Daddy Cool was a 1970s Australian band (based in Melbourne), led by Ross Wilson and which became the most successful Australian rock act of their day. Strongly influenced by the work of Frank Zappa, their first album harked back affectionately to 1950s rock and roll and doo-wop and their repertoire included a number of cover versions of classic 1950s American R&B hits, although their second LP was more strongly aligned with progressive rock.
They formed in 1970, split in 1972 and briefly reformed in 1974-1975, 1995 and from 2005 to date. Their biggest hit is the song "Eagle Rock".
In 2006, Daddy Cool was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame along with Lobby Lloyde and several others. The band now currently exists on a part-time basis.
Daddy Cool began life as an occasional and informal offshoot of Melbourne progressive rock outfit Sons of the Vegetal Mother, but within twelve months it had completely eclipsed its parent band to become the most successful and popular act in the country, and the Daddy Cool story became one of the pivotal chapters in Australian rock history. Their debut single and LP were the biggest selling Australian records ever released up to that time, and they ushered in a new phase of Australian rock.
The original four-piece lineup consisted of singer-guitarists Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford, who had played together around Melbourne since they were teenagers, first in The Pink Finks, and then in The Party Machine. The rhythm section, drummer Gary Young and bassist Wayne Duncan, were veterans of the Melbourne pop-rock circuit since the early 1960s and had played in many leading Melbourne bands, most notably The Rondells, the backing band for pop duo Bobby & Laurie.
After the breakup of Party Machine in 1969, Ross Wilson was invited to go to the UK to work with expatriate Australian progressive rock band Procession, who were floundering and in search of a new musical direction.
In the event, they were unable to make any headway and they split soon after. Wilson returned to Australia in early 1970, armed with the concept for a new band that was inspired by his love of the work of Frank Zappa and the Mothers of Invention -- in particular, Zappa's 1950's rock 'n' roll/doo-wop parody LP, Cruising with Ruben & the Jets.
The new band, Sons of the Vegetal Mother, was an "esoteric special occasion progressive band" with a floating lineup based around the nucleus of Wilson and Hannaford. It was conceived to perform long improvisational sets on the Melbourne concert circuit, at events and 'happenings' in 'head' venues like the TF Much Ballroom. In tandem with his interest in progressive music, Wilson was at this time also beginning to explore the original rock 'n' roll era, and he came up with the idea of creating an informal group to perform it. Numerous originals from the classic rock 'n' roll era 1950s became staples of the set list, and these were combined with Wilson's more progressively-oriented originals.
In the beginning, Daddy Cool was originally intended as "light relief" during Vegetals gigs, performing a short, snappy set of 50s rock'n'roll songs between the lengthier progressive explorations of the main group. Their first public performance was an impromptu appearance at a Vegetals gig at Glenelg Town Hall in November 1970, when they filled in for a support band who failed to show up. A few weeks later they made their 'official' debut at the TF Much Ballroom in Melbourne.
They combined great musical strength, honed by years of experience, with a strong set-list and an irreverent and ebullient stage presence. A memorable feature was their stage attire, inspired by their love of American pop culture and comics. Headgear included Duncan's Mickey Mouse ears, Wilson's furry animal ears and a foxtail which he regularly attached to the back of his pants, and Hannaford's trademark propeller cap.
Audiences responded immediately, and over the next few months Daddy Cool became one of the most popular live acts on the Melbourne dance/disco circuit, with regular gigs at the Much More Ballroom, Garrison, the Myer Music Bowl and the Melbourne Town Hall, as well as appearances at the Odyssey Festival (Wallacia, NSW). By the time of their rapturous reception at the Myponga Festival in early 1971 it was clear that Daddy Cool were far more popular than their parent band, and Sons of the Vegetal Mother was soon shelved for good.
On 7 May 1971, Daddy Cool played a gig at the Melbourne Town Hall with Sydney prog-rock group Tully, and it was here that Daddy Cool were spotted by producer and label owner Robie Porter. A former child guitar prodigy, Porter had been a teenage pop performer who had his own unusual but quite successful musical career in the late 50s and early 60s, performing guitar instrumentals under his stage name "Rob E.G". After a spell in the US, Robie had returned to Australia and had recently become half-owner of the small independent Melbourne label, Sparmac. Porter signed Daddy Cool on the spot when he saw them at the Town Hall show and within days he had them in the studio; their first single was out before the end of the month.
Porter produced the tracks for the first Daddy Cool LP, and he also contributed piano and steel guitar to various tracks, plus Dave Brown on saxophone. All the tracks were recorded in a marathon two-night, 22-hour session and most were first takes. The album included two Ross Wilson originals which became instant classics - "Come Back Again" and the song that became their debut single, "Eagle Rock".
"Eagle Rock" was influenced by Delta blues and by Wilson's discovery of the crosspicking guitar technique. The title of the song was taken from a newspaper article which Wilson had read while he was in London -- a Sunday Times story describing the juke joints of the American Deep South in the 1930s, which included a photo of black dancers, captioned "Some negroes do the eagle rock and the pigeon wing".
Alongside Spectrum's "I'll Be Gone", Daddy Cool's debut single became one of the keystones of the so-called "Third Wave" of Australian rock in the early seventies. Released in late May, "Eagle Rock" entered the Melbourne charts at #20; it was immediately picked up by pop stations around the country and was the national #1 within two weeks. It became one of the biggest hits of the year and its success propelled the band into the national spotlight virtually overnight. The group became so popular that the single's B-side, a throwaway doo-wop pastiche called "Bom Bom", was also picked up by radio and followed the A-side to the top of the Melbourne charts.
Daddy Cool undertook a joint nationwide tour with Spectrum, and "Eagle Rock" gained crucial TV exposure thanks to the famous promotional clip made by director Chris Lofven, a former member of Melbourne band Cam-Pact. The clip included specially filmed sequences (shot in a local Melbourne milk bar) which was intercut with live footage of the band's performance at Myponga. Now regarded as a classic, it has been much imitated. The music video for The Pretenders' breakthrough single "Brass In Pocket" bears a strong similarity to the "Eagle Rock" clip, and it is highly likely that original Pretenders bassist Pete Farndon would have seen the Daddy Cool clip during the time he spent in Australia as a member of folk band The Bushwhackers.
"Eagle Rock" rewrote the record books for Australian popular music - it was #1 nationally for 8 weeks, #1 in Melbourne for a record-breaking 17 weeks, it charted for 25 weeks in all, and became the best-selling Australian single of 1971. Daddy Cool were voted Best Group in the 1971 Go Set Pop Poll, and Best Group in the TV Week "King of Pop" awards. "Eagle Rock" has long since taken on a life of its own and has become one of the best-known songs of the era, and a staple of commercial radio "classic rock" programming. When "Eagle Rock" was re-released as a 12" single in 1982 it became a Top 10 hit again.
It would be a further Top 10 hit when re-released again in 1990, in both Australia and New Zealand.
Elton John was reportedly so taken with the song when he heard it on his first Australian tour that he immediately penned his own riposte, "Crocodile Rock", which was a massive international hit for him. Further evidence of Daddy Cool's influence on Elton can be found on the cover of Elton's Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player LP -- among the group photos on the cover, Elton's lyricist Bernie Taupin is wearing a "Daddy Who?" promotional badge that he had picked up in Australia.
Eagle Rock is also the theme song for the NRL team the Manly Warringah Sea Eagles. Its played at the end of any game played at Brookvale Oval when the Sea Eagles win.As it does when the West Coast Eagles win at there home ground, Subiaco Oval in the AFL.
Their debut LP Daddy Who?... Daddy Cool was released in July 1971. It went to #1 nationally for seven weeks and smashed all previous sales records - it went gold within the month, sold an unprecedented 60,000 copies from its initial release, and went on to become the first Australian LP to sell more than 100,000 copies. The album was originally issued in a textured cover, and the cover illustration -- a cartoon rendering of the band members by Melbourne artist Ian McCausland -- effectively became the group's logo. While Ross Hannaford was responsible for overall design of the group's album covers McCausland created all the band's graphics and was responsible for much of their visual image. The majority of the original songs were by Ross Wilson (except for "Bom Bom", which was co-written by Hannaford) augmented by vintage R&B covers - "Guided Missile", "Good Rockin' Daddy", "Cherry Pie", Slay & Crewe's "Daddy Cool" and Chuck Berry's "Schooldays".
In August 1971, Daddy Cool flew to America for a short tour, including a 4-day engagement at the famous Whisky A Go Go in Los Angeles, supporting the Elvin Bishop Group. The tour was not especially successful, largely because of differing expectations. The promoters wanted the good-time, funny-costume Daddy Cool, and they overhyped the group in the US, but Wilson was reportedly very uneasy about taking American culture back to Americans, and he worried about looking foolish to US audiences. Some of their performances were reportedly below par, but the trip did result in the offer of further engagements later that year, on which they supported acts like Flash Cadillac & The Continental Kids and Captain Beefheart; it also secured the release of "Eagle Rock" by Warner Bros. Both albums and various singles were released in the US over the next year, but Daddy Cool remained essentially a cult attraction on the US west coast and other areas.
In September, Jeremy Noone (ex-Company Caine) joined on sax and keyboards. His arrival coincided with the release of their second single, "Come Back Again", which was another huge hit, reaching #2 nationally. It was later covered by country singer Anne Kirkpatrick in 1986.
Daddy Cool toured the US again in October 1971 and then returned to release their 5-track D.C.E.P. in November. This was divided into a "Jump" side ("Flip", "Lollipop" and "Jerry's Jump") and a "School" side ("Long After Schooldays Are Through" and "Three O'clock Thrill"); it came in a lavish gatefold cover, again with artwork by Ian McCausland, who created the pop-art candy-cane design for the front cover. Each of the group members got to sing a track, and it was another big success for them, reaching #11. On 29 November, Daddy Cool achieved another Australian first, becoming the first local rock band to broadcast live from a recording studio. They performed in front of 80 people at Armstrong's Studio in Melbourne, and the concert was broadcast nationally around Australia and also to New Zealand.
The third single, released in December, was another brilliant Wilson original, "Hi Honey Ho" (b/w Hannaford's "Don't Ever Leave Me (Don't Ever Go)"), which was later issued as the group's second US single. The song was taken from their forthcoming second LP, and was also released in a rare promotional issue which carries the full-length (6'45") album version, as opposed to the edited (3'29") version on the official single.
The second LP, provocatively titled Sex, Dope, Rock'n'Roll - Teenage Heaven was released in mid-January 1972; its famous "lipstick kiss" cover was designed by Hannaford and realised by Ian McCausland, who also provided the irreverent comic strip which adorned the inside of the gatefold. The LP showed their repertoire expanding, mixing the familiar 50s-style rock 'n' roll with more progressive material, along the lines of Wilson's earlier work in Sons of the Vegetal Mother. Some of the longer tracks indicate that Wilson was strongly influenced by Frank Zappa (and the Hot Rats LP in particular) -- this is especially noticeable in Wilson's dope anthem "Make Your Stash", which Ross had already performed with Procession and the Vegetals, and which had also been covered - in a radically different arrangement - by Spectrum. There were also unmistakable traces of Zappa in the album's centerpiece, the drive-in trilogy "Teen Love / Drive-In Movie / Love In An F.J."
There was some controversy after the LP was reviewed in a Melbourne newspaper, mainly because of the title, and because of the choice of the two 50s covers, The Penguins' rollicking boogie-woogie hit "Baby Let Me Bang Your Box", and Billy Ward & The Dominoes' "Sixty Minute Man". There were calls to ban the LP, even though the content was only mildly suggestive, at best, not to mention the fact that both the aforementioned songs had been released in the early '50s in America and had been top-sellers at the time. No doubt this all helped sales and the LP was another Top 10 album. It was issued in the US (where the title was predictably truncated to just "Teenage Heaven") and it was promoted with a disc that has become another real collector's item, a special 10", 78rpm record, with the "Drive-In Trilogy" across the two sides.
In February 1972, Jeremy Noone left the band, apparently because he felt that he was not fully involved in the spirit of the group. He was replaced in March by Ian "Willy" Winter (ex-Carson) who took over the rhythm guitar duties, so that Wilson could concentrate on singing. They undertook a third US tour from March-June 1972 and recorded several tracks including "Teenage Blues" at Cherokee Studio and live show favourite "I'll Never Smile Again" at the L.A. Record Plant
"I'll Never Smile Again", a song probably best known from the version recorded by Frank Sinatra on his 1959 album No One Cares, became their next single. Backed by "Daddy Rocks Off" it was released in June in the US and in July in Australia, providing Daddy Cool with another Top 40 hit, peaking at #27 nationally. "I'll Never Smile Again" also ranks as one of Ross Wilson's best vocal performances.
By mid-1972 the inevitable stresses and strains of success were building up and the pressures within and on the group were dividing the formerly close-knit unit. Young and Duncan were keen to form their own band, and the two Rosses were finding the restrictions of the Daddy Cool image increasingly frustrating. By August the group realised that the phenomenon had run its course, and rather than dragging it out they decided to call it a day while they were still on top. They performed their farewell show (which was recorded in its entirety) to a packed house at the Much More Ballroom in Melbourne on 13 August 1972. They released their valedictory single "Teenage Blues" / "At the Rockhouse" to coincide with the concert. Reportedly this 'farewell' single was only issued to fulfill their immediate contractual obligations to Sparmac, and it appears that relations between the band and their label had become fraught by this time. The four original members pursued their own plans, and Willy Winter rejoined Carson.
In September 1972, Young and Duncan formed Gary Young's Hot Dog, who appeared at the second Sunbury Festival in January 1973, while the two Rosses began planning their next venture. This project briefly involved several prominent musicians including former Dave Miller Set bassist Harry Brus, Tim Gaze and Nigel Macara (ex-Tamam Shud), but they soon moved on, after which singer Gulliver Smith and guitarist Russell Smith from Company Caine came in. Gulliver was only involved briefly, and he moved on to a solo career and album before the new band was launched, but Russell Smith stayed on and two Smith-Smith songs made it onto the resulting album.
In the meantime, Wilson appeared in the March 1973 Australian production of the rock opera Tommy in the role of "Cousin Kevin".
In May 1973, Wilson and Hannaford unveiled the new band, dubbed Mighty Kong, which comprised Wilson, Hannaford, Smith, bassist Tim Partridge and drummer Ray Arnott, from Spectrum. Arnott's departure to join Kong in fact triggered the break-up of Spectrum, but in a neat turnaround, Gaze and Macara then linked up with Mike Rudd and co. to form the first lineup of Rudd's new band Ariel.
Unfortunately Mighty Kong did not achieve long-term success and the group folded in December 1973, just after the release of their excellent (but now very rare) album All I Wanna Do Is Rock.
Meanwhile, Sparmac (who still had unreleased material stockpiled) issued the Daddy Cool's Golden Hits LP in January 1973; it combined the best tracks from the two LPs, and the original pressing came with a bonus 7" of the "Hi Honey Ho" / "Don't Ever Leave Me" single. During 1973 Sparmac was absorbed into a new label Wizard, co-owned by Porter and Steve Binder, and they released the double album Daddy Cool Live! The Last Drive-in Movie Show on the new imprint in September 1973. This album was the live recording of DC's farewell gig at the Much More Ballroom from August 1972. The track order faithfully followed the set list on the night. Record One features the original 4-piece Daddy Cool, with Side One devoted to R&B covers, and Side Two turned over to Gary Young's selection of favourite country and rockabilly numbers. On Record Two, the second half of the show, they were joined by Willy Winter and this included some of the more progressive material including "Flash In My Head" and "Boy You're Paranoid". The original pressing also included a bonus one-sided 33-1/3 rpm single with the live version of "Daddy Cool". Remarkably, despite of the group's huge popularity, the live album sold less than 5000 copies from its first release, and it is now by far the rarest of their three 'original' LPs.
By the start of 1974 both Mighty Kong and Hot Dog had split. Because of financial pressures (including outstanding debts to Sparmac), the members of Daddy Cool decided to reform for a one-off gig. The reunion took place at the third Sunbury Festival in January 1974, to the great delight of the crowd. It was meant to be a "one-off" event, but the band was so heartened by their rapturous reception that they decided on a semi-permanent reformation with the four original members, and they lined up a series of shows during 1974-1975. A new studio LP was planned and they began recording in April/May, but during the sessions a dispute erupted with Porter and Wizard over contracts and copyright, and the new album was soon aborted. Only the tracks "All I Wanna Do Is Rock" Parts I & II, "Boogie Man" and "I Was a Teenage Creature" made it onto tape. These were released as the band's final two singles, and also appeared on the Missing Masters LP in 1980.
In June and July 1974, Ross Wilson took a month out from Daddy Cool out to produce the debut album for a new Melbourne band, whom he had first seen when they supported Mighty Kong in late 1973. Wilson was so impressed with them that he immediately signed their main songwriter to a publishing contract, and he was instrumental in getting the group signed to Michael Gudinski's Mushroom Records label. It was a serious gamble for Mushroom, who were still struggling financially. The band had not been notably successful -- in fact they had been booed off the stage during their first major appearance at Sunbury earlier that year -- and adding to the uncertainty was the fact that this was also Wilson's first major production job. But the wager paid off handsomely -- the record was of course the legendary Living in the Seventies by Skyhooks, released in October 1974. It made Skyhooks stars overnight, becoming the best-selling album in Australian recording history to that time (eclipsing Daddy Cool's own record) and saved Mushroom, establishing the label and its owner Michael Gudinski as a major player in the Australian recording industry.
In January 1975, Daddy Cool appeared at the final Sunbury Festival, after which (Ian) Gunther Gorman was recruited to help bolster the group's lineup, but by now Daddy Cool was past its use-by date. They soldiered on for a few more months; when Wayne Duncan was sidelined after injuring his hand in a car accident in June, Hannaford switched to bass and guitarist Wayne Burt (later of Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons) was brought in, creating the very last Daddy Cool lineup. In August, Ross Wilson announced the group's final split, and in September 1975 they played their final shows at Paddington Town Hall in Sydney and the Reefer Cabaret in Melbourne.
Since the final Daddy Cool split, all four members have worked with one another in various combinations at various times.