Dave Rankin, 1936-2013

JAZZ TROMBONIST, Dave Rankin died in Lismore on Sunday 6 October 2013 at the age of 77.

Long-time playing-mate and close friend, Graeme Davies has allowed me to publish the following tribute to Dave, much of which appeared in the Victorian Jazz Archive’s magazine, VJAZZ, No. 51 August 2011.

I’VE GOT ONE FOR YA’! was David Rankin’s opening line since he first learned to dial a phone. It was usually a limerick, (he being a master limericist), or a joke of dubious origin.

A measure of Rankin’s limerick skills was apparent when a limerick challenge between him and American trumpeter Clark Terry ended in a toe-to-toe draw in 1974 at the 29th Jazz Convention in Croydon, Victoria .

There was always an endless supply of laughing material from David Laurence Rankin born in 1936 near Moonee Ponds, Melbourne, Victoria.  His mother, singer Frances, didn’t survive the birthing and father, pianist Bruce, passed young David into the care of his married sister, Anne Rankin’s family.  Young Rankin’s attitude to life was formed early, pushing him towards a career that would make people laugh, be happy and also jolt them out of their everyday routines.  This he achieved!  The name “Rankin” became synonymous with, not only great entertainment, but also outrageous stunts, in restaurants, on stage and in the streets of Melbourne when conservatism ruled the day . His penchant and skill with twisted lyrics is ably demonstrated in “If you see Kay’.

Dave Rankin, Don Bentley and Ian Cuthbertson, 1958
(from Norm Linehan’s Australian Jazz Picture Book)

His foray into jazz was with drummer Spike Edwards Rhythm Ramblers circa 1956 followed by various bands including the famed Melbourne New Orleans Jazz Band and eventually the Alan ‘Sny’ Chambers’ Bands which played hard, drank hard, partied hard and made the hit parade in 1963 with their version of Steptoe and Son.

Rankin and Sny were the perfect combination, nice people as the music reminds us.  Sny, an excellent trumpeter and vocalist was ably supported by David Robinson, clarinet, John Cavanagh banjo/vocals, Tom Arrowsmith, piano, with John ‘Gypsy’ Bennett, sousaphone, taking over from the prematurely lost Brian Carter, plus Don Boardman, drums and our hero on trombone, gags and stunts.  The band kept Melbourne Town  dancing and laughing from around 1958 up to 1966 during which time Dave was privileged to work with comedians Maurie Fields and Sid Heylen during Sunday closed-door nights at Elizabeth Street’s Hollyford Hotel where he refined his timing and comedy talents while playing their ‘straight man’.

At Alan Watson’s farm near Tilden, Vic. 1963
Paul Martin, Maurie Garbutt, Keith Atkins, Alan Watson, Campbell Burnap, Cliff Tierney, Dave Rankin
(from Norm Linehan’s Australian Jazz Picture Book)

He then moved to Adelaide and played in several bands with Dick Frankel and other Adelaide luminaries including the very successful Abraham Lott Blues Band which featured regu­larly on Adelaide ‘s Channel 10 “Teen Time”.

Returning in the early 70s he formed the first Dave Rankin Band which played at Doug Mcintyre’s  (brother of pianist Willie)  Railway Hotel in Port Melbourne.  It included trumpeter Ian Orr, electric bassist/vocalist Tom Cowburn, with David Robinson clarinet, drummer Peter Clohesy and banjoist Pete McCormick, who were replaced, after the band moved to The Lemon Tree Hotel, by saxophonist Graeme Davies, pianist Ron Sedgeman and the remarkable drummer Glenn Bayliss to become the Rankin File.

The Lemon Tree Hotel, on the corner of Rathdowne and Grattan Streets, Carlton, was Melbourne’s first Saturday afternoon gig.  It was hugely popular leaving just enough room for number-one fans Harry and Susie to dance on the wine sodden carpet.  Rankin and Davies commenced most Rankin File gigs by giving a reading of the Women’s Weekly social pages, updating a captivated audience with the current antics of Toorak’s daughters , Prue, Tiffany, Jane and their beaux’ adventures in Portsea, South Yarra and Hayman Island. The dynamic duo also gave weekly translations of, as yet undiscovered, Lemon Tree chef lain ‘Huey’ Hewitson’s French menu, all resulting in tears, laughter and much muttering from the band waiting to play.  There was always a bit of interplay with Owen Yateman’s bands and Yatey’s drummer , lan Coots, who played the last eighteen months of the Lemon Tree and also Thursday nights at Bob Walton’s Dick Whittington Hotel. When Owen Yateman’s Big Fat Brarse took over the Lemon Tree gig in 1975 they seconded Graeme Davies and held the residency until 1980. When he left ‘The Tree’ Dave formed Rank ‘n’ Banned which featured Doug Dehn, trumpet , Pat Miller, tenor sax, Dick Cullen, banjo, plus bassist Derek Capewell and Alan Richards on drums.

Rank ‘N’ Banned at Australian Jazz Convention, Hobart 1977
Neil Lewis, Dick Cullen, Pat Miller, Alan Richards, Doug Dehn, Dave Rankin
(from Norm Linehan’s Australian Jazz Picture Book)

In 1983 our boy got the wanderlust again and moved to Sydney where he did quite well until tighter liquor laws decimated the Sydney gig scene  An offer to join a band near Lismore took him further northward to the little town of lluka. He then joined The Grafton City Jazz Band which had Colin Jones, trumpet, Dave Croft, electric bass, Kevin Maling, drums, Geoff Gissane, piano, and the now re-branded ‘Davey’ Rankin, trombone and vocals. Davey eventually settled in Lismore, attending Lismore University to complete an Arts/ Music Associate Music Diploma, buy a house and create a highly successful singing telegram service.

Dave at the Australian Jazz Convention, Lismore 2005
(photo: Jaz Stutley)

I managed to spend four days at Dave’s house in Lismore this Jul y (2013). He was always talking about his next gig, ‘as soon I feel better’ was often said in conversation. He wanted to go over the road to his beloved ‘Bowlo’, The Lismore Bowling Club,  yet even that wasn’t possible with his energy levels.  Ex-Melbourne banjoist Brendan ‘Mookx’ Hanley was recently staying in Dave’s house and provided great assistance when our man had trouble breathing through the effects of his emphysema.

While I was with Dave, we had pies, lasagne, beer and a home-made celery soup, the only vegetable in the house . Dave loved his microwave and considered vegetables a hindrance to his well-being. When we said our goodbyes I knew it would be for the last time.

So, no more phone messages:  ‘I’ve got one for ya’ or ‘it’s only boring old Rankin calling’.
Boring? I think not.

Graeme Davies

In 2011 a 2 CD set of Dave’s recordings was produced – I’ve Got One For Ya. There are 29 tracks from the bands The Rank ‘n’ File / The Sny Chambers Bands and Rank ‘n’ Banned. Contact Graeme by email for information.

10 responses to “Dave Rankin, 1936-2013

  1. I love Dave Rankin – I have great memories of driving him and his big double bass around in my little Honda Civic in the 1970s …. wonderful times! Never forgotten Dave.

  2. I didn’t know Dave personally , but he was was probably the most taleneted and funniest person with whom I’ve ever been in the same room .
    I was at the Bowlo at the second Forbes Convention , sitting on the floor close to the platform thingy that was the stage when this bloke with a trombone played the the most hauntingly beautiful solo for ten minutes or more and then sang the song . The tune finished , and there was this weird crowd of slack jawed people who’d forgotten how to clap . and then they slightly remembered .

  3. The Rainbow region of NSW has lost one of its real characters. I remember Dave appearing in my yard late at night looking for an address wearing his gorilla costume. It gave me the fright of my life walking up up to a life size gorilla not knowing what the heck was going on but safe in the knowledge at least the gorilla could drive up Friday Hut Road to appear there..
    Another time Dave approached me in front of Noah’s Arc with his catch phrase ” Hey, l got one for you”. After telling me his joke l told him one of my own. He laughed so hard, and when he turned to walk down Magellan street he was stumbling and having to hold on to a few street signs as he ambled along laughing at the top of his head.
    In all the years I’ve known him l never heard a harsh word about him. Now that’s a legacy.
    I’ll miss you Dave, you were a real gentleman.
    I hope you are getting lots of gigs up there.

  4. ofcourse our condolences passed to helen , merella , rachel and tom , from the tierney family .

  5. Helen Rankin/Aldersey

    No-one knew David better, or loved him more. Thank you for the good times Dave, and most of all for three beautiful, talented children, Merella, Rachel and Tom.

  6. I knew Dave for over 12 yrs, he was always a laugh, still makes me laugh 🙂 he was more of a gentleman than many who presented to be one !!!! We’d get in the cab after a gig, he’d say ” spose a fax is out of the question”, I’d say, as sure as dinner is, and we’d laugh and laugh. We repeated that conversation at every gig and meeting. Many laughs in amongst great music, I will always be thankful for Dave being in my life, VALE DAVE THANKS FOR SHARING YOU WITH US, THE LAUGHS, SMILES, MUSIC, WHIT, rest in peace brother <3 Xxx

  7. my husbands family (john tierney , lyn ,megan,colleen and daniel} adored dave , he made them laugh till their stomachs hurt ! so many Rankin stories , so much chaotic joy he brought to the world ! and he proved his golden worth as a human being after the death of john , providing staunch support that really helped everyone . we all loved him beyond words . till we meet again dave rankin . . .

  8. I knew Dave ever since he moved to the Lismore area. Among his many talents he also had the balls to run a Strippergram/Dero-gram service for quite a few years!! He was never afraid to fill the breach if one of his ‘acts’ was a no show.

    Dave was a great champion of all musicians he came into contact with. He was gracious, humble, a hell of a lot of fun, and a dangerous drinking companion! He will be sorely missed.

  9. Royden Ainsworth

    I had some great jams with Dave at the Lismore Bowling Club, playing tenor sax. Even got to have a scat sing along with him one time. A great character and lover of Jazz and Beer…..Vale Dave.

  10. I first met Dave(y) when he was playing with the Melbourne New Orleans Band (MNOJB) at Adelaide AJC in 1957. Later playing in Lorne, Vic., at the Wild Colonial Club in 1959 and later, I shared digs with Dave.
    Despite his often outrageous demeanour and amusing antics, it was unbeknown to many that he was a perfect gentleman at heart, being raised by older genteel “sisters”/aunts at McIndoe Pde, Parkdale, Vic.
    Through the years, during forays down from Sydney, I sometimes played with Dave and with his “Rank’n File” band, or “Rankin Banned”, at the Lemon Tree hotel in Carlton, or at (Watson’s?) pub in Swanston St., and at Jazz Conventions. Dave played at the Sydney Jazz Club in the ? 1960s, as I recall. He was always ready with a pun, joke or limerick; and it was he who put the immortal words “Scratch my glands, I’ve got strange looking parasites” to parody the tune of “I’m a stranger in Paradise”.
    In later years, Dave went to Lismore and taught guitar at TAFE, being as he said, one page ahead of his students; and also performed “gorillagrams” as a supplementary occupation.
    He was occasionally in Melbourne to see Willie Watt, banjo, an old mate from MNOJB, and even made it down to Melbourne to be present at Will’s wake at the Clyde Hotel, Carlton, Vic., in November 2011 (information from Wendy Roberts, ex Watt; and her and Will’s daughters Sophie and Louise Watt).
    Davey, as he later preferred to be known, was one of the good guys, and made the world a better, and certainly more more rambunctious and cheerful place; one of jazz’s true “characters”!

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