Clancy Dunn by Clancy Dunn: Autobiography

  I grew up in the back-hills of Tasmania with a pedigree that includes aborigines, convicts and a couple of infamous bushrangers. We had no electricity or telephones and we may have been short on modern amenities, with most things still done the old fashioned way,but we had songs and we had music. There were lots of musicians, mostly accordionists and an odd fiddler or two as well as harp and banjo players. Everybody sang, or so it seemed, but we had our favourite singers and I was proud to be one of them. Our ultra-eclectic repertoire of Irish songs and traditional bush songs was freely mixed in with the pop and hillbilly (country) songs of the day, which we learned from the radio and phonograph records. We were proud to be farmers and bushmen and most of us were content to stay that way.

If I could have chosen a career I would've opted to be a radio singer like Gene Autry but I had no idea how that worked. My teacher wanted me to stay in school but my family wasn't big on higher education and I was needed on the farm, they said. Somehow I just couldn't resign myself to a life on the farm and in the bush so I joined the Navy only to be turned down on medical grounds. That left only one other option; droving in Queensland like Clancy of the Overflow. I really only spent three seasons droving after a year of jackarooing where I learned how to ride rough horses, but those years made an indelible impression on me because they were the last years of the old-time drover. We spent all day in the saddle, slept on the ground, rain or shine, and took a turn at night watch, singing to the cattle to keep them calm, and we laughed when we saw the first Road Trains trying to do our job. Most people seem to have the idea that drovers back then sang country songs, or folk songs, but in reality the repertoire on the track was much the same as we had in Tassie. Often I'd lie in my swag listening to the drover on night watch giving forth with a plaintiff Irish ballad, a song from one of the musicals, or even a bawdy song he'd learned while serving overseas.

1959 was a turning point. Injured in a cattle rush (stampede), I was hauled off by the Flying Doctor, and warned against continuing as a cattle drover (i.e. riding rough horses). What else could I do? "You're a singer!" my mates told me, and did a whiparound, collecting over a thousand pounds (a year's wages to a drover), which they handed me with instructions to "Get down to Sydney and find work in the nightclubs!" Instead, I went to Brisbane where I took advantage of some further education and entered a few talent quests. At that time, Channel 7 was running a state-wide talent quest where the winner received a regular spot on its new show, Anything Goes, along with a Festival Records contract and club bookings in Brisbane and on the Gold Coast. During this time I was the support act to Australian 'stars' Lana Cantrell, the Bee Gee's, Lucky Starr, and finally an import show group called The Royal Tahitians. The 'Tahitians' were a great show band but they lacked a front man like most of the Maori show groups working the area, so management decided to team me up with them. They didn't ask my approval, but I didn't mind because it was fun and let me make use of my extensive Hawaiian and Calypso repertoire.

I came to Sydney in 1960 with a new name, fronting the same Polynesian show band. Larry King and the Royal Tahitians played major hotels (which I liked), as well as outsized Rock 'n Roll venues (which I didn't care for). Nonetheless, I learned the requisite songs and it was only a chance meeting at Chequers with my agent Carol D. and a man I called The Boss that got me out of the auditoriums and into the world of nightclub singing. The Boss seemed to think I was perfect for nightclubs, and had an assistant help me with the right clothes (suits and tuxedoes) and the right material (Latin and standards). I enjoyed the quieter venues and respectful audiences, blissfully unaware of the boss's other commercial ventures.

I was trying to disappear from Sydney's underbelly crowd, circa 1961, when a chance encounter with an American folk song trio steered me into the life of the wandering minstrel and the emerging coffee house/folk music scene. I was surprised that the audiences didn't want to hear anything that couldn't pass as a folk song, but it was alright with me. When my friends returned to California, I continued in the folk song scene, later joining up with Alex Hood, as The Prodigal Sons, specialising in Australian songs, which we performed on radio (ABC Schools Broadcast and Kindergarten of the Air), Television (This Day Tonight, Four Corners, Bandstand, The John Laws Show, Joe Martin's In Town Tonight, In Melbourne Tonight, with both Graeme Kennedy and Burt Newton), as well as 'specials' for the ABC in Sydney and Canberra, and for Crawford Productions in Melbourne. On top of this we performed regularly in RSL and Leagues clubs, and in hundreds of schools around the country under the auspices of the Education Department. The 'Sons' recorded for J. Albert & Son, released on Parlaphone, and even had a modest hit with one of my compositions, The Didgeridu Song. If we were doing it today, we would probably get rich, but back then we just got tired and decided to scale back into solo work.

During the '70's, I recorded I Shot an Arrow into the Air and it Stuck There for MCA and the subsequent airplay led to a brief but successful career in advertising in Sydney where I received accolades for the "'Avagoodweegend" commercial for Aeroguard, and the "Almost as soft as Love" award winning ad for Johnsons Baby Powder. Advertising took me to the U.S. where I began working as Larry King. I changed my name to Clancy Dunn in order to join the Writer's Guild, Screen Actor's Guild and the Musicians Local 47 which already had way too many Larry Kings on their books. I made several commercials in Los Angeles and Las Vegas, including radio IDs for the number one station, KFM-102. The next couple of years involved a string of casino lounges, some of which no longer exist. The Dunes, Landmark, Frontier, Gold Coast, and the Golden Nugget were just a few of the places I got to play and then, of course, there was Reno, Tahoe and other Nevada towns. It was all great fun and led to touring the rest of the country which, while it may be the same size as Australia, had umpteen cities and towns, and a virtually unlimited string of jobs to take me around. Over the years I worked in all but two states, changing the repertoire to suit the particular audience, and I'm proud of having played Country music in Nashville, Blues at an all black club in Mississipi, and Latin songs for Hispanic audiences in Texas.

 I was working the American hotel/casino circuit when the Aussie Invasion took place. I might've missed it, except that requests for Aussie songs went from two or three a night to dominating the repertoire. It was the music I had grown up with and performed in Australia, so it was fine with me. It led to performances promoting Australia for Australian/American organizations, including the Australian Trade and Tourist Commissions and several Chambers of Commerce. These events were usually held in major hotels such as Sofatels and Four Seasons, in cities including Kona (Hawaii), Palm Springs, San Francisco and Los Angeles (California), Houston (Texas), Chicago (Illinois) and Manhattan (New York), where my favourite venue was the iconic Waldorf Astoria. The 'Aussie' shows also opened the door to festivals (Irish, Children's, Comedy and Cowboy), so when dual citizenship was offered I took it with the hope of working both sides of the Pacific. About this time I spoke to an Australian booking agent who was enthusiastic about my working the Australian festival scene. Unfortunately I arrived back at the same time as an unexpected health issue which really knocked me for a loop and left me "picking in the 'Long Paddock'". Do I miss the shows and the travelling? Yes, I do. Am I well enough now to get back in the saddle? I think so. Will I be welcome back? That's a question for the ages. America On-line once described me as "The First Drover in Cyberspace". So, with that in mind, I've chosen to re-establish a web presence. Like an old droving boss used to say: "Head 'em up and move 'em out!"
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