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’.
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’.
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.
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.
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.
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.