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He's not only one of Australia's most talented, famous and successful exports, has world-wide #1 hits to his credit, and is still receiving awards today but for many of the latter years he has been discovering, fostering, and mentoring some of Australia's finest young talent and tirelessly promoting Australian country music wherever he can.
This is the story of Frank Ifield in his own words...

Frank Ifield

January 2009 share this - email, favourites, social bookmarks and more

The Frank Ifield Story - in his own words

   I have always been a person who lives for today - therefore not in the habit of constant reminiscing. Nevertheless, due to my most recent citation from Kempsey Country Music Festival of “The 2008 Living Legend Award”, I found myself doing just that.
Upon reflection, I feel I have been very fortunate in that I have always known what I wanted to do and just followed my heart. My passion to entertain was evident at a very early age, influenced mainly by Country music, known as Hillbilly music in those days. Whatever talent I might have possessed may have been inherent, as my Grandfather toured in the time of “Cob & Co” coaches with the minstrel show as the Song & Dance host “Mr Interlocutor”. As a stripling ten year old kid, I was wildly impressed by him and later, even recording some of his old-time music hall songs.
At the time, I was living in Dural, a rural area north of Sydney where, for my eleventh birthday my parents presented me with a ukulele and I quickly learned to make the chords fit any song I sang. It accompanied me to school one day, where the headmaster encouraged me to adapt Australian poetry to my own tunes and then perform them to the class. This experience whetted my appetite for what I instinctively knew was to be my life-long calling.

Then for Christmas 1949, my beloved Gran bought me a proper guitar and now there was no stopping me. This thirteen year-old, soon conned his way to convincing Dick Fair into having me appear on radio 2GB’s Australia’s Amateur Hour, which eventually led to a recording contract with EMI Regal Zonophone. Before long I was appearing on the Tim McNamara Show and touring the country with Big Chief Little Wolf. With nothing holding me back after leaving school, I appeared on many top-line radio shows and found myself headlining many Country venues throughout the environs of Sydney - Then in 1957, National Service put an abrupt halt to my progress. After being demobbed, I thought it would be very difficult to pick up again, but luckily TV was about to offer the break I needed, An unexpected call from producer Alec Kellaway set me as a trailblazer with my own TV show which was the first musical show on TCN Channel 9, called ‘Campfire Favourites’. Before long I was being featured on every TV channel in Sydney and what’s more, A&R man Ron Wills of EMI promoted me to the more prestigious Columbia Label.

My sights were set high now and I was determined to try my luck overseas with the London Palladium Theatre as my goal. Enter Peter Gormely: He expressed his desire to manage me with the proviso I would go to England. So with both our eyes set in the same direction he became my manager. In November 1959, after many farewell TV shows, I embarked on the inaugural “Comet” flight from Sydney to London.

Before the year was out, I appeared on BBCTV with comedian Ted Ray on “Ray’s A Laugh” which paved the way for more TV shows - the exposure needed for the long climb to the top.

The achievement of gaining a two-year contract with Norrie Paramor, A&R man for Columbia EMI, UK took me to the next step. My first single “Lucky Devil” made the nether regions of the top thirty pop charts and with it came my first major booking - a summer season in the Isle of Jersey with comedians Mike & Bernie Winters. Meanwhile my manager was setting a cracking pace by taking on “The Shadows” who swiftly rose to #1 with “Apache” - then by the time I returned, Cliff Richard too had joined our stable. Things were looking up and I took on my first Pantomime in the role of Dick Whittington with the Shadows playing the part of the brokers men, toping the bill. Although my records were not faring so well, I was doing what I loved best by being on stage. And was now touring the UK with the likes of Duane Eddy, Bruce Channel and The Everly Brothers. My contract with Columbia was about to elapse when in the nick of time came the winning format in “I Remember You”. This mind-boggling record-breaking smash hit, which was acclaimed as the first single to sell one million copies in Britain alone, proved to be the catalyst needed to fulfill my goal of playing the Palladium. Yet this too was more than I dreamed of, for it was a Royal Command Performance and it paved the way for my regularly headlining shows from the stage of this Mecca of Show-business doing Pantomimes; Summer Seasons; Variety Shows; Specials and TV productions.

Time brought about other accolades. The following two singles put me firmly in the Guinness Book Of Records as the first artist in Britain to have three number ones in a row. The third #1 single ‘Wayward Wind’ did battle with a new band that I had just given a break to as support act at Peterborough Theatre during my one-night-stand touring show - The band was the Beatles who, up to then had only worked in Liverpool.

Meanwhile the USA had discovered my name and my first release on Vee-Jay Records reached #5 in the Billboard Pop Chart and #1 in the Country and MOR Charts, earning the position as the first Australian artist to have conquered the USA radio charts in the various genres of Pop, Country, and Adult Contemporary Music. With two major hit singles plus a chart toping LP on the American market, I was called upon once more to assist the Beatles – this time with a compilation, coupling us on an album called “Jolly What” which was angled as the oncoming British Invasion. Unfortunately, Vee-Jay became defunct and I found myself searching for a new US label.

Britain was now totally invaded by a plethora of British Pop Groups, and solo performers were feeling left behind and my next single “Be Nobody’s Darling But Mine” only reached #5. So imagine my surprise when my fifth single “I’m Confessing” forged its way against all odds back to the coveted #1.
I always set high goals, and one was to play “The Grand Old Opry” in Nashville Tennessee. This occurred in 1964 - Once again - more than I envisaged. I was there to record for “Hickory Records” under the auspices of producer Wesley Rose and during the session I said I would like to visit the Opry and Wesley promised to do more than that – and booked me to appear as Roy Acuff’s special guest.
I did three songs on Roy’s section and was recalled to the stage by my idol Hank Snow to do an encore during his segment. If that weren’t enough, the following day I was inducted into the Nashville Red Carpet Club and presented with an “Honorary Citizenship Of The State Of Tennessee” from the Governor - Frank Clement.

During my career I have played all the places I dreamed of and more. However, during the 80’s, I was to experience some of my greatest professional highlights - yet some of my deepest personal lows. While touring Australia in 1985 my dear father lost his battle with cancer. This had a devastating effect on me and I was still reeling from the enormity of it when returning to the UK to headline a show at the Palladium. Being an important date, I expected my wife and family to attend – instead, I was handed a writ for divorce. I guess she had simply had enough of me flitting around the world chasing my dreams, but coming at that untimely moment placed further pressure on me. On the outside all seemed well, I performed at the Wembley Stadium and was given my own ABCTV Special followed by a summer season in Blackpool. But stress took its toll ending with a sever bout of pneumonia. After treatment I headed back home to Sydney in order to recuperate. Instead, I was rushed into hospital with collapsed lungs. I felt fine after the operation but was told by the doctor that I would never sing again.

This news devastated me. But after a time I began to feel that this was not the end but only a new beginning and adapted to doing other things that I now had time for.

I hosted TV and radio shows; Instigated the Galston Country Music Festival; Became the patron for The Music & Arts Talent Search (MATS); Started the annual presentation of “The International Spur Award” given to Australian Country artists that I felt had overseas appeal and; lined up UK and European tours for the most promising.
  Throughout my career I have had the honour of receiving many accolades, but I particularly treasure those received in my latter years. They include 3 Tamworth Awards: “Hands Of Fame” “Roll Of Renown” and “TIARA Industry Award”. “Best TV Presenter” for two series of “It’s Country Today” and in the honour of being inducted into the 2007 ARIA Hall Of Fame.
Meanwhile I have had lots of CD releases around the world. The most recent Australian release is a collection of some of the best tracks I’ve recorded from around the globe on a double album called “Something Rare & Wonderful”. Many of the songs had not appeared before on CD format and some indeed are great rarities.

So there is life in the old dog yet!

© 2009 Frank Ifield

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