Glory days on the rock'n'roll scene

20:00, Sep 12 2011
Dave O'Connor
HONOURED: Southland Musicians Club Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame inductee Dave O'Connor.

Dave O'Connor has tasted rock'n'roll stardom, but the Southland Hall of Famer tells CHRIS CHILTON it nearly cost him the shirt off his back.

Dave O'Connor reckons playing in Tom Sharplin's band was a bit like hanging out with a Kiwi Elvis.

The Invercargill drummer did two stints in Sharplin's legendary backing band in 1978 to 1979 and from 1981 to 1983, when they were known as the Cadillacs, and rates it the pinnacle of his career.

"(Sharplin) was probably the biggest drawcard in the country."

O'Connor says even though the Cadillacs were touring in the same places as big-name rock bands like Hello Sailor, Th' Dudes and Street Talk, Sharplin's show pulled more punters and the band had more money in their hands at the end of the week.

"Technically, (the other bands) made more money, but they never got to keep it," he says. "They were either shooting it up or it was going to their roadies and their light crew and the sound guys and rental companies."


O'Connor found himself playing Monday to Saturday every week, at venues that were standing room only.

Sharplin's band had at least three shows' worth of material, which he changed every night so that people who came back didn't get to see the same set.

"It took a bit to get my head around it. There were times where it really got freaky," O'Connor says.

"I remember playing in New Plymouth and we got mobbed. They wouldn't let us come off stage. We lost our shirts and sunnies and just about lost our tweeds. We had to force our way through the crowd to get the hell out of the room or else they were going to go ape."

O'Connor has his old mate, Ray Eade, to thank for getting him the dream gig with Sharplin. The former bass guitarist for Invercargill supergroup Vision had heard Sharplin's previous lineup, the Rockets, were breaking up and talked his way into the new lineup. He also talked O'Connor into the lineup, although there was a wait of a few months before Sharplin offered him the gig.

It proved to O'Connor that in the music biz, who you know is as important as what you know.

Even after those heady days, though, Dave O'Connor still rates the opportunity to play with his four sons as a special highlight.

He'll be joined on stage at the Southland Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame show this month by sons Dion, Tim, Ben and Arun, all of whom have followed their dad into a musical lifestyle. All but one (Arun) play drums as their main instrument.

"We've never been able to do it before, obviously because there's so many drummers in the family," O'Connor says, with a chuckle.

The O'Connor family will play a set of songs that showcase the boys' all-round musical skills on guitar, bass and drums, and their dad couldn't be more proud.

"No father could be prouder, especially being a musician, to have all four of his children be musicians, whether it's because of me or in spite of me.

"I want to show the kids off rather than it being about me."

O'Connor says the boys' mother, Judy van Riel, was probably the greatest influence in getting the boys into music.

"I never gave any of them lessons. I think I gave Dion one lesson and he wouldn't listen anyway."

It was always a good bet music would be in the O'Connor boys' genes.

As a kid Dave O'Connor had always liked music, especially the drums. He would "bash the crap out of all Mum's stools and shag her knitting needles at home".

He got his first drum kit for his 11th birthday, "bashed the s... out of them, broke every skin and threw them in the corner" until he was 15.

Judy's brother, Barry van Riel, convinced him to join a garage band.

"I could do a roll around the drums and they thought I was Christmas."

Having got the bug for life at this point, O'Connor started stalking Invercargill bands, watching them, learning from them and, whenever he got the chance, jamming with them.

Replacing his idol, Warren "Bricky" McLew, in the band Columbus was "probably the biggest learning curve", O'Connor says.

That band included seasoned pro musos Peter Skerrett and Danny Johnson.

It was Johnson, along with Ray Eade and perhaps Simon Terry, who gave him the nickname "Bang Bang".

Johnson and Eade saw him playing one night and thought he was "a bit of a basher" so they named him "Bang Bang".

O'Connor says he'd hound every band at the Southland Musicians Club asking to jam with them. "They'd say, `oh s..., here's comes Bang Bang, look out'."

Six months after that Johnson called him up, asking him to play a gig. The young drummer was gobsmacked.

"I'm not very good," O'Connor said.

Johnson: "Well, I know that, but you're the only one left."

It was the ultimate confidence booster for the young drummer to be following in the great Bricky's footsteps.

"I used to love his playing," O'Connor says.

"For me to be replacing him (in Columbus) was huge."

And now Dave O'Connor is following Bricky McLew again, this time into the Southland Rock'n'Roll Hall of Fame.

O'Connor's family band will play most of his set at the show on September 24, but a highlight will be a brief performance by Tom Sharplin, who is flying south to support his former drummer.


Dave O'Connor, Stu Carr, Glen Hayes and Dave Hogan will be inducted into the Southland Musicians Club Rock'n'Roll Hall Of Fame at the Something Different show at the Invercargill Workingmen's Club on September 24. Featured will be performances by The O'Connor Family, Unknown Blues, Sierra and Route 66. Special guest artist is Tom Sharplin. Tickets $35, available from Trevor Daley Music Works and IWMC

The Southland Times