Murdoch Riley Profile

Chris Bourke
22 Apr 2014

Between ‘When My Wahine Does the Poi’, ‘Opo the Crazy Dolphin’, ‘The White Rabbit’ and ‘Do the Blue Beat’, there is a connection: Murdoch Riley. In the 1950s and early 1960s, there were few people in the New Zealand music industry with his influence.

Early in the 1950s, as purchasing officer at the NZBS – the forerunner of Radio New Zealand – he chose all the records that public radio would buy for broadcast. Later in the decade he managed Tanza Records as it made the move from 78rpm discs to 45s and LPs. He then founded his own record label, Viking – named after his Scandinavian wife – and launched the careers of Dinah Lee, The Chicks and Maria Dallas, among many others. His own career encapsulates the environment and opportunities of the early local recording industry.

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Just Call Me Tanya was a risqué pseudonymous EP released by Viking in 1961. The voice of “Tanya” was Wellington cabaret singer Marise McDonald. Accompanied by the Garth Young Trio, she performed suggestive songs such as ‘I Didn’t Like It The First Time’, ‘Don’t Save It Too Long’ and ‘Snatch and Grab It’.
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Rocking With Garth - the EP Viking had to abandon on a Sunday as HMV's studio boss was a Seventh Day Adventist
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Murdoch Riley - one of the very few published images
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Daphne Walker's series of releases on Viking were strong sellers throughout the 1960s. Like many Viking acts she had first worked with Murdoch Riley at Tanza.
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The very first release on the new Viking label, The Q-Tees with an EP of cover versions of current chart hits issued in October 1957. The catalogue number was the price = 2 shillings and 6d, and it was the first release at that price.
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The back of the Q-Tees' second EP sleeve, explaining some of their history and their lineup (including Nick Nicholson was later led The Neketini Brass). The catalogue number tells us this was Viking's 5th release priced at 2/6d. The early Viking releases were distributed by HMV but by 1960 the company had its own network.
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Truth newspaper paid tribute to Murdoch Riley’s broad musical tastes when he left the New Zealand Broadcasting Service for “private enterprise” – Tanza Records – in September 1954
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Peter Posa's White Rabbit single and the album that came with it were both massive sellers for Viking into the 1970s. Posa would release 13 singles, 15 EPs and 16 albums on Viking between 1963 and 1967.
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The Chicks were discovered by Viking's Ron Dalton while singing for Peter Posa. They would provide Viking with a string of hits.
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The Keil Isles recorded for Tanza, Zodiac, Philips and Salem, but their biggest records were on Viking.
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Peter Posa
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Cole Wilson and His Tumbleweeds first recorded for Tanza and followed Murdoch Riley to Viking
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The Mod World Of Dinah Lee, 1966. Dinah Lee was one of a series of hugely successful Viking pop acts in the 1960s with hits in New Zealand and Australia.
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16 year-old Ronnie Sundin's Sea Of Love was a massive hit for the Viking label in 1960, selling 15,000 copies in just a few months and causing teen mayhem. Sadly it was his only hit and he soon faded.
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Palmerston North's The Q-Tees who earlier recorded for Tanza and were the first act signed to the new Viking
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Ron Dalton, Peter Posa, Dean Martin and Viking's US agent in the USA. Viking was the first New Zealand label to actively and regularly work at breaking its artists around the world.
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Jay Epae had a huge hit in Sweden with a song called Putti Putti in 1960, but would not make a mark in his own country until 1966 when he signed to Viking and wrote the 1966 Loxene Golden Disc Award winner Tumblin' Down for Maria Dallas.
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Max McCauley is a New Zealand yodeller, and stalwart of Southland music, who became prominent on the Viking label in the 1960s
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Independent labels have always had to make a buck wherever they can and in the 1960s alliances with airlines proved to be fruitful. Here Viking are quite blatant about the Air New Zealand link on an album by two of their biggest 60s acts.
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A letter from Viking partner Ron Dalton to Radio DJ Keith Richardson plugging Maria Dallas' Tumbling Down single in 1966. It would go on to hit No.1, sell large numbers and pick up the 1966 Loxene Golden Disc.
Photo credit: Keith Richardson collection
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Steve Allen, who would give Viking one of their last big pop hits, when Join Together was a No.2 hit in 1974
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