Thursday, 26 January 2012

The Path Less Travelled

I'm reading a book called Chasing the Dragon about the life of Marc Hunter who was lead singer for New Zealand band Dragon. The most intriguing aspect of the story is Dragon's ill fated 1978 tour of the U.S which saw the band implode, it also details how hard it was and perhaps still is for groups to make headway into the U.S market. It seems that there is no sure fire way to conquer America, the tyranny of distance is a factor you can play to a thousand people in Denver who know your songs and the next night your playing somewhere in Texas to about 3 people who couldn't care less! That is the biggest challenge with cracking the American market.

Looking back at the history of Australian music, the first artist to try his luck overseas was Johnny O'Keefe who at the time was Australia's answer to Elvis that analogy is a bit of a stretch Johnny was a mixture of styles all based on what was happening in the U.S he was more Johnny Burnette that Elvis. Johnny went to the U.S in late 1959 he had signed with the Liberty record label and recorded She's My Baby at Gold star studios in L.A. But in what was to be a exercise repeated my many bands in the late 60's and 70's O'Keefe blew his chance by turning up to promotional events drunk! I see to remember reading a story about him returning from a trip to Mexico with pot stashed in the tyre rims of his rental car with producer Snuff Garrett in tow, suffice to say Garrett was not pleased with this behaviour! The Easybeats in the late 60's cracked the U.K with Friday on My Mind and the following year that song cracked the U.S top 20, the band toured the states but weren't able to maintain the momentum. That seemed to be a big issue with Australian bands if they gained a small foothold into an overseas market they were often unable to maintain that surge, why? Well the main reason is the record company and the recording business at large, Australian record labels which were basically local outposts of the main offices in London or America didn't have the sufficient budget or influence to push Australian bands overseas, it was put into the too hard basket. It was left to managers and local entrepreneurs to push the buttons themselves and sometimes it worked for example the Bee Gees and their relationship with Robert Stigwood.

If bands attained some local success to take it further overseas they need someone from an overseas label to really push them, to get the word around to the press, to venues etc so that there was at least some support there. I think of groups like Axiom, Masters' Apprentices all great bands who first tried their luck in the U.K and then in the U.S but with little success as they weren't able to drum up support from overseas labels and therefore couldn't attract big gigs. Then there were bands like Little River who did make it big because most of the members had experienced the disappointment of past overseas failures, they were also well managed, disciplined and had strong support from their U.S label.

I read an interesting comment from Doc McGhee former manager of Bon Jovi who said that bands like Cold Chisel could have had success in the U.S market if they had of been prepared to spend more time over there, instead they chose to stay closer to home, close to a market in which they were the big fish. I think this  is true many Australian bands weren't prepared to relocate overseas, I believe this trend is changing. There a lot of bands spending considerable time overseas and often it's bands that don't have a large local following, with the assistance of new technology e.g Facebook, My Space, Twitter etc bands are able to make inroads into certain markets. One thing that won't change is the need to tour and to base yourself overseas if international success is your desire.

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