The 69'ers

The 69'ers

The 69'ers were a well known Australian rock/pop/jug/country band formed in Sydney in 1969. They released two albums and a number of singles. As well they toured extensively in Australia and appeared at the Sunbury Rock Festival in 1973 and 1974. They were known for their comedy, and for dressing up bizarrely on stage.

Early years

The 69'ers were originally formed as an acoustic jug band. Founding member Francis Butler (lead vocals, guitar, harmonica, kazoo) had previously been in a group called Lepers Profound for about a year. The first line-up, along with Francis, included bassist Alex Smith (later of rock band Bullett), washboard player Malcolm Billdream and guitarist Graham Coop. They first drew attention to themselves in a rock band contest in mid-1969. They placed in the contest, the "New Sounds of '69” and gained a contract to record with Martin Erdman, who ran the independent Du Monde label. By this time the band had acquired Paul Wylde on keyboard. They soon released their debut single, On the Road Again/Cup of Tea Take Three (On The Road Again was an Even Dozen Jug Band song, not the Canned Heat song of the same name)

1970 saw them as a trio, Francis Butler, Brian Bethell (bass, guitar, vocals) and Keith Longman (drums,vocals). With this line-up the band became a popular attraction in and around the Sydney area. In particular they attracted a large cult following playing in the "1066 Wine Bar" in Sydney northern beach side suburb of Collaroy.

The 69'ers Album

They issued a second single a year later, in December 1971, Morning Blues/Push Bike Hood. Both tracks had been taken from their debut album for Du Monde, "The 69’ers Album". This album was produced by Martin Erdman and included four band originals and a diverse range of covers. This album included session contributions from then visiting US well known country session player Buddy Emmons (steel guitar), jazz veteran Col Nolan (piano), Keith Harris (banjo) and later 69'ers members Peter Knox and Dave Ovendon. Peter Knox (bass) joined The 69’ers as a full-time member in 1971. He was already a veteran of inner city Sydney bands such as Red McKelvie's Third Union Band and the Original Batterea Heroes and added much to the band with his trademark longblack hair and Frank Zappa-ish looks. He also had a crazy sense of crude humor that suited the band ideally and he and Francis soon formed an excellent team out front.

The 69'ers gained a good reputation for their ability to entertain in the local Sydney pub & wine bar scene. However the band soon gained a reputation in a wider field for entertaining the large crowds at large open air rock festivals around Sydney namely the Odyssey festival at Wallacia (near Sydney) in January 1971 and at the Bungool Festival of Music, near Windsor,which was held over the 1972-1973 New Year weekend. Following these successes, The 69'ers reputation made became known as a must for rock festivals. They also began regularly touring to Melbourne, Adelaide and Perth working the dance and pub circuits in those cities.

unbury 1973 Rock Festival Success

The band's third single, a cover of the Ray Davies song Harry Rag came out in August 1972 (this was also from the album). Dave Ovendon (drums) had joined by this time and, with their former bass player, Brian Bethell rejoining on lead guitar, this made them a four piece line-up of Butler, Bethell, Knox and Ovendon. This line-up played a much applauded set at the second annual Sunbury festival in January 1973. Their closing song, Harry Rag, had by then become their trade mark song although they never charted with it. In fact wherever the band played their was always a call from the crowd to "Play Harry Rag!". Following this performance the Melbourne Truth newspaper ran an article sdescribing them as the Clown Princes of Sunbury with the article entitled "Are they obscene?" and ran a competition asking if readers thought they were indeed, obscene. The live version of Harry Rag appeared on the Mushroom compilation triple live album, The Great Australian Rock Festival Sunbury 1973 (April 1973) and they re-recorded version of Harry Rag (recorded with the latter line-up by John French at TCS Studios, Melbourne) later that month.

The Split

In April 1973 Brian Bethell, Peter Knox and Dave Ovendon removed founding member & leader Francis Butler from the band and, adding guitarist Tony Burkys (ex Original Battersea Heroes), renamed themselves "Peter Knox's New Improved 69ers". Francis Butler responded by forming another version of The 69'ers, which initially operated under the name of Francis Butler's Original 69’ers. This line-up was mde up of Ray Ferguson (guitar, vocals, flute, kazoo; ex-Samael Lilith), Terry Stacey (bass, vocals, kazoo; ex-Wildwood, Afrika) and Peter Jarman (drums; ex UK Flowerpot Men, Denny Laine). Drummer John `Ernie' McInerney (ex Foreday Riders, Company Caine) replaced Peter Jarman in November 1973.

The two bands had somewhat diversified styles. Both retained an image for crazy & often crude humor,however Francis' version stuck more to their original jug-band style with more country & rock influences, Francis utilising the chiming sounds of his Rickenbacker 12-string guitar in the country tinged songs. Francis was a prolific songwriter too although his recorded output did not reflect it, so the band performed many originals, the majority written by him. Peter Knox's version had a more jazz-orientated style doing revivals of 1920's to 1950's swing and doo-wop songs and jazz classics together with many of the bands old favourites.

By October 1973 the Francis Butler line-up had reverted to the name of just The 69’ers, while Peter Knox's 69’ers had changed their name to Omnibus, then a month later again to Locoweed, eventually breaking up in early 1974.

unbury '74

In January 1974, The 69'ers, led by Francis Butler with Ray Ferguson, Terry Stacey, Clive Wharton & Ernie McInerney performed at Sunbury '74. Francis headed out into the 30,000 strong crowd to croon I'm Confessin" (That I Love You) personally to them via a 100 metre mic cord. They were encored by the audience as they had been in 1973, playing of course, the obligatory Harry Rag. To climax their act they had a cream pie fight where all and sundry were splattered, themselves, compere Molly Meldrum roadies, sound crew and assorted others.

A live album called simply "Francis Butler's 69’ers Live", was released around this time. Recorded at Sunbury '73 with the Butler, Knox, Bethell and Ovenden lineup the album cover only featured Francis photo and there were no lineup credits.  It had Harry Rag on it again, of course and so in all Harry Rag was released on vinyl six times in three versions, including one on a compilation album. Unfortunately this did not translate into chart success and they always remained a popular "cult" band. Their two albums provide a good example their repertoire however. Terry Stacey left shortly after their success at Sunbury. He was immediately replaced by Peter Knox, who only stayed for three months.

Last Lineup

Later that yeart the band issued its last single, Flash / Back Seat Drivin' on the independent Earth label. From then on the band faded from the limelight although still working regularly around Sydney and doing country NSW gigs. In Dec 1975 their roadie died in a fire in Kings Cross, some "friends" ripped them off by running up costly petrol bills at the band's expense doing outside jobs in the bands truck and the band's rented truck was seriously damaged. The final lineup was Francis Butler (vocals, guitar), Ian Cameron (guitar), Tom Callaghan (drums) and Lindsay Osborne (bass). They finally broke up in February 1976.


45 rpm Singles

* On the Road / Cup of Tea Take Three - 1970
* Morning Blues / Push Bike Hood - 1971
* Harry Rag / Happiness is Just for Me -1972
* Harry Rag/Blood Flash/Rag Mama - 1973
* Flash / Back Seat Drivin' - 1974

33 rpm Albums

* "The 69er's Album" - 1971
* "Francis Butlers 69er's Live" - 1974
* "The Great Australian Rock Festival" (Compilation) - 1973 - Harry Rag (one track only)
* "So You Wanna Be a Rock'n Roll Star" - On The Road Again (one track only) - 1988

CD Compilations

* "The Great Australian Rock Festival" - Harry Rag (one track only)
* "So You Wanna Be a Rock'n Roll Star" - On The Road Again (one track only) - 1988
*"The Du Monde Years" - (2006) - (four tracks)- Go Back Home - Harry Rag - On The Road Again - Harry Rag (live)


* The Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop - Ian McFarlane - Allen & Unwin, Sydney - 1999 - ISBN 1 86508 072 1 - ISBN 1 86449 768 2

* The Who's Who of Australian Rock - Chris Spencer - Moonlight Pub. - ISBN 0 86788 668 4

*An Australian Rock Discography 1960-1989 - Chris Spencer - Moonlight Publishers - 1990 - ISBN 0 7316 8343 9

External links

* [ Milesago webpage]

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