Any mention of the name "Frank Ifield" invariably leads to the remembrance of his first big hit "I Remember You."
Franks recording of the song has the honour of being the first single record to sell one million copies in the UK, and it was the song that launched Franks career around the world. But it was only the first of many records to reach the top of the charts. Two more songs "Lovesick Blues" and "Wayward Wind" would follow "I Remember You" to the number one position, all selling over a million.
The British press wrote, "In only twelve months this clean cut blonde from Australia, Frank Ifield has emerged from obscurity to slip comfortably behind the likes of Elvis Presley and Cliff Richard.
At that time the radio was playing tunes like "Rambling Rose," by Nat King Cole, "Surfin' Safari," by the Beach Boys, "Roses Are Red," by Bobby Vinton, and "The Locomotion," by Little Eva, to name a few.
Frank's almost overnight success would set a standard that would only be surpassed by The Beatles. The funny thing is, it was Frank who would help to unravel his own success by agreeing with Beatles Manager Brian Epstein to let the boys take over the opening spot on his National UK tour.
1962 was a year that Frank will never forget. A year of hit records, radio and TV shows and sold out concert dates. To top it off, in October he was one of few Pop acts to be invited to play the Royal Command Variety show and made three appearances on BBC television's Sunday Night at the London Palladium.
Frank has toured the world many times, received awards, set many marks in the music and recording industry, received Gold and Platinum records and quite simply lived a very charmed life for the past thirty eight years. He has also lived out many childhood dreams, like playing the Ed Sullivan Show and hosting his own International TV show from London with delayed broadcasts to North America. But one of his boyhood dreams stood alone when "Hank Snow" invited Frank to play the Grand Ole Opry in Nashville.
In the mid 1990s, near tragedy struck Frank when he was diagnosed with a severe virus and tests showed that there was an abscess in one of his lungs. Frank went through major surgery. But there were complications during the initial exploratory surgery. The tubes that were passed down his throat damaged his vocal cords and it was doubtful that he would be able to sing again. News like that, to anyone who lives and has lived his whole life to sing, would lead most into depression. But with the desire to find a way to continue, Frank has worked hard to recover his voice. As it stands right now, short stints in the recording studio and short simple guest spots on concerts for a couple of songs seems to work, anymore than that is simply out of the question at this time, although Frank loves to sing and if there is any way he can, he will find it.
With all of this success and experience he is in the perfect position to help new, up and coming talent. He has his own Country Music Radio Show, and is the Patron of one of New South Wales' successful new Country Music Festivals each September in the Sydney suburb of Galston.
If the title of Franks latest album for ABC/EMI sums up this great man's passion for music, "The Fire Still Burns" is a tribute to the staying power of a man now living and singing in his sixth decade.
I had the opportunity to meet up with Frank one sunny afternoon while in Australia to attend this years Tamworth Country Music Festival. As a matter of fact, Frank is living only a couple of suburbs away form my Aussie partner's home, so it was a relaxing visit in the front lounge as we started the interview. The funny thing was that Frank was first off the mark to remind me that some of his first musical influences were Canadians. Hank Snow, Wilf Carter and Orval Prophet were at the top of his list followed by Americans, such as Roy Rogers and Eddy Arnold.
I asked Frank about the new album and how, considering he wasn't a prolific songwriter but rather a interpreter of other peoples work, he goes about collecting the tracks for a new album after recording so many songs in his career. One of the best things about having a career that spans so many years are the multitude of connections you make with talented music people all around the world and this is the case with Frank. At sixty-two years of age and living at the far end of the world, he can still pick up the phone and call Nashville, London or Los Angeles to many of his oldest musical friends like Nashville singer-songwriter-producer Jack Clement. Even members of his bands through the years still keep in touch and offer recommendations as to what he should record. His current album is just that, a compilation of different sessions recorded in Nashville, London, and at home in Sydney.
To date the single release and track one from the album, "Hearts on Fire." a Eddie Rabbitt collaboration, scored radio play in the UK.
The Don Williams song, "Forgetting About You" has seen major radio play in Australia. There are no new covers of his old hits and none of the tracks were picked for commercial success. The album, as Frank says, is a bunch of songs that he loves to sing and so far the response has been delightful.
I asked Frank about how he feels singing songs like "I Remember You" considering how long it's been since he had the hit. Frank's take on it was simple and to the point, saying that one of his greatest thrills in his career is to still get requests for his oldies after thirty-eight years. Its in the remembering of songs that had an impact on one's life and to carry that musical imprint with someone for the remainder of their lives. Why shouldn't I be thrilled!" I asked Frank if he could pinpoint one decision he made about his career that turned into the opportunity of a lifetime, putting him as they say in the right place at the right time.
Frank told me that in the early sixties young musical Australians heads were turned towards the United states with the many Rock & Roll Stars and the bright lights of Broadway and the film industry of Hollywood. At the time Frank was an established young Australian recording artist and with the release of his recordings in the UK he was able to travel abroad and meet up with Record producer Norrie Paramor which eventually lead to Norrie becoming Franks producer. At the time, Norrie as having a lot of success with Cliff Richard and his band The Shadows. It was Norrie who collaborated with Frank on I Remember You.
Spending time in the UK recording and the success of his records, lead to National tours. However both Frank and Norrie had their sights set on success in America, but at the time Capitol Records in the USA were not interested in what the British mother company EMI had to offer and as history shows they turned down Frank Ifield and The Beatles and a variety of other British artists. Even England's top Pop star at the time Cliff Richard was considered by the Yanks as simply an Elvis clone and little or no real promotion was given to what the UK had to offer at that time.
Norrie, however, recommended that they try for a smaller independent label called Vee Jay Records who seemed to be excited with Franks sound, Vee Jay released "I Remember You" and it hit the number four spot on the American National charts. At the same time Vee Jay had signed the other act that Capitol had taken a pass on The Beatles. With the success of Frank's singles in the USA and only light success with the Beatles records on American radio, Vee Jay decided to take the two acts and place them on a single album release. The album was titled "Jolly What" (England's greatest recording stars), "The Beatles and Frank Ifield."
The album cover featured an artist's drawing of a rather ship English gentleman with a Beatles Hair cut and a handle-bar mustache. Later on that same year Vee Jay released the same album but with a new cover, this time an artist's drawing of the Beatles in their trademark collarless suits. The point is, this album contained only four Beatles tracks and eight of Frank's hit sides, yet today both versions of the original pressings are the most prized and valued British Invasion collectibles.
So in many ways Frank's success in the United States was used to sell the Beatles to America and Frank's best career decision was to make his way to America via Britain. This young Australian, who's dream was to become a Country Music Singer was in the right spot at the right time as the British Invasion took birth and slowly swept around the world becoming a Musical and Cultural Phenomena.
Franks first love was to sing and be a entertainer but he had no idea where this love would take him. As it turns out it has taken him on the ride of his life. It was a pleasure finally meeting up with Australia's country gentleman in person. I am left with the impression of an artist who has grown older , but in essence still remains the same charming, blonde, Australian lad with humble beginnings, who is still living his dreams thirty-eight years later. The love he has for singing runs deep inside his heart and there is no doubt that The Fire Still Burns.
A Juno Award winning musician, Richard Patterson performed with Tom Rush and "Three's a Crowd," among other recording and touring acts. He lived in Ottawa.
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