The Penny Rockets was an Adelaide based Rock 'n' Roll band that developed out of the big band era and was lead by guitarist Douglas Toll.
The band spanned a career of multiple decades in which they performed at many local venues and events including 'The Princeton Club’ dances and on radio. They backed 'The Four Tones' which included artists such as Lee Sellars, Rhett Walker and Ray O'Connor. The band had many line up changes during their career and many of these musicians are now deceased. The Penny Rockets is considered to be one of the first South Australian popular rock music acts.
The Penny Rockets were arguably Australia’s first Rock and Roll band and continued on in one form or another for about 40 years. They were there at “ground zero” during the significant cultural changes that occurred in the late fifties and early sixties and their music heralds the start and eventual end of a musical era. The band was formed in February of 1957. They were a six piece band with drums, sax, piano, bass, and guitar with a front man vocalist. The band name was derived from the nickname of the first singer Brian "Penny" Penglase often touted as Adelaide’s "Elvis".
The original line up consisted of accomplished Jazz musicians who had been encouraged to form a Rock and roll band by the then manager of newly formed Festival Records. He had prophetically predicted that this new style of music coming out of the States was going to be the next big thing. The rockets agreed and the band was born.Their fame rose quickly as local teenagers flocked to the only band in town that was playing the new "Big Beat" sound. They quickly progressed from playing the small local pubs and clubs to the more prestigious venues of the time such as the Princeston Club, The Palais (Semaphore and Hackney), The Burnside and Thebarton Town halls. They became the darlings of Adelaide society and no ball or society 21st was worth going to unless the Rockets had been booked.
From 1958 through to 1962 the band enjoyed significant success. They soon became the band of choice for visiting name acts like Johnny O’Keeffe, Little Pattie, Johnny Mac, The Deltones as well as many International acts, performing with the likes of Bill Haley and the Comets, Cliff Richards and the shadows, and Ertha Kitt, to name just a few. They were regulars on local radio shows like the Lux show and 5KA football show and often appeared on TV shows such as the locally produced Ernie Sigley show as well as national productions like Brian Henderson's Bandstand. They were even offered a movie contract for a proposed SA film Corp production about rock n roll, but it never managed to get off the ground.
In 1958 the band laid down their fist record which was a 45" EP (a first for its time) entitled Johnny-b-goode The title track was a cover of the Chuck Berry hit of the same name. One track on the "b" side I got a woman was an original song penned by the original guitarist Doug Toll with lyrics written by his then wife Joan.
In the early 1960s the band teamed up with a local quartet The four Tones and went on to record several more records. One single Walkout enjoyed moderate success in 1961, getting to number 25 in the national top 40 . Other hits included The Tennessee Stomp and Gondolier. The band was offered many lucrative deals and was frequently urged to move to the Eastern states where they were assured they would be very well received. They believed however, that the South Australian audience had given them their start and that they should stay loyal to them to the end. This was possibly, what many argue, a bad career move. The band broke up in 1965 deterred by the changing musical scene and the widening age gap between their audiences and themselves. Even the remaining original members O'Connor, Osborn and Toll left to pursue other musical projects.
In 1970 a decision was made to reform for a revival tour and although always very well received and able to command top dollar for an appearance, they failed to return to the success that they had enjoyed in the early sixties. Their appearances became less frequent and the Penny Rockets looked like fading into obscurity. Their demise was reprieved during the 80s however, and the amazing local love for the band was kept alive through a seemingly endless series of Rock n Roll nostalgia shows. Everyone in SA wanted the rockets again, possibly because in South Australian minds they were an icon of the times. The Penny Rockets enjoyed a final revival in the late 80s and early 90s. They had taken on a gig at the Festival Theatre in a new piano bar that had been created by centre management in an attempt to capitalise on the growing nightclub scene. It was called the FEZBAH and here the Rockets, now all well into their 60's, discovered a brand new audience much to their surprise and bemusement.
People young enough to be their children and in some cases grand children flocked to see them every time they played and the venue was always packed front to back. They regularly enjoyed double and sometimes triple encores and would regularly bring the house down with their personalised cover of the Mancini number Peter Gunn. Subsequently, they brought out a final album in 1989 entitled Almost Live At The FEZBAH. It contained 16 of their most popular numbers, but all are covers.
Sadly in 1989 the Rockets lost the first of their founding members with the untimely death of drummer John "slick" Osborne. Slick was popularly referred to as the "human metronome" and the "drummer's drummer". Slick was replaced by Col' Joys ex drummer Rex Blair. Slick was soon to be followed by guitarist Doug "pops" Toll who died in 1992. Doug had been the band leader for much of their 40 year career and had often jokingly stated that the only reason they kept him on was because he was the only one who knew where the money was. Frank Newlyn replaced Doug and stayed with the band until they finally ended some time around the turn of the century.
- Ray O'Connor - saxophone, vocals
- Bob Jeffery - Saxophone
- Ron Carson - double bass
- Brian Penglase - vocals
- Knobby Doug Clark - saxophone, flute
- Brian Davidge - bass
- John "Jazza" Hall - bass
- Vonnie Jay - vocals
- Lee Sellars - vocals
- Peter Knoblauch - vocals
- Garry Knoblauch - vocals
- John Tingey - vocals
- Leigh Tingey - vocals
- Douglas Toll - guitar
- Graham Shrader - piano
- John 'Slick' Osborn - drums
- John "splash" Drinkwater - saxophone
- Frank Newlyn - guitar
- Ted Spence - piano
- Terry MacDonald - bass
- Dave Funke - piano
- Allen Hewitt - piano
- Peter Havey - bass
- Rex Blair - drums
- Neville Dunn - piano