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The Forgotten Playboy - The Pete Carroll Story


Being in a successful band must be one of the most exciting experiences a musician could ever experience. The screaming fans, TV shows, radio interviews, teenage girls chasing you down the street. But people working in the music industry could also be treated harshly. Backing band members particularly seemed to come in for bad treatment and could be discarded with little regard for their feelings or the contribution they made to the overall sound of a group. Billy Thorpe dispensed with the original Aztecs and as nice a guy every said Ray Brown was, he replaced the Whispers in what seemed to be an uncaring manner. No one has a story of more harsh treatment than bass player Pete Carroll.


Pete Carroll was born in Benalla in the north-eastern region of Victoria in 1943. His family moved to Melbourne when he was 4 years old. He was a youngster at school when he first heard Buddy Holly & the Crickets sing That’ll Be The Day. He fell in love with that song and thought it was the most fantastic song he had ever heard. He left school at the end of 1960 and started work in 1961. At the time there was a group in England that were making a name for themselves called Cliff Richard & the Shadows. Pete thought they were fantastic. In the Shadows was a bass player by the name of Jet Harris. He was a mean looking guy but Pete thought, “Wow, how good is this guy.” It was Jet Harris who inspired Pete to become a bass player and he wanted to be just like him.

Pete started saving some of his hard earned money and he went out and bought his first bass. He started taking some lessons with someone that he went to school with at Glenroy High School and his name was Peter Robinson. Peter was probably one of the best bass players in Melbourne at the time and he had just formed a group called the Strangers. Pete took his bass playing seriously and he would practise every night. A few months later when Pete started getting more proficient, Peter Robinson said to him, “Listen, there’s a few guys that have got a bit of a band together and they need a bass player. I reckon you should go and join them and get some practise playing in a band.”


Peter Cahill, Pete Carroll, Ian McCausland & Laurie Arthur

The next day he went down and met the band, had a chat to them and joined in and started playing in his very first band. The group were called the Mustangs and the members included Brian Holden on lead guitar, Allan Miller on rhythm guitar and vocals, Peter Cahill on drums and Terry Dean on lead vocals. Not long afterwards, Brian Holden announced he was leaving, but he told the rest of the band, “I know a bloke and he’s pretty good. Have a listen to him and see what you think.”


Holden arranged to bring this guitarist up for a rehearsal and his name was John Farrar. Pete recalls, “He started playing with us and he played the most amazing guitar I’ve ever heard. A bit later on I was talking to Peter Robinson from the Strangers about this guitarist we’ve got and I said, ‘Come down and have a listen to him at rehearsals.’ “


A few days later Peter Robinson turned up at their rehearsals and he bought Garth Thompson, the Strangers’ drummer with him. They sat down and listened to John play and they were most impressed. Not long afterwards, however, Laurie Arthur left the Strangers and the Strangers asked John Farrar to join them. Laurie Arthur then came and joined the Mustangs. The Mustangs then changed their name to the Laurie Arthur Four.


Another group in Melbourne at the time were the Playboys. Drummer Graeme Trottman formed the Playboys in early to mid 1962. The original members were Graeme Trottman on drums, Bill Billings on lead guitar, John Cartwright on rhythm guitar, Phil Blackmore on organ and Ron Brain on bass. Brain only played with the group for about a year and he was replaced by Neil McArthur. The Playboys played at dances run by dance promoter Kevin McLellan at the Glen Iris RSL and the Preston Town Hall. When another dance promoter, Ivan Dayman, moved from Adelaide, he opened a dance at the Circle Ballroom in Preston, he was in direct competition with Kevin McLellan. The numbers attending the dances run by McLellan started to decrease and he was unable to compete with Dayman. McLellan was soon forced to sell-out to Dayman, who closed the Preston Town Hall dance and moved the Playboys, Marcie Jones and a young singer called Norm Rowe, to another dance he ran at the Canterbury Ballroom.


Playboys 1st EP which Neil played on


Towards the end of 1964, Pete Carroll was still playing with the Laurie Arthur Four at night and during the day he worked as a salesman at Myers selling ladies shoes. His skills as a bass player were gradually improving, he was networking with other musicians and he was starting to get a bit of a name for himself. One day when he was at work on the floor at Myers, he looked up and saw Graeme Trottman and another fellow walking towards him. They approached Pete and started talking to him. Trottman said, “Listen, Neil our bass player is leaving the band and we need a replacement. Are you interested in joining our band?”


Trottman explained that Ivan Dayman had big plans for Normie Rowe and he wanted the Playboys to be his permanent backing band. Dayman planned to tour the young singer and record him on his recently established Sunshine Record label. He needed a backing band of full-time musicians so he asked the Playboys to quit their day jobs and become fulltime musicians. Neil McArthur at the time was married with a young child to support. He had a secure job as an apprentice at General Motors and he was not prepared to leave his job on the chance that the band may or may not be successful.


Sound Awards '65 - Trotta, Bill Billings, Laurie Allen, Pete, Lynne Randell, Neil McArthur, Bobby Bright, Phil Blackmore

Pete could not believe his luck. Normie Rowe was one of the fastest rising singers in Australia at the time, and he jumped at the opportunity of joining the Playboys. Becoming part of the Playboys, however, was not an easy transition for Pete, it was a hard slog indeed. He had to learn all the songs in the Playboys playlist and he put in many hours of hard work.


After about four weeks of intense practice and rehearsals, he finally reached a level that was to the satisfaction of the band. “After about a month of rehearsals, Neil pulled out and I stepped into the band and took over. They were a magnificent band, God they were good and I became part and parcel of Normie Rowe & the Playboys.”


Next he was told was that shortly, two things were going to happen. First of all they would be going into the studio to record Normie’s first single and secondly, after the song is released, they were going on their first national tour. Pete was ecstatic. His ambition had always been to make a record and his dream was about to come true.


The song chosen for Normie’s first record was originally written in 1935 by George and Ira Gerswin for the musical ‘Porgy & Bess.’ There were several updated versions of the song that had been recorded by pop acts including the Moody Blues, The Honeycombs and PJ Proby (all album tracks). The inspiration for the Normie Rowe version of It Ain’t Necessarily So was most likely one recorded by Liverpool group Ian & the Zodiacs in 1963. It appeared on an album called ‘This Is Mersey Beat Volume 2.’ The Playboys started rehearsing the song prior to entering the studio and Pete created a new bass riff at the start of the song.

“That bass pattern is one I sort of formulated myself. I’ve listened to most of the versions that were recorded of that song and none have that bass riff in them. So I think it’s my riff. It’s very simple and it’s very effective.”


Telefil Studios after recording It Ain't Necessarily So

The song was recorded at the Telefil Studios in St Kilda with Bill Armstrong doing the engineering and Pat Aulton as producer. When the song was released, Normie Rowe & the Playboys embarked on a tour of the east coast of Australia. Dayman organised the tour so that the group would spend a month in Sydney, a month in Brisbane, a month in Melbourne, then back to Sydney in a continuous cycle. No one expected the song to be such a huge hit. It shot to Number 1 in Melbourne and was Top 5 in all other states. But most importantly it broke into the Sydney charts, which was a difficult market for a Melbourne group to break into at the time. The controversy about the lyrics only helped to provide more publicity for the record.




Playboys 2nd EP with Pete in line-up

Four tracks were recorded in the same session It Ain’t Necessarily So was recorded. The B-side of Normie’s single, Gonna Leave This Town written by Playboy member John Cartwright and two tracks for the next Playboys’ single Desperado and The Mean One, an original by Bill Billings. John Gray who ran the dance at Canterbury Ballroom for Dayman showed a keen interest in the Playboys progress as a recording group and asked that they bring a tape of the recording when they had finished so he could listen to it. Pete recalls,

“We finished the session at about 2 o’clock in the morning. Trotta got the tape and we hopped in the cars and we all went to the Canterbury Ballroom and woke him up at about 3 o’clock in the morning. We called out, ‘Hey John, we’ve got the tape, have a listen to it.’ He’s sitting there listening to the tape in his pyjamas.”


Normie Rowe & the Playboys were suddenly the hottest group in the country. Teenage girls were hysterical at every concert they played, which must have been a great thrill for the group and a just reward for all the hours of hard work they had put in to get to where they were now. Pete recalls,

“The reaction we got from the girls was nothing short of amazing. They went insane. They were jumping up on the stage, they were screaming out and there were police and security people trying to push them away.”


When the group played in Sydney they stayed at the Greyeagles Hotel in the seedy King’s Cross district. It was no place for a nice young man to hang around. Pete witnessed things he had never seen before, but he loved every minute of it.

“It was infamous, it was notorious. It had everything in it, gangsters, crooks, prostitutes, con men, everything. It was a fabulous place for young blokes to be in.”


The Playboys had a busy schedule the first time they travelled to Sydney. They played a show at the Bowl from 7.30 pm to 11.30 pm and another show at the same venue from 12.30 am to 3.00 am. They would get back to their hotel at about 4.00 am, then they would have to be at the Festival Studios in Pyrmont at 9.00 am for an all day recording session. They left the recording studio at about 6.00 pm, got something to eat, then went straight to the Bowl to set up their gear ready for that night’s show. Incredibly, the group were working 18 to 20 hours a day. Dayman made his young pop stars work hard for their money!


The top group in Sydney at the time were Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs. They played to sell out crowds at Surf City every night and were topping the charts around the country. One memory Pete has that has stuck in his mind all these years, happened on the first night they played in Sydney,

“We’re up there at the Bowl this night and having a wonderful time. I just happened to look over to the left hand side of the stage and spotted Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs standing there watching us. They probably come up and thought, ‘Who’s this new band that’s come up from Melbourne. We better go and see them, ‘cause they’re gonna be a threat.’ “


Pete was very impressed with the professional manner Pat Aulton carried out his duties as a record producer. Pat was an excellent singer and musician. He had a good ear for music and Pete found him easy to get along with. Pete explains the process he used to record,

“He had a technique of producing. When we had our songs picked out and we didn’t have the final choice, we were told sometimes, ‘We want you to record this one.’ Before we went to the recording studio, we’d go to the Bowl, set up our equipment and Pat would sit at a desk with a stopwatch and a notebook. He’d say, ‘Right, now play the song.”


The group would play the song and when they had finished he would check the length and tell them if it was too short or too long. Then he would give individual advise to each group member and make subtle changes to improve what they had played. The group would have to play the songs over and over again until they had them firmly locked in their brain so that when they went into the recording studio, they could play them without making mistakes. Time in the recording studio was expensive and the quicker they got the song recorded, the cheaper it was.


LP cover: Pete far left, taken at Darling Harbour Sydney

Every time the group travelled to Sydney they would record at Festival Studios. The only recordings made at the Telefil Studios in Melbourne were the two tracks on Normie’s first single, It Ain’t Necessarily So/Gonna Leave This Town and the four tracks on the Playboys first singles, Exodus/Sabre Dance and Swan Lake/Camptown Races (Neil McArthur played bass on both these singles). Pete also made the following observation about recording in Sydney at that time,

“The biggest thing we faced wasn’t anything to do with Norm, or the Playboys, or Pat, or the engineer. It was all to do with Festival Studios and their equipment. Their equipment was outdated and antiquated and it was very difficult for us to get a good sound compared to what we got out of the Telefil Studios in Melbourne. For Pat to get the sound on record he got out of that equipment, was amazing.”


From Sydney the group travelled to Brisbane and were based at the Cloudland Ballroom. Ivan Dayman had taken a lease out on the iconic building in early 1963 and had made it his headquarters. Norm & the Playboys played to sell out crowds throughout Queensland and the reaction from the fans was as wild and chaotic as everywhere else they had played during the tour. At the end of 1965, the group returned to Melbourne and set about their normal 4-week cycle. They played a lot of shows at the Circle Ballroom and the Canterbury Ballroom and most of the big town hall dances as well as appearing on ‘The Go!! Show’ a number of times. After about three weeks, Pete wondered why the group had not been doing any rehearsals, which he thought was unusual, because it was their normal routine.


It was a week before the group were due back in Sydney and a meeting was arranged at Phil Blackmore’s parent’s place. The Blackmores ran a corner milk bar in Port Melbourne, which was a common venue for group meetings and rehearsals. The meeting was to discuss and organise the up-coming trip to Sydney on the following Saturday. Pete recalls that everyone was chatting away discussing details of the tour and Phil Blackmore’s father came up to him and said, “Pete, just want to have a quick word with you.” Then he said, “The boys are leaving for Sydney on Saturday, but you won’t be going with them.” Pete looked at him in stunned shock and said, “What do you mean, what’s going on?” Blackmore replied, “Neil’s coming back.” And he turned around and walked away. Pete continues,

“It all took 20 seconds, and the band are all looking at me. I’m thinking, ‘Shit, what’s happened? What’s wrong?’ It was at that very moment my career was over, I was out. No warning, no reason to cause this to happen. I went up to John Cartwright and I said, ‘John, I’ve just been kicked out of the band, and he said, ‘Yeah, I know, Neil wanted to come back."


What Pete assumes happened was that during the 12 months since Neil McArthur left the band, he could see that they were extremely popular and successful financially and he wanted to get back in again. So he approached Bill Billings and said something along the lines of, “What do you think my chances are of getting back into the band again?”Bill’s response would have been (again unconfirmed), “I’ll have to talk to the rest of the boys.” The band apparently made the decision to let Neil in back and remove Pete. It all made sense to Pete now, why he was not doing any rehearsals. The band were rehearsing with Neil to get him up to speed with their current playlist.


To say Pete was shattered by this turn of events is an under statement. It caught him completely by surprise and he did not know which way to turn.

“I didn’t know where to go. I was up at the top and all of a sudden I was down at the bottom. No job, no band, no income. I was absolutely devastated. You’ve got no idea how it affected me for a long time after that.”


Back cover Normie Rowe Au Go Go LP - Pete is pictured but Neil McArthur incorrectly listed as bass player

To make matters worse, all of the albums that he played on that were issued by the Sunshine label, listed Neil McArthur as the bass player. On the Playboys ‘Sound Award’ album, Pete is pictured on the front cover standing on the boat with the rest of the group but the personnel listing on the back sleeve credits Neil as the bass player. On Normie Rowe’s second LP, ‘Normie Rowe Au Go Go’ the Playboys are pictured on the back sleeve with Pete standing to the left of Normie, but the group listing below the photo, again has Neil listed as bass player.

“How disappointed do you think I was? I was furious, but there was nothing I could do about it. It was printed, it was released, too late. It was terrible for a record company to make such a mistake.”


The salt was rubbed even more into Pete’s wounds when rock encyclopaedias and other publications documenting Australian rock music were published a few decades later. Any article about Normie Rowe & the Playboys, never mentions Pete. The only book he is listed, as a member of the Playboys, is the ‘Who’s Who of Australian Rock & Pop.’ Marcie Jones also mentions Pete in her excellent biography, ’Runs In The Blood’, published in 2008

After leaving the Playboys, Pete worked as a freelance bass player and did not make a long-term commitment with any band. Then towards the end of 1969, he decided he would quit the music industry completely and concentrate on a business career. He took a job with the 3M Company where he stayed for several years.

“As far as I’m concerned, I’ve done everything and more, that I ever expected to achieve during that 10-year period. I was happy with that and I thought, I’m just getting out.”


The interesting thing is that the line-up of the group when Pete left, did not last very long, which Pete says is “a little bit of poetic justice.” Because not long after Pete was replaced, Ivan Dayman decided that he was going to send Normie Rowe to England. Normie was a bit reluctant about going and told Dayman he would only go if he could have the Playboys with him. Dayman agreed but wanted the group reduced to a four-piece. As a result, it was decided rhythm guitarist John Cartwright would be the one to go. John Cartwright knew nothing about this decision until he received a phone call one Saturday morning from Phil Blackmore’s father. The same person who had tapped Pete on the shoulder six months previously. Blackmore said, “Dayman’s decided to reduce the band to a four-piece and you’re the one to go. Don’t worry about turning up for rehearsals on Wednesday, it’s effective immediately.”


As it got closer to closer to the time the band would be leaving for England, the remaining members could not get any answers as to how long they were going for and how much they were going to be paid. The only thing they were definitely told was that was that you could not take your wife. Bill Billings and Neil McArthur were both married with a young child to support and decided they would not go. Rod Stone and Brian Peacock from New Zealand band the Librettos were brought in as replacements. According to Pete the Playboys version 2 “Were a whole different band. Different sound, different style, different everything.”


Fast forward to 2014 and Pete received a surprise phone call from Normie Rowe. They had not spoken to each other in 40 years. Normie said, “There’s a chance of a reunion of the original Playboys. Would you be interested. Have you still got your equipment?” Pete relied, “Yeah, I’ve still got my equipment, except I haven’t played in 40 years.” About a month later, Pete got a call from Normie’s manager, John Blanchfield, and he said, “The reunion’s on, are you interested?” Pete replied, “You bet I am, book me in.”


The Reunion tour that celebrated 50 years since Normie Rowe’s first hit record lasted for 15 months and Pete loved every minute of it. He was thrilled to be back playing with the Playboys again.


Pete moved back to his hometown Benalla in 2010 and retired a year later. He got involved with the community, volunteering for various committees. These days he says he only plays his bass“if he wants to abuse myself at home.” His son Daniel plays drums in a couple of bands and he adds, “He’s a bloody good drummer, too.”


Normie, Pete & Billings at Reunion Tour 2014

I asked Pete what advise he would give to a young person thinking about making a career in the music business these days,

“I would say, ‘Do it.’ Absolutely. Nothing ever goes perfectly in life, it doesn’t matter what it is. I had the most amazing years of my life in those bands, and I feel sorry for anyone who has never played in a band.”





Sources:

Benalla Ensign – Having A Bit Of Fun article by Monique Freer, April 2014

Graeme Brown – Sunshine Secrets, Moonlight 2019

Pete Carroll – Interview: December 12th, 2019

Marcie Jones – Runs In The Blood, Network Creative Services, 2008

PopArchives.com.au


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