By Ian McFarlane.
Musician Wayne Duncan has died, aged 72. For one generation of Australian music fanatic, Wayne ‘Dunks’ Duncan will always be remembered as the bass player for the highly regarded Daddy Cool. In the B&W film clip for the group’s dance classic ‘Eagle Rock’, he was the guy behind the counter wearing the white soda jerk cap and coat with the goofy smile and long straggly hair.
Alongside his Good Rockin’ Daddy mates, singer/songwriter Ross Wilson, guitarist Ross Hannaford and drummer Gary Young, Duncan was in good company as they hammed it up like cuddly pop stars with an edge. To play up Daddy Cool’s good-time take on vintage rock’n’roll and 1950s doo wop, Duncan wore his soda jerk get-up, Wilson attached a fox tail to his baggy trousers, Hanna wore a propeller cap and Young a Jughead crown beanie. Australia responded positively by taking the single to #1 in June 1971.
That was the form of it, but the content was even better. Duncan and Young comprised the tightest rhythm section of the day, with Duncan’s melodic, yet always ‘in the pocket’, bass lines as the solid pulse for the whole. Of course, Wilson wrote great songs and all any bass player might have been expected to do was to play the root notes and hang on for dear life. Yet Duncan was never a sedate bassist. One only has to listen to some of the latter-day DC material, such as ‘Hi Honey Ho’, ‘Daddy Rocks Off’, ‘Teenage Blues’, ‘Teen Love/Drive-In Movie/Love in a F.J.’ or ‘Make Your Stash’, to hear how inventive his playing could be.
Duncan and Young began playing together in The Lincolns, circa 1964. They moved on to The Rondells, backing band for beat hit-makers Bobby and Laurie, which then led to the rhythm section joining The Changing Times and the Laurie Allen Revue. In 1970 they came to the attention of Wilson who took them on for his ambitious Sons of the Vegetal Mother and the subsequent side project that ended up turning the Australian music industry on its head, Daddy Cool.
Over the next 40 years Daddy Cool split and re-formed on a regular basis. The group’s iconic status was confirmed when they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame on 16 August 2006 and The Age / Music Victoria Hall of Fame in 2014. In the interim, Duncan played with Young in Gary Young’s Hot Dog, The Rocking Emus and The Phil Manning Rock’n’Roll Trio. Duncan also played with Gulliver’s Travels, The Living Legends, Bambu, The Gentlemen, Wilbur Wilde’s Blowout, Ol’ Skydaddys, Little Red Roosters, Ross Hannaford Trio, The Hornets etc. If the guy wasn’t necessarily a workaholic (or maybe he was), he certainly enjoyed regular on-stage employment.
For probably one of his last live appearances Duncan played with Young as part of the house band assembled by guitarist Mick Hamilton for the launch of David Pepperell and Colin Talbot’s book 100 Greatest Australian Singles of the ’60s. Held at the Memo Music Hall, St Kilda, on 1 November 2015, it was a night of solid entertainment with many great names on stage, including Normie Rowe, Keith Glass, Ronnie Charles, Ross Wilson, Bobby Bright, Ross D. Wyllie etc. It was another fine performance from the legendary rhythm section.
Wayne Duncan only ever owned the one Fender bass guitar for his whole professional career; in recent years it was almost entirely devoid of paint. Ross Wilson described his friend and musical colleague as the “soulful Southern gentleman of Daddy Cool”. It was reported that he had suffered a stroke last week from which he never recovered. His death follows that of Ross Hannaford’s in March this year.