Back To Talking Country Index

Interview with the Legendary
Frank Ifield

1st February 2002


Ray Grundy
Frank Ifield

Many people often get confused as to whether you are English or Australian! Can we put that matter straight before we go any further?

Actually Ray, I get very confused about that myself, (laughs) because both my parents are Australian born, but my dad went out to England to further his career and I was born in Coventry. So I'm a Coventry kid, but I don't really remember too much about it, because war was on at that time and we were moving about all over the country. I do think of myself as being English, although, just after the war my father decided to come back to his country and we came with him of course, I was only about 9 years old when I got my first view of Australia and I lived there for 10 years after that before I went back to Britain, so I guess I'm an English born Australian.

When did you first decide you wanted to make a career out of music?

It happened very early in my life, when I first came out here. We lived out in the country, in a little place called Dural, which is about thirty odd miles out of Sidney. It was very rural at that time and we had livestock, we had our own cow and I remember milking that cow while listening to the radio. There was a country music programme …. which was known as Hillbilly music in those days ……. and I used to hear yodeling on there. Well I started yodeling and the cow that used to give me some difficulty in getting milk, suddenly calmed down and I thought, well this worked (laughs). So it was listening to the radio over here and hearing all those songs, that got me inspired to have a go myself.

Then round about my 10th birthday, my dad bought me a Ukulele and I learned to play the chords over the top of the music and started to sing songs and then I went to school with it and the headmaster encouraged me and I guess that is where I really got the germ to go ahead and do a bit more.

You had your first chart success in the U.K. with 'Lucky Devil,' a release that made number 22 in the pop charts in 1960, but how much success had you already had in Australia before that?

Well that was quite amazing really, because at that stage I had done just about everything that Australia had to offer and ………I was on television first over here, I don't know whether you knew that Ray……. I did a programme called 'Campfire Favourites.' Then I got hold of a song that was specially written for me, which was an adaptation would you believe, of 'Swan Lake.' As far away from country music as you were ever going to get! We did a rock version of the overture from Swan Lake and that made the charts for me. It was my first big chart success, ……..although I had been making records since I was about 13 or so, but the charts weren't around before that……..and it inspired me to go to Britain.

"Lucky Devil" was the first song I had released in Britain and I had only been there for a short period of time, in fact, only about a year and I couldn't believe my luck when it jumped up in the charts.

Your music has always crossed over the line between Country Music and Pop. Who would you say have been your biggest influences?

I would say, looking back on my career, mostly they have been country artists, but there again there's a smattering of other people like the Guy Mitchell's and the pop singers of the day, such as Frankie Laine. They were all a bit country too if you think about it, but I started off in my early career being very influenced by people like Hank Williams, Hank Snow and that type of performer. Wilf Carter was one of my favourites at that time. So really, I got a very big mixture Ray, of all different sorts of performers and because I was working in all different venues here, I couldn't just sing country, I had to sing right across the board. But anything I sang, sort of had a country hook to it, if you see what I mean.

The nice thing about it was that we had that song, "Lucky Devil" and that was followed up by another called "Gotta Get A Date," which also was a semi country thing, but when I came up with "I Remember You," that surprised me and although it jumped right up in the charts in England, what surprised me more was that it made number 1 in the country charts in America.

It's really become your career song now hasn't it!

Well, yes. it's a theme song, I can never leave the stage without performing that one. It did so many things for me, it opened up America too and one of the great highlights for me back in that particular period of time……we're talking about 1963……I played the 'Grand Ole Opry' and that was a great thing for me, I really did enjoy that. I mean we're talking about the original Opry, at the Ryman and it was actually Hank Snow would you believe, my great idol at that time, who introduced me onto the show.

How did the song come about?

Actually, it was one that I'd had in my mind for a long period of time. I just couldn't think of a treatment for it and then suddenly it hit me, that yodel and basic country music feel and it was influenced very strongly by a gentleman I was touring with at the time called Bruce Channel, who had a song called "Hey Baby." It was actually listening to him perform that and watching him every night doing it, and with Debert McClinton playing harmonica on it at the time, that also inspired me for the Harmonica part in "I Remember You," so the whole thing just gelled there.

You followed that up straight away, with two more #1's, 'Lovesick Blues' in the same year and then 'The Wayward Wind' in '63.' That must have been a real boost for you?

That's right and they're country songs too if you think about it. "Lovesick Blues" of course was the old Hank Williams song and I didn't expect that to make a hit. I remember singing it to Norrie Paramor who said, I love that one, let's do a twist beat to it, and it was actually putting a different beat to it that sort of revitalised the song and brought it back again. But I mean that song goes way back into the 20s.

A lot of people think Hank Williams wrote that song, but he didn't did he!

No, it was recorded a long time before that. Rex Griffin recorded it many, many years before and it was actually a song out of a musical.

And then of course 'The Wayward Wind' in '63,' made you the first artist to ever have three consecutive number one hits in Britain and also to be awarded three gold discs in the space of a year!

Yes, that was quite amazing how that happened really, because I didn't go out there with the idea of a recording career, my first thought was that I wanted to get out there and play the London Palladium, because my thing was always entertaining a crowd, I always liked to do that. Records have always been a, sort of side issue with me, so nobody was more surprised than I was to get three number 1's in a row. Nobody had done it up to that time, so when it happened it was unbelievable.

"The Wayward Wind" was the Gogi Grant song if you remember, from many years before and we had a huge hit with it. But there again, it still had that country feel to it, with the Harmonica and all that.

Round about that time, you had the Beatles opening some of your shows for you. Can you tell us any stories about those times?

Well yes, I was up in Liverpool and I was topping the bill at that time, because I had had a couple of number 1's at that point and a guy came up to me who's name was Brian Epstein. He wanted to get this new group on their way and he played me their record. I rather liked what I heard, because it wasn't to dissimilar really from the type of influence "I Remember You" had on it, with the Harmonica in the background and then doing all that woo whoo, you know.

So I thought yes, they should be good and he wanted to put them on my show, because he felt they needed some kind of exposure outside of Liverpool. So they went on my touring show at that time. I don't remember too much about them, other than I was very impressed by the natural feel of the lads. I just liked their company. Then they came up with that record, that almost kept me out of the number 1 position with "The Wayward Wind."

You released an album together didn't you, "The Beatles & Frank Ifield On Stage." Can you tell us about that?

I'll tell you how that came about Ray, because what happened was, I had already made a couple of hits in the states at that time and I was with a company called DJ Label, which was one of the smaller labels. I was originally on EMI you see, and they weren't doing a very good job of promoting us, being British acts, they just didn't want to know. But this young company, a sort of blues/rock company, decided to take a chance on me and they were the one's that pushed "I Remember You" to the top of the charts there, plus the other one's that followed and part of the bag when they they bought my stuff, was The Beatles.

Anyway, The Beatles hadn't got away at that time, so they said, do you mind making a record where we mix some of your songs with some of their songs, to give some promotion to them and get them started as well. The idea was that it was going to be a sort of British invasion and I guess he must have had a kind of a premonition that guy, because it did in fact happen that way.

So they released the album, it was called, "Jolly What" initially and that record is probably one the most expensive collectors items around at the moment and I don't have a copy would you believe!

You made many television appearances in the U.K. during the 60s, we touched on that a little earlier on when you mentioned the London Palladium, can you tell us about some of the one's that stand out for you!

The London Palladium particularly stands out in my mind, because I gave myself 3 years when I went over to Britain, in which to crack it, and my idea of 'cracking' it was actually working at the London Palladium. That was the one I was aiming for. In actual reality, it worked out at exactly 3 years to the day that I actually got the job of working at the Palladium and it wasn't just playing there, it was also a Royal Command Performance and was televised at the same time. So it was Sunday night, Royal performance and televised all rolled into one.

I'll tell you a bit of a story there too. The Queen mum sent around a request, she'd heard I Yodeled and wanted me to do some. Well my manager at that time had banned me from Yodeling, because he felt that I would get branded with it for the rest of my life. Anyway, because she had asked for it, I did a song called "She Taught Me To Yodel," which was the flip side to the single, "Lovesick Blues" and also made the charts.

You had your own show for a while too. What was that like?

That was after I stopped doing stuff for the BBC and went over to ITV, or ATV I think it was at that time. I did do quite a few of my own shows at that point and I always featured some kind of country influenced songs on them too.

Although the U.K. charts hits stopped coming after "Call Her Sweetheart" in '66', you still continued to tour successfully into and throughout the 70s and 80s. Can you tell us about some of the things that have happened for you in those years.

There were a lot of things that happened Ray at that particular time, you probably wouldn't have heard about them. A lot of people in England don't know, but I released a record called "Her Name Was Joanne," which was a Mike Nesmith (The Monkees) song, if you remember? He wrote that song and I first heard it here in Australia and I thought I gotta record that song as it was so me. So I recorded that and it was released in Holland where it made number 1 in the charts there and got me a Gold Record throughout the Benelux countries at that point, but nobody in England knew that was happening. It's funny how these things happen.

There was another one that happened also, behind the Iron Curtain, a song called, "I'd Like To Paint The World With Love." it was based on a Yugoslavian folk song and that made number 1 for me over there. So I've had quite a few number 1's outside of England that people haven't been aware of. I've also had quite a few hits in America that haven't been hits in Britain.

I believe you also appeared on a recent dance version of Allan Caswell's, 'On the Inside.' How did that come about?

Yes I did, I'll tell you how that came about, because when you said that I hadn't had any hits in England, I had one in fact in 199……. 2 I believe it was. I had a kind of rap version of "She Taught Me To Yodel." It was called "The Yodeling Song," I don't know if you remember it, it jumped up in the charts. Because of that, Bob Howe, who was the guy who had earlier recorded, "On The Inside," heard me do that rap version and he did a similar thing to that and had me do the narration behind it.

It certainly sounds different! Did you Enjoy doing it?

Yes, I like to tackle things that are a little bit different, it doesn't matter if they are hits or not, I just like to have a bash at things like that.

In 2000, EMI Australia released 'Frank Ifield Remembers The Great Favourites.' an album that marked your 50 years in the business! Does it seem that long?

No it doesn't, although at times when I look back, it does seem like another lifetime. But it doesn't feel like 50 years to me, because when I think back to those times, like talking with you now, my mind goes right back to those times and they're as fresh as they were yesterday. There's so much happening all the time and even today, I'm involved in so many things, it's as fresh today as it ever has been.

Now these days you seem to be spending much of your time promoting new artists! Can you tell us about that?

Yes, well what happened with that was, I had a record out called "The Fire Still Burns" and it did quite well for me and I thought well, this is silly, because there's so much talent that I see starting up and trying to get a break and it's so difficult in the market today, they don't know where to begin. So I thought, with all the contacts I've got and what I've learnt, I should be able to pass something on to these people and get them started.

There's a girl that I know called Karen O'Shea, wonderful voice, so attractive and so young, but she didn't know what to do and where to go and I said well, why don't we try releasing something over in Britain and we'll see what happens. Well, with my first effort on that one, she made number 7 in the EMS Charts. I was so delighted about that and she of course was made up and then this year she took an award in Tamworth, …………which is our big country festival here……… for 'Best Independent Female,' in the 'TIARA Awards', so she really has done very well for herself. In fact, I also give out an award here each year to encourage new comers in the business……I am also heavily involved in running festivals over here…….and last year I gave out the "International Frank Ifield Spur Award" to Karen, while this year, I've got another artist that I'm giving the award to, that I do know about at this point, but you'll be very surprised when you hear it, because I think it's one of the best records I've heard in ages. That'll be a male performer, but I'll tell you more about that as we get closer to it.

I have also just spoken to Karen today and we are organising for her to get her new record out in Britain, so that will be coming up very shortly too.

You are also helping an artist who Yodel's I believe?

Yes I am, that's Wayne Horsburgh. I've known Wayne for many years and I've been partly instigating in his career for a long period of time. He now spends half of the year living over in Branson, Missouri and then he spends the other half here in Australia. I tried to get him away when I was living in England. He came over several times and I got him some promotion and things like that. He is very anxious to get over there to perform, so I said well let's get your record out, let people hear it, get some feedback and just get the name known. That's the main thing you know!

Which it has done for him and it looks very strong now that I may be bringing over a show for the summer time next year, 2003, with Wayne, Karen and Allan Caswell. I'll come over with them as well and promote an Australian artist show over there. I think the people might be very interested to see the talent that they've heard on record in a live performance.

You've actually just answered my final question which was, have you any plans to come back over here to see us in the U.K.?

I tell you Ray, I've always had lots of plans to come back there, because I love coming back to England. At any drop of a hat, the first thing I do is come over. So I'm hoping that next year I can come and spend quite a bit of time with my artists, to promote them over there and I'd like to do something the other way round too. Perhaps there are artists over there that I could bring over here. I haven't got into that yet because I am just getting to this side of things.

Frank, it's been great talking to you, thank you very much for your time.

Thank you Ray, that's very kind of you mate. It's been great to talk to you!

Back To Talking Country Index