Love train, from the compilation Waiata: Maori showbands, balladeers and pop stars, recently released by EMI NZ. Well tasty comp it is too. I recently came across this 2001 article from Murray Cammick, on the late Dalvanius Prime. Have scanned it and converted the text. It's a great read. Republished with author's permission.
Dalvanius Prime, The boogie woogie bugle boy of Patea
By Murray Cammick, Real Groove magazine, December 2001
Early 1976, at the seedy Great Northern Hotel, corner of Queen and Customs Streets, downtown Auckland, Dalvanius and the Fascinations were strutting their stuff disco style, like a downunder Labelle, playing an earthy mix of soul and dance hits like 'Respect yourself', 'Love Train', 'Lady Marmalade' and 'Shame Shame Shame'. Although they had singles released across the Tasman and won countless awards from the Australian Soul Appreciation Society, Dalvanius could not get his recordings released in his home country. At the time he was blunt when speaking to student magazine, Craccum.
“We're with a record company but their New Zealand branch is just a bunch of idiots. They've got a selection committee and they won't release our new single here and they've told us it's shit-house. They're literally sitting on it.”
Dalvanius grew up loving music and grows older loving music in Patea, In the 50s and 60s, he loved doo-wop, the Beatles, Dusty Springfield, Motown, Stax soul and country music. In the Craccum interview it was clear Dalvanius was enjoying recording soul music, but he showed some awareness of the cultural alternative. ''People say ‘you're just a rip-off of a Negro group', but to us that's like telling the Average White Band to pick up the bagpipes or having the audacity to tell Charlie Pride to sing 'Funky Chicken'.''
Always part prophet and part profit, Dalvanius was blunt about the bucks too. “I've been in this business about four and a half years, about four years of that making money ''.
And how did Dalvanius get that Dr John voodoo meets glam look back In 1976? Was it the feathers?
“I found a dead hawk on the road. I cut its wings off, dried them, but it still stunk to high heavens. On tour I used a whole bottle of Old Spice aftershave!''
Dalvanius Prime first got started in music arranging the 60s hit, 'Beat the Clock', for the Shevelles. After two years in Wellington as the Fascinations with his brother and sister, Dalvanius moved to Sydney, in 1970. When his 15 year old sister, Barletta, got an offer to join the Maori HiMarkeys show-band on a two year tour of bars in Vietnam, Dalvanius made Sydney's Kings Cross his home.
When Barletta returned, the first of many line-ups of Dalvanius with two female singers, often his sisters, took to the stage in 1973. Manager John Lamb soon had his R&B act working the clubs, doing recording session work (including Renee Geyer's first album), touring as backing singers and releasing two singles, 'Love Train' and 'Respect Yourself', on the Reprise label. The biggest break for Dalvanius and the Fascinations was working with Sherbet, the Australian pop group
''Sherbet manager Roger Davies saw us up the Cross and he went, '0h wow, way out. I've heard some of the bv's you do, do you want to do a Coke ad'?' And I say, 'anything for money!'. We did it and then he says, 'We've got this tour coming up.' We ended up becoming Sherbet's doo-wop group, their backing group for three years.”
Roger Davies, who went on to mastermind Tina Turner's solo career, scored Sherbet a No 4 UK hit with 'Howzat' and pioneered the arduous national rock tour with Dalvanius and the Fascinations in tow, opening the show and joining the headliners for a few songs.
''Sherbet's Clive Shakespeare and Kiwi keyboard player Garth Porter said, 'We want to record you guys doing your own single'. They listened to 'Voodoo Lady', they loved it and so we put it down with producer Richard Batchens. Then they said 'Listen, we've got this song that we want you to have a Listen to'. It was 'Washington We're Watching You' by the Staple Singers. Labor Prime Minister Gough Whitlam had just got sacked by the Governor General and then Garth said, 'Right, we're changing the song.' They called It 'Canberra We're Watching You'. They rewrote the lyrics, they localised it.”
''We did the 1975 Sherbet Life as For Living tour and [a] Countdown TV special. We'd go on stage and Sherbet would play 'Canberra We're Watching You', backing us. Then we did all the bv's for their entire set and then when it came to the Christmas show, we joined them for rocked-up versions of 'Santa Claus ls Coming to Town' and 'White Christmas'. Sherbet were doing the Sydney and Perth Entertainment centres and 50,000 at the Myer Music Bowl In Melbourne.”
On tour with Sherbet, Dalvanius got invited to the right parties. ''We'd meet people like Billy Thorpe, all the idols that I used to listen to down in Patea on the radio, when you'd listen to 2SM Sydney on the shortwave radio. I learnt all about APRA through Sherbet. I knew how much money you could make from recycling your songs. I have Roger Davies to thank for learning about the music industry.''
By the end of 1977, Dalvanius and the Fascinations were family, with younger sister Cissy joining her older siblings, and new manager Ian Riddington, making sure his local soul act were kept busy opening for the many USA artists he toured in concert or in cabaret, including the Pointer Sisters, Tina Turner and the Spinners.
While on tour in New Zealand in 1976, Dalvanius discovered Maori funk band, Collision, and took them on a nationwide tour, before getting them to move to Sydney where they worked live with Dalvanius and the Fascinations, and recorded one album for Festival Records, acclaimed as a rare funk classic on the bFM's last NZ Music Week. In 1977, the group released the 12,' single, 'Voodoo lady', and 'Checkmate on Love', both songs written by Dalvanius.
“When we brought 'Voodoo lady' out, Molly Meldrum [Countdown TV show] rung me up and he said, 'Dalvanius, what's this shit record you've got? How come it's the a-side? I think it's the worst record I've ever heard you do and you've had some bad ones'. I just went, 'Oh, thanks Molly'. And then he said, 'The other side's better than that, how come Festival haven't pushed that?' I thought I'd try it out on the Isaac Hayes and Dionne Warwick tour and it just killed them, so we threw 'Voodoo Lady' on the back burner and started featuring [re-titled live] 'Chessboard of love'."
The 1978 record company biography for the single, 'Ecstasy', describes Dalvanius as 'a culinary expert of some repute who once wanted to be a lion tamer, but now his ambition is to be a record producer'. By late 1979, the group had left Festival and Cissy Prime had departed due to illness.
PART TWO tomorrow... Dalvanius talks about Poi-e, Iwi radio, and Phil Fuemana. Read it here.