After the conflict in the Pacific ended, the family moved to Miami Beach, Florida, where Malcolm grew up. As a teenager in Miami Beach, Malcolm took an interest in music and played in many local garage bands that catered to private teenage parties.
During this period, Malcolm discovered that he could write songs on the spur of the moment, usually about people or things that were going on around him.
By the mid-sixties Malcolm decided to embark on a musical journey and wanting to travel lightly. He took up the auto harp, which was making a renaissance in the wake of The Lovin’ Spoonful’s John Sebastian.
“In the sixties I guess you could say I went on a type of walkabout in the US,” reflects Chris. “I headed to Greenwich Village in New York, Old Town in Chicago, LA and San Francisco among others before returning to New Zealand. At the time I was just another hippie type looking for whatever it was we were all looking for in those days.”
Arriving in Wellington in mid-1967, Malcolm soon built up a reputation playing at various coffee lounges around town, usually for tips. “I was singing in a coffee house on the wharf playing my autoharp, making up songs as I went along,” recalls Malcolm. “There was a starry-eyed couple sitting, starring into each other’s eyes and totally oblivious to the surroundings, so I wrote a song about them.”
‘Everyone’s Gonna Wonder’, as it was later named, was recorded as The Avengers’ debut single with Malcolm’s auto harp playing featured on the record.
At the coffee house that night was Nick Karavias, an HMV record producer who was looking for material for his latest charges The Avengers. “He seemed to like what I was doing and set up a meeting with the group the next day. I sang them the song that I had written the night before and they started playing along.”
‘Everyone’s Gonna Wonder’, as it was later named, was recorded as The Avengers’ debut single with Malcolm’s auto harp playing featured on the record – including the distinctive opening chords. The single would reach No.7 on the NZ Hit Parade while its follow-up, another Chris Malcolm song, ‘Only Once In My Life’, reached No.10.
The Avengers’ debut album Electric Recording featured another four Chris Malcolm songs, including the controversial ‘Water Pipe’. By the time it was released in May 1968, Malcolm had re-started his musical journey and arrived in Sydney where he connected with The Atlantics.
The Atlantics’ career had started in Australia in the early sixties, as an instrumental group. They had recently formed their own label, Ramrod and signed Malcolm as a performer and songwriter.
With The Atlantics backing him, Malcolm recorded the single, ‘Hurt, Love And Fire’/'Trip On Life’ on the Ramrod label. He also wrote The Atlantics’ single 'What Is Love' and a single for Johnny Rebb, 'Patterns On the Wall', all appearing on Ramrod.
Malcolm next headed to the Gold Coast where he played in several local clubs before heading back to Miami after approximately five years away.
Chris recorded one more single, 'Yes, They All Came Around’, for A&M Records, arranged by the former rockabilly star Jack Scott, before embarking on a career in music management and then graphic design and printing.
Chris Malcolm was one of those odd, enigmatic, New Zealand pop heroes – he arrived, offered a brief flash of brilliance and then was gone forever.
Chris Malcolm died on 6 December 2019.
The Chris Malcolm-penned Everyone's Gonna Wonder was a No.7 hit for The Avengers in September 1967. In 1994 it was covered by Dunedin supergroup Pop Art Toasters, which included Martin Phillipps (The Chills) and David Kilgour (The Clean) among its members.