|MILESAGO: Australasian Music & Popular Culture 1964-1975
|Agents, Managers & Promoters
LEE GORDON'Legendary' is the perfect description for Lee Gordon. Although he is generally considered one of the founding figures of the modern Australian entertainment industry, the man behind the myth remains elusive. Most books on Australian popular music mention him, but virtually all these texts contain varying mixtures of contradictory information and unsubstantiated claims, and a major complication for potential biographers is that Gordon habitually told tall tales about his career and evidently often gave out false information about himself.
In the decade from 1953 to 1963, Lee Gordon's combination of "style, ego and limitless enthusiasm"1transformed the staid Australian music scene and helped to lay the foundations of the modern Australian music industry. He played a pivotal role in establishing Australia as a destination for international concert tours, his now legendary "Big Show" tours played a major part in promoting local Australian rock'n'roll performers, and his patronage was crucial in launching the career of Australia's first and biggest rock'n'roll star, Johnny O'Keefe. Gordon exerted a huge influence on the direction of Australian jazz and pop/rock music through his tour promotions -- the tours that he promoted during this period, especially his legendary Big Show rock'n'roll tours, brought out most of the biggest American rock stars at the height of their fame, including Bill Haley & The Comets, Little Richard, Jerry Lee Lewis, Chuck Berry and the only Australian tour by Buddy Holly & The Crickets.
Gordon also founded the Leedon Records, a label which played an important part in the business and history of Festival Records, and which launched the career of The Bee Gees.
By Gordon's own account, the tours he
promoted brought some 472
American performers to Australia. In most cases it was the first time
artists had visited the country. Except for a few restricted visits during World War II, none
of the top names in American jazz and popular music had ever toured Australia, largely
because of Australia's punitive taxation laws and because of racist
restrictions that had
been imposed by the Australian Musicians' Union in the early 1930s.
Gordon's Big Show tours were particularly significant because they were the first to feature leading African-American jazz, R&B and rock'n'roll stars performing alongside 'white' artists. This broke new ground in Australia because, as jazz historian Andrew Bissett noted, the selective application of the White Australia Policy, along with pressure from the Musicians' Union, had prevented African-American jazz artists from touring Australia since the late 1920s. From the late 1920s to the early 1950s, Australian audiences had very limited exposure to American jazz. Because the local recording industry was dominated by the British company EMI, many important American recordings were never released locally, and those that did get an Australian release were often not issued for months or even years after their US release.