Monday, July 23, 2012

Hold tight! It's Jay Epae



Jay Epae was a Kiwi singer and musician who sold 250,000 copies of his single Putti Putti in Sweden in 1960, after he left NZ for the USA in 1957 - Putti Putti also hit the singles charts in Finland and Norway, charting in the top 10. He eventually returned here, releasing his debut album in 1966, which has just been digitally reissued, more below. He also wrote the hit Tumblin Down for Maria Dallas.

But I reckon his greatest musical contribution is a fantastic dance song called The Creep. John Baker dug it out for his Wild Things Kiwi garage punk compilations in the early 1990s, and it is a totally wicked surf guitar tune. I found this cover of the original seven inch, which has a handy diagram of the dance moves if you want to do The Creep.



Added: I posted a link to the top cover with the photos of Jay doing The Creep on RNZ's Facebook page, and some clever person there made it into an animated gif (source).



From Amplifier.co.nz: "Jay Epae (1932 -1994) was a Maori pop singer from Manaia, Taranaki, New Zealand. He moved to the United States in 1957. Nick Bollinger's excellent book 100 Essential New Zealand Albums (Awa Press, NZ) included the 1966 Viking release from Jay Epae, titled Hold On Tight! It's Jay Epae.

Now, thanks to Viking Sevenseas, DRM NZ and the good folk at Stebbings, we're able to digitally re-release this classic NZ rock'n'roll album." Listen/buy The Creep here.

From Bruce Sergent's Jay Epae page, at Sergent.com.au - original material sourced from Social End Product. "The liner notes on the album read as follows :-

"Jay Epae is a young man going places in both the record and song writing worlds. Jay was born in New Zealand and left for the USA in 1957. His first break-through was the recording of 'Putti Putti' which sold over a quarter of a million copies in Scandinavia alone. Listening to these mighty tracks, one immediately senses the strong influence of New Orleans blending with the relaxed Polynesian feel. Jay's own compositions, "Hold On Tight", "Creep", "Tumblin' Down", "What Can I Do", "I'll Cry Tomorrow" and "Under The Palm Trees" show off his natural song writing ability. May you hear a lot more of Jay Epae."

One last single was released on Viking in 1967 called "Your Tender Touch"/"You've Got What It Takes".

From Social End Product (1995): "In a period when cover versions were the overwhelmingly the norm, Jay Epae not only recorded his own material, the sublime "The Creep" being a good example, he wrote a massive 1966 chart hit for Maria Dallas.

Viking Records' Ron Dalton remembers the seeming ease with which Epae came up with the huge Dallas hit, "Tumblin' Down". Only one day after Dalton requested a song, Epae re-appeared with a tune, no guitar, no words on a sheet, the artist had written it in his head. He then sang it to Dalton, who promptly ushered Maria Dallas into the studio to record it, with Epae helping out with the arrangement."

Photo: Nelson Photo News
The follow obituary appeared in the Dominion, Aug 3, 1994 [date sourced via Index NZ], after his death on 29 July, aged 61. Republished in Social End Product.

"Kiwi singing talent rediscovered too late". By Warren Barton


The man who wrote the Maria Dallas sixties hit "Tumblin' Down" is more fondly remembered in Sweden than in New Zealand. Warren Barton reports on the sad end to Jay Epae's burst of fame.

When producer Owe Eriksson decided earlier this year to make a television documentary about the pirate station that in the sixties liberated Swedish radio, he launched a hunt for the man who was its superstar.

His name was Jay Epae and Eriksson found him in New Zealand. Would he, asked Eriksson, return to Sweden and sing just once more the catchy little tune that 30 years ago propelled him to the top of the pops for an astonishing 41 weeks on Radio Nord. He said he would, and got a haircut, but never showed for the television special.

What Jay Epae's disappointed middle-aged Swedish fans didn't know was that the aging Maori entertainer had only a few weeks earlier been rediscovered by his own family, whom he hadn't seen in 14 years. They had found him in the back streets of Brisbane, down and out and ill. That's why they brought him home and why he couldn't make the trip.

Instead he sang one night for nieces and nephews that he hardly knew and for strangers in a Wellington karaoke bar. They were to be his final, farewell performances.

The talented little man from Manaia died last week at the age of 61, better remembered at the other end of the earth than at home where his biggest claim to fame is writing "Tumblin' Down" which won the Loxene Golden Disk Award for Maria Dallas in 1966.

In Sweden, Jay Epae is remembered for "Putti Putti", which was on the flipside of a recording he made of "Hawaiian Melody" in 1960. The 45 sat around for months till suddenly it started getting air time on Radio Nord which for two years bombarded the mainland with pop music and commercials from the MS Bonjour, an old herring schooner anchored just outside the territorial limits.

The result was near hysteria, "Putti Putti" sold 50,000 copies and Epae toured Sweden. "He flared like a super nova" remembers Svante Liden, a reporter on Aftonbladet in Stockholm, "and disappeared as quickly".

Apparently he went back to Australia where he worked for most of his career in clubs before dropping out of sight about 15 years ago. "We didn't know where he was till someone saw him in Brisbane earlier this year" says his brother Roy, who now lives in Melbourne. "I went up to Queensland and found him".

Roy brought him back to Wellington to be near his sister Tui and Hector, one of two brothers who also made a career in show business. Wes was an impersonator with the Maori Hi-Fives [he had toured Sweden with that band, along with Count Basie and Duke Ellington. Their song Poi Poi topped the charts in Sweden in 1963].

Wes now lives in the United States and works the cruise liners, but Hector, who once played piano and sang with the Maori Volcanics, hasn't performed in years. He was there when Jay grabbed the microphone and started to sing in the downtown karaoke bar. "It was beautiful," he says. "Man, that voice of his..."

It's a voice, according to Svante Liden, that's still being heard in Sweden. "As a matter of fact, 'Putti Putti' came on the radio just the other day and everyone in the office stopped to listen. When the song had finished one of my younger colleagues said with a smile, "Things must have been a hell of a lot better in the old days, no?". "Maybe they were, I said. At least for Jay Epae they were."

Cover from Chris Bourke's blogpost on Jay, the Dutch release of the single

2 comments:

Andrew Schmidt said...

I thought the reproduced text looked familiar. It's mostly an exact reproduction of the Social End Product story (my intro and the the Warren Barton article), which first appeared in Social End Product in 1995.

Sergent (and it appears Stebbings) have ripped us off (again). No copyright permission was sought from the author or (I suspect) from Barton, who incidentially was from the Wanganui district and had first hand memories of Johnny Devlin.

No problems with you reproducing it, though, Peter. It's a great story and for me at least the first clear demonstration that NZ popular music history couldn't be told with a solely local (nationalistic) focus.

We found the Jay Epae pic at William Dart's in a Playdate magazine. Dart loved Epae, cooing, "He's so greasy."

Peter McLennan said...

Hi Andrew, thanks for the heads up, I have amended my post accordingly, with credit to Social End Product.