Thursday, January 14, 2010

Dragon - O Zambezi (1978)

Dragon's story is an interesting one. They started out as a prog-rock group in the early seventies but were met with general indifference. It took some personnel changes and a move from Auckland to Sydney for their careers to take off.

The most notable of the personnel changes was the addition of vocalist Marc Hunter who replaced the departed Graeme Collins at the request of his brother and Dragon guitarist, Todd Hunter.

Marc Hunter looked the part and had the voice and the change of venue was just what the band needed. The move to Sydney put Dragon on a stratospheric trajectory in their adopted homeland.

Following their success in Australia they decided to try to crack the US market on a disastrous tour supporting Johnny Winter. After inciting a crowd in Texas by derogatorily insinuating they preferred the romantic company of the same gender. Marc Hunter related the story in a 1994 interview:

I remember seeing someone standing holding a pistol and shouting 'Im gonna kill you, you son of a bitch'... I didn't know it but by this point the rest of the band had left the stage. I was still singing because I could still hear the music in my head. It took ages to clear the pile of debris on the stage - broken glass, bottles, chairs, half a table - but I was totally unaware of this, I thought I was going over really well and I'm standing there in a crucifixion pose with my arms out, really gone, with heaps of eye make-up on, looking like some sort of twisted priest. And apparently Johnny Winter was taking bets on the side of the stage as to how long it would take before somebody shot me. Then I turned around and saw no one was on stage so I realised I wasn't going over too well after all and I went back to the dressing room and everyone was just standing there... I said 'We went great, weren't we terrific?' At that stage of the band I was really a shocking sod. And all the record company people were just staring at me like I was an insectoid from Mars. And so that was it for us for that trip to America."
O Zambezi was released just before Dragon's ill-fated tour of the United States in 1978. From start to finish this album is a catchy capsule of late seventies rock. The album only peaked at 17 in Dragon's native New Zealand but in Australia it was a much different story as the album shot all the way up to #3 largely on the strength of the #1 hit single Are You Old Enough? and the catchy Still In Love With You. To this day, O Zambezi remains Dragon's highest charting album and largely on the strength of their catalog from this era of the band, Dragon was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2008.

If you're new to Dragon O Zambezi is an excellent album to start with as it's a snapshot in time of the band at the pinnacle of their success when they were firing on all cylinders making infectious uptempo pop music.

On a sad footnote keyboardist Paul Hewson died of a drug overdose on January 9, 1985 and the excesses of the rock and roll lifestyle also caught up with vocalist Marc Hunter. He was forced to retire from performing when he was diagnosed with throat cancer in 1997. Unfortunately, he inevitably succumbed to cancer on July 17, 1998.

Related Links
Are You Old Enough (music video)

Still In Love With You music video

Dragon (Fan Site)
Dragon (AllMusicGuide)
Dragon (wikipedia)
Take Me To the April Sun In Cuba (excellent article by Chuck Miller)
Todd Hunter (wikipedia)
Marc Hunter (wikipedia)
Kerry Jacobson (wikipedia)


Charlie said...

AMAZING! Where do you find these Aussie bands? Their music scene is far more dynamic and far-reaching than I ever imagined. Most Australian music appears to be a hybrid of American & British rock giving them their own original sound.

Perplexio said...

Charlie: I found a few Aussie compilations of popular "homegrown" bands ("homegrown" in this instance would include bands/musicians from outside Australia who inevitably found success in Australia). When I heard a song from one of those bands that I enjoyed I decided to further explore those bands. Some of the stuff on the compilations really didn't grab me so I haven't explored it further but Dragon is a band that definitely and very much grabbed me.

Sue said...

Goodness, the Australian music strikes again! I am impressed.

Still in Love With You is such a great song, still. I do so love that 70s sound.

In the eighties they kinda morphed a bit and some of their stuff was more sort of poppy but I still really liked it - stuff like Magic and Cry (which I was singing the other day, and now here you are talking about them :)

Perplexio said...

Sue: There's some great stuff on their 80s albums. Dreams of Ordinary Men, Rain, Magic, Cry... great stuff all around. I also dig Marc Hunter's solo material-- Island Nights and Big City Talk are both thoroughly enjoyable.

Sue said...

It's funny you mentioned Big City Talk. I forgot completely all about that song until the other day when it popped into my head out of the complete blue. Bizarre.

And now we're talking about it again, I imagine it's gonna be on high rotation on Radio Susie today as well, haha :)

Perplexio said...

Sue: If you click on my "Australian" tag on this or any of my other Australian reviews it will pull up any/all Australian related reviews. In addition to Dragon, in the past I've reviewed James Reyne, Australian Crawl, Cold Chisel, Jimmy Barnes, John Farnham, Hunters & Collectors, Mark Seymour, and of course Little River Band (one of those reviews I know you commented on already). I plan on reviewing some Sherbet, Hush, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, and perhaps even some Skyhooks, Icehouse, or even Mondo Rock in the future. Oh and at some point I plan on reviewing the 2 Marc Hunter solo albums that I have (Fiji Bitter and Communication).

Hamish Gavin said...

They're a New Zealand band not an an Australian band you idiots. They found success in Australia but their origins were New Zealand, the hunters were New Zealanders. New Zealand and Australia are not the same country.