man destined to become known to country music fans around Australia
as Buddy Williams was born Harry Taylor in the Sydney suburb of Newtown
on September 5, 1918. He never knew his parents, and by the time he
was six he had tried to escape from the orphanage at Glebe Point, where
the government placed him. Soon after that he was given into the custody
of a couple from Dorrigo, inland from the NSW central coast, an area
that produced some of Australia's finest country performers. However,
this was out of the frying pan, into the fire. As so often happened
then, the dairy farm family were more interested in an unpaid farmhand
than a son. An old .22 rifle he found in the bush became young Harry
Taylor's escape from farm chores.
Ostensibly hunting rabbits, he would head to the freedom of the Dorrigo
hills and visit neighbours, where he would yarn away his time, share
a smoke and if lucky, listen to some of the early country recordings
of Jimmie Rodgers.
It was here that was kindled, the musical spark that was to launch Buddy
Williams to one of of the greatest musical careers in Australian Country
At fifteen Harry took work digging potatoes and dairying. He was working
at a quarry in the Coffs harbour area, when one of his work mates dared
him to try singing in the street. He took up the bet and to his amazement
collected 13 pounds/ 10 shillings ($27) for his effort - a small fortune
in prewar depression ridden Australia. His first radio appearnce was
an unaccompianied vocal on 2GF Grafton, but the first time he sang professionally
was at the Jacaranda festival in 1936 when he was eighteen - he literally
stopped the show. The ABC staged concerts at the festival under the
guidence of Bryson-Taylor. From here he busked his way from the North
Coast to Newcastle, to make a living singing outside theatres at intervals.
It was about this time he got his first Gibson guitar, and the Page
family, who ran a taxi service in Newcastle, befriended him and had
welcomed him into their home almost as a son. Even in these early days
of his career, the orphan boy had had major problems with dishonest
managers, as a result he had lost his own guitar, but the Pages bought
him a replacement -his treasured black Gibson.
In 1935 he cut his first recording (a process disc that was not generally
distributed) to see for himself how he would sound. The titles were,
'Where The Jacarandas Bloom', and, 'They Call Me The Clarence River
Yodeller'. After much soul-searching he had
determined on the name Buddy Williams and as such he headed for Sydney,
busking his way down.
Busking in the thirties was a pretty precarious existence, especially
if you couldn't afford a licence - the police were really tough on offenders.
The bush boy whose favourite (and sometimes only meal a day) was a meat
pie and a bread roll, couldn't spare the 2/6d licence fee, so often
he had to pack up and run, in the middle of a performance.
Williams finally gained an audition with EMI legend. Arch Kerr, boss
of Regal Zonophone records, doing several of his own compositions. The
result, two days after his 21st birthday, was a session that made him
the first Australian-born solo country recording artist. That session
on September 7, 1939, produced three Regal Zonophone releases - 'That
Dapple Grey Bronco Of Mine', 'They Call Me The Rambling Yodeller', 'Lonesome
Mother Dear', 'Give A Little Credit To Your Dad" and "The
Orphan's Lament/My Moonlight Lullaby.
It got him work in the Sydney show business scene, working alongside
people like Evie Hayes, Roy Rene and Jack Davey. Buddy met Jack Davey
in a round about sort of way. He was busking outside a pub one afternoon
when he saw a policeman approaching, but the law was right on him so
he didn't have time to run. Luckilv the friendly copper was a frustrated
entertainer, who played flamenco guitar as a hobby, and he invited Buddy
back to the police barracks in Sydney to entertain. One Constable Barnard
gave him the name of Harry Kitch, manager of the Theatre Royal. Barnard
told him not.to waste his time and talent busking: "Tell Kitchy
I sent ya," Barnard said. This was enough to get Williams started
at the theatre under the guidance of promoter Dicky Butler. Butler's
shows were called "Community Concerts"- and featured all kinds
of artists and acts. One show at Burwood Town Hall had the increasingly
popular radio man Jack Davey as the star and the yodelling cowboy support
act. Nervous at the thought of sharing a stage with Davey, Buddy stumbled
his way through his performance, but his openness and his songs and
stories about his missing mother and family started the audience's tears
flowing. When the curtain fell and the entertainers were taking their
bows, Buddy was amazed to find the applause for him overshadowed even
the great Jack Davey. It was a situation that was to be repeated over
and over again as Buddy Williams' sincerity won the hearts of people
wherever he performed.
His second Regal Zonophone recording session was in May of 1940. This
session produced three singles - "Happy Jackeroo", "Dreaming
Of My Mother", "A Cowboys Life Is Good Enough For Me",
"Under The Old Wattle Tree" and "The Australian Bushman's
Yodel" "There's An Empty Bunk In The Bunkhouse". Soon
after he took a lease on a property at Walcha, where he ran a sawmill.
A bushman to the backbone following his earlier days in the Dorrigo
scrub, he got a war contract from the army to supply hardwood for bridges
and construction work. Then Williams enlisted and due to his skill with
a rifle was sent to a front-line infantry battalion rather than an entertainment
unit. He was however able to record at times, and by 1945 eight recording
sessions had taken place, producing classics like "Under The Old
Wattle Tree", "The Shearer's Goodbye", "Heading
For The Warwick Rodeo", "Where The White Faced Cattle Roam",
(18/5/ 1942), "Music In My Pony's Feet"(22/12/ 1943), and
a session on 16/3/1945 which produced "Where The Lazy Murray River
Rolls Along", "The Bushman's Rodeo" and "Bushland
Paradise". Many country music commentators have suggested that
the 48 sides made by Buddy Williams, the Yodelling Jackeroo, in this
period - when the style was known as hillbilly music - are the finest
examples of a yodeller with guitar accompaniment.^ Back to Top
But with the 2/31 St Battalion at Balikpapan Borneo Williams was badly
wounded only weeks before the war ended. He wasn't expected to live,
but iron will pulled him through, although he still had shrapnel in
He met Grace Maidman in 1945, when Buddy called into the cafe in Atherton
in Queensland, where she worked as a waitress, to pass on a message-from
an army mate. The mate was soon forgotten as they saw each other quite
a bit and eventually married in Brisbane on January 31, 1947. Their
first child, Donita Carolyn, was born in Brisbane late in 1947, but
died tragically in Scottsdale Tasmania 21 months later when one of Buddy's
rodeo riders accidentally backed a truck over her. Two heart-tugging
Buddy Williams songs came from that - "Another Angel In Heaven",
and "Little Red Bonnet". Their other children are Harold George,
born in Rylstone (NSW) on June 23, 1948, Kaye Elizabeth, born at lvanhoe
(Vic) on January 31, 1950; and Karen Anne, born in Brisbane on May 20,
1957. In 1946 Buddy Williams made his first film appearance in "He
Chased A Chicken" and recorded the hit "Overlander Trail"
backed with "Over Hilltop and Hollow". By that time he and
wife Grace were running some of the largest rodeo tent shows, circuses
and variety concerts Australia had ever seen. On the bill were famous
rodeo buckjumpers Ray Crawford, the Woods Brothers and Billy Meades,
Allan Cook, Basil Cotton and Billy Bargo. There were contortionists
and trapeze artists, clowns and magicians, with Buddy singing and putting
on his sharpshooting and whip cracking act.
Sessions in 1948 saw "Pioneering Days" and "My Sunny
Southern Home", 1950 "Dear Old Aussie Blues", and "Beneath
The Queensland Moon". In 1951, "Wedding Bells, "Murrumbidgee
Blues" and "The Flying Doctor".
In November, 1952, Williams cut the. first country session for Regal
Zonophone at the new Castlereagh studios after the company moved from
Homebush. On July 3, 1953 Buddy recorded "Missing In Action"
which still rates as one of his most successful recordings. "The
Kelly Gang" followed later in 1953. All this time he continued
to tour. But,1955 saw him in the studios again for "I've Mortgaged
The Farm Again" and "Sunshine On My Side Of The Street".
On October 5, 1956, Buddy cut a session of 12 songs for Regal Zonophone
including "Mareeba Rodeo", "Little Red Bonnet" and
"Poison Darts". This was his last session for the company
due to the arrival of 45 and 33 ½ recordings, but in all he had recorded
120 sides for the label.
In August 1958, Buddy Williams cut his first 45 rpm recordings for EMI's
Columbia label, including the very popular "I'll Stroll Down Memory
Lane With You".
In all he recorded 46 sides for release on singles and 10 tracks for
release on an LP for Columbia between 1958 and 1964. Not until late
1961 did he record with other than his own guitar accompaniment.
In 1965, Buddy's old friend and A&R manager at EMI, Ron Wills, moved
to RCA and Buddy went with him, his first session cut for this label
on January 15, 1965. By this time the Williams' children were showing
lots of musical talent and on January 19, 1965, their daughter Kaye
joined him for her first record release. Shortly after Harold joined
and from then on there were a series of RCA family albums - "Family
Affair", "Family LP", and "The William's Family".
Harold. launched into his own recording career with a vengeance with
the release of "Truck Drivin' Man" EP, and "Heartline
Special" in 1965 and then "Young Man About The Country".
In 1972 daughter Karen also joined Buddy on record, making them the
first family unit to record and tour together.
Some 13 albums were released on RCA between 1965 and 1972, along with
numerous singles and EPs. By this time Buddy's show had settled into
the form of a variety show featuring singers, instrumentalists, and
comedy acts and he travelled 30,000 kilometres a year touring. At this
stage successes like "Les Dingo", "Sounds Of The Bush
At Night", and "The Big Banana Land" had been recorded.
During 1972 Williams teamed up with Tex Morton and they toured the eastern
States with a very successful show, and cut one side, "I Love Country
Music" together. ^ Back to Top
In between touring, Williams completed a documentary in 1979, "The
Last Fair Dinkum Aussie Out-back Entertainer", which looked at
life on the road with the troupe.
Buddy Williams finally stopped touring after heart attacks in 1977 and
1978, but his show toured extensively in 1979 an 1980. Just about every
major Australia country musician has at one stage or another formed
part of the Buddy William troupe. In 1977 he was elevated to the Australian
Country Music Roll Of Renown and with Tex Morton and Smoky Dawson was
the first inductee in the Hands Of Fame cornerstone in Tamworth. In
1980 he won the Heritage Award for his "What a Dreary Old World
it Would Be" and three of his compositions have been listed amongst
the 50 most popular country songs in Australia - "Where the White
Faced Cattle Roam", "Heading For The Warwick Rodeo" and
"Music In My Pony's Feet".
He also received Queensland's Modern Country Music Association's first
award for service to country music - an award that will be presented
only every 10 years. In 1979 RCA presented Buddy with a gold-plate map
of Australia to celebrate his 40 years of recording country music. In
October 1981 Buddy Williarns was made the first honorary citizen of
Warwick for his contribution to the success of the annual rodeo - he
had written and recorded "Heading for The Warwick Rodeo",
40 years before and the song had been used to promote the event.
Buddy Williams paid tribute to Arch Kerr of Columbia Records (which
later became EMI, the man responsible for putting him on disc in the
old 78 rpm days, and Garry Coxhead (who used to sit in on every recording
session when he was only 11 and who was later the producer of Williams'
records. He also mentioned the support of Nick Erby, John Minson, Bob
Corbett, Gary Robertson, Kevin Knapp, Max Ellis, Eric Scott, Donny McGuire
and many other radio people.
He also praised Bill Robertson, of EMI, Ron Wills of RCA, and (of course)
his wife Grace. "She is my mainstay -,the one who has stuck with
me through the good times, and bad. I could not have done it without
her. And certainly I owe it to the fans for their support. I believe
they deserve all the time I can give them when we meet. I say a very
special thanks to them all".
Buddy Williams died December 12 1986.
Ten years after his death the 1997 Tamworth festival honoured Buddy
with a number of activities revolving around his music.
A display of some memorabilia took place in the Tamworth Arcade.
BMG/RCA, released a compilation of some of Buddy's bush ballads, and
Pixie Jenkins played tribute to Buddy and his music, performing "Under
Western Skies" - A Multi-Media Buddy Williams Tribute" with
8 shows during the festival.
A bronze bust of Buddy is also on display in the Tamworth Bi-Centential
Park, and he is also on display at the wax works museum.
Buddy is gone, but his music will always live on, as one Australia's
finest pioneer legend recording, performing and touring artists.
Article courtesy of The Australian Country Music Book, and Garry
Coxhead. . Compiled by Peter Coad.
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