A Ripple Conversation With Dave Tice, Co-founder Of Legendary Aussie Proto Metal/Heavy Rock Band 'Buffalo', R&B And Superb Blues Bands 'The Count Bishops', 'The Headhunters', ‘Tice and Evans' and 'The Dave Tice Trio'.
Music ruled in my home in my Wonder Years. Sun Ra, Buffalo, Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix. It was all great and so diversified. Time portal to 2021. Dave Tice brings his diverse, huge talent and love of R&B and blues music to us here for a special conversation.
By Mark Partin
Thanks for sharing the time with us Dave. Was music an influence for you in your youth, starting when you lived in England before moving to Australia?
My pleasure, I guess I always had an affinity to music; one of my earliest brushes with it was in primary school at around 6-7 years of age. Each year the school held a Christmas “concert” with most of the children taking part; of course there would be a period prior to the concert where kids would be auditioned and placed in the show where their talents seemed appropriate. I was chosen to be one of the 3 Kings and appointed to sing a verse of “We 3 Kings Of Orient Are”. I’d never sung anywhere before, never mind on a stage in front of an audience, but for some reason I was not the least bit nervous. After the show my parents were approached by the choir master of the local church with a proposal that I might join the choir. Obviously I must have done OK, but I never spent much time thinking about it, I was more interested in football and cross country running. However it was pointed out that members of the choir actually got paid a few pence for singing at funerals, weddings etc. This was an attractive proposition, until I found out what we would be required to wear; a long white robe affair which to me looked like a dress. That ended my interest immediately.
After primary school I won a scholarship to attend Grammar School and part of the curriculum was a class covering elocution and singing, the class would all sing together stuff like “Au Clair De Lune”; at that time my voice was beginning to break and alternated between a child’s contralto to a bullfrog growl and I was told to shut up. It seemed a singing career was unlikely (although it was not something I’d ever really considered anyway).
I hadn’t been much interested in the music I heard on radio while I was growing up, we had no television and lived on a farm with no electricity, so battery driven radio was our only access to music/entertainment. I heard acts like Tommy Steel, Cliff Richards, The Shadows and after a while The Beatles; none of these appealed to me in any way, The Beatles weren’t bad but a bit twee for me. One day I visited a school friend’s house where they had an actual television and I happened to catch The Rolling Stones performing on a TV show while there. They did “Not Fade Away” and I felt an immediate connection to that, they looked and sounded raw and authentic; that short TV appearance was the start of my interest in music.
Once in Australia during the mid'60's the music was changing...being somewhat blues based. What brought you to playing music and forming 'Head' the precursor to Buffalo'?
When family Tice arrived in Australia we spent our first 18 months housed in a migrant hostel, I met guys of my age who had migrated from other parts of the UK, places like London, Liverpool etc. they were already well versed in the new music and brought with them their record collections, stuff that I’d never heard before; The Yardbirds, Them, The Animals; all bands steeped in American Blues music. We became friends and began searching the roots of this amazing and exciting music, I learned about Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, B.B King, Bo Diddley, Robert Johnson etc. I found that I connected with this stuff, the honesty, raw emotion and truth shone through.
The bands we were seeing coming out of the UK looked very much like ourselves, they weren’t much older than we were and they were making hit records based on the style of music we loved, perhaps we might be able to do the same; best of all girls were throwing themselves at these guys, as teenagers that was hugely attractive and appeared attainable. We conned our parents into buying us instruments and commenced practicing (trying to learn) in the hostel’s community hall. Amateurish would be a kind way to describe our efforts but some of us got the bug and after moving away from the hostel some of us continued to chase this mad dream. I was one of them and got together with local Aussie guys. Initially I was trying to be a guitarist but became a singer by default.
What brought about the name change from 'Head' to 'Buffalo'? Was outside influence part of it?
Within weeks the two other guys in “Head” had lost hope and headed back to Brisbane, Pete and I were without a guitarist and drummer, we recruited local guys and carried on. But we had trouble being accepted by Sydney agents, they associated our name with sex and drug use and we eventually had to give up and change the name to something less likely to offend the conservative agents and venue owners. We’d canvassed almost every Sydney agent with little success but eventually made contact with one who was open to taking us on, but a name change was a necessary part of his becoming involved. He suggested we find something beginning with “B” because bands with names starting with “B” were successful (????), so we got a map of Australia showing also fauna, stuck a pin in while blindfolded and the nearest name beginning with “B” was “Buffalo”. Surprisingly the name was appropriate for the direction we later followed. After that we started to get bookings.
The Count Bishops on tour with Motorhead on Motorhead's debut album
The live and overall scene in Brisbane and Sydney at the time you were starting up, what was it like there?
The live scene in Sydney was much bigger than Brisbane but for the most part they weren’t too different, mostly based in community halls and a few nightclubs. Pubs were not part of it at that point mainly due really to the fact that fans of our sort of music were too young to be allowed into pubs and the people who frequented pubs were basically redneck old farts who considered us long haired guys “poofters”. There was no financial incentive for pubs to book “Rock” bands. We played many community and Police Youth Club halls, usually on bills with 3-4 other bands, entry charges would be around 50 cents and we’d often have crowds up to 1200 kids attending. Often these shows would be promoted by the local “groovy” radio station as a way to attract young listeners.
One of the earliest residency gigs we had was a long run at a club in Kings Cross called The Groovy Room, we played every day between Noon and 3pm and then from 7pm to midnight. At the time Kings Cross (Sydney’s red light district) was awash with American R & R soldiers on leave from Vietnam and the Groovy Room was in reality a clip joint set up to fleece these service men of their leave money. Drinks cost 2-3 times what they did in the real world and every table had a selection of luscious ladies keen to look after the men, for a reasonable fee. One of the hazards for us was responding to (mostly) black guys who wanted to join us on stage, it’s amazing how many of these guys claimed to be ex members of Temptations etc. I discovered that despite the legends, not all black people have rhythm or the ability to hold a tune.
Still it was a great learning experience and toughened us up for what lay ahead. Our pay for all that work was laughable of course, we couldn’t afford to drink ourselves, and a free drink for the band was never on offer.
Can you share with us how you came to sign with Phillips and release ‘Hobo’ / ‘Sad Song’?
We hadn’t yet changed the band name from Head to Buffalo but had completed the line-up after losing the two original Brisbane guys. We auditioned John Baxter for the guitar position in a basement in Darlinghurst where Pete and I expected to find a Blues player, it was quickly obvious that John was not a Blues player and in fact his playing was basically stream of conscious and almost without settled form. Pete and took a break and went outside for a smoke and to discuss John’s playing. Pete’s take on it was “well it ain’t Blues but it’s kinda interesting, we should give him a go”. Which we did of course and in many ways that decision predicted the future direction of the band, we began to play our own “songs” at gigs because John could never discipline himself to stick with a 12 bar format and just wandered off into riff jams. Pete was very good at picking up what John was doing and I’d make up lyrics as we went along, we never had a conventional set, we’d just get up and make it up on stage. Luckily there was a psychedelic thing starting off and we found that punters enjoyed our endless jams, but more and more we were tending toward a much heavier sound than the hippy bands around us. Like many young guys we were a pretty arrogant bunch and had great belief in the value of what we were doing. One of the biggest record companies in Sydney was Phonogram, a division of Phillips. So one day we just waltzed in to their offices and demanded to see their A & R guy, amazingly, despite having no appointment he agreed to meet us and we spent about 45 minutes in his office telling him how much he needed us. Truthfully we expected to be shown the door but he agreed to put us into a local 4 track studio and record two songs for a single. If it sold OK he’d then be prepared to discuss a contract. Well it sold enough to convince him and the rest is history.
I doubt that anyone would be able to do this now-a-days, or in fact not in the intervening years either, but we had no fear and complete belief in what we were doing. It proves that if you’re bold enough anything is possible.
I have heard the early sessions recording as 'Buffalo' grew from and expanded out of your live shows somewhat. Did songwriting later take place as you were recording or already put to pen and paper?
That’s right, as I said, we used to gig without a song list because we didn’t want to do other people’s songs, so we made them up as we went along, almost the whole of Dead Forever was written on stage and in fact we didn’t have set arrangements for any of them when we went into the studio, we just jammed them same as if we were at a gig. Of course once you commit a song to tape it becomes a set arrangement from then on, although live we’d usually extend the songs wherever they took us. The lyrics for most of the songs were distilled from the jammed rambles I made up on the spur of the moment at gigs. In the studio John, Pete and Paul Balbi would lay down the music and I’d jam along a guide vocal, then I’d retire to the toilet and write them out in some sort of sensible way to suit the music. Of course at the time Buffalo was a 5 piece band with Alan Milano also singing and contributed lyrics as well.
Dave Tice Trio -2020 courtesy Dave Tice
"Volcanic Rock"....I mean wow. From a superb, more progressive rock debut album (Dead Forever...) to the massively raw, heavy, and much harder released by Vertigo. Would you talk about what brought about the stylistic change, and the gatefold cover art ....to this day is still brings about opinions on what it represents and doesn't?
Volcanic Rock was a natural progression from “D.F.” Alan Milano had left to form his own band and follow his own muse, he wanted something more traditional in approach and room to explore his own voice. Leaving me as the lone singer; and the band settled down to a 4 piece. We’d never really been hippies although there were some aspects of what we did that fitted that genre, we tended toward a more raw and aggressive sound, after Alan’s departure it became easier to follow those instincts, we didn’t want to be pretty boys or play soft cock music, we wanted to attack our audiences and were determined to be heard. John’s instinctive riffing was becoming more and more the core of what we played and our amps were getting bigger and louder. Sometimes I have to admit it wasn’t a good place to be a singer, foldback monitors were hardly ever part of P.A. systems and often I could not hear what I was singing; thankfully I have a pretty strong voice and a firm belief that I was in tune because we took NO prisoners and competed with Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs to be the loudest mot obnoxious band in town.
The artwork on our albums was all part of our desire to shock and outrage “straight” society, we were used to being the outsiders and saw no reason to kowtow to society’s inhibitions. We realised that publicity would ramp up if we got banned or outrage was expressed in the straight press, and that’s exactly what happened. It worked against us in regard to radio airplay etc but we saw that as a point of pride. If you don’t like it fuck off, we don’t need you. Another point was to do with getting noticed among thousands of record covers in record shops; in those days people would spend hours in a record shop looking for something different and interesting; cover art was what they first noticed, if someone picks up your album and looks at the cover they’re more likely to have a listen. Our covers were certainly noticed and despite the lack of radio support we sold albums. Some record shops only displayed our albums in a paper cover in an attempt to placate the more conservative populace, this just got us more publicity and helped sell more albums. In fact we were determined to be an album band and weren’t interested in making singles or feeding the Pop charts. It still surprises me that we managed to make 5 albums without ever making a hit single, most record companies would have tossed us long before that.
After Buffalo' there was the move back to England and forming proto-punk pub rockers 'The Count Bishops', back to Sydney with the 'Headhunters' and as an acoustic duo with Mark Evans and Dave Tice Band. What's next for you?
The opportunity to go to England came about after Buffalo recorded their last album; line-up changes had changed the band significantly mainly due to record company and management pressure to toe the line and come up with a radio friendly single. I’d personally lost interest in where we were headed and was looking for a new challenge. Paul Balbi had moved to the UK soon after the Dead Forever album and became a member of the Count Bishops, he visited Australia soon after sessions for the “Average Rock and Roller” album were completed and before it was released. While in Oz he caught up with me and we chatted about our various projects, I told him I was thinking of leaving Buffalo and he told me the Count Bishops were looking for a singer, they’d started work on their first album and had recorded most of the music tracks but felt they needed a frontman/singer to finish the record properly. It seemed appropriate timing and I said I’d be interested after hearing a couple of rough tracks, he said he’d suggest me to the rest of the band when he got back to the UK. I thought it was a long shot but I soon got the offer to join them and their record company flew me over. After almost 3 days on planes I arrived at Heathrow and was picked up by a bunch of guys I’d never met before, immediately whisked off to a pub where I was told I needed to get used to British beer. 48 hours later I was in the studio laying down vocals on songs I’d never heard before; 2 sessions later the album was completed.
I spent a total of 7 years in England, toured with Dr Feelgood, Motorhead, John Cale, The Clash and many others and made 3 albums with the CBs, followed by 4 years fronting The Cobras around the UK. Whilst working with The Cobras we recorded some of our rehearsals and all these years later we’re about to release those recordings in the UK. On the demise of The Count Bishops our guitarist, Johnny, joined Dr Feelgood and 2 songs that he and I had written intended for the Count Bishops were recorded by Dr Feelgood. Something I’m quite proud of.
The Headhunters came about soon after I returned to Oz in 1984, myself, Mark Evans and Mick Cocks had all just returned from O/S, Mark and Mick from the US, and we met up socially. None of us had any plans and weren’t in a band so we decided to start jamming in Mick’s basement as a bit of fun. It quickly became a set line-up and without any planning we found ourselves getting booked to play all around Sydney, it was never serious but took on a life of it’s own and over the course of the next 15 years and numerous line-up changes eventually got a chance to record. The band, by now 5 piece, went into the studio and recorded and mixed an album in 2 days, no tricks, playing live and only two overdubs.
My association with both Mick and Mark has continued sporadically ever since those days (although of course, sadly, Mick is no longer with us). The duo thing happened by accident, originally Mick and I accepted a booking to do an acoustic duo gig at a pub, the money was OK and we needed it. We did a few before Mick was invited to return to Rose Tattoo for a tour. However I was approached to do more duo gigs and Mark volunteered to be part of it. Mark and I spent the next 22 years doing that duo, 15 years resident every week at the most iconic music pub in Sydney ( The Bridge hotel), followed by another 7 years at a venue in Newtown, Sydney. Eventually calling it quits when Mark was asked to join the latest version of Rose Tattoo.
Between all this stuff I also did tours fronting The Mal Eastick Band and also with Phil Emanuel, all up 2 years touring nonstop around Australia. Also a few years as The Dave Tice Band. At present I have a trio doing gigs; when possible with Covid going on. Since my return from the UK I’ve made it my mission to improve my guitar playing skills and now sing, play guitar and slide guitar and harmonica, fronting the trio with a bassist and a percussionist. This is probably what will be my focus for the immediate future, it’s the right sort of thing for the more intimate venues that are able to operate under the current situation. And frankly I’m really enjoying being the only guitarist in this situation. I especially like learning and using new skills and challenging myself.
Frank Sinatra crooned in his anthem 'My Way' "Regrets, I've had a few, but then again too few to mention" Anything you might have done differently from what you know now?
I don’t have many regrets, or at least “too few to mention”. This whole journey has been an adventure and I know how lucky I’ve been to be able to do what I’ve done. By rights I should still be a working class bloke in England, a career in music once seemed beyond the realms of possibility but here I am. Over 50 years of my life have been spent doing something I love, against all reason. I had no set plan for any of it, to me it just seemed to fall into place, opportunities presented themselves and I took them, disaster was always a real possibility and sometimes I came very close to disaster. But it worked out in the end and here I am being interviewed via the internet by a writer in the US and being treated like some kind of legend; that’s fucking amazing and rather humbling. I don’t think of myself in that way, I just thank my lucky stars to have been so blessed. If I’d have done anything differently it would be learning about the law pertaining to copyright and record contracts and business in general. The music business if rife with rip off merchants taking advantage of naive young musicians and I’ve had my fair share of rip offs, enough to become pretty cynical about the whole silly game.
Advice to the many many Dave Tice influenced artist's who are just starting out?
Well, I can’t help but wonder if there are such things as artists who have been influenced by me, if that’s the case I’m quite humbled by it. How lucky can a man be? The best advice I can give anyone is:- believe in yourself, don’t be sidetracked by other people’s ideas of what you should be doing. Success comes from doing something different, not by following the herd. A band is not a one-man operation, a successful band is an organic mix of the people involved and not due to some plan worked out in a record company’s back room. If you change the make up of a band it will NOT be the same, do not think you are the most important part, it works because of the input of every member.
Of course the above “advice” assumes your idea of success is not predicated on Pop stardom but on making good music. Success is not just about hit singles, it comes in many forms, but the greatest success of all is being happy with what you do, that’s often the way to achieve popular success as well. It’s a journey, not a destination, enjoy the journey. It may be hard sometimes but believe and anything is possible. Just look at me, I still have trouble believing I have lived this life, but I did. Fucking A.
Volcanic Rock album : https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dGxflt2mbpA&list=PL8a8cutYP7frCSLJ2M8Ih-L5cpUUX0nlw
The Prophet: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ZrBPvN5WNI
Buffalo wikipedia link: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Buffalo_(band)
The Count Bishops I Want Candy: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HntZDao0Tkg
Dave Tice Band live :https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=D-K5-riZ8n4