Daddy Who? The Definitive Daddy Cool Biography

Daddy Who? The Definitive Daddy Cool Biography

Posted 22 Oct 2018
daddy cool
(Photo courtesy of Melbourne Books)

One of the many excellent books on Oz Rock around at the moment is a long-overdue book about Daddy Cool. It’s pretty unbelievable, especially from a Melbourne perspective, that there’s never been a book about this record-breaking and enduring band before,  given the massive and ongoing influence DC had on the music of their country and hometown. So it's perhaps fitting that it is publisher Melbourne Books who have come to the party with the definitive Daddy Cool biography, entitled Daddy Who?, written by Melbourne musician and longtime fan and friend of the band, Craig Horne.

Daddy Cool are notable for any number of reasons. There is the strength of their songs, performances and recordings; the decades have only confirmed how great this band was. Their debut album Daddy Who? Daddy Cool absolutely shattered Australian sales records upon release in 1971, setting new levels that would stand until DC main man Ross Wilson discovered Skyhooks and produced their Living in the 70s album. Additionally, they set the stage for everything else that Ross Wilson went on to do – from Mondo Rock to appearing as King Mondo in The Wiggles. Then there’s the enduring love afforded to “Eagle Rock” around the country (West Coast Eagles fans were no doubt happy to hear it blasting out at the MCG after last month’s AFL Grand final), and the continued affection for other hits including “Hi Honey Ho” and “Come Back Again”. On the flipside of that is the subversive 50s sockhop meets Frank Zappa’s Mothers of Invention duality of their music, which likely became their commercial undoing, and which confirmed the band’s ties to the counter-culture. 


Less spoken of is the largely untold story of their American touring, which saw the band sign to then super hip label Reprise Records and share bills with the likes of Captain Beefheart and Little Feat, slay audiences everywhere and have breakout chart success in a number of American cities with “Eagle Rock”. All of which resulted in a cult of fans in the States, including Tom Petty and his future keyboard player Benmont Tench, who bonded over a copy of DC’s first album back in the day. And then there’s the fact that both Marc Bolan and Elton John were fans; Marc insisted on meeting Ross Wilson on his Australian tour, and Elton so loved "Eagle Rock" that he wrote his own “Crocodile Rock”. Indeed Elton's musical partner of the time Bernie Taupin can even be seen wearing a DC badge on the cover of the album that featured the song, "Don't Shoot Me I'm Only the Piano Player." 

And there’s that aforementioned ongoing influence on the Melbourne scene into the 80s and beyond, which is heard not only in Wilson’s discovery and early production of both Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons and The Sports, but in the musicianship and musical taste of Ross Hannaford, Gary Young and Wayne Duncan as well. It was Daddy Cool who primarily set the ball rolling for the Melbourne roots music scene, which is still thriving today.

Musician and author Craig Horne was a rabid teenage Daddy Cool fan who went on to have DC’s rhythm section of Wayne Duncan and Gary Young play in his longstanding inner-city blues outfit the Hornets for nearly two decades. He was able to write Daddy Who? from both an insider’s and a fan’s point of view, and is especially strong at relating the personal impact the band had and in turn describing the milieu – the thriving live scene, the hedonistic and creative inner Melbourne scene, the festival scene (after splitting in 1972, DC were convinced to reform for Sunbury in 1974).


Horne’s book covers the band origins in the 60s (Ross Wilson and Ross Hannaford in the Pink Finks and then the Party Machine; Ross Wilson then in London with Procession; and Wayne Duncan and Gary Young in the Rondells and with Bobby & Laurie) and the band’s actual beginning as the super-progressive Sons of the Vegetal Mother. It covers their rapid rise and success, their US forays and ultimate demise, and the band members' subsequent activities and ongoing influence. Written following the band’s final reformation in November 2014 for their induction into The Age/Music Victoria Music Hall of Fame (they were ARIA Hall of Famers since 2006)  and the passing of both Ross Hannaford and Wayne Duncan, the book, sadly, is also able to present closure to the story. 


Emblazed with the original Daddy Who? LP artwork by great Melbourne illustrator and designer Ian McAusland, and generously illustrated, Daddy Who? will be cherished by fans of the band and is an essential read for anyone interested in the broader history of Australian rock.

We caught up with author Craig Horne and asked him about his book and about the band that had such an impact on his life.   


What, in hindsight, were the most misunderstood aspects of what DC did or were about?

CH - I think musically they were misunderstood. Ross Wilson along with Ross Hannaford, Gary Young and Wayne Duncan took - what was in Australian terms,  an obscure  American musical form - doo-wop and made it recognisably Australian in form. Daddy Cool were four very talented musicians who were forged in the heat of Melbourne’s fiercely competitive music scene of the 1960’s, who through circumstance came together to form a band that was not only incredibly entertaining and accessible, but were musically astonishing. Ross Hannaford was a precociously talented and distinctive guitar player and  Young and Duncan were the perfect rhythm section for Daddy Cool, they had a feel for the music that could not be replicated.  Wilson of course was and is a dynamic singer and frontman, a great songwriter with a clear vision for his music. But he was extremely fortunate with his fellow Daddy Cool band members to find three uniquely talented musicians who were more than capable of helping him realise his great musical vision.   

What do you think makes DC’s music so great, and what are your favourite DC recordings? How do you feel they stand up with the music that influenced them, and other artists from the same era who share similar influences – whether they be roots influences, pop/rock aspects or more progressive leanings?

CH - What makes DC’s music so great is a special juju, where four seasoned and incredibly talented musicians magically found each other at exactly the right time in history and in so doing, created a band that was in a sense greater than the sum of its parts. DC were an alchemic mix of Ross Wilson's doo-wop vision combined with his infectious song-writing ability plus his dynamic vocals and stage presence coupled with Ross Hannaford's unique guitar attack which was all underpinned by arguably the greatest and most complementary rhythm section Australia has produced in Gary Young and Wayne Duncan. This may go some way in answering why they were so enduringly great. My favourite recordings, are the obvious “Eagle Rock”, “Come Back Again”, “Hi Honey Ho”, BUT I love the second album, Wilson could have played safe and produced another copy of the good-time cuddly Daddy Who? recording. But he wanted to push the artistic envelope and he did it with great success, Sex Dope Rock ’n’ Roll: Teenage Heaven as a whole is my favourite DC record.

Why do you think DC were so huge? what did time and place have to do it?

CH - I think their music stands up incredibly well, their harmonies were tight, the band was world class and the original material was as good if not better than their influences. Daddy Cool, unlike say Sha Na Na were not a tribute band, nor were they a novelty act like many others, they were a seriously talented quartet that played infectious good-time music mixed with an artistic vision that was at times challenging but was always entertaining.

Why do you think DC were so huge? What did time and place have to do it?

CH - Daddy Cool came at precisely the right time in Australian musical, social and cultural history. Firstly Daddy Cool were uniquely Australian at a time when an Australian national identity was emerging, they were ratbags, irreverent, humorous, but they were also a great band that played three-minute danceable tunes at a time dominated by guitar boogie bands that played 15-minute solos staring at their shoes. Daddy Cool were the antithesis of self-indulgence, they were hugely entertaining, they encouraged the nations young people to stop sitting on the floor, they made dancing and fun cool. In short, they were also an extraordinarily talented band with a set of infectious songs that perfectly captured the zeitgeist of the era.  


How would things have been different for the band do you think if things had been different in the US and their management and record company had been able to get all their ducks in a row? How big and influential could they have been?

CH - Daddy Cool were the first Australian band to tour the US, so there was no blueprint. But as Elton John observed to Molly Meldrum on Countdown in 1975…’I was in Hollywood when Daddy Cool were over there, and I just saw it crumble, it made me very sad because it was so badly handled' They were overhyped and arguably marketed poorly…they were presented as almost a novelty act. The blueprint set in Australia, putting DC in front of a student audience should have been followed in America from the very first tour. I believe with a bit of luck this could have built a momentum that may have led to bigger and better things. There were signs that Daddy Cool could have cracked the US market, their gigs with Little Feat, Deep Purple, Linda Ronstadt, etc were triumphs, and their mid-west college tours generated real fans amongst students. They could have been, if not marquee stars (Wilson always said they were after-all bringing coals to Newcastle), then certainly they could have had a substantial career in the United States. But as Elton John said it was all very badly handled. 

How would you describe DC’s impact on you personally, and on Melbourne and Australian music?

CH -When, as an eighteen-year-old, I first saw Daddy Cool play at The Melbourne Town Hall in 1971, my life changed forever. I always loved music, I was a huge fan of The Beatles, Stones, Cream, Hendrix, but also JO’K and Elvis and Chuck and Little Richard; but when I saw them do what they did that night I  wanted to do more, I wanted to play in a rock and roll band. Daddy Cool had that effect on an entire generation. Almost overnight people were dancing, laughing and having a great time at their gigs, many, like me,  were inspired to become musicians and play in bands. Daddy Cool made it acceptable to be entertaining, to play music that was up-tempo and danceable. In a sense they laid the foundation for what followed…hard driving, audience moving pub rock. 


What will be DC’s enduring legacy from this point on?

CH - DC’s enduring legacy is a batch of songs like “Eagle Rock” and “Come Back Again,” that will be played as long as Australian music is played and in so doing showed us what four kids from the suburbs of Melbourne could accomplish. Daddy Cool were pioneers; they opened up territory for others to settle and in so doing they gave us something to be proud of, they gave us a uniquely Australian voice that was loved and will be loved by generations of Australians to come.


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