This year 'Shaddap You Face' has set another Australian musical record. In it's twenty-sixth year running as Australia's most successful ever song ever, it has broken the twenty-two year record set by Slim Dusty and 'The Pub With No Beer', which held the previous record from the year of it's release in 1957, until 1979, when 'Up There Cazaly', by Mike Brady and The Two Man Band, eclipsed it and held the top spot for one year, from 1979-1980. ('The Pub With No Beer' also holds the honours as the first Gold record and the only Gold 78 rpm record in Australian musical history.)
The Shaddap You Face Story pt 1
November 1979. 'A date that will live in infamy.' The first performance of Shaddap You Face, in a very primitive form, was at a venue called 'The Marijuana House' They were having a talent night and, trying to think of something funny I could do impromptu, I took a risk and jumped up on stage with my mandolin and sang the lyrics I had written after my trip home to America. There was no sing-a-long. Just the story and the chorus.
Later, performing this song at a little venue called The Flying Trapeze, in Fitzroy, at about 1 a.m. to a totally drunken crowd, (I would pass the hat after I finished and make about $20), I noticed that everyone would sing along with me on the one 'Hey! ' after the chorus. One particular night, a particularly drunken crowd kept on singing the 'Heys!' even while I was trying to sing the verses. They basically wouldn't shaddap! I decided that this kept them occupied so I left it in!
April 24, 1980
A friend who I had known for a while and who worked at Open
Channel Video Productions, suggested to me that I apply for an
Australian Film Commission grant for my one-man show. But on the
day I was supposed to meet with her to discuss it, I had just
had a horrible argument with my wife and I was so depressed and
feeling like I couldn't succeed at anything. This whole grant
application process seemed like such a waste of time. I almost
cancelled our meeting. I had to literally drag myself over to
the meeting. Once I was there I forgot my lethargy and with my
friend's help completed the grant and submitted it.
JULY - I was working for the 'Jolly Jumbuck' traveling library bus, going to kids schools and entertaining but the only songs I knew that seem to capture their attention were Old MacDonald and Shaddap You Face! Meanwhile, I had put together a little rock & roll band to play around at the pubs.
One day, I got a letter, from the Australian Film Commissiont, notifying me that I am being considered for the grant and to come in for a meeting. After some deliberation, the AFC decides to give me an partial grant, not for the entire show but for a test segment. They will give me outright, no strings attached, two thousand dollars to record and videotape the 'Shaddap You Face' segment of my one-man show. If they are pleased with that, then they will give a further $14,000 as an investment grant of which they will get a return. The test grant, however, does not require any reimbursement.
I am ecstatic and get right to work planning the project. I decide that because they have picked this song, I will aim for two objectives: the first, to acquit the grant and get further funding to record the whole show, and the second, to prepare the submission in such a way that it will also serve as a possible single record with accompanying film clip. I decide to record the song at Flagstaff Studio in Melbourne and use for an engineer, Ian Mackenzie, the man I had met while working on 'Reggae Matilda'. (I had originally worked on Regaae Matilda with engineer Tony Cohen but during the mixing, Tony came in so stoned that he kept nodding off and falling asleep at the mixing desk so I had to replace him and call up 'Mac', to finish the job.) I had good memories of Mac from this time and instinctively felt that we would work well together.
I booked studio time and asked the band that I backed me up at the 'Catch A Rising Star' Cabaret to come in and play with me. The recording was done in two takes. I sang the chorus three times and ended it with a rousing 'Hey!' After a few overdubs, it was done. The whole recording session cost five hundred dollars.
While I'm mixing the track, a man named Mike Brady wanders into the studio and overhears what we're doing. He says to me, 'That's sounds like a monster! You don't need me, if I were you, I'd take it directly to a major label. But I'd like to be involved in it so if you ever need me, let me know." I was encouraged by his comments because I knew that he had written and recorded 'Up There Cazaly', an incredibly popular and successful song about Australian Rules football, that was currently the most successful song in Australian music history. . I had heard this song when I first arrived in Australia and while I didn't know anything about Aussie rules football , I was moved by the amount of soul and emotion in the song.
I got started straight away on the video clip with my friend and bass player in my little band, Chris Lofven. We decided to make it at Open Channel Studio in Melbourne because it was economical and that's where our mutual friend, who suggested to me to apply for the grant in the first place, worked. We booked the studio and set up a cabaret scene that was based on the one-person shows I used to do at The Flying Trapeze. On every table, we had a television monitor which gave the people sitting there a picture of what was happening on stage.
I get the idea of asking Robert Meldrum, the brother of pop guru Molly Meldrum, to mime the accordion in the video clip. Rob is a serious actor whom I met in the alternative theater world and has a slight resemblance to Molly. I thought it would be funny and ironic to have him involved in the video. I also had the remote thought that it might give me an edge at getting the clip shown on Countdown. When I do take the completed clip into Countdown (long before I had the record deal) and show it to Molly, he just gets up and walks out of the room after it finishes without a comment. Later, I hear that the two brothers haven't spoken for a long time.
Rob Meldrum agrees to mime the accordion, and I put up a large blackboard with the words written on it so I could do the sing along section. At the close of the clip, one of the comedy duo 'Los Trios Ringbarkus' picked up a pizza off his table and threw it at me, striking me full in the face. The clip came out fabulous. I now had my package with which to approach the record labels and for the grant submission. I quickly submitted the video to the Don Lane Show but it was rejected.
As Glen Wheatley and I had had some dealings on my song, 'Reggae Matilda,' and as he was the manager of the successful Little River Band, I thought that his record company would be the best one to first approach. Glen was out of the country, but his solicitor looked at the video and then told me, 'You know, this type of song isn't really what we do. This type of project is usually feast or famine.' So I got my second rejection. The companies I approached after that were Mushroom and Festival. Both said: No!
So, remembering Mike Brady's enthusiasm, I decided to go back and have a talk to him. (However, when the song became number one, I met Wheatley at a party, he congratulated me but didn't know I had brought it to his company first and suddenly it hit him and he turned white. When I mentioned this incident later to someone in the media, in an interview, they splashed it across the front as the headline. Glen rings up Mike Brady really pissed out I would make that public. (But hey! everybody wants the credit when they choose right but nobody wants to cop it when they don't. )
Having had no luck with the major companies, and sufficently depressed, I remembered Mike Brady's offer of help. I go to Mike and ask him if he is still interested. I give him a copy of the video to show to a few people. The next week, Mike is all excited and says that Astor Records are very enthusiastic about the song and will release it. He is willing to offer me fifteen hundred dollars as an advance. I tell him that I'd don't need an advance, thanks anyway! Later, when a whole pile of bills come in, I remember that I'm broke and I change my mind and go back to Mike and take five hundred of it. A little later, still broke, I take the rest.
Meanwhile, Ian Mackenzie who engineered the track has asked me to give him a percentage of the song royalties. I don't even know what exactly that means (being a naive muso dumbo) but he assures me that it is an industry standard to give the engineer two points or two per cent of royalties. I ask Mike Brady aboutthis and he tells me that this is bullshit and not to give him any percentage. He told me percentages are only for producers and I produced it. I am naive about what a 'point' actually means in dollar terms and I want to thank Mac for his contribution and help someway, so I go back to him and tell him that Mike told me percentages are only for producers. Mac assures me that he could have merely sat there and twiddled the knobs. Implying that he had put some input into the production. Feeling guilty, I agree to give him one percent.
(Later, after having worked with dozens of engineers and producers, I realize that any engineer worth his salt does what Mac did as part and parcel of engineering. And that it wasn't production, which involves preparation of the song from the ground up with the artist through to final mix. Mac hadn't been involved in any pre-studio production whatsoever. I felt conned by someone I trusted.)
Astor releases the single and the song starts receiving airplay on one morning breakfast show. Suddenly the station is getting bombarded with phone calls and there is a huge grass roots public response. I'm watching the Don Lane Show (remember, who had just recently rejected the song) that week and Lane announces on air, without consulting or asking first, that I will be on next week's show! I know something is happening but I don't know exactly what it is, having never had any success before in the music industry. I go on The Don Lane Show and perform the song 'live'.
I eventually am asked to perform the song live on Countdown. Molly Meldrum asks if he can mime the accordion part for the live show (the very part that his brother Robert did in the original clip - remember?). I agree. (One idea I had was to reunite the two brothers on Countdown, with both of them miming the accordion (dueling mimed accordions) but it hasnt happened . . . .yet!)
One day, Brady, who has been operating as my unoffical manager (more like a friend in need!) asked me, 'How much are you charging to perform at places like The Troubador and Catch A Rising Star?" I told him anywhere from fifteen dollars to thirty-five dollars a night. He said I have to stop that immediately. From now on, my fee would be a minimum two thousand dollars per show! Another culture shock! I thought I would have had a hard time time going back to people like Andrew Pattison, the manager of The Troubadour, who believed in my work for so long and telling him that I couldn't work there anymore for thirty-five dollars, that he now had to pay me two thousand dollars!
I decided to continue to perform in the venues where I had the friendships, either for free or for the same wage. It's just now I became very busy performing elsewhere. I think the first time it really began to sink in that I had a hit on my hands was when I went to some out-of-town club to do a small guest spot, about 10 minutes, in the middle of someone else's show. My first two songs got hardly any reaction at all, but when I started singing 'Shaddap You Face' the entire crowd joined in on the verses. They already knew most of the words by heart! I couldn't believe that that many people listened to the radio. I hardly listened to the radio at all.
Some key dates:
October 1st- Basic agreement reached between Full Moon and myself.
24th- first review in T.A.G.G. with premonitions of whats to come: "Joe Dolce Musical Theatre at the Troubadour. There's a single coming out on the 27th of October that will more than likely create a lot of interest around town." Understatement of the decade.
November 7th - 'Shaddap You Face went to Number One on the pop charts in Australia.
20th- I received a Radio 3XY Silver Chart award from DJ, Gavin Wood. I attended the awards ceremony dressed as the 'serious' artist, Joe Dolce, with Lin Van Hecke accompanying me as my spectacled secretary. As I took the podium, I declined to accept the award as a protest against the way ethnic people have been treated in Australia, did a short speech, and, very haughtily, we both walk off. There is a stunned silence. Backstage, I quickly changed into my Italian hat, grabbed my mandolin , and a grovelling 'Guiseppi' quickly ran back back on to grab the award apologizing for his 'serious' alter-ego. I, then, sing an impromptu version of SYF which everyone joins in on. . Some comments afterwards from some of the industry people were like, ' I thought: shit! there goes his career.' Everyone thought my 'protest' was for real.!
With my first royalty cheque, I go out and buy a large screen cinema vision television set which is half as big as my tiny little flat in Richmond, a U-Matic 3/4 inch video recorder and a Betamax Portapack camera and recorder.
Nov 16th - I received my most distrubing 'fan' letter: "To Joe Dolce: Dear Sir, The reason there are no aboriginals in the audience, Joe Dolce, is that the White Man Slaughtered and raped them out of existence, the Italian White man being one of the many of the White Race that did it. You are sick, Joe Dolce. In the head. Yours sincerely, (name withheld) "
20th- I do the Mike Walsh show.
17th- Short tour with the Joe Dolce Band: me on lead guitar,
Trevor Courtney on drums, Lin Van Hek on vocals, Rex Bullen on
synth, Mike (last name?) on bass. Both Rex and Mike later kill
on heroin overdoses!
23rd- SYF enters New Zealand charts.
1981 January- 'Shaddap You Face' album released.
Logbook- pt 2