With fiddler Cath Newhook and singer-guitarist Glenn Fuller being offered Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights at the Country Gentleman Restaurant, they set about rebuilding the Gentle Annie line-up with some urgency.
It was a case of Peter Madill to the rescue when he recommended American singer-guitarist Becky Bush, who he knew through the Poles Apart. She bought a replica Fender bass guitar, spray-painted it pink and set about learning to play it.
The most stable line-up since the original trio – and the most capable – came together with the addition of Brendan Power on harmonica.
From Shreveport, Louisiana, Bush was in a duo in Los Angeles in 1979 when she was spotted by two Lion Breweries reps and enticed to travel “all-expenses paid” to New Zealand to entertain in their venues. She did two stints in New Zealand, the second with her brother Charlie, and fell in love with the country, later becoming a citizen. On the first visit she met Cath Newhook and Peter Madill at the folk club.
Early on in this rehearsal phase, the most stable line-up since the original trio – and the most capable – came together with the addition of Brendan Power on harmonica. Power had arrived in Auckland in 1981 and quickly become part of the city’s session scene as well as gigging with blues singer Sonny Day, the Al Hunter-fronted Hillman Hunter and the Roots Group, and new-folk band Acoustic Confusion, which also included Denny Stanway.
After almost a year of badgering from fellow musicians and commentators, Gentle Annie ditched the drum machine they had used during their country-rock transition and employed a real drummer. Their first and most flamboyant was Myra Singleton, a tiny black woman from Harlem whose long, dark plaits contrasted perfectly with her white cowboy outfit.
In 1985 Gentle Annie self-released the single ‘The Devil Went Down To Auckland’, a reworking of The Charlie Daniels Band hit ‘The Devil Went Down To Georgia’. It was produced by country guitarist Red McKelvie, while the B-side, ‘You Put The Blue In Me’, was produced by drummer Steve Garden.
Not long after, Gentle Annie hooked up with Nashville songwriter-producer Don Goodman, who was producing Michael-Roy Croft’s Slow Burnin’ at Mandrill in a joint project between EMI New Zealand and EMI America’s Nashville office. Goodman was fresh from the success of country crooner Lee Greenwood taking his ‘Dixie Road’ (written by Goodman with Pam Rose and Mary Ann Kennedy) to No.1 on the Billboard Hot Country Songs chart earlier in the year.
A keen supporter of Gentle Annie, Mandrill co-owner Glyn Tucker provided studio time for Goodman to oversee a Gentle Annie single. Joined by Nashville session drummer Milton Sledge, they laid down Goodman’s ‘Turn Each Other On (When We Turn Out The Light)’ and local singer-songwriter Mike McGregor’s ‘Once We Were Lovers’ for the flipside. The recordings came to nothing after Goodman took the master tapes back to Nashville.
The band opened for American stars Johnny Tillotson and Charley Pride, before Power left in 1986 to form a touring blues duo with ex-Dave Dobbyn guitarist Gary Verberne. Gentle Annie brought in a new arrival from the South Island, Read Hudson – who had appeared with them in Tamworth three years earlier – on guitar and pedal steel, and former Coconut Rough drummer Paul Hewitt. A trip to Los Angeles was imminent, appearing with the Limbs Dance Company and Māori cultural group Tu Taua for the Royal Pacific Cultural Exchange to the Sister Cities International 30th Anniversary Conference in July.
Gentle Annie opened the major show at the Ambassador Auditorium, in Pasadena, California, following a welcome speech from Los Angeles mayor Tom Bradley. Other appearances included an outdoor performance at the Los Angeles Mall Triforium and a back-lot concert at Universal Studios. While in LA, they caught the attention of Olivia Newton-John’s American lawyer Owen Sloane, who offered to represent the band if they could get green cards.
Invited to return the following April for shows at North Hollywood’s Palomino Club, they arrived in Auckland full of ambition and resolve. But a sponsorship by a Texan oil man who dug the band didn’t come through, and demos recorded at Mandrill – once again with the help of Glyn Tucker – weren’t up to the band’s expectations. When Becky Bush decamped to the States (a move that turned out to be temporary) the idea of taking the band back fizzled out.
With Bush’s departure, Fuller took on more of the lead vocals and they added bass guitarist Wayne Baird, late of The Neighbours and Rick Bryant and The Jive Bombers. When the subtleties of the harmonies and instrumental interplay got lost under Hewitt’s hard-hitting style – honed during years in rock and pop bands – he was let go. Steve Garden proved a better fit, along with occasional stints by ace drummers-on-call Bruce King and Bruce Morley. Recordings engineered by Wellingtonian Dick Le Fort, producer of the Warratahs’ debut album, came to nothing.
In 1988, Gentle Annie were part of the New Zealand contingent at the World Expo in Brisbane, performing 60 shows in 14 days outside the New Zealand Pavilion, but their days were numbered. Newhook had started playing at the Shakespeare Tavern with singer-songwriter Al Hunter, where they were later joined by guitarist Red McKelvie, and with the Gentle Annie members heading in slightly different directions, she called time.
Their final hurrah was upstairs at the Gluepot on August 31, 1988. Billed as Gentle Annie’s Last Stand, they were joined by guests Al Hunter, Jools Topp, Andy Anderson, Red McKelvie and former members Peter Madill and Brendan Power. Newhook would spend the next six or seven years as part of Hunter’s band, appearing on his albums The Singer and Cold Hard Winter.
Gentle Annie existed at a time when recording under your own steam was expensive and bands were apprehensive about funding such an undertaking. Unfortunately the highly arranged material worked out by Cath Newhook and Brendan Power lives on only in the memory of those who were lucky enough to see them, although Glenn Fuller does still have a boxful of ‘The Devil Went Down To Auckland’ singles.