Ross Wilson – circa 1971
“Now listen / Oh, we’re steppin’ out / I’m gonna turn around / I’m gonna turn around once / I’m gonna do The Eagle Rock” – ‘Eagle Rock’ (Ross Wilson)
Some people have a fox-tail attached to the aerial of their car. The lead singer of the Australian band Daddy Cool has a fox-tail attached to the seat of his baggy pants. His rather ill-fitting suit is draped over a loud shirt. His face is framed by a halo of frizzy hair and an impressively bushy beard. The other musicians on stage are equally visually arresting. The guitar player is a lanky figure in a baseball shirt and a propeller-beanie. Behind thick glasses, he pulls faces, his tongue sticking out to one side. The bass player is wearing Mickey Mouse ears. They’re called what? Daddy who? Daddy Cool!
Ross Wilson (born 18 November 1947) is the fellow with the fox-tail. By the late 1960s, he is a hippy, peddling health food. He is also playing rock music with a band called The Pink Finks. When that falls apart, he puts together ‘the promising and innovative’ Party Machine with Mike Rudd, later of Spectrum, on bass. In 1969, Ross Wilson pulls the plug on The Party Machine and leaves his home in Melbourne, Victoria, to go to London in the United Kingdom. He returns to Australia in 1970 with a new idea.
Ross Wilson intends to assemble a group with some of the most famous rock musicians in Australia. Aware that they will all have other commitments, Wilson intends this supergroup, to be called Sons Of The Vegetal Mother, to only be a part-time project. To keep himself busy, he also puts together a ‘fun’ band to play 1950s style rock ‘n’ roll music in contrast to his ‘serious’ group.
The ‘fun’ group is christened Daddy Cool, after the title of a 1957 song by The Rays. The guitarist in Daddy Cool is Ross Hannaford (born 1 December 1950). Making up the rest of the band are two veterans of The Rondells, Wayne Duncan and the American-born Gary Young (born 1947). So the line-up of Daddy Cool is: Ross Wilson (vocals, guitar), Ross Hannaford (guitar, vocals), Wayne Duncan (bass) and Gary Young (drums). They are ‘dressed up like cartoon characters, and play those rock and roll oldies as if they are brand new’.
The Sons Of The Vegetal Mother, with the members of Daddy Cool at their centre, exists in parallel for a while, but it soon becomes obvious that Ross Wilson’s ‘fun’ group is proving more popular than their ‘serious’ sibling and the decision is made to concentrate on Daddy Cool.
Daddy Cool are not the only 1950s revivalists. A nostalgia for the early days of rock ‘n’ roll seems to be in the air. At the same time, in the United States there is the comical Sha-Na-Na and the more serious Creedence Clearwater Revival. While simply playing golden oldies was okay when Daddy Cool was only a lark to pass the time, now that it is the focus, Ross Wilson begins writing new material to supplement the band’s repertoire. Of course, the idea is for the original songs to retain the spirit and general style of classic rock ‘n’ roll. This is partially accomplished through vocal harmonies, with Ross Wilson making use of a high falsetto while Ross Hannaford is the deep-voiced Mr Bass Man. Hannaford is also an accomplished guitarist, turning in consistently engaging work. The rhythm section is the true foundation of Daddy Cool’s sound. Wayne Duncan and Gary Young’s pre-existing partnership gives them an almost telepathic rapport. Young’s dexterous and flexible drum patterns find easy sympathy and support from Duncan’s bass.
Daddy Cool strike gold on the first attempt with ‘Eagle Rock’ (AUS no. 1), a Ross Wilson original. Over catchy guitar notes and a lazily entrancing rhythm, the chorus assures that “Hey hey hey / Good old Eagle Rock’s here to stay / I’m just crazy ‘bout the way we move / Doin’ The Eagle Rock”. Explaining the tune’s origins, Ross Wilson says, “That riff came because I listened to a lot of old blues guys. It’s my riff, but it’s the kind of finger-picking style from the Mississippi blues era of the pre Second World War…Today, when you hear ‘Eagle Rock’, you can’t say that sounds like a 1970s record or that’s a 1950s record…I think that’s why it’s stood the test of time.” Released in May 1971, it becomes a national no. 1 single for eleven weeks, the longest run of any Australian band. The song also changes the personal fortunes of the group’s members. “I was working in a book warehouse with Gary Young,” recalls Ross Wilson, “and all of a sudden ‘Eagle Rock’ came on the radio…and two weeks later we resigned [from the warehouse jobs].”
The debut album ‘Daddy Who? Daddy Cool’ (1971) (AUS no. 1) follows. Produced by Robbie Porter, it becomes the first Australian-made album to top the national chart. Aside from ‘Eagle Rock’, it contains cover versions of songs like ‘Cherry Pie’ and The Rays’ ‘Daddy Cool’, the track that gives the band its name. Of the original songs, amongst the most notable is ‘Come Back Again’ (AUS no. 3) where Ross Wilson sings: “Mopin’ around / The streets late at night / I’m worried because you ain’t treatin’ me right / Come back again / I’m just crazy ‘bout you, babe.” A saxophone introduces ‘At The Rockhouse’: “Big old house with a neon sign / Where the people go rocking on Saturday night / You can rock and you can roll / While the band rocks off the people have a ball / Daddy rocks off on a Saturday night / You can hear the guitars play.” Ross Hannaford co-writes ‘Bom Bom’ with Ross Wilson. A change of pace with doo wop vocals over a piano, it is probably the new song that could most easily pass for a vintage 1950s number: “Oh baby, don’t you know / That I love you so / Bom bom.” Cumulatively, this amounts to Daddy Cool’s debut being their best album.
Restless, Ross Wilson ‘tones down the costumes, expands the line-up and broadens the band’s musical scope’. Jerry Noone (born Jeremy Killock) is added to Daddy Cool, providing saxophone or keyboards as required. Less officially, in 1972 Ian ‘Willy’ Winter offers additional guitarwork. Daddy Cool’s second album is ‘Sex, Dope And Rock And Roll: Teenage Heaven’ (1972) (AUS no. 15). The title draws gasps from some more conservative sections of the media and retail outlets, perhaps accounting for the album’s comparatively weaker performance. An additional factor is that side two is virtually a single concept piece built around ‘Love In An F.J. Holden’ (The F.J. Holden is a prized Australian classic car of the 1950s.). This more challenging work may have alienated some fans looking for another serve of good time rock ‘n’ roll. However, side one of the album tries to appease those listeners. Again, there are cover versions of oldies like ‘Sixty Minute Man’ and ‘Baby Let Me Bang Your Box’ (i.e. play your piano). Robbie Porter remains in place as producer. The album’s best known original song is ‘Hi Honey Ho’ (AUS no. 16), a clear relative of ‘Eagle Rock’ and ‘Come Back Again’. The simple refrain is “Honey hi / Honey ho / How are you?” Also present is ‘Daddy Rocks Off’ (AUS no. 16). With the underpinning of an electric piano, the lyrics state that “You can call it gospel, soul / You can call it rock ‘n’ roll / You can even call it jazz / Don’t care what you do / It’s all the same to me / Just beautiful music woo-ooh-eee / As you’ll find out when Daddy rocks off with you.” The song that most points toward the future is ‘Please, Please America’. Sounding like it is recorded half in jest and wholly in earnest, they lyrics say: “Flew across to the U.S.A. / And played to the kids in L.A. [Los Angeles] / Please, please America / Hear my plea / A million bucks will do for me”. After the falsetto “Aah-ya-ya” refrain, Ross Wilson yelps, “It’s not for me / It’s for my country!”
Daddy Cool tour the U.S.A. three times during 1971 -1972 but they ‘slam against a brick wall of indifference’. This inability to expand beyond Australia to an international market hurts the band. In August 1972 Ross Wilson disbands Daddy Cool.
The group reforms in 1974 with Gunther Gorman and Wayne Burt providing additional guitars. A couple of singles are issued: ‘The Boogie Man’ and a cover of Chuck Berry’s ‘You Never Can Tell’. This edition of Daddy Cool only exists for around a year, falling apart in 1975.
Ross Wilson, Ross Hannaford, Wayne Duncan and Gary Young reassemble as Daddy Cool in 2005. They put on a concert at Melbourne’s Myer Music Bowl on 27 February 2005 as a charity benefit for victims of the tsunami that struck in the ocean between Malaysia and Sri Lanka on 26 December 2004. The quartet remains together, recording an album of fresh material, ‘The New Cool’ (2006). Daddy Cool also play at Melbourne’s Moomba Festival in 2007. Although there is no official notice of breaking up, it seems that the band returns to a dormant state.
Daddy Cool carved a place for themselves in Australian rock history. Their music, especially ‘Eagle Rock’, remains popular. Not bad for a ‘fun’ group that was only created as a way to pass time between more ‘serious’ work. Perhaps that says something about the nature of rock ‘n’ roll, that it thrives on joy and immediacy and begins to suffer under the weight of grandiose ambitions? Daddy Cool were ‘highly theatrical and animated [and] shook up the Australian concert scene’. They ‘came together in Melbourne about the time of conscription, Vietnam moratoriums and hippie F.J. Holdens. Daddy Who? Daddy Cool.’
- ‘Friday On My Mind’ by Ed Nimmervoll (Five Mile Press, 2004) p. 90, 91, 93
- rockclub40.ning.com (28 September 2009)
- allmusic.com, ‘Daddy Cool’ by Bruce Elder as at 22 August 2001
- ‘The Big Australian Rock Book’, ‘Mondo Rock’ by Andrea Jones (Megabooks, 1985) p 80
- wikipedia.org as at 31 December 2012
- Advertisement for a radio station (FOX FM?) in a 1985? Australian edition of ‘Rolling Stone’ magazine
- lyricsfreak.com as at 8 September 2014
Song lyrics copyright unavailable with the exceptions of ‘Eagle Rock’ (Chrysalis Music Group obo Mushroom Music Pty Ltd) and ‘Come Back Again’ (Chrysalis Music)
Last revised 10 September 2014