Gordon Parsons

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Well-respected Australian country singer-songwriter and yodeller.
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b. 24 December 1926, Paddington suburb, Sydney, New South Wales, Australia, d. 17 August 1990. At the age of three the family relocated into the bush to Cooks Creek, where he grew up listening to the radio to break the monotony of the lonely area. He owned his first guitar at the age of 11 and, initially influenced by recordings he heard of Jimmie Rodgers, he was soon known around the area, especially at local dances, for his singing, yodelling and guitar playing. School held little attraction and he left home at 14, when he was offered a job cutting sleepers for the railroad. His father’s words to the employer’s invitation are reputed to have been: ‘You might as well take the mongrel - he’s no use here’ (he in fact became a skilled axeman, later winning several awards for his abilities). Gaining further influence from recordings of Wilf Carter and fellow Australians Tex Morton and Buddy Williams, he established a reputation as an entertainer. An appearance on a talent show led to him recording six sides for Regal Zonophone Records in May 1946. These included ‘Where The Bellinger River Flows’ and ‘The Passing of Cobber Jack’. He toured with Goldwyn Bros Circus, where he met and married Zelda Ashton of the Ashton Circus family (they eventually parted but their daughter, Gail, was born in 1949). He began to tour with various artists, including Slim Dusty and Tex Morton, but he was unable to maintain regular work for long periods. He loved the quiet life, and later saying, ‘I never could handle anything long and drawn out’, he disappeared from the music scene into the bush to write more songs - sometimes he worked on farms and on others he just ‘went fishing’.

During the 50s, Parsons made further recordings but he was never a prolific recording artist, in fact, his total recorded output seemingly only amounted to 21 singles and seven albums. Undoubtedly, the best-known song associated with him is ‘A Pub With No Beer’, which in 1957, became an international hit for his great friend Slim Dusty. There has been some contention over the years regarding the actual authorship of the song. Parsons had once been given some lines of verse and from them, he had written the song. It was later found that a poem by Dan Sheahan called ‘A Pub Without Beer’, which contained many similarities in the wording, had been printed in a 1944 newspaper. Dusty, who later became Sheahan’s friend and recorded several of his songs, has always maintained that Parsons had believed the lines that he had been given were from some anonymous work. Noted Australian writer Eric Watson summed up the controversy by saying that, in his opinion, Sheahan’s was the better poem, while Parsons’ was the better song. In any event, those who knew of Parsons’ fondness for beer later jokingly said that he not only wrote the song, he actually caused it. The song is in fact credited with being Australia’s only gold 78 although, surprisingly, it is not actually listed as a million-seller in Murrells’ The Book Of Golden Discs.

During the 60s, Parsons made further recordings, including his own version of ‘The Pub’ but his reluctance to maintain routine appearances disappointed his fans. He gradually withdrew from performing except for the occasional show and at one time worked as a warden of a wildlife sanctuary. He married for the third time in 1978 and relocated to Sydney, although he kept a caravan at a fishing place near Gosford, which offered him immediate escape from the humdrum of city life. In the 80s, he released three albums on the Selection label. Over the years, he has won several major awards for his contributions to Australian country music, including having his effigy in the wax museum at Tamworth. In 1982, he received the ultimate honour when he became only the seventh artist to be elected to the Country Music Roll Of Renown (Australia’s equivalent to Nashville’s Country Music Hall Of Fame). His songs have ranged from the comedy of ‘The Pub’, to the descriptive ballad ‘Ellenborough Falls’ and the sadness of ‘The Passing Of Cobber Jack’. Known affectionately as the Old GP or just plain Ned, he earned a reputation as a pioneer of Australian country music. Many would say that as a fine singer-songwriter and yodeller, he could have become as well known as any of his contemporaries, had he so wished. When asked why he did not make records he usually replied, ‘I dunno, Mate. I’d just as soon poke around the bush and split a few posts’ or ‘I’d rather be fishing than anything else’.