DIARY - 27 DECEMBER 2003 - FRED NEGRO
NEGRO - MASTER OF DARK HUMOUR
first time ribald singing satirist Fred Negro fought the law he won
- with a little help from a bemused Prahran magistrate.
It was 1986 and Fred was fronting one of his many bands I Spit
On Your Gravy whose alter ego The Gravy Billies were later
banned from Tamworth.
The Richmond born, Collingwood supporter singer's record retailers
were busted by the Vice Squad over the band's debut vinyl disc, St
The gendarmes received complaints about the disc's lyrics and lyric
sheet they seized in a raid on Greville Records in Prahran and a St
Kilda store in June, 1985.
Magistrate Graeme Golden - a connoisseur of fine arts - was handed
the case in the then modern Prahran courthouse.
The now defunct
courthouse may have been modern but His Worship noted that none of the
courtrooms were fitted with musical accoutrements such as a record player.
Magistrate Golden, wishing to give the retailers the full benefit of his
musical and legal knowledge, requested the Vice Squad or prosecutor oblige
with such an accessory.
There was a deafening silence - perhaps an omen for the outcome.
I suggested to the cops they borrow one from lost property at the adjacent
concerts were light relief for long suffering court reporters who spent
most of their days writing about and ducking and weaving wealth belt snobs,
crims, celebrities, sport, TV, radio and rock stars and other flotsam
The prosecution subsequently located a stereophonic unit with minimal
hiss and the show began with all the flourish of John McMahon's Radio
Auditions on 3UZ.
Gregarious Golden dropped the needle on the Gravy and treated an ever-growing
cast to selected tracks from the distinctly Australian album in a welcome
sense of fair play.
I don't recall the name of any of the long forgotten tunes but have a
vivid impression that none featured pedal steel, fiddle or banjo.
Golden, a man of diverse taste and humour, ruled the lads disc might offend
some but it was not obscene.
"Anyone possessed of a reasonable intelligence would not buy it,"
Golden declared for the benefit of the Press.
"If I said it was obscene it would probably increase sales and I
don't want to do that."
His Worship said that most of the $9 retail price wasn't spent on the
"I imagine most of the $9 went into packaging."
So the charges were dismissed and Negro went away to find other means
of increasing his infamy.
BILLIES BANNED FROM TAMWORTH
bands included the Editions, Brady Bunch Lawn Mower Massacre, The Band
Who Shot Liberty Valance and Fuck, Fucks but none went to Tamworth
in January of 1986.
So it was left to the Gravy Billies who joined an old style package
show with the late A P Johnson and the Dead Livers at Tamworth
Workmen's Club at the 14th annual festival.
But there lay the problem.
The Dead Livers, under the tutelage of St Kilda promoter and expatriate
Kiwi guitarist Tex Nobody, was the only one of those three acts booked
at Tamworth Workmen's Club.
Johnson and Negro's lads merely stepped into the bawdy breech as a public
service when Sydney band Shotgun failed to front for their support role.
The Gravy Billies were gonged after performing such crowd pleasers
as The Ballad Of Rockabilly Hudson & Gomer Pyle, We Ate
The World, Dim Sim Head, The Monster Grows, Football Mouth and Let's
Buy A Pizza.
P JOHNSON AND PAPAL BIOGRAPHER JAMES ORAM
So was Johnson
when he serenaded a NSW Vice Squad sergeant, celebrating his 30th birthday,
with a selection of David Allan Coe country porn classics from his Nothing
Sacred and Underground albums.
The birthday party, including Papal biographer - the late James Oram -
was also treated to Johnson performing his original Tamworth RIP.
So the "support" acts were fired and the Dead Livers lived to
play another day.
This was not suffice strife for Gravy Billies, buoyed by possibilities
of pending publicity in Australasian Post, Truth, Sunday Press, People,
Juke and The Age.
"We've been kicked out of better joints than this," Negro said
before launching plan-B.
The lads ventured into other venues and conducted a unique talent quest
- their Nipple Print Hall Of Fame.
Not a huge success but a feat appealing to the large press contingent
jaded by the P R trotted out by festival organisers.
But that was then and this is now.
Johnson's CD Greatest Hits & Ex Misses was the first release
on the Nu Country record label.
CLICK HERE to read how you can buy
And Negro's new roots country band Shonky Tonk is now mainstream as the
acts it once parodied.
A P TUNES GUITARS
Singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman booked Johnson as his support
act for the final night of a three-date season at now defunct ID's in
Prahran on his debut Australian tour at Easter of 1990.
The Kinkster, unimpressed by the booker's choice of Dave Graney for the
first two gigs, spotted A P lurking in the shadows at the venue.
Kinky called Johnson up on stage to tune his guitar during the second
show - sadly old A P de-tuned it so badly that hot shot guitarist Mick
Hamilton earned a cameo repairing the damage.
This earned Johnson - not Mick - the support on the third gig.
It was a novel way of choosing a support act but a trend continued on
future tours when the artist was not happy with local supports chosen
by the promoter or booker.
ADOPTED BY TEXAN CRIME NOVELIST
Shonky Tonk with a bunch of desperadoes in 1993 and didn't have to wait
long to win the support for a tour by Waylon, Willie and Billy Joe Shaver
The band played in the foyer of the Rod Laver Arena as the entree act
and guitarist Dave Moll wrote the tune Billy, Willie & Waylon
about their life changing experience.
Shonky Tonk landed the gig with the help of Musicians Union officer Paul
Gruyters who needed an Australian support.
They also landed a gig on the second Kinky Friedman tour from Gruyters
successor - the late Andrew Laverty, also a big supporter of Nu Country.
So by the time Kinky returned for tours in 2000 and 2002 the lads were
there by popular request from artist and promoter alike at Melbourne shows.
Shonky Tonk backed Kinky and Little Jewford at the famed Esplanade Hotel,
St Kilda, on Saturday August 26, 2000 at an huge benefit after our Beer
Can Hill studios burned down on June 26.
The show saved the bacon of the radio station, later resurrected at the
Paris, Texas, end of Collins St in 2001 and now branching out into TV
as well as live shows.
JOE, WILLIE & WAYLON
Billy, Willie & Waylon is one of many highlights of the band's 1998
debut CD, I Can't Believe It's Not Butter.
The album also featured Peter Lillie tune I Wanna Sing A Johnny Cash
Song - the writer also recorded it but not on his Poetry &
Shonky Tonk also recorded other originals including Lillie's Brand
New Appliance, the Negro-Moll collaborations Miss My Mind, Something
More Comfy, Girl From APRA (with Jason Evans who also co-wrote I
Negro adapted Old Pubs from a Peter Gow poem, penned The Song
Radio Would Flog with and Moll penned the self deprecatory Big
Time about his ambitions.
The band also covered the late Roger Miller's This Town, Roger
Ferris's George Jones hit Yabba Dabba Do and Johnathan Richman's
And don't forget their finale cut of Hank Williams Jr hit All My Rowdy
Friends Are Coming Over Tonight - the killer song after which Fred
named his son.
DINGO LOGO AU GO-GO
That's real country and so is Negro who designed the Nu Country dingo
logos that have adorned our tee shirts, caps, windcheaters and other merchandise.
Negro generously donated his talents over a decade to our multi media
missile that is still aimed high and wide.
One of his many dingoes was animated for the first 13 episode series of
our TV show and others are roaming the unlucky radio country.
Shonky Tonk performs live from the Jackson St festival in St Kilda on
Nu Country TV - Saturday December 27 - and when it's repeated in 2004.
If that doesn't sate your taste - the band has a full book of gigs over
Check out Fred's Pub Strip in InPress magazine and his Esplanade and Greyhound
Hotel cartoon ads in Beat and InPress for full details.
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