Thursday, February 14, 2008

Smoky Dawson, Australia's First Cowboy

My interest in country music goes way back to when I was quite young. This would have been in the late 50’s and I had a small portable radio. At 5am every morning there was a radio programme of western music and one of the first songs I can remember listening to was Smoky Dawson singing “On Top of Old Smoky”

"On Top of Old Smoky" is a traditional folk song of the United States reached the pop music charts in 1951.

“On top of Old Smoky, all covered with snow
I lost my true lover, for courting too slow...”

Another popular group who recorded the song was the Swedish group “Abba”.

Smoky Dawson MBE was an Australian country music performer. He was Australia's first cowboy and a pioneer of Australian country music. Smoky and his horse Flash were legendary. An entire generation of young Australians grew up listening to his radio show and abiding by his 'code of the west'.

Smoky’s radio show adventures were broadcast for a decade. Each week there was an exciting adventure involving Smoky, his companion Jingles, and Smoky’s wonder horse Flash. The stories all took place in the Australian outback. For nearly twenty years, Smoky and Flash were also an important part of Sydney’s annual Waratah Festival Parade.

....................................Smoky and his horse Flash.

Smokey was born Herbert Henry Dawson in Collingwood, Victoria, a suburb of Melbourne and raised in the rural area of Warrnambool, his parents died at an early age, resulting in his living for several years in an orphanage.

At the age of thirteen Smokey met Ned Kelly's brother at a meeting of the Kelly clan. Smokey even witnessed the rounding up of the Kelly family by the authorities and told Peter he can't help but feel they were unfairly persecuted.

When Dot met Smoky he was in a band called the South Sea Island Boys with his brother Ted and it wasn’t long before he discovered radio, hillbilly music and yodelling.

His first bright and joyful recording, made in 1941 at Homebush, with the legendary producer Arch Kerr, “I’m a Happy Go Lucky Cowhand”, summed up his image perfectly. It was the first of a immense repertoire of original recordings.

After a stint in the army Smoky picked up where he left off and success swept the Dawsons into an incredible life of stardom, recording and touring, sometimes with Stan Gill’s Rodeo. Smoky, became a yodelling, whip cracking, knife throwing, film acting, song writing, singing, matinee idol, radio & TV super star…

When he returned from the war, he married Florence "Dot" Cheers in 1944, and they travelled to the United States to record, and play at the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville, Tennessee. When he returned to Australia in 1952 he started in his own radio show, The Adventures of Smoky Dawson, which stayed on the air for ten years. At its peak the show was broadcast on 69 stations across the country.

.......Smoky Dawson with his beloved wife, Dot.

As well as working as a singer and for the ABC, Smokey also spent a number of years in the United States and even appeared in musicals such as 'Kiss Me Kate'.

A long career of recording and performing followed his radio show, and till his death still enjoyed performing. He has frequently been recognized for his contributions to music and entertainment. In 1978 he was awarded an MBE for his services to country music. In 1983 he was named to the Australian Country Music Roll of Renown. In 1988 he appeared in two episodes of the Australian Drama serial A Country Practice as a drifter who passes through Wandin Valley and proposes to town gossip, Esme Watson. His performance was so popular with viewers, that he made another appearance in 1989. In 2005 he was inducted into the Australian Record Industry Association Hall of Fame. He has also been recognized in the United States, and has been awarded the Honor Award of the Grand Ole Opry. In April 2007 he donated his first electric guitar to the Australian Stockman's Hall of Fame.

His final album, Homestead of My Dreams, was released in 2005 - at which point he became the oldest recording artist in the world.
His latest DVD featuring new performances was completed just this month. Smoky was renowned for being a mentor to younger country singers, and some of the industry's stars have paid tribute to the performer.

Australian of the Year, singer Lee Kernaghan, called Dawson "an Aussie icon" and "a national treasure". "Smoky Dawson was much more than one of Australian country music's greatest pioneers - he was a legend in every sense of the word," Kernaghan said.

Singer John Williamson agreed Dawson was the real deal.
"I reckon I could safely say he's the last of the singing cowboys that had the horse," he told
Radio Network.

Dawson died after a short illness on February 14th, 2008. At the age of 94, he was the oldest recording artist in the world at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife, Dot of 64 years, who is 101.


Peter said...

Wow you sure got off the mark quickly with this one Wazza, Smoky only died today, Feb 14 2008.
Are you sure he sang On Top off Old Smokey BTW?? the best version of that old classic was by The Weavers, with a male voice saying each line and the singers repeating it.
Anyway old Smoky sure lasted well but Dot's the one... @ 101.

Margaret said...

Hi Warren what a great tribute. , what tremendous research . I am sure that Smoky would be very pleased with your effort.
Cheers Margaret

Merle said...

HI Warren ~~ Wonderful tribute to our dear old Smoky. i cried when I was 10 and he married Dot. She has dementia BTW. Smoky's mother died when he was very young and his father who was brain damaged in the war belted Smoky and his brothers. One drowned in the Yarra. The father married Smoky's mother's sister and she was very cruel also, chaining him to a bed in the shed. So he overcame a hell of a lot. I hadn't heard the song in the video
(not one of his best, but was his first) Thank you Warren for this
great post. I also heard that Flash and he were together 32 years which
seems amazing. Take care my friend,
Love, Merle.

Fliss and Mike Adventures said...

See what happens when you leave Australia... you have to catch up on the news on blogs... hehe... I remember watching 'Smokey Dawson' on TV etc... sad he is gone but at least he had a good life... never knew that bit about the Kelly Gang... to meet Ned's brother... I was always a Ned fan from when I was very, very young... take care

Puss-in-Boots said...

Another one of that generation gone...there'll never be another.

Smokey certainly made his mark on Australian music and a lot of today's young singers can thank him for that.

A well researched post, Warren, thank you.

Jim said...

Well, Warren, you got there just in time for the beginning! That is a nice feeling to follow someone in their career. And better yet to write about it.

I learned a lot here, I hadn't heard of him before.

Margaret said...

Hello again Warren, funny thing I did not really expect you or Peter to notice the two fish. Thanks for visiting Margaret