The group was originally started in 1964 by blues fanatic Archie Bowie and guitarist Harvey Mann, both from Mt Maunganui but based in Auckland. They were a hard-core blues band playing mainly traditional American negro blues, which was a brave move in Beatles-obsessed New Zealand.
This early incarnation of The Underdogs was the band without an audience. They had to wait for the prevailing British rhythm and blues explosion to gain an audience in New Zealand, and in The Underdogs’ eyes, save us all from a world of continuous yeah yeah yeahs.
The British R&B invasion took hold and The Underdogs Blues Band soon flourished.
The British R&B invasion spearheaded by the likes of The Yardbirds, John Mayall and The Rolling Stones took hold and The Underdogs Blues Band soon flourished, as New Zealand quickly became a stronghold of the British style of R&B. The Underdogs were a tight musical unit and soon found themselves playing in some of the inner city dances and clubs.
Musical divisions within the group started to surface over musical direction, which resulted in group leader and guitarist Harvey Mann taking drastic steps to ensure that his band all travelled in the same direction together.
Harvey asked Murray Grindlay if he would like to join The Underdogs as he had just fired Mick Sibley, their singer, who had taken over from Archie Bowie. Drummer Ian Thomson stayed a while then left in protest while rhythm guitarist Tony Rawnsley found himself being replaced by his brother Lou. Thomson later moved to The Brew.
After the dust had settled, there emerged a new Underdogs incarnation that would become the most enduring and best known line-up, with original members Harvey Mann (guitar) and Neil Edwards (bass) now joined by Murray Grindlay (vocals), Lou Rawnsley (rhythm guitar) and Tony Walton (drums).
Without missing a beat and using the recently released John Mayall and Eric Clapton Bluesbreakers album as their blueprint the new Underdogs settled in to a Galaxie residency late in 1966 where they played alongside The La De Da’s, The Action and The Pleazers.
Eldred Stebbing signed The Underdogs to his Zodiac label. The first single ‘See Saw’/‘Looking Back’ was released in early 1967, with the A-side, ‘See Saw’ showing a slight shift in direction from their blues roots into a more soulful direction. As Murray Grindlay explains, “we started [recording] closer to what The La De Da's were playing, which was a mixture of soul and British R&B, which was a lot more commercial than the hard core blues that that the previous Underdogs line-up had played.”
Murray Grindlay recalls the session for their second single, “We were in the studio recording ‘Sitting In The Rain’. At the end of one of the takes, I started laughing, we were fooling around as usual, I recall Neil Edwards trying to shove drumsticks up our arses, just your usual Dogs session. As soon as the tape had been turned off, Eldred Stebbing comes rushing into the studio and says “that’s it, that’s the take”, and we said nah we were just goofing around man we wanna do another take, and Eldred said, “no, no, it’s brilliant that’s it.”
Later in the year the single would be chosen as a finalist in the 1967 Loxene Golden Disc Awards.
Shortly after the release of ‘Sitting In The Rain’ Harvey Mann left the GROUP.
Shortly after the release of ‘Sitting In The Rain’, group leader Harvey Mann left the band, also to join The Brew (with Ian Thomson). Miffed that Harvey had left, the remaining members decided not to replace him, to show that they didn't really need him and carried on as a four-piece.
Late in 1967 work started on their debut album, which included a cover of the Donovan song ‘Hey Gyp’ that became their next single and included possibly New Zealand’s first drum tape loop.
Edwards left after being kicked out halfway through the album recording sessions, as the group’s musical direction started to change yet again. Murray Grindlay explains, “Neil didn’t really want to play the blues shit that me and Lou were getting back into, we had just re-discovered John Mayall and The Cream and wanted to be just like them, Neil wanted to carry on down the soul road, so he joined Le Frame.”
Dave Orams joined the group on bass.
The group relocated to Wellington for a short period before returning to Auckland at year’s end.
Early in 1968 Orams left to join Wellington group, Quincy Conserve and was replaced by George Barris.
Shortly afterwards the group broke up. Tony Walton said at the time, “We had gone as far as we could, we were not progressing in what we were doing and even rehearsals were not going well”.
Tony Walton went on to join a new group Jigsaw that included as their lead singer, Glyn Mason who by year's end would leave Jigsaw to take over from Larry Morris in The Rebels. Chaz Burke Kennedy and George Barris were also members of Jigsaw.
Meanwhile Murray Grindlay and Harvey Mann joined The Australasian Blues Champions who rehearsed but never really got off the ground.
After little more than a month Murray and Harvey reformed the Underdogs in April 1968. Filling out this line-up was Lou Rawnsley and Doug Thomas on drums.
This line-up of the Underdogs managed to stay together for the rest of 1968. In early 1969 they released the single ‘There Will Come A Time’/‘Fine Jung Thing’. Lou Rawnsley left after the single’s release and was replaced by Chaz Burke-Kennedy from Jigsaw, but by late 1969 the group had disbanded again.
Harvey Mann and Neil Edwards got together with Glen Absolum on drums in 1970 and yet again reformed the group. They released the 1971 Bob Gillett-produced album Wasting Our Time as Pig, Mann and Edwards for Pye Records before finally breaking up for good.
In 2000 Ascension Records released the CD Blues Band and Beyond, which includes their entire Zodiac output, including their album, EP and singles.