Wild Colonial Boys

Dr. Hook Wild Colonial Boys

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Doolan was his name (or was it?)
Of poor but honest parents, he was born near Castlemaine (which one?)
He was his father’s only son, and his mother’s pride and joy
So dearly did his parents love their wild colonial boy

Mum was a big fan of Dr. Hook as evidenced by adding their vinyl to her Frankie Laine collection. Her passions were fuelled by their regular appearances on a National television variety show hosted by the ‘Lanky Yank’ Don Lane that Mum viewed religiously. I think Sal also had a thing (physical attraction) for Dennis Locorriere. I can’t say that I was a big fan, but I loved their energy and theatrics. It wasn’t until they performed an acoustic version of an Australian (& Irish) folk song titled ‘The Wild Colonial Boy’ on The Don Lane Show that I was hooked.

I had goosebumps when I viewed their performance. Ron Haffkine, the bands producer manager had created a brilliant arrangement. Dennis strummed acoustic guitar with a capo high on the sixth fret. Rik Elswit was somewhere in the background also playing acoustic guitar. Dennis sang lead and Ray, sharing the the same microphone, added harmonies to the last line of each verse. A key modulation lifted the last three verses and it was sung with extreme passion and emotion. I had never heard this ballad played in such a fashion. I raced down to Brashs the very next day and purchased my first Dr. Hook single.

Only released in Australia (maybe Ireland as well) and on the back of their television performance, the song climbed the charts reaching number four in April of 1981. The tune was also available on some Australian pressings of the album Rising. As a youngster I had always had a connection to this folk song, maybe due to my Irish heritage through paternal grandfather Paddy, or it might have been due to my rebellious nature or just simply because of the Fitzroy reference (our families footy team).

Dr. Hook was discovered by Ron Haffkine either as a result of being sent a demo and/or by witnessing a performance at a bar in Union City, New Jersey named The Sands. Ron was the musical director for a movie at the time starring Dustin Hoffman ‘Who Is Harry Kellerman and Why Is He Saying Those Terrible Things About Me?’ A scene in the movie required a band on stage and Ron requested Dr Hook & The Medicine Show (as they were known then) to audition for the role.

Having passed the audition they recorded two Shel Silverstein tunes for the movie. Last Mornin’ became the theme – opening and closing the film in spectacular fashion. The other tune Bucky & Lucille was performed by the boys (and Shel Silverstein) on stage for the film and was recorded before a Grateful Dead Concert at the Fillmore East in September of 1970 with the patrons as extras. On the back of the film Dr. Hook were signed to CBS and never looked back, although in 1974 they had to file for bankruptcy.

Ray Sawyer (left) and Dennis Locorriere.

Australia had adopted the band and many of their greatest commercial successes were achieved in our country. I lost count of how many times they toured here – probably the same number as appearances on The Don Lane Show, which I think was five. Why they adopted our folk song I cannot be certain of, however Ron (Haffkine) was the musical director for the 1970 movie version of Ned Kelly starring Mick Jagger. It was on set that Mick sang a very different Wild Colonial Boy and perhaps this had been stored in Ron’s rich memory bank.

Well this hasn’t had much to do with the humble people’s instrument, although any Aussie harpist worth a pinch of salt would play a rendition. I have my own cross harp version with key change and vocals. Dennis was quite proficient on the snort organ and a few Dr. Hook tunes had a dash of harp. I’ll list several at the end of the article. One that does stand out was their second number one down under – a cover of Gus Cannon’s 1929 Walk Right In, which featured Noah Lewis’ fine harpin’. This version, however more closely resembled The Rooftop Singers arrangement of 1962.

I had believed it was Dennis who provided the distinctive notes, but I now believe it was Rob ‘Willard’ Henke. Rob had replaced Rik Elswit on guitar when Rik had been diagnosed with cancer. In the official video clip that sees the band performing live, it’s Willard blowing harp with a characteristic purr that’s quite different from Dennis’ playing.

Willard Wailing on ‘Walk Right In’

No credit is found for the harp playing and I couldn’t find any for Willard either. I contacted Dr. Hook’s (Dennis Locorriere) website and they replied, “Thanks for getting in touch! Whilst Dennis or a member of the team reads all emails received, we regret that it is not always possible to send personal replies.” I managed to locate Rik Elswit who responded thus, “I don’t know who played harp on that track. I wasn’t there at the time.” I thanked him for his short quick reply and asked politely if there was anyone he could put me onto who might know – no response has arrived to this point of time. Goose Creek Symphony have a website and, as Bob was a member, a message was fired off, but alas nothing has come back my way. I couldn’t find any other contacts via the World Wide Web – I’ll leave it up to you Riff Raffers to decide.

Now who then was Jack Doolan and in which Castlemaine was he born near – here in country Victoria or in County Kerry Ireland? Was he sixteen when he first began to roam and did it begin in 1861? All good questions. It is my belief that the folk song has merged a few bushranger identities over its evolution.

Castlemaine Township Victoria – 1895

John Doolan was born in Castlemaine, Victoria in 1856, but he didn’t begin to roam in 1861. Then there was John Donahue later known as Jack. Who was born in Dublin in 1806 and transported to the colonies in 1825 as a convict. Jack was surrounded three to one in 1830 and he refused to surrender. And what about the Irish version of the folk tune. Jack Duggan was his name and he came from Castlemaine in County Kerry.

As far as I can ascertain he never existed, however it was reported in The Australian Bulletin on the 25th March 1953 (as a follow up to an article published the previous month claiming John Donahue as the Wild Colonial Boy), “there was a Wild Colonial Boy named Dan Duggan born at Castlemaine in Eire who “immigrated” to Australia and who turned bushranger. The subject was threshed out in the Irish papers about three years ago. An old woman is still living who remembers him, though the house in which he was born has been demolished. People in neighboring villages told me that the Wild Colonial Boy was born in Castlemaine, where he is quite a legendary figure. Apparently the two have been confused, for even the rhythm and structure of the ballads are different.”

This writer also previously stated that “the late Jack Bradshaw (pictured left), self-styled “last of the Bushrangers” and who came in personal contact with quite a number of them, held that the Wild Colonial Boy, Jim Doolan, began his depredations in 1861, one of his most notorious acts being the sticking up of the Beechworth mail-coach and the robbing of Judge McEvoy.

These “I never bother arguing; I just tell the bird what to say.” Two outlaws operated in widely different areas and at different periods, which suggests that the song-title was tagged to the memory of various young desperadoes whose lawless deeds were outstanding enough to inspire admiration in song, the words of the jingle being altered to accommodate the name and birthplace of the departed hero. All had, however, one thing in common—a sticky end.”

There are suggestions Harry Power, a notorious bushranger, who was fifteen in 1870, is also a possible connection. I have heard it claimed that the Wild Colonial Boy was definitely John Donahue, but in those early Bush-ranging days in Australia you could be arrested for singing about actual people – so the name would have to be changed.

There was a wild colonial boy, Jack Doolan was his name
Of poor but honest parents, he was born near Castlemaine
He was his father’s only son, and his mother’s pride and joy
So dearly did his parents love their wild colonial boy

Barely sixteen years of age, he first began to roam
And found Australia’s sunny shores, and called it his true home
He robbed the wealthy squatters, their assets to destroy
A terror to the rich ones, was the wild colonial boy

Back in eighteen sixty one, began his wild career
With a head that knew no danger, and a heart that held no fear
He held the Mudgee mail coach up, and he shot Judge McEvoy
A curse to every copper was the wild colonial boy

Later on that very day, as Jack he rode along
Listening to the kookaburras, pleasant laughing song
He spied three mounted troopers, Kelly, Davis and Fitzroy
With a warrant for the capture of the wild colonial boy

“Surrender now, Jack Doolan, for you see we’re three to one
Surrender now in the Queen’s high name, or your living days are done”
Jack drew two pistols from his belt, and he waved them proud and high
“I’ll fight, but not surrender”, cried the wild colonial boy

Jack fired once at Kelly, brought him to the ground
Then turning round from Davis’ gun, received his mortal wound
A bullet pierced his proud young heart, from the pistol of Fitzroy
And that’s the way they captured him, the wild colonial boy
Yes that’s the way they captured him, the wild colonial boy

Cheers EssDawg

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Here is a list of Dr Hook tunes with harmonica (there might be others) :

  • Walk Right In
  • Dooley Jones
  • Bad Eye Bill
  • Roland the Roadie & Gertrude the Groupie
  • Stayin’ Song
  • I Call That True Love
  • Everybody Loves Me

Their Top 40 hits in Oz.

  • Sylvia’s Mother – #1, 1972
  • The Cover of the Rolling Stone – #32, 1972
  • The Millionaire – #8, 1975
  • Only Sixteen – #8, 1975
  • A Little Bit More – #10, 1976
  • Walk Right In – #1, 1977
  • Sharing The Night Together – #10, 1978
  • When You’re In Love With A Beautiful Woman – #20, 1979
  • Better Love Next Time – #24, 1979
  • Girls Can Get It – #3, 1980
  • The Wild Colonial Boy – #4, 1981
  • Baby Makes Her Blues Jeans Talk – #11, 1982 (Sexy Eyes reached #41)

I posted (many moons back) on my YouTube channel Dennis Locorriere performing on The Don Lane Show. You can view here https://youtu.be/arNy7npWWpw. It has been very popular with the ladies.

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