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Friday, 8 January 2016

Oz Rock and the Hermes Ambassador Typewriter

It's been claimed that the Hermes Ambassador standard typewriter used by John Bogie (aka John Bogey and Johnny B. Fun), the mischievous drummer for Australian pop group the Joy Boys, on the September 1959 recording of Oh Yeah Uh Huh marked the first time that a typewriter had been employed as a percussion instrument on a No 1 hit record.
A 1998 Australian postage stamp celebrated this single's historic achievement in being Australia's first home-ground No 1 hit. It was also the first nationwide hit of any origin.
Are there any others? Well, Wordy Rappinghood by Tom Tom Club was a No 1 in Belgium in 1981, and was also on top of Billboard's US Hot Dance Club chart, but Bryan Ferry's Kiss and Tell and Orchestral Manoeuvres in the Dark's Genetic Engineering (Smith-Corona standard?) barely broke into the Top 50s. Wordy Rappinghood also has, by the way, an Australian connection, but given last year's jailing of our own Bill Cosby - Rolf Harris - we won't go into that!
Typewriter collector Cedric Bixler Zavala of Mars Volta typed his way through the improvised Abortion: The Other White Meat on a pale blue Royal Safari at the KROQ Weenie Roast Festival in May 2005 (see photo above) and Position Normal's second album Goodly Time apparently has a typewriter-backed track about a guy with a typewriter fetish, but I can't find it on YouTube. Of course, it's a cash register on Pink Floyd's Money on Dark Side of the Moon.
Typist Bogie is circled.
OK, Col Joye and the Joy Boys' Oh Yeah Uh Huh, with backing vocals from the New Notes, was only a No 1 in Australia, but it was the very first home-grown Australian No 1, and the first song to be at No 1 simultaneously across almost the entire country, in November 1959, which makes Bogie's use of the Hermes Ambassador all the more special. One of the band (presumably Bogie) had to scale a wall in the Festival Records studios in Pymble in Sydney and "borrow" the typewriter from the Festival administrative offices. To avoid the ring of the bell at the end of a line being picked by the studio mikes, the carriage was locked and though Bogie typed away furiously with two fingers, every typeslug "impression" was left on the one spot.
The man who made typewriter music history, Bogie, was born in England in 1934 and died in Sydney on August 27, 2012, aged 77. He started with Joye when his backing band was known as the KJ Quintet (they changed their name on the advice of a clairvoyant). Bogie stayed with the group until 1969. He toured with Lloyd Price, Bobby Vee, the Everly Brothers, Gene Vincent, Johnny Cash, Fabian, Connie Francis and Ricky Nelson. He was later entertainment manager of the Ryde Eastwood Leagues Club until 2003.
The video seen at the top of this post comes from the first TV broadcast of Bert Newton's Hi-Fi Club (previously the Bert Newton Show) on Channel 9 on February 18, 1960. But the song was first recorded by Robert Iredale for Festival on a sunny Sunday afternoon in mid-September 1959, on Harris Street, Pymble.
Iredale (above) picked up extra reverb effect by putting a mike and a speaker in a toilet. The track featured the Joy Boys' original line up of Bogie on typewriter and Dave Bridge on lead guitar. Other members included the brothers of lead singer Col Joye (real name Colin Jacobsen), Kevin (piano) and Keith Jacobsen (bass), as well as Laurie Erwin on saxophone. Norm Day later replaced Bridge on lead guitarFestival was at the time owned by property magnate Leslie Joseph Hooker (birth name Tingyou), but he sold it in 1961 to Rupert Murdoch's News Limited. 
Oh Year Uh Huh had been given to Joye by Sydney DJ John Burls (in image above with Joye), but was in fact a cover version of a song written by Sylvia Vanderpool's husband Joe Robinson (not Robertson, as stated on the label) and Mickey Baker (as "S. Carter"). The original version had been recorded by Baker and Vanderpool as Sylvia & Mickey (image below). It's little wonder Vanderpool puts one in mind of a Bo Diddley backing singer-guitarist, as she and Baker had, in 1956, recorded that enduring classic, the haunting Diddley and Jody Williams-penned song Love Is Strange. Diddley and his female guitarists are what mostly keep me glued to YouTube.
Vanderpool (1936-2011) is today regarded as an influential rap pioneer and producer, known as the "Mother of Hip-Hop." This is based on her work as founder of the hip-hop label Sugar Hill Records and as the driving force behind Rapper's Delight by the Sugarhill Gang and The Message by Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five.
It was recording engineer Robert Iredale who came up the idea of using a typewriter on the Joy Boys' version of Oh Yeah Uh Huh. Joye recalled, “He said, ‘I can hear something ticking in there, like a typewriter, instead of a drum. We’ll get a typewriter!’ All of the offices were locked because the recording was on a Sunday, but the walls didn’t go all the way to the roof, so band members jumped over a wall and found a typewriter. The first time we used the typewriter, it went ‘tick, tick, tick …’, but when we got to the end of a line, the bell went off, and we couldn’t have that on the record. So Robert set it up so that it went ‘tick, tick, tick’ in the one spot. It cut a big hole in the platen, but no one at Festival ever said anything about it.”
Oh Yeah Uh Huh entered the Sydney charts on September 26, 1959, reached No 1 on November 14 and stayed on the charts for 27 weeks. In was on the Adelaide charts for 14 weeks, the Brisbane charts for 20 weeks and the Melbourne charts for 19 weeks. Only in behind-the-times Perth did it "flop", reaching No 13 in its only week (it didn't arrive there until January 1960).
I have a signed pick given to me by Col Joye (1936-) during the Long Way to the Top tour in 2002 (mentioned in my post on Stevie Wright and Kevin Borich), but little did I know at the time that he was party to using a typewriter on a hit record! Since the National Film and Sound Archive's Sounds of Australia register here in Canberra take an intense interest in these things, I might donate the pick to them. Along with my lovely big Hermes Ambassador, which is just gathering dust in my house. After all, Oh Yeah Uh Huh succeeded in merging together two of my three great passions in life.


Bill M said...

First I've heard of Col Joy and the typewriter. Good sound.
Now Mickey and Sylvia, I've played their songs hundreds of times.

shordzi said...

Thank you Robert, great post!