Graham Reid | | 12 min read
A few years ago at the Herald, to amuse ourselves and readers over the Christmas season, it was decided I would write a piece about a band of roadies who were playing a rare gig.
That part was true (hence them mention of real person in what follows).
The rest was made up. Sort of.
Some of it was drawn from long experience, sometimes shameful, of hanging out with a band.
What follows it the sorry saga of The Ramblers . . .
Part one: Meet the Ramblers
Spud flicks his cigarette butt into the puddle outside Auckland's Hard Rock Cafe and heads back to the bar.
He says something unrepeatable about the new smoking laws as he joins the other guys in the band.
Over the following hour he and the other Ramblers will reminisce about the great days of rock, when smoking was not only permitted but was almost compulsory - back when rock was rebel music and attracted these guys - all now in their 40s - with its call of the wild.
The Ramblers - singer Spud, bassist Toffee, guitarist Mo and drummer Dodge - are cult legends in the Kiwi rock scene, legends known only to a few musicians, club managers and unfortunate motel owners who have encountered them as they rampaged through the country bringing rock'n'roll mayhem to the provinces.
"I fell in love with rock'n'roll when I was about 10," says Toffee, "just like all these jokers. There was something about the music, the lifestyle of girls and booze and drugs that just drew me in. But the music bit seemed like hard work, so I became a roadie instead. The hours were better."
By night these guys are roadies and lighting crew, the oil which greases the rock'n'roll machine. But every once in a while they get together and play as the Ramblers.
The idea of them forming a band came from promoter Brent Eccles, a former Kiwi known mostly for his career as the drummer in Australian hard rock bands the Angels, Midnight Oil and Pseudo Echo.
Returning to New Zealand from Perth five years ago after an unfortunate incident involving a poodle and a bottle of lighter fluid, Eccles started his own touring company to bring top international acts such as Elton John and Michael Barrymore to New Zealand.
He was always looking for local opening acts and remembered how one Christmas in the early 80s when touring with the Oils he spotted Mo, Spud, Toffee and Dodge setting up the gear then playing a few songs as they always did.
Mo: "We were just tooling around on a few covers - Smoke on the Water, Jumpin Jack Flash and Boney M's Brown Girl in the Ring when Brent woke up and said we should form a band.
"We'd all played together for years but had never actually thought of that, so the next day we tossed some names around and within a month or so had settled on a name that sort of conjured up our lifestyle, the Ramblers. You know, like that car the Nash Rambler."
The Ramblers have recorded seven albums on the Obscure'n'Imaginary label (distributed through Fly-By-Night Records).
The best is Cheap Muscatel And A Korean Guitar, which features guest vocalist Jimmy Barnes on Daddy Please Don't Get Drunk This Christmas.
"The rest of the album is pretty hardcore with songs by Metallica, Megadeth and Backstreet Boys," says Spud, "but when Barnsey came in we just let rip with an old standard and he was up for it. High point of our career, I think."
That, and the hugely successful 1985 single Can't Put My Finger On It which lead to their notorious Luck of the Draw tour.
"That was a classic Kiwi rock'n'roll tour," says Toffee.
"Six concerts in two months with heaps of time off for drinking and getting with the ladies. I'll never forget that, what I can remember of it."
"Cost us each about two grand in expenses and, of course, the record company ripped us off on sales," says Mo. "But we had the time of our lives and got to meet great Kiwi rockers like that joker who drummed for the Car Crash Set."
With former-mentor Eccles behind them, the Ramblers are now back out on the road opening for the Dave Dobbyn, Brooke Fraser, Lucid 3 tour which arrives at the Waihi Beach Hotel tonight.
"It's been a great tour so far," says Dodge as he reaches for another jug of rum'n'coke. "The others are all sort of Christian or Buddhist or something what doesn't drink, so we get to the band rider every night then go and rock the house with classics by Thin Lizzy, LA Guns and Blue Nile.
"There's been no real tension despite the fights and stuff, but there was an unfortunate incident the other avo.
"I was saying to Brooke Fraser at rehearsal that I had more rock'n'roll in my middle finger than she had in her whole body. And I was showing her my middle finger when her Dad walked in. I didn't know the bugger was an All Black. But now it's my eye that's all black, and blue," he laughs.
"But that's the price you pay for playing hard-out rock'n'roll, man," says Mo, adjusting his crotch and pulling his skin-tight black jeans up underneath his beer'n'burgers belly.
"It's tough out there in rock'n'roll, and we're the toughest of the tougherest, mate."
Part two: A good time, all the time
Shortly after Christmas last year
TimeOut contributor Graham Reid interviewed the Ramblers, a legendary
Kiwi rock band made up of roadies. They have been in every bar and
seedy motel in the country over the past 20 years and follow the
philosophy of the drummer in Spinal Tap - have a good time all the
When we caught up with them, they were on the road with Dave Dobbyn and Brooke Fraser and Lucid 3 and the story published on New Year's Eve brought them a whole new following.
The band were considering recording a new album so TimeOut decided to follow them through the touring, rehearsal and recording process. For the next few weeks you can read their story here.
But, as you will see, things didn't start quite as we expected ...
To: Graham Reid
G'day mate. Mo from the Ramblers here. Just to say thanks for coming out to see us the other day and we're sorry about what happened. We understand if you don't run the story now, but me and the boys would appreciate it if you would. A sort of cleaned-up version, maybe.
Spud is real sorry about what he did, but when it comes to Thin Lizzy he's a pretty big fan. When you said you didn't much rate some of their later stuff, he just kinda went a bit wild. As you know.
Anyway, I hope you got your tape-recorder and glasses back. We gave them to the ambulance guy. The cop reckoned you'll be able to claim ACC because you were working at the time.
Some guy from your paper rang to say you wouldn't be pressing charges. The boys think that's pretty good of you. It's just rock'n'roll after all, isn't it. Ha ha.
If you do decide to run the story we'd just like to clear up a couple of things: Toffee wasn't serious about what he done with those two girls down the Mount, and anyway they said they was 19 and he reckons they looked like it. And when we talked about those other bands we'd toured with, it might be best if we don't mention that. They weren't all wankers, and the Shihad boys did put up a pretty good fight despite what we might of said.
I suppose you've interviewed quite a few bands so you know not to mention us smoking dak. Especially as Dodge's mum's partner is a top cop down Waiuku way.
We is playing Raglan this week and we'll leave a couple of tickets on the door. Hope to see you there - sort of bygones be bygones maybe.
Cheers mate, apologies again,
PS: Spud didn't mean what he said about that other thing, either. He just gets funny when people bring up the thing about the sheep and the weedeater.
Part three: The Greatest Gig You Ever Missed
To: Graham Reid.
Tugger here, sound guy for the Ramblers. We didn't meet when you came down for the interview a while back but it sounds like it was fun. Ha ha.
Someone told us that you were out of hospital the following day so we were pretty disappointed you didn't make it down for the Raglan gig. The boys reckon it was the best they've ever played.
It was a pity so few people turned up, but Mitch Marsden was there (not Midge, another guy, no relation). Unfortunately he was the only one there because our manager Brent Eccles (you met him, rich-looking feller, like most managers) didn't get round to putting the posters up.
He'd come down a few days before but met some old mate in the pub and they buggered off fishing for a few days. He got back the afternoon of the gig and by then it was too late for posters or whatever. Anyway, I think the boys were right; it really was the best they've ever done.
I taped it and have shoved a copy in the post for you. It came out good I reckon. There's a bit of noise after the third song (You Got A Face on You, Bitch) and that was when the Mitch joker threw a can at the band, yelled out, "You guys suck" (you can just hear him on the tape) and took off into the street. We let him go because we know what he looks like and this is a pretty small town anyway.
Right at the end Dodge so did a terrific 20-minute drum solo on The Sinking of the Titanic, which he just wrote.
It just blew me away. The other boys missed it though. I set up an ambient mike in the room to catch the crowd noise and towards the end of his solo - just where he does the high hat thing - you can hear them come back. That's the car door slamming and Mo falling through the front door before they got back on stage.
Because the soundcheck in the afternoon had taken so long the show was running late and they were worried the pubs might close. So while Dodge did his solo they shot through to pick up some cans for the party afterwards, which was pretty cool, too, actually.
The guy who owned the motel brought some of his home-made vodka and tied one on with us. His missus was furious, especially when we all crashed back at their place for breakfast. Ha ha.
Anyway mate, this is just to tell you the tape is on its way. Have a listen, it's pretty much what they are going to be recording in a couple of weeks when they come up to Auckland. I really like the new song, Killed and Maimed.
We'll look you up when we get there and you can tell us why you didn't make it for the gig. Spud says you better have a bloody good excuse. Ha ha. (And I don't think he was kidding.)
Part four: Turn it Up, Again
To: Graham Reid
Yeah, g'day. Dodge here, drummer for the Ramblers. How are you? We were hoping you might have got back in touch about the tape that Tugger sent you of our show down Raglan a fortnight ago. When you came down for that interview you said you were pretty keen on the band, but since you got out of the hospital we haven't heard from you.
No pressure, mate, but you did say you would be keen to hear anything we recorded because you wanted to follow us through this process of making an album.
Anyway, enough about that. We are coming up this weekend and will be at DeadHeart Studios out West Auckland, the place that's owned by Tugger's mate, Speeder, who used to engineer for some metal bands in the States. He's a pretty cool guy.
You might want to interview him as well - he's got some stories, mate. So ring Toffee on his mobile to get the address. Speeder doesn't like giving it out because it's in the shed hidden out the back of his place and he's got some other stuff in there as well as the recording studio.
We played at the Black Dog Tavern the other night but when we got back to the motel we saw the car belonging to this guy who'd given us some stick at the Raglan gig, a real munted little Honda. You'd recognise it anywhere. We couldn't believe our luck that he'd turned up in the same place so Mo smashed the side window and opened the door and left a little present on the back seat.
Then we let the two back tyres down. Eccles the manager reckons we should write a song about it.
Just as we was pulling out the next morning, however, these cops arrived and there was this old lady who was crying and all that. Turns out we got the wrong car. Talk about laugh. Eccles reckons we should write about that, too, so we probably will. Maybe Mo will put it in that book he's writing. Anyway, that's what we've been up to and hope we'll see you at Speeder's. Turn up on time. Speeder doesn't take kindly to surprise guests who turn up at the shed out back. Nor do his dogs.
We reckon we can record the whole album live with no overdubs or nothing in a weekend so you might just want to come out for the whole time. Speeder will have something to keep you awake. We will probably record the following songs: Faster and Faster, Death Watch, Beer and Bitches, Fifteen and Up For It, Double the Trouble and Twice the Fun, Punch Drunk and Fisting, Space Bird (that's the long slow ballad that you liked, about how we are all aliens from Uranus, ha ha), and Tight Pants and Wet T-shirt. We might also do a cover of Break Like The Wind or Rocky Mountain High. Dunno, we'll just see how the time goes.
Okay, have a listen to that tape and call Toffee. See ya on the weekend. Mo says we can come and pick you up. He says to tell you that he knows where you live.
Part five: The road goes on forever
To: Graham Reid
Nice one pal, and congrats. There can't be too many journalists arrested at a P lab. The editor says fine with regard to writing a letter to the court on your behalf when the case comes up. He did ask though how come you didn't know - A guy called Speeder? A hidden shed in the back yard in West Auckland? Surrounded by dogs? He thinks your instincts for a story are slipping.
Anyway, after the case they want you to write a piece (maybe for news) about it. Suddenly the Ramblers will be famous!
Speaking of which. That guy Mo has been on to me and says they had actually finished recording when the cops arrived, so they got the tapes. A mate of theirs is banging off a few hundred copies and it will be out next week!
He seems to be under the impression, however, that we're running a cover story on them. I explained it might not be such a good look for us, given what just happened, and the fact they hospitalised you a few weeks back. But the guy won't take no for an answer. He keeps saying he knows where I live.
You seem to get on with these people - and after he decked you he probably owes you one. Can you tell him (I suggest by phone rather than in person) that we will do a short piece and an album review and that's it. Blame someone higher up if you like.
Thanks for sending those photos of the band anyway. Was that their idea to moon you?
I did a quick library search and we did run a small piece on them a few years back. The headline was Band on the Run. You can guess the rest. The police invited them to leave the Mount after a week of drunkenness, hooning around and some incident involving an air rifle.
They were called the Ramblers Blues Band back then. You'll love this quote from Dodge: "We weren't doing nothing and then suddenly these cops grabbed us and gave us half an hour to get out of town. They can't do that. I know my rights. But it's boring here anyway so were going to shoot through to Palmerston."
You sure can pick 'em.
I'll flick you the copy of the album when it comes in. And what about a short piece for next week? Then the review can run the following week.
I guess your hand is healing now. But I'm told the police dog took a fair chunk out of somewhere else so you aren't keen to sit at a typewriter for any length of time. Ho ho ho.
(PS. Do you want to follow a folk duo called Marg and Jason Rainbow from the Coromandel? You seem to have the knack of making something exciting happen when you hitch up with a band)