“He gave rock ‘n’ roll the best years of his life.“(Kevin Johnson – quote from the album liner notes)
“Dig Richards must rate as one of the first of the Australian pioneers of rock with Johnny O’Keefe and Col Joye.” (Music Minder)
“Dig Richards may or may not have been one of our greats when it comes to early rock but he left an indelible mark.” (This review)
This is album review number One Hundred and Eighty Five in the series of retro-reviews of both vinyl and CD albums from my collection.
The series is called Cream of The Crate and each review represents an album that I believe represents significant musical value, either because of its rarity, because it represents the best of a style or styles of a music or because there is something unique about the music, the group or the particular production. The first fifty reviews were based on vinyl albums from my collection, with the following fifty on CD albums from my collection. Links to all these reviews can be found at the bottom of the page.
Time for another Aussie album, and I have dug deep into the crate to find one of the early Aussie Rockers!
The artist is Dig Richards and this is a vinyl album is titled – Jive After Five [ The Festival Files Vol. 2]. Released on the Festival label in 1988 it has the identifying code of L 19002. It is a twenty two track album.
Dig Richards is a name in Australian rock music history that is, sadly, largely forgotten except for those who saw him or listened to his records, his hardcore fans and music historians. He never set the rock and roll world on fire and there are reasons for that which I will discuss, but he played a very important, if not at times pivotal role of that form of music development in Australia.
Fortunately while we have bits and pieces of knowledge and recollections in our collective minds, his bio has been largely documented by by Glenn Mitchell in one of the better bios on Richards in the Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 18, 2012.
So using my own recollections and along with the liner notes and material provided by Glenn Mitchell, we can put together a reasonable story about him before looking at his music.
Born Digby George Richards in 1940 at Dunedoo, New South Wales, he was the oldest child in the family headed by Gordon Forrest Richards who was policeman with some talent on the guitar. His mother was Mona. There is some evidence to suggest that the young Dig was exposed to early American R&R at home, certainly he listened and watched as his brother Doug learned melody lines on their father’s guitar and started writing his own songs.
Dig attended Narooma Central and Moruya High schools and was already attracting the attention of many young women due to his very good looks and, he was said to be quite charming – which in itself was not the usual demeanour of rock ‘n’ roll stars of the day.
After completing the Leaving certificate in 1957 he headed for Sydney and found work at Waltons-Sears department store, he was seventeen. By now the year was 1958 and R&R was alive and how in the USA and while it took a rare breed of radio station announcer, yet to be called DJ’s in Australia, to play that early rock ‘n’ roll, it hadn’t stopped another Aussie forever stamping his mark in the Australian music scene, and really, giving birth to live R&R performances.
That young man was Johnny O’Keefe!
O’Keefe was literally killing them in the isles, and then along came Col Joye, who while not as wild as the “wild one” – J.O’K, still garnered a strong following. So of course in the eyes of many young men with R&R stars in their eyes, they could all do the same.
“Dig abandoned his retail traineeship for music, after becoming the vocalist for the band ‘The R-Jays’, which sought a recording contract. Ken Taylor of Festival Records auditioned the band in 1959 and, largely on the strength of (brother) Doug’s song I Wanna Love You, signed them. They became the third local artists, following Johnny O’Keefe and Col Joye, to gain a contract with Festival Records.” [Glenn Mitchell]
Amazing for Dig, the track climbed into the top 10 in Sydney and after 17 weeks it hit number 8. Not bad for a first up track. By now Dig had appeared on a show lived TV show called Accent on Youth, which later would mutate into Bandstand. This exposure revealed to the Australian public, particularly the young teen record buying public, that they had a home grown handsome young man with a good stage personality, that could rival Col Joye for looks, and while not quite rivaling J. O’K stage wise, was still making an impact.
A year later the track I’m Through charted in the top 40 and as Australia leapt into the 1960’s, they did so with a bona-fide teen idol in Dig Richards.
By now his popularity saw him appearing on the touring Ricky Nelson Tour which was put together by the legendary Lee Gordon. Yet despite his fan base and recording success, there were questions being asked, like, “How did he get to the top?”, “Does he have some mysterious magic?” These questions were being asked because unlike O’Keefe and another up and comer Johnny Devlin, Dig Richards was seen to not really possess the drive and hard edge of these stars, in fact he was often referred to as having a mild if not negative personality when compared to these two.
As the liner notes declare, “The truth was that he arrived by sheer talent“!
Things were going fine for Richards until that fateful day (sounds like a line out of a song!), when he was involved in a serious car accident in October of 1959. Recovery was slow and it certainly put a damper on his career, but it didn’t stop it. A couple of years went by and he and the R-Jays parted company with good feelings and Richards threw himself into writing songs.
In an attempt to broaden his appeal he took guitar lessons and played around with his image. His return to the “scene” single was a departure from R&R and was more a county/folky track, called Raincoat In The River. In 1964 he married Susan Clarke. By now he was hosting the Dig Richards Ampol Show, he released some more tracks but non of it was jelling, and, when he unsuccessfully switched to CBS records, it really started falling apart.
We shouldn’t overlook that the music scene not just in Australia, but worldwide was changing – and rapidly, with the rise and rise of the English music scene and like many other rock/country artists Dig found it hard to move with the times.
In 1970 he took off for England and what was supposed to be greener pastures. He returned as Digby, complete with beard and longer hair. He recorded the album Harlequin which had several hits including A Little Piece of Peace and People Call Me Country.
He then changed from CBS Records, across to the Radio Corporation of America and RCA Records of Australia Pty Ltd. In 1973 he recorded in Los Angeles with top session-musicians, who were attracted not only by the quality of his songs but also by his Australian accent. That resulting album, Digby Richards, also produced several hits.
He was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in April 1982 and passed away on 17 February 1983 at St Leonards, Sydney. His loss was felt deeply, by a few fans that remembered him, but most certainly by the Australian music fraternity – his peers.
The liner album notes sum up Dig Richards really nicely when it quotes Kevin Johnson, a contemporary and friend, who had the hit Rock and Roll I Gave You the Best Years of My Life, said of Dig Richards, “He gave Rock ‘n’ Roll the best years of his life“!
Jive After Five – Track Listing:
A1. (Real Gone) Annie Laurie 1:49
A2. I Wanna Love You 1:52
A3. You Gotta Love Me 1:57
A4. My Little Lover 2:57
A5. Comin’ Down With Love 2:06
A6. I’m Through 2:21
A7. Dee Dee Darling 2:02
A8. Livin’ Lovin’ Wreck 2:00
A9. Come On and Dance With Me 1:17
A10. My Baby’s Not a Baby Anymore 1:49
A11. Lotta Lovin’ 1:36
B1. Raincoat in the River 1:55
B2. Bad Boy 2:00
B3. Alice (In Wonderland) 1:53
B4. Quarrels (Are a Sad, Sad Thing) 2:45
B5. What’cha Gonna Do? 1:13
B6. Sweet Sue, Just You 2:01
B7. Jive After Five 1:39
B8. Dear Lady Twist 2:06
B9. Love Struck 1:14
B10. The Love Express 2:04
B11. Comin’ Down 2:11
Let’s start with the album’s “calling card”, track 1 – Real Gone Annie. If this is a track you have never heard there is good reason for it! Written by Sydney-sider Ken Taylor, who was also an A & R man (Artist & Repertoire) and who was flushed with success with turning the old standard Clementine into a hit for Col Joye with the track (Rock ‘n’ Rollin’) Clementine. Well he decided to go to the ‘well” one more time, and that was one more time too many, where he dragged out an old Scottish folk song – Annie Laurie and reworked it into (Real Gone) Annie Laurie. (source: Behind the Rock and Beyond).
Dig and the band hated it, there is no other words for it. They had no interest in recording what they heard as, a poor attempt to make R&R. They tried to refuse to record it but were given a clear ultimatum, record this or nothing! Try as they may to make a poor track worse so it wouldn’t be released, Festival would not hear of it and insisted it be released and as a single. It flopped!
DJ Bob Rogers is quoted as saying that he hated it.
There is good reason to find this track unpalatable. It seems as if even the opening guitar strums were played to represent a bagpipe! From then on it gets simply cringeworthy. But our hearts go out to the guys, who really wanted to rock – but this is one genuine case of where blaming the material is not just OK, it is totally justified.
One final thing, the band is made to go faster and faster as the track goes on, obviously in a vain attempt to wake the audience up from the somnambulistic state – I didn’t like the start, but this “tactic” didn’t work either.
(Real Gone) Annie Laurie
However track 2 is far, far better and what in hell’s name possessed Festival to put Annie Laurie on as track 1 and not this track is one of those questions that not only should have been asked, but demanded a damn good answer! The track is I Wanna Love You and was Dig’s first single and was released prior to Annie Laurie.
This track went to number 8, which as I eluded to earlier, was a fantastic effort and even the B-side, I‘m Through, made it to number 40. Look the track is somewhat raw and is certainly a R&R ballad and not a kick-arse rocker. But it showcases that Dig had a good voice, he even throws a few Buddy Holly inflections in. We listen back now and everything about it is sweet music, even the guitar playing is “sweet”. But we need to listen and remember the the period was quite tumultuous with the R&T payola scandals in the USA, resulting in radio stations demanding a less confronting style of R&R.
Oh, and the track was written by his brother, Doug.
I Wanna Love You
But Dig could rock it up and track 8 most certainly should have been released as a single. Livin’ Lovin’ Wreck was written by Otis Blackwell and was first released by Jerry Lee Lewis and “His Pumping Piano” in 1961. By 1964 somehow the track to Dig, and he obviously really ‘dug” it. This is how I suspect Dig wanted to be heard. He sounds loose, he sounds natural and like many Aussie singers in the early sixties, often the choice of material chosen for them by recording companies was the reason they never really found their potential. Those A&R men have a lot to answer for! But with this track he is cruisin’!
Dig with the R-Jay’s
The problem was, by 1964 the Australian music public largely wanted the sounds from Liverpool (the Beatles et al) and Richmond in Surrey with the Rolling Stones. They were no longer interested in this style of music, albeit presented really well.
Livin’ Lovin’ Wreck
The name of the album is taken from the track by the same name – Jive After Five (track 7). Originally recorded by Carl Perkins, on this track Dig does a great job in his vocal delivery, and he shows that he really came alive with ‘rockers”. Sadly the producer let him down, allowing some really sloppy guitar work to remain, totally wrecking the track and really, the whole thing should have been redone.
The last two tracks on the album make sure the album goes out with a bang. Sadly the tracks are not laid out in any logical sequence (that I could fathom), so we find his 1963 release The Love Express as track 10 on Side 2. The Love Express, which Glenn A Baker noted had “a perky girl chorus, train sounds. The “come-hither” sound in Dig’s voice, made it a train not to be missed, and there’s plenty of intimate appeal in it. Certainly it is one of the stand-out tracks.
The Love Express
The final track is Comin’ Down, which was the B-side to The Love Express, and leaves me confused as to how these A&R men released some terrible tracks by Dig, yet here he had two really good tracks on the one release. The track really rolls along, and in some ways has more roll than rock in it, and that’s not a complaint. What a shame it wasn’t released as an A-side!
Look, Dig Richards may or may not have been one of our greats when it comes to early rock but he left an indelible mark. Certainly his car accident robbed him of both energy and came just at a time when his career was blossoming. I do believe he was certainly a victim of terrible decision in regard to choice of material, of which quite a bit is on this album, but fortunately, some of the worst of his material is not. Missing tracks like Mary from the Dairy (December 1964) and Puff (The Tragic Wagon) in June of 1965, did nothing to improve his profile and I can only imagine what it did to his confidence.
But when we “dig” below the surface there is a real rocker trying to break out. Even when we righteously find reasons external toDig for not getting to the peak of his music mountain, we do come back to comments like, he didn’t really possess the drive and hard edge of other stars. Yes he was talented, but what is it they say about nice guys?
Where does that leave us in regard to this album? There are in fact eleven albums released with Dig’s name attached, and some I have not heard so it’s impossible to judge where this compilation lays. What is clear is that Festival have not overstated their claim on this album that it is part of classic Australian recordings. It is!
Dig Richards – Jive After Five [The Festival File Vol 2] brings between $17.00 and $30.00 in the marketplace like Ebay and Discogs, but there are very few copies out there, and I think this is undervalued. These festival series are not easy to find, so there are two reasons for collectors to buy. 1. They are very hard to get. 2. This is a man who is not really remembered that well as time goes by, but, he is certainly very much a classic part of the development of Australian music.