Thursday, December 28, 2006

The Howard Morrison Quartet

A medley of old songs including "Smoke Gets In Your Eyes" and "Granada" by the Howard Morrison Quartet from New Zealand, recorded back in the 50's at the height of the skiffle boom.

Howard Morrison was born in 1936 in Rotorua, the son of Maori All Black Tem Morrison. In 1955 Howard started putting together vocal groups to entertain at Rugby Club socials in Rotorua. At that stage he had been working as a surveyor's chainman and later as a meter reader for the Tourist Department. He was also playing rugby on the back of the scrum for Waikite.

Music was strictly part-time and he had received a little experience, mainly at Te Aute College and in various Maori cultural groups, show bands and concert parties. At that stage he had dreams of becoming a professional entertainer. In 1956 he became a member of the successful Aotearoa Concert Party that toured Australia. On his return, while attending a family gathering, he heard a guitarist Gerry Merito and decided to put together a group with him and also roped in his brother Laurie and his cousin John. The group was called the Ohinemutu Quartet, but soon after they were renamed to the Howard Morrison Quartet. This became the beginning of the most distinguished Show Business career of any New Zealander permanently based there.

"The quartet began performing around Rotorua and before long bookings were coming in as word spread about this talented group. The group might never have strayed far from Rotorua had they not been spotted by Auckland entrepreneur Benny Levin in December 1957. He was putting together a group of artists to appear on his touring 'Pop Jamboree', and after seeing the boys at a talent quest, he signed them to be part of his show. He was so impressed with them that he started bringing them to Auckland to play at his venues there. With their reputation growing, Benny negotiated a recording contract with Eldred Stebbing at Zodiac.

The first release in 1958 was "There's Only One Of You"/"Big Man", available in both 78rpm and 45rpm format, as were three of the first four singles. The first wasn't a big seller, but the second, a Maori version of the tune "There's A Goldmine In The Sky", called "Hoki Mai" sold well. It was backed with "Po Karekare Ana" and also released in 1958, as were two more singles, "Haere Ra E Hine"/"Marama Pai" and "Marie"/"Deep Purple".

As tended to be the tradition at that time, Zodiac also released three four-track EP's in 1958. In 1959 Benny Levin took the Quartet on their first national tour, finishing with a full house at the Auckland Town Hall. It was at that show that Gerry Merito's parody of the Lonnie Donegan hit "The Battle Of New Orleans" was recorded as "The Battle Of The Waikato".

At one of their shows they were approached by another budding entrepreneur, Harry M Miller, who was looking for acts for his touring show. The Quartet didn't actually have a managerial contract with Benny Levin, so Harry signed them up and became their new manager. While he was at it, he also signed them up to his new La Gloria label. Meanwhile Zodiac released "Short Fat Fannie"/"Goodbye Baby" in 1959 and Stebbing was preparing to release his live version of "Battle Of Waikato", when Miller had the boys at his place doing a studio version of the same song. Miller was about to release his when Stebbing found out and the matter went to court. They were still contracted to Zodiac, so Miller was not allowed to release his version at this stage.

Zodiac released their version and it became one of their biggest hits. It was backed with a live recording of "Granada". The follow-up single was also a live double from the same concert, "Hawaiian Cowboy Song"/"Little Darlin' ". Zodiac only had one more song in their cupboard before the contract ran out, so they released it , "Because Of You" backed with the original "Hoki Mai".

As their new manager, Miller insisted that the boys become full-time professional. Laurie and John couldn't make that commitment, so two new members had to be found in a hurry. Howard persuaded Wi Wharekura and Noel Kingi from Rotorua to join him and Gerry, thus forming the best known Quartet combination."

Discover more about Howard Morrison HERE.

Howard Morrison Quartet - Short Fat Fanny

Howard Morrison Quartet - Marama Pai

Howard Morrison Quartet - Little Darlin'

Howard Morrison Quartet - Hawaiian Cowboy

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