In part two of my tribute to the legendary Singing Kettles, we continue with Bill and Kathy as they reminisce about a wonderful show business legacy …
Jim: So Bill, with Kath, you became a trio again?
Bill: Yes, it did happen that way – and as I said, it was going very well professionally. Ross and I had won the Hawking Brother’s Award in Victoria in 1981, and Ross firmly believed we were also going to win an award in Tamworth that same year.
There was nothing I could do to prepare him for the disappointment that was to follow. At the time I truly believed that the Tamworth country music authorities hadn’t forgotten that we’d left Tamworth and gone to work for Col Joye – I don’t think we were ever forgiven.
Ross never really got over not winning a Tamworth Award for the 14th album, because it was a great album for it’s time. Even today, I humbly believe it stands up against anything else that’s been recorded since – many of our muso friends, like your good self, tell me they feel the same way.
Jim: Yes Bill, I sincerely think it’s an amazing album, and is filled with brilliant vocals and songs. Can’t believe it was recorded so long ago – it was way ahead of it’s time.
Things like this continued to fuel Ross’s anxieties and he became extremely disillusioned with the industry. It was heart breaking to see him eating himself up like he did, and he became very hard to work with, and tour with.
In 1985, Kath told me she needed to leave the industry to let Ross and I try to get back on track. She’d decided to study law and found herself a job at Legal Aid. I’d had enough too, and decided I wasn’t going to lose her. I didn’t want to perform anymore, so the two of us dropped out of the scene.
Kathy: Well, my sister Lu and I began singing in our younger years, on the farm. We watched television shows like Young Talent Time, and John Williamson’s Traveling Out West – and we listened to the hillbilly songs our parents used to play on the radio. My sister was a great yodeler, really brilliant – you’d hear her yodelling all around the paddocks. When we were bringing cattle home one of us would ride at the front, and the other at the back. Lu would always be yodelling, so if the singing would stop you knew she was in trouble, lol.
We began singing together in Warrnambool, and I sang alone at the Gold Club for three years with my band. My sister and I performed a benefit for the local station at 3YB. Eric Dunn saw us and wanted us to go into 3YB and send a four song tape up to EMI in Sydney – which we did.
We never heard back, and thought we were no good (we were only 16 and 14 years of age and quite unsure of ourselves at the time). We later found out that Eric had sadly passed away.
Jim: I heard that Eric was a terrific man Kath. What happened after that?
Kathy: Our parents split up, and dad moved to Perth and took our two youngest brothers with him. I was very worried about them being up there on there own, and decided they needed someone to look after them. I stayed in Perth for three years, and it was during that time I learned all about Jazz Ballet, singing, modeling and drama – and was doing very well in all four disciplines. However, I really missed my mum and the youngest brother had already moved back home, so I began to feel a little lost. In 1981, my sister, Lu phoned me and asked me to come to Sydney to stay with her, and her husband.
Jim: So you moved to Sydney and met The Kettles?
Kathy: Yes, in one way or another all roads led to Sydney (and Bill) on a greyhound bus. I met Bill through my Auntie, who was also an entertainer. She had bushwhacked me on my journey to my sister’s, and I ended up staying with her for a few nights. She had to go a Country Music Association Meeting, and they allowed me to go too. This is where I met Bill – and of course, I knew who he was – we’d grown up on the farm with his music. Bill was going through a divorce and I thought to myself at the time, this man needs help!
Jim: So you joined the Kettles almost straight away?
Kathy: No, things weren’t that smooth or easy. Bill invited me to move in with him as a companion and friend. I was a Sunday school teacher, 21 years of age, he was 41 and I just felt moving in with him would be okay as he had a two bedroom apartment. We worked together and our love for each other grew very quickly, I became very protective of him. I actually started performing on my own in Sydney and was doing very well, but Bill wanted me with him at the Kettle shows – Ross finally relented and suggested I join them. We were doing really well professionally, and things were looking extremely positive when one of the international promoters wanted to take us on.
When I look back on it now, I can see things were about to explode for us – but the underlying problems were too great. Although Bill had stopped drinking all together by 1985, Ross had unfortunately gotten worse – and quite honestly, things couldn’t continue as they were.
Jim: So, Bill and yourself began as a duo in 1985?
Kathy: No, as Bill said earlier, I decided to give entertainment away and study law, and we were out of the industry for almost 12 months. My younger brother Garry had come up to stay with us during that period of time, and I would come home from work and find Bill teaching him the guitar. I could see by the look on Bill’s face that he was really missing his music.
I stayed at work long enough to buy a new sound system, and Bill was going to sell me as a solo artist on the circuit – so we had all of my photos done. As it happened, we were told that the clubs were looking for female, male duos more than anything else – and we were asked if we’d perform that way. We’d never really learnt a song together, but there was such over whelming work for female male duos that we took the plunge – even though we knew it could have gone against us. It actually went very well, and one of our biggest breaks was given to us by Robin Jolley, who put us on the Bert Newton show. We didn’t look back after that. We did numerous Bert Newton shows, and performed on At Home, which was the John Mangos TV show in Sydney. We also toured Tasmania for twelve weeks of each year and recorded our first album called Answer me stranger in 1987. The title track was a song I wrote for Bill, and we recorded the album to give ourselves our own identity. We were thrilled to be nominated for a Mo Award that same year.
Jim: So what lead to retirement?
Kathy: We had pushed ourselves too hard, and we were really burnt out. It was great, I’m glad we did it. Bill suffered a heart attack and we almost lost him in 1994, so I decided we had to stop, but he wouldn’t. He was very ill, and I got in touch with Veteran Affairs and things were sorted out. Bill was not able to finish shows, which was sad, because everyone loved him so much. We just had to stop, and I believe that saved his life.
In 2005, The Singing Kettles, who had already had their hands placed into the ‘hands of fame’ many years prior, were inducted to the Roll of Renown in Tamworth. They were also given the T.I.A.R.A award for helping young musicians and entertainers.
Bill and Kathy now live on the Mornington Peninsula , and catch up with old show business friends regularly. Johnny and Liz Chester and the Kettles often try out new coffee shops and chat about old times. Col Joye, Col Elliot, my wife Judy and myself, and a whole host of musician friends are still an important part of their lives. Ross succumbed to cancer in 2007, but by then the Kettle’s had made their peace with one another. Bill and Kathy had a young son in 1999 who is now 14 years of age, and is in the Air Cadets. Young Billy has flown his first plane, loves Archery and illustrating cartoons, is great with computers, and loves all kinds of music – at the moment he’s into rap. Bill and Kathy firmly believe in him being allowed to find himself, and be happy in his own skin.
If you’d like to contact Bill and Kathy, please feel free to email me at: email@example.com