Doug Never Forgot the Road Crew
The last real shot Doug Parkinson, who died suddenly in his sleep March 15, 2021, not quite a fortnight after Michael Gudinski, both of them 74, had at the pop charts was during his years fronting what could be considered one of Australia’s few supergroups, The Southern Star Band.
Reuniting with his In Focus rhythm section, bass player Duncan McGuire and drummer Mark Kennedy, in 1978, McGuire fresh from Ayers Rock and Kennedy from Marcia Hines’ band, The Southern Star Band also featured guitarist Jim Gannon and keyboards player Frank Esler-Smith, though Gannon soon departed and was replaced by Tommy Emmanuel, fresh from drumming in his brother Phil’s band Goldrush, while former Everton Park guitarist Keith Kerwin took up the bass position as McGuire was by now getting a little too busy as an engineer/producer to go out and gig on a regular basis.
“After Everton Park,” Kerwin recalls, “I formed a band called Silky and we became Doug Parkinson’s band for a while, working the Ivan Dayman circuit. I joined up with ex-Chain bassist Barry Sullivan in about ‘77 and formed Sanctuary from which I got the gig with Renee Geyer. Then from there I ended up in the Doug Parkinson’s Southern Star Band.”
“The R&B thing is the foundation of my style,” Parkinson told me for a feature in Juke in 1980. “That’s just the way I sing and I enjoy that freedom in the jazz rock area, where I can use my voice and use what I’ve learned.”
That was in connection with another “shot” at the pop charts courtesy a solo single titled Arcade, written by Mike Perjanik for what turned out to be an unsurprisingly short-lived TV soapie made for the 0-10 Network titled Arcade, which hoped to pick up some of Neighbours’ burgeoning audience.
It was cancelled after running a mere six weeks – a very expensive ratings disaster. The single was no less successful. No matter; around the same time, Parkinson also made his television acting debut in a Nine Network TV soapie titled The Young Doctors.
As for Doug Parkinson & The Southern Star Band, their first shot was a cover of the old Neil Sedaka song, Hungry Years, released in July 1978, which was followed in February 1979 by what turned out to be their only album, I’ll Be Around, released on their own Southern Star Records through Col Joye’s ATA label, and reached #22 on the charts.
Co-produced by McGuire and Kennedy, the title track, which had originally been a hit in 1973 for US band The Spinners, was lifted as a single the month before.
A cover of Patti Austin’s In My Life followed in April 1979, with another Kerwin song, You Ain’t Going Nowhere Without Me, released in September. For all that, however, radio just wasn’t interested – this was the age of the New Romantics on one hand and disco on the other.
After one last single, a Barry White cover titled Under The Influence Of Love, The Southern Star Band broke up and Parkinson moved into musical theatre and the club, though there was a little sidetrack courtesy a Big Band project called The Life Organisation – but that’s another story.
Tommy Emmanuel lucked out with the second lineup of Dragon before launching his successful international solo career, Frank Esler-Smith joined Air Supply, Keith Kerwin joined Jon English and Mark Kennedy continued to work with pretty much everybody.
Southern Star Band Reprise
Doug Parkinson was known by all as not only a superlative singer but also a generous man and one his final acts of generosity was the endorsing of a live album which release was designed to help raise funds for the Australian Road Crew Association (ARCA), which provides financial, health, counselling and wellbeing services for crews in crisis.
Doug Parkinson & The Southern Star Band’s Live At Gobbles was recorded at the infamous Perth nightclub of that name back in 1979 by the band’s front-of-house sound engineer Arthur “AJ” James, straight off the mixing desk, and is the twelfth in what’s been dubbed the Desk Tape Series. Sadly, both James and Esler-Smith have long since passed away.
The 16 songs highlight the diversity of the band’s repertoire, covering songs by everyone from Al Jarreau and Paul McCartney to Johnny ‘Guitar’ Watson and Lynyrd Skynyrd. Remember, while Parkinson did write the odd song, his strength was in powerful, impassioned interpretations of other writers’ songs, which is why he will forever be remembered by his monumental version of The Beatles’ Dear Prudence.
Live At Gobbles is released on ARCA’s Black Box Records through MGM Distribution and on all major streaming services.
Story: Michael Smith.
Michael Smith is the former Associate and Contributing editor at The Drum Media and The Music, freelance music journalist for RAM, Juke, On The Street, JAMM, Sonics and way more, freelance book reviewer for Overland, Island and Quadrant, author of What’s Been Did (And What’s Been Hid): A Narrative History of Australian Pop and Rock, two volumes completed to date, Volume I covering the artists and acts that emerged between 1955 and 1963, Volume II those between 1964 and 1969. Bass player with Mushroom signing Scandal 1976-78, and legendary instrumental surf guitar band The Atlantics 2006-12.