When Hello Sailor were inducted into the New Zealand Music Hall of Fame in 2011, it was without Lisle Kinney, the bass player who had been there in the trenches with them as they conquered their home country and then gallantly took on Hollywood and Australia.
To their credit, his partner in the band’s engine room, drummer Ricky Ball, and the band’s longest-serving bass player, Paul Woolright, both acknowledged Kinney in their acceptance speeches at the APRA Silver Scroll Awards, but his absence was baffling.
Hello Sailor inducted without Lisle Kinney? How could such a thing happen? Lisle Kinney, “the Duke”, the bass player on ‘Gutter Black’, ‘Blue Lady’, the first two albums, the man who when Sailor broke up (the first time) went on to join DD Smash and play on the first local album to debut at No.1 on the charts, Cool Bananas.
Sailor guitarist Harry Lyon called the omission an oversight. He said APRA AMCOS wanted to induct the songwriters only – Lyon, Graham Brazier and Dave McArtney – but the songwriters insisted the then current line-up of the band be recognised. It wasn’t until Herbs were inducted with 17 members the following year that Lyon realised they would have been fully justified in including Kinney.
APRA Head of NZ Operations Ant Healey said the decision of who to include had been the band’s, but he was happy to consider inducting Kinney retrospectively after identifying the appropriate time to do so.
Did it bother Kinney? “I don’t give a shit about that stuff,” he said from his local Grey Lynn watering hole in March 2015. “Because, I mean, I’m already in the hall of fame. ‘Oh, but you’re not officially in the hall of fame.’ Oh, no, I haven’t got the badge, eh?”
Starting out in an Hawaiian instrumental band in his teens, Kinney progressed to Hello Sailor for the second half of the 1970s, was badly injured in a truck accident while on tour with DD Smash in 1982, rejoined Sailor for a few months in 1985 and spent almost a decade in the States before returning home in 1995.
Born in Auckland in 1950, Kinney’s mother wanted to name him Lisle after her late brother, but his father’s Irish family insisted he be called David. So he was David Lisle Kinney, although the first name was never used.
Growing up, there were plenty of visitors to the Kinney home sporting piano accordions, ukuleles and alcohol. While his older brother played guitar, Kinney learned to strum the ukulele at the age of about eight.
“There was always a guitar around the house,” Kinney remembered, “so I started playing guitar and then started playing in a couple of garage bands. But the trouble with trying to play guitar back then in the mid-60s was, it was the time of the guitar hero, you know, and you had to practise so many hours a day.”
Kinney found the bass guitar much more to his liking when a friend who was travelling to Australia left him his 1962 L Series Fender Precision.
Kinney found the bass guitar much more to his liking when a friend who was travelling to Australia left him his 1962 L Series Fender Precision to look after. “I just started playing that along with the radio and thought, ‘Shit, this is a lot easier than trying to play guitar.’”
He was underage at the Kings Arms when he was invited to join one of Auckland’s busiest function and house party bands, The String Dusters, led by lap-steel-playing car painter Ralph Cox. The band played Hawaiian instrumental music and was especially popular with the Polynesian population.
Restaurant gigs were always available and Kinney found himself working three or four nights a week, eventually giving up his day job with Fletcher’s. In 1975 he joined eight-piece soul band Brown Street – led by Kaye and Steve Wilson, who had come from Cruise Lane – for a residency at the Great Northern.
When the band ended, a fledgling Hello Sailor came calling. "Because I used to play with Graham (Brazier) in a university band with Henry Jackson called Oktober. And we rehearsed for about three or four months and did two gigs. Graham left halfway through the first night and I think we did one more gig and then it just sort of folded up.”
Sailor’s bass player Andy MacDonald had returned to a re-formed Street Talk and Kinney’s relaxed, loping style turned out to be the perfect counterpart to the other recent Hello Sailor recruit Ricky Ball’s unrelenting, solid drumming.
“The first year of Sailor was really scraping,” Kinney said. “Back in those days you had to find places to play. It was like a sports team or something – you know, I mean you fucking looked after each other, because it was so bloody hard sometimes.”
Dave McArtney’s ‘Gutter Black’, the opening track on Hello Sailor’s self-titled debut LP, signalled the band’s no-nonsense attitude. The extolled snare drum sound on the song was a piece of percussive magic concocted by engineer Ian Morris.
“Rob Aickin was supposedly the producer, but Ian had all the ideas. There was the exploding handclap that we put on afterwards, and we had the mic turned up on the desk so it was distorting. It took us hundreds of takes to get it. I think there were four of us standing around the mic, and finally Ian said, ‘OK, we got one.’
“So we went back into the sound room, and Ian said, ‘What’s that noise?’ And what had happened was because it was turned up so loud and I had headphones on with the song running through my ears, I was humming it. Because the mic was turned up so loud it picked it up, so we had to bloody do it again.”
After failed attempts at cracking Hollywood and then Australia, Hello Sailor called it a day, finishing up at the Windsor Castle, Auckland, in early 1980. “This night we played and I think it was the best I’d ever experienced, just everything worked. I just thought, ‘Why the fuck couldn’t we play like that all the time?’”
By the middle of the year, Kinney had joined guitarist Pete Bayliss in Resurrection and they had become resident band at The Forge in Papakura. On a night off, he went to check out Dave McArtney’s Pink Flamingos, where he ran into ex-Th' Dudes guitarist Dave Dobbyn and Lip Service drummer Peter Warren.
They invited Kinney to join their new, as yet unnamed band. “They were putting DD Smash together,” he said. “Dave had all of this stuff, and I think we rehearsed in a studio just opposite the Station Hotel for about three days.
“Because we were drinking so much at the Station Hotel, they offered us a gig there. So we did a gig there and I think the next week we got a gig at the Hillcrest in Hamilton. But DD Smash just kind of came along at the right time. Within about a month we were totally self-sufficient, we’d bought our own truck.”
Kinney was driving the truck back to the band’s Waihi Hotel base after a gig when he fell asleep and ran off the road.
After Cool Bananas hit the top spot in New Zealand in 1982, DD Smash spent some months in Australia before returning home for the Blazing The Beaches summer tour. Kinney was driving the truck back to the band’s Waihi Hotel base after a gig when he fell asleep and ran off the road in the early hours of December 29.
When he came to he was exiting the bath and was startled by his image in the mirror. “I thought, ‘Shit, when did I grow this beard?’ Plus half my head had been shaved where they’d done whatever it was they did and I had an enormous ear because half my ear had been cut off.
“I thought, ‘Fuck, I must have had an accident.’ So I looked out the window – I thought, ‘I must be in Auckland Hospital’ – didn’t recognise anything. Walked out of the bathroom, saw a nurse walking past and I said, ‘Oh, excuse me, Nurse, did I have an accident?’ And she said, ‘Oh, yeah.’
“I said, ‘When did that happen – last night?’ She said, ‘No, no, you’ve been in here for nearly two months.’ She said, ‘Go down and see the doctor and tell him you’ve remembered who you are.’
“I’d had amnesia for two months, but I was sort of mobile. I used to get up and walk through the streets of Thames, just wandering around. I mean, I’d had pretty bad brain damage, but the thing with that is that you don’t actually think there’s anything wrong with you.”
Ordered to remain at Thames Hospital, Kinney went out for his afternoon walk and hitchhiked back to Auckland. However, when he arrived, the only place he could remember was his sister’s house, where he was informed the police were looking for him.
Attending the post-concussion clinic in Auckland just once, Kinney received a phone call from an old mate in Whanganui who booked him a flight and picked him up in Palmerston North. “This guy was a notorious naughty boy, drug dealer, whatever,” Kinney said. “So I spent some time driving around in this V8 Holden ute while he was going about his naughty business.”
Within six months, Kinney was back in Auckland playing in songwriter Colin Budd’s band Gun Crazy, which later featured drummer Wayne Bell. In February 1985, Hello Sailor reunited for a Gluepot gig, a tour and a new album.
The young English producer, Liam Henshall, decided the band would re-record the best of their back catalogue with an eye to the international market. There were clashes early on, with Kinney growing ever more pissed off with the farcical situation. It came to a head with Henshall sending Kinney packing and playing the bass himself.
“He played with a plectrum, and it might as well have been a keyboard,” Kinney said. “I didn’t care. I just said, ‘Fuck, let me out of here.’” Unsurprisingly, the one Shipshape & Bristol Fashion track he played on, ‘Winning Ticket’ is the one that exudes the Sailor mojo.
After some time with nightclub band Cheek Ta Cheek and freelancing, Kinney returned to the United States, securing a landscaping contract at a lodge in Tucson, Arizona. He met songwriter Bill Dogg at the lodge and was soon playing bass in Dogg’s band, with drummer Johnny Nitro and guitarist Danny Cox.
“He’d done an album with session players and wanted to put a band together,” Kinney said. “He gave me this album to listen to. I mean, it was well produced but it was really ordinary songs, but I just thought, ‘Shit hot,’ you know, ‘This is a bit of fun.’”
The band took a 10-day road trip to Cleveland, Ohio, in Kinney and his wife’s 25-foot motorhome. Dogg had a lot of slightly dodgy mates who kept the band fed along the way. Their most memorable gig was five nights at the 49th Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in 1989.
Kinney came back to New Zealand in 1995, where he’s played off and on since in all manner of pickup bands. His final work with Hello Sailor was on ‘All Around This Town’ for the 2006 acoustic album When Your Lights Are Out.
If you’re in the right place at the right time in inner Auckland these days you might just catch Lisle Kinney grinning like the Cheshire Cat as he’s invited onstage to join the band Rebel Without Applause for a collection of Hello Sailor and Dragon songs.
Update: To paraphrase APRA Head of NZ Operations Ant Healey, “a wrong was righted” at the Grey Lynn RSC on Friday 5 August 2016, when Lisle Kinney was at last inducted into the NZ Music Hall of Fame alongside his Hello Sailor alumni.
Before a crowd of around 250 that included surviving Hello Sailor inductees Harry Lyon, Ricky Ball, Paul Woolright and Stuart Pearce as well as other industry luminaries Dave Dobbyn, Jordan Luck and Arthur Baysting, Kinney thanked his musician family, his blood family and his “razza” (RSC) family.
He and his Sailor bandmates performed a set of acoustic numbers and later Kinney and Ball were joined by Kinney’s former DD Smash partner Dobbyn for a set that included a twist on his ‘Loyal’ turning into ‘Lisle’ for the occasion.
Photos of this auspicious occasion can be seen on this AudioCulture page.
Lisle Kinney’s first gig with Hello Sailor was at the Crypt Nightclub in early 1976. Part of the deal was that the band did the cleaning, including the toilets.
Saxophonist Andrew Clouston was Lisle Kinney’s passenger when he crashed the DD Smash truck in late 1982. Clouston rejoined the band two days later, but Ian Morris replaced Kinney.