ROD STONE

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First published in July 2007, last updated April 2016


Rod can be contacted at  rodney_j_stone@hotmail.com

Photos & Memorabilia - Librettos, Wellington 60's Reunions, The Groove

Click <here> to visit Rod's website


Click on this play button to listen to Rod's acoustic version of the NZ National Anthem  

Earliest memories

I can’t remember a time when I didn’t love music. Since I was a baby I listened to every sort of music I could hear. Pop, country, classical, jazz, hymns or whatever. As I child I played all my parents’ 78 rpm records and learnt to sing along with all the words – B sides as well. My parents loved Gilbert & Sullivan and I learnt to love them too. I still do. My Dad had a complete recording of Handel’s Messiah which I grew to like also and now have two different versions of my own in my record collection. I also remember being thrilled by hearing J.S. Bach’s “Jesu Joy of Man’s Desiring” played & sung at Miramar Baptist Church even though I had no idea what it was at the time. I now play a solo guitar version at most of my acoustic/classical restaurant type gigs. 

While at primary school I had piano lessons in Miramar first from Mrs. Morgan & then from Pat Clark (no relation to David.) Later, as I was turning towards more pop sounds, I took “modern” lessons from Mr Cooper at Shand-Miller in Wellington city. 

During my primary school years my friend John England & I both started playing ukulele, which we taught ourselves, and we became quite good at it even if I do say so myself. John was lucky enough to have the George Formby style Banjo-Ukulele. A Pat Boone song of the day, “Technique,” featured uke accompaniment so we weren’t too much out of fashion. 

Somewhere in the mid 1950’s I heard Rock ‘n’ Roll. This was to change the direction of my life forever. The first rock record I ever owned was Bill Haley’s “See You Later Alligator” on 78. 

When I heard Elvis I knew I had to get a guitar. I think this was mainly because I had seen photos of Elvis with a guitar around his neck and I think I thought I was going to be a singer like him. Fat chance!! I had never seen him on TV because there was no TV and I was not allowed to go to the early rock movies because they would doubtlessly corrupt me. I didn’t even know there were such things as electric guitars at this time. I was initially told my hands were too small to play guitar & I would have to wait until I was older. I think what they meant was that the budget was too small. Then, at last, for my 13th birthday in March 1958, I got my first guitar from Shand-Miller’s music shop. It cost £5.2s.6d. Looking back it was a heap of shit with a ridiculously high action, but at the time I was in heaven. I played it until all my fingers were blistered.   
 

Getting it Together

By now I was at Rongotai College and had made friends with Andy Shackleton who had similar musical interests. We used to take our guitars to school to play at lunch time until the Principal issued a decree banning such activities. Once again, I think they thought rock music would lead to our damnation.

Andy & I were learning fast and every Monday evening I was privileged to go to the Shackleton household in Miramar where Andy’s big brother Mike and the Swampdwellers were having their weekly jam. If we knew the chords we were allowed to play along; it was the highlight of my week.

Andy and I started getting together an Everly Brothers style guitar & vocal harmony duo and sometime that year we did our first ever public performance as a floorshow at The Swampdwellers rock dance at The Rio Grande hall in Miramar. (I think it was the first all rock dance in the area.) We sang “Bird Dog,”  Jan & Dean’s “Baby Talk,” & possibly something else. We went over pretty well, but looking back, I don’t recall there being a fee involved.

A Real Band!

Soon Andy changed to drums and we teamed up with John England who had also graduated to guitar by then, and pianist Dave Clark who lived near me and was another Rongotai boy although a year older than the rest of us.

Needing a band name, Andy & I opened the dictionary at random and stabbed at a word. It was libretto. I thought it was a good omen that we had by chance picked a musical term

I had a better guitar by now with an added on electric pick-up.

I bought a second hand amplifier head from Neil Harrap which everything went through. £25 I think it cost. We got some cheap speakers from somewhere.

We did our first gig at a social at the Lamp Factory in Miramar where Andy’s mum worked, I think.

We were going to have a tea-chest bass in the skiffle group style but that idea was short lived. A new kid had recently come into our neighbourhood, a cool looking guy who could play bass guitar and not just root notes, real 8-to-the-bar boogie style. We were impressed. His name was Peter Hindmarsh. 

This line-up didn’t last too long either. Andy & Peter left to form The Premiers with the remnants of The Swampdwellers. 

The next line-up was Paul Griffin on bass, ex-Swampdweller Gordon Jenkins on drums, John England on guitar and lead vocals, Dave Clark on Piano, myself on lead guitar, and lead vocalist Roger Simpson (a.k.a Sammy Rogers.)

This line-up became more and more successful and we started to work regularly & earn steady money. It eventually got to the stage that you either had to give up your day job or the band. One by one the guys dropped out and were replaced with full timers. I resigned my day job in December 1962 and have never had another one. (I also took lessons in guitar technique & theory from Jimmy Baker around this time.) The pro line-up was Lou Parun on rhythm guitar & vocals, Brian Peacock on bass & vocals, Dave Diver on drums & myself on lead guitar. I am the only one who has remained a full-time musician. 

This version of The Librettos made all the records, (see Librettos - Complete Discography & Let's Go With The Librettos) and appeared regularly on TV’s “Let’s Go” and toured with Billy J. Kramer, and was voted NZ band of the year in 1964. 

We went to Australia to seek our fortune in March 1965, returning briefly for a Xmas season in Dec/Jan in Christchurch, Wellington & Nelson. Later, back in Oz, we gathered a cult following but had no record successes and broke up and went our own ways. Brian & I teamed up with Aussie star Normie Rowe. 

For my later career see Rod Stone - Biography   

I have played professionally in 12 different countries. I have done every possible type of music gig there is – except a circus. I have busked on street corners and played in sleazy strip joints of both genders. At the other end of the scale I have played at The Royal Albert Hall in London and recorded at Abbey Road. I have been in successful touring groups with hit records and makeshift groups at the local pub. I have played on movie soundtracks and in theatre pit orchestras. I have played in empty bars and to crowds of 100,000+. I have earned very good money and then sometimes I seriously wondered where my next meal was coming from. It’s been interesting!

I still practise every day.

Guitar Influences (in rough chronological order)

Neil Harrap
Arthur Smith – (His “Guitar Boogie” was the first guitar instrumental that ever infatuated me in the early 1950’s – I learnt to play it correctly much later.)
Peter Posa
Hank B. Marvin
Massey Williams (Diplomats)
Jimmy Baker (Wellington jazz guitarist & teacher)
Scotty Moore
Chet Atkins
Steve Cropper
Wes Montgomery
Jerry Reed
Larry Carlton
Roy Buchanan
Robben Ford
Danny Gatton
Joe Pass
John Williams
John Mills (Not the actor, an English classical guitarist with a magnificent tone.)
Julian Bream
Stevie Ray Vaughan
….plus many more I can’t think of at the moment.

Other Musical Influences

Elvis
Buddy Holly
Nick Smith Trio
The Diplomats band (Wellington)
Bruno Lawrence
Claude Papesch
Dave Fraser
Max Merritt & The Meteors (Several different incarnations.)
Tweed Harris
Lots of saxophonists (I often improvise solos with a sax sound in my mind)
George Gershwin

Other NZ music industry names still clear in my memory that I haven’t already mentioned

(For one reason or another….& in no particular order.)
Teenarama
Jim McNaught
Tony & The Initials
Tommy Adderly
Ray Columbus & The Invaders
Des Britten
Neville Chamberlain
Frank Douglas (EMI recording engineer)
Ian Saxon
Nelson Sports Hall
The Sorrento
The K-Dons
Vicky & Dicky
Tony Harris
Pete Sinclair
Bruce Warwick
…….this list could go on forever.

Concerts I saw, mostly long ago, that still linger in my mind

Cliff Richard & The Shadows - Wellington 1961 – My first “Strat” experience.
Louis Armstrong
– Wellington 196?
Peter Paul & Mary
– Wellington  196?
Roy Orbison & Rolling Stones
- Wellington 1964 or 5 – Librettos opened show
The Beatles
– Wellington 1964
Bob Dylan & The Band
– Sydney 1965?
The Who
– London 1967     Smashing guitars & amps plus topless dancers!
The Stax-Volt Revue
(Otis Redding, Sam & Dave, Eddie Floyd, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, The Mar-Keys, plus a few others) – London 1967.
  This concert influenced my music forever!!!
The Ultimate Event
– Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jnr, Lisa Minelli –Melbourne 1989. The best big band sound I’ve ever heard live.
Robben Ford
– Melbourne - early 1990’sThe best 3-piece guitar band I have ever heard live…by far!!

Random memories: A few anecdotes - some happy, some not

At a Xmas holiday gig, sleeping in a 9ft sq. tent with 5 or 6 other people at Waikanae(?) which was our official accommodation provided by the gig promoters (Ken Cooper, possibly Ian Dawson and probably others). We had no floor, no groundsheet, just our own sleeping bags on the grass. The guys sleeping near the edge often ended up outside by the morning. I can’t remember all who were there as The Librettos & Swampdwellers/Premiers did a lot of gigs together and it is hard to remember now who was in what band when, as we shared players from time to time. I know Neil Harrap & John England were in the tent and Ray Earle had his own one-man tent next door. 

I recall one time that Dave Clark & I (& maybe others) went up to Paraparaumu (or somewhere near) by train, taking with us the drum kit rented for Andy, who didn’t have his own kit yet, from Hull-Brown. When we were about to get off the train the bass drum rolled out the door on the wrong, non platform, side of the train - hit the ground and bounced very high in the air. Fortunately it was in a canvas bag & there was no damage!

We worked for Tom McDonald (& his parents) on the Kapiti coast one year too. We were young kids of 15 or 16. In those days you couldn’t run a dance on Sunday so we had the day off.  I thought they were being nice when they invited us to Sunday lunch at their holiday house (nothing fancy, just a few sandwiches etc.) but at the end of the week they deducted the cost of it from our pay. I have never forgiven them. 

We were taken advantage of financially all the time. We didn’t realise it at the time, we were just overjoyed at the chance to play. Once at The Palm Grove in Paraparaumu. The owner whose name, I think, was Holden was always driving hard bargains. I helped some people, possibly Ken Cooper and others, dig out a tree stump there once to help make room for a new stage area just so that there would somewhere for us to play as the boss didn’t want us in the usual area. All day hard labour for no pay - gee they took advantage of us kids, although at the time we didn’t even care. Just as long as we got the chance to play music. I got the worst sunburn of my life, I can still vividly remember the pain & the blisters which eventually, days later, burst to leave more red raw skin underneath. I had to do a recording session at HMV that evening with Garth Young or maybe Claude Papesch and I couldn't wear my guitar shoulder strap. 

Sometimes at those Xmas gigs we doubled as band and bar staff.  During our breaks, while the Swampdwellers were playing, we would man the bars, ticket office, coat checks or whatever and when they came offstage, the roles would reverse. I think we were paid 2 or 3 quid each and as the dances were packed that sure left a lot for the promoters. When I look back and see how little we were paid for playing (we would have played for nothing – we loved it so much) at dances that drew such big crowds I am astounded. After we became successful on TV in 1964, our manager, the late Ian D. Dawson, took us touring around as the big drawcard at dances he promoted in various provincial towns. They were always packed out but we still got the same few quid each. 

In Rotorua one year, we were working for Howard Morrison & Harry M. Miller.  Same deal as usual, packed halls but small pay for the teenage band. We also had to work at Napier for a few days and then go back to Rotorua. Sam, myself and someone else slept in and by the time we got to Taupo realised we were never going to make The Ritz Ballroom in Rotorua in time so we stopped in a pub for a break, decided to pretend we had ran off the road and had to pull over for a sleep. Unfortunately, we were seen at the pub and subsequently fired. We spent all the next day hitch hiking back to town as we couldn’t all fit in the van. 

Diplomats’ drummer Tuki Witika and his wife were like de facto parents to all us young kids on a Xmas gig in Rotorua. Whereas all the other Diplomats stayed in one house, Tuki and his wife stayed in The Librettos house like a stand in Mum & Dad. Thank God they did. 

Listening to The Nick Smith Trio late at night at The Sorrento in Wellington. At one time Bruno played bass for them, he wasn’t used to it and his hand was bandaged and bleeding but he wouldn’t stop. After the gig, drummer Dave Fraser would jam on the piano and I would listen and ask him what was he doing when soloing. I didn’t know how to do it but watching him helped a lot. 

Working at The Hideaway, formerly The Mexicali, in Victoria St. Wellington. Five, one hour sets per night with a break while just three 45’s were played on the jukebox between each set. (They weren’t sets then, we called them brackets) 

Buying the first Fender Stratocaster ever available in Wellington in 1962. I heard that Shand-Miller had one on order so I rushed in and put a deposit on it. I had never touched one at that stage; the only ones I had seen were at a distance at The Shadows concert the previous year. It cost £135. I got Mum to sign the hire purchase contract. When I got it I didn’t immediately sound like Hank Marvin which was a slight disillusionment. I had to learn that the player is more important than the instrument. In my life as a music teacher I meet so many people who think that if they buy the guitar their hero plays then they too will sound like him. It’s not just young kids, I see mature adults with several hugely expensive instruments and they sound crap. I’m usually the umpteenth teacher they’ve tried as they keep looking for someone who will give them “the secret.” The only secret is that it may take a little talent but a hell of a lot of hard work!! 

Leaving my 1962 Fender Stratocaster in the street after a gig at Wellington Town Hall. Fortunately, a policeman on the beat found it and I got it back. I was almost as careless in 1965 in Sydney when I left it unguarded while loading in a back lane in Sydney. I never saw it again. Pity, because that model guitar fetches $25,000 from collectors nowadays. 

Sneaking out of school to see The Shadows arrive at Rongotai airport in 1961 and getting caught. Got Hank’s autograph though. 

This is how Roger Simpson became Sammy Rogers.  His nickname at school was always Sam. You know, Simpson…. Sampson….. Samp…Sam.  Once, at the Rotorua Soundshell, Howard  Morrison was introducing him on stage and called him Sam, or maybe Sammy. Now Sam didn’t want to be called Sam on stage and yelled out from the wings, “no…Roger!   Roger!!!”
Howard misunderstood and said, “Sammy Rogers.”
That is the Gospel truth. I was there.

Going to Auckland by car with Alex Jennings of Lexian Records to mime my recording (really The Librettos) of “Skye Boat” on the TV show, “In The Groove.” I sat in with Max Merritt at the Top 20 while there and then had my first ever plane flight back to Wellington on an NAC Fokker Friendship. 

Flying with the band to Xmas gigs in Nelson and back from Wellington and/or Paraparaumu in a 6-seater Cessna with pilot, fearless Frank.  I guess we must have borrowed most of the gear because there was no room for amps or drums on board. I can still remember the plane’s number;  ZK-CEZ .   “Charlie Echo Zulu.” 

In 1971 I had the privilege of meeting and touring with one of my first guitar heroes, Hank B. Marvin. He was playing in a group called Marvin, Welch & Farrar at the time and I was guitarist in the Brian Bennett (ex Shadows drummer) big band who were backing the headline act on the tour, Cliff Richard. The Farrar part of Hank’s group, John Farrar (ex-Melbourne guitarist who would later go on to write & produce hits for Olivia Newton-John) and I were talking backstage with Hank about how we learnt The Shadows stuff note for note in our early days, laboriously going over it for hours, and could still remember it with near 100% accuracy, every nuance. Guess who couldn’t? You’re right – Hank B!!! 

Going to gigs at London’s “Talk of The Town” nightclub on my Triumph motorcycle in heavy freezing rain, my Gretsch Country Gentleman guitar strapped to my back.  

Often helping to carry a Hammond organ down outdoor, ice covered, concrete stairs to a basement club in London in winter, praying I didn’t slip or else I would probably have been killed by crashing to the bottom with the Hammond on my head. 

I clearly remember the first 45-rpm single I ever owned, Marty Robbins’ “White Sport Coat,” & the first LP I ever owned, Duane Eddy’s “Have Twangy Guitar Will Travel.” I still have them, in playable condition, in my record collection.

I also remember not being able to work out the intro to “White Sport Coat” at the time. It’s merely simple major chord arpeggios in C  - I guess I improved later. 

The first lead guitar lick I ever learnt was (I think) shown to me by Andy Shackleton before I had my own guitar. I think Andy got it from brother Mike. It was the intro to Buddy Holly’s “That’ll Be The Day.” I don’t remember how old I was at the time but I do know that Buddy was still alive, so it’s a long time ago.   

Epilogue

I, like my contemporaries, believe I was truly fortunate growing up when I did at the birth of rock 'n' roll and then launching my pop career during the 1960's. I would hate to be trying to start now in today's musical climate where it seems the video is more important than the sound recording. The image and "attitude" more important than the substance. Now days one hears comments at live concerts like, "Wow, they sounded almost as good as their CD!" I have always believed that a truly great performer will always be far better live than any recording. It certainly was when we were starting out. There have always been musical charlatans on the scene but it seems now that their numbers have multiplied alarmingly. If I sound like a grumpy old man, well...I am. And loving it!!!

"I'd sooner be a has-been, than a never was at all." (from "Never Was at All," written by Norma O'Hara Murphy and recorded by Slim Dusty)

Name Dropping

Gene Pitney introduced me to red wine whilst on tour with him around 1966. A habit I am still yet to break. Not trying to, really. 

Cliff Richard came to the engagement party of a singer friend, Wendy Cook, in a little flat in North London around 1970.  We had been doing these tour gigs together and she invited him but was amazed, as we all were, when he actually showed up. He danced with my wife. I would have danced with him too but, you know… 

I once found myself alone in a lift with Bob Hope & his minder after a gig in Melbourne where I had been in the band for his show. I made a lighthearted comment but he looked straight through me as if I wasn’t there. Maybe I’d become invisible. 

Eric Morecambe was an amazingly funny man, on or off stage. He couldn’t help it. He could tell you a joke you’d heard a thousand times but it had never been so funny before. I regard working with Morecambe & Wise one of my career highlights albeit one which involved very little playing of music. 

Once, walking quickly around a corner in King’s Road, Chelsea, London, where my band was living in 1969, I bumped into Michael Caine although I didn’t realise who it was immediately. We both said sorry etc and went on our ways. Then it clicked who he was. I still vividly remember this. I’ll bet he doesn’t. 

When I backed Debbie Reynolds in Melbourne we were all getting ready at the rehearsal when she walked in and introduced herself with a wave &, “Hi guys, I’m Reynolds!” 

The best conductor I have ever worked under, easy to follow, accurate, helpful & understanding, giving clear directions at rehearsal, was Ron Goodwin. I played in a concert of his film music (Those Magnificent Men in Their Flying Machines, Battle of Britain etc) with The Melbourne Symphony Orchestra in the mid 1970’s. 

When I saw The Shadows in Melbourne in 1989, I went backstage but I wasn’t sure if they’d remember me. Drummer Brian Bennett said “he could never forget someone who came to audition for the gig on a motorcycle with his guitar slung on his back!”  (It must have worked because I got the gig!) 

I never expected that I would ever play  “Blue Tail Fly” (and other such classics!) with Burl Ives at a concert in Melbourne. It was surreal. Such a gentle rhythm and that soft voice. I’d never played such ethereal floating music before or since. It still feels like I dreamt it. “Jimmie Crack Corn & I do care!!” 

Ken and Rod Stone - 2014

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