Vegetal Mother which gave rise to Daddy Cool. The main act relates the full history of the band’s glory days; the early hits, touring the US three times – playing LA’s famed Whisky a Go Go, supporting the likes of Deep Purple, Fleetwood Mac, Little Feat and Captain Beefheart – then charting the inevitable ups and downs before the 1972 break-up. The third act covers the various reformations over the years.
There are many great passages throughout. When Wilson wrote the prototype ‘Eagle Rock’, coming up with the finger picking, country blues guitar lick in A that he was sure he’d stolen subliminally from somewhere, he asked anyone who would listen, “have you heard this before?”. He finally realised he’d come up with something unique when no-one could quite pinpoint the connection.
He took the title ‘Eagle Rock’ from a picture he’d seen in a newspaper article; it showed African Americans dancing in a Juke Joint during the 1930s and the caption said they were “Doing the eagle rock and cutting the pigeon wing”. The song formed the basis of his new venture, Daddy Cool. It was that unique blend of vintage rock’n’roll, doo-wop and good ol’ rockin’ country blues that no other band in Australia was exploring at the time.
Above: The 1972 DC line-up with Ian ‘Willy' Winter (back left)
Horne encapsulates Hanna to a T when he titles the prologue ‘Where’s my car, man?’, which was a question the guitarist asked the morning after a particularly booze-soaked and smoke-hazed out-of-town gig with The Hornets. It’s an hysterical yet affection opening gambit, so read on...
As well as making it big in Australia, Daddy Cool attracted international fans. When glam rock hero Marc Bolan toured Australia in 1973 he insisted on meeting Wilson. Comparing his hit ‘Ride a White Swan’ with Wilson’s ‘Eagle Rock’, Bolan recognised that they were both into the same boogie beat, the same guitar licks and he even declared Wilson to be a “superstar”.
There’s a quote from Sir Elton John: “Daddy Cool are one of the most impressive bands I’ve ever heard... And ‘Eagle Rock’ is one of my favourite tracks of all time”. Legend has it that Elton was inspired to write his variation on the theme, ‘Crocodile Rock’, after he’d heard ‘Eagle Rock’. Seeing as it was Bernie Taupin who wrote all the lyrics for Elton’s songs, then maybe it was actually the lyricist who created that link.
As well as the impressive narrative there are many great photos and images. In particular, I love legendary graphic designer Ian McCausland’s iconic DC cartoon which graced the front cover of the album Daddy Who? Daddy Cool! and his Teenage Heaven cartoon strip on the inner gatefold of the second album.
Reading closely, there are a couple of continuity issues with names but that’s all minor stuff. Besides, there’s much to enjoy throughout Daddy Who?. In fact, I’d nominate it as one of the select few books on the history of Australian rock’n’roll that gets the story right. Kudos to Craig Horne!
Above: Some panels from Ian McCausland's Teenage Heaven comic strip
Dedicated In Memoriam to Ross Hannaford and Wayne Duncan.