Buddy Williams - The Pioneer


The 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 music.
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 For You
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 his body.
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 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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