Dragon is a New Zealand rock band which was formed in January 1972 and relocated later to Sydney, in May 1975. The band was originally fronted by singer Marc Hunter and is currently led by his brother, bass player/vocalist Todd Hunter. The group performed, and released material, under the name Hunter in Europe and the United States during 1987.
|Also known as||Hunter|
|Origin||Auckland, New Zealand|
|Years active||1972–1979, 1982–1998, 2006–present|
|Labels||Vertigo, CBS, Portrait, Polydor, RCA, J & B, Liberation Music|
|Associated acts||Todd Rundgren, Mammal, XL Capris, XTC|
Keyboard player Paul Hewson wrote or co-wrote most of the group's 1970s hits: "April Sun in Cuba" peaked at No. 2 on the 1977 Australian singles chart; "Are You Old Enough?" reached No. 1 in 1978; and "Still in Love with You" reached No. 15 also in 1978. Later hits, from when the band re-grouped in the 1980s, were written by other band members, often working with outside associates: The Hunter brothers, with Todd's partner, Johanna Pigott, wrote "Rain," a No. 2 hit in 1983, while other, more minor hits were written by the Hunters and/or Alan Mansfield, frequently in collaboration with any combination of Pigott, Mansfield's partner Sharon O'Neill, Marc Hunter's partner Wendy Hunter, or producers Todd Rundgren and David Hirschfelder.
The name Dragon came from a consultation of I Ching cards by early band vocalist Graeme Collins.
Dragon has endured tragedy, adversity and notoriety, and during the course of the band's earlier career, several members died from drug-related causes. Problems began soon after the band members’ arrival in Sydney in late 1975, when all their equipment was stolen. Several months later, in 1976, drummer Neil Storey died of a heroin overdose; Paul Hewson of a drug overdose in 1985 and Marc Hunter of smoking-related oesophageal cancer in 1998. Several members of the group including Hewson and Marc Hunter were heavy heroin users during the band's heyday, and The Stewart Royal Commission (1980–1983) which investigated the Mr. Asia drug syndicate obtained evidence that Dragon members were clients. Two members were involved in a serious car crash in 1977, where Paul Hewson's neck was in a brace as well as having a broken arm and Robert Taylor needed plastic surgery, and Hewson also suffered from debilitating scoliosis and arthritis, the pain of which reportedly contributed to his heroin use. The band also undertook a famously disastrous 1978 tour of the USA, supporting Johnny Winter, which ended when Marc Hunter abused the Texan audience as "faggots" and the band were pelted off stage, while Winter's band were said to have taken bets about how long it would be before Hunter was shot. On 1 July 2008, the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) recognised Dragon's iconic status when they were inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame.
1972–1975: Early years in New Zealand
Dragon formed in Auckland, New Zealand, in January 1972 with a line-up that featured Todd Hunter on bass guitar, guitarist Ray Goodwin, drummer Neil Reynolds and singer/pianist Graeme Collins. All had been in various short-lived bands in Auckland, Collins is credited with using I Ching to provide the name Dragon. Their first major gig was an appearance at The Great Ngaruawahia Music Festival in early January 1973. By 1974 several personnel changes had occurred, with Todd Hunter's younger brother Marc Hunter joining on vocals and Neil Storey on drums. The band recorded two progressive rock albums in their native New Zealand, Universal Radio in 1974 and Scented Gardens for the Blind in 1975 both on Vertigo Records. Despite being New Zealand's top live attraction by late 1974, neither albums nor related singles had any local chart success, and they recruited Robert Taylor (ex-Mammal) on guitar as they searched for a raunchier pop sound. By early 1975, manager Graeme Nesbitt (ex-Mammal), who had obtained regular gigs and organised their first New Zealand tours, felt they should tackle the larger Australian market. Nesbitt was unable to travel with them to Australia – he had been arrested for selling drugs.
1975–1979: Australasian stardom
Dragon relocated to Sydney in May 1975, and toured Australia as support act to Status Quo in October. They recorded one single for Polygram ("Starkissed") but it was not successful. The band then sent for keyboard player Paul Hewson (no relation to Bono, frontman of Irish rock band U2) who had a reputation, in New Zealand, as a pop songwriter. Hewson had been scouted by Nesbitt when Dragon were still in New Zealand but had declined to join at that time. The group had originally intended to go to Canada, but opted to stay in Australia, settling to Bondi in late 1975, where they secured a residency at the Bondi Lifesaver club,. On the recommendation of fellow NZ expatriate Mike Rudd, CBS house producer Peter Dawkins went to see the group at the Recovery Wine Bar in Camperdown, Sydney in early 1976 and he was so impressed by their performance and Hewson's material that he immediately signed them to a contract with CBS Records Often courting or creating controversy, the band was rocked by the heroin overdose death of drummer Neil Storey in September 1976, aged 22. By then, founding member Ray Goodwin had left the group, and their single "This Time" had begun charting.
Dragon considered disbanding after Storey's death, but Todd Hunter consulted with Nesbitt who advised him to continue and organised for Kerry Jacobson (ex-Mammal) to join on drums. Between 1977 and 1979, the classic Dragon lineup – the Hunter brothers, Taylor, Hewson and Jacobson – had a string of major hits on the Australian charts with singles "April Sun in Cuba", "Are You Old Enough?" and "Still in Love with You" and albums Sunshine, Running Free and O Zambezi. These releases, and their dynamic concert performances, made them one of Australia's most popular rock acts. They attempted a breakthrough into the American market with a tour supporting Johnny Winter, starting in November 1978, but this was foiled after a disastrous show in Dallas, Texas, at which Marc Hunter incited a crowd by suggesting all Texans were "faggots": band members had to dodge flying beer bottles.
In 1994, Marc Hunter related his version of the Texas show to rock journalist Glenn A. Baker:
"I remember seeing someone standing holding a pistol and shouting 'I'm gonna kill you, you son of a bitch'... I didn't know it but by this point the rest of the band had left the stage. I was still singing because I could still hear the music in my head. It took ages to clear the pile of debris on the stage – broken glass, bottles, chairs, half a table – but I was totally unaware of this, I thought I was going over really well and I'm standing there in a crucifixion pose with my arms out, really gone, with heaps of eye make-up on, looking like some sort of twisted priest. And apparently Johnny Winter was taking bets on the side of the stage as to how long it would take before somebody shot me. Then I turned around and saw no one was on stage so I realised I wasn't going over too well after all and I went back to the dressing room and everyone was just standing there... I said 'We went great, weren't we terrific?' At that stage of the band I was really a shocking sod. And all the record company people were just staring at me like I was an insectoid from Mars. And so that was it for us for that trip to America."— Marc Hunter, 1994
In their Seventies heyday Dragon were regulars on the teen-oriented national TV pop show Countdown, which greatly enhanced their sales and popularity, and Marc Hunter hosted the show on several occasions, but the band's darker side, and especially Marc's unpredictable stage behaviour, were often in evidence at their live performances. Singer and actress Jane Clifton (who played Margo Gaffney in Prisoner) relates a time when she saw them live:
"I would see him do the most unspeakable things on stage. One night at Dallas Brooks Hall they had some long song about someone going down by the riverside and getting raped or something. He got some girl out of the audience, had her on her back and he was doing this whole rave to her. He had a bottle of champagne which he proceeded to spew from his mouth all over her. I thought: I don't believe this person is letting this happen to her."— Jane Clifton, 1993
Soon after returning to Sydney from the USA, Marc Hunter was sacked from Dragon in February 1979 due to his drug and alcohol use, which was seriously affecting both his vocal performances and his general health. According to Todd Hunter:
"Things like Dallas happened all the time... Most of the time I wasn't drinking or anything and, from my perspective, this Fall of the Roman Empire thing was pretty wild. I hated a lot of it. People came along because they wanted to see Dragon decombust. They were enjoying it but Marc was just killing himself. We had to fire him or he'd have destroyed himself."— Todd Hunter, 1994
To replace Marc, the band recruited singer Billy Rogers formerly of Perth group Last Chance Cafe and violinist Richard Lee from Melbourne band Sidewinder, and Dragon recorded the commercially unsuccessful Power Play LP before breaking up in December 1979.
1979–1982: First split
Marc Hunter cleaned up in the post-Dragon years and released two successful solo singles, "Island Nights" (1979) from Fiji Bitter and "Big City Talk" (1981) from Big City Talk. "Big City Talk"'s video was filmed in the Broadway Tunnel, a long and dreary pedestrian walkway linking Sydney's Central Station with Broadway. It captured the seedy and unsettling atmosphere of the tunnel, adding extra mood to the song's words.
Todd Hunter had meanwhile teamed up with his domestic partner (and later second wife) Johanna Pigott, formerly of indie punk group XL Capris, who later fronted the alternative rock band, Scribble. Together they became a successful songwriting team, with credits including the John Farnham hit "Age of Reason". XL Capris were not commercially successful, although their memorable re-working of crooner Tommy Leonetti's "My City Of Sydney" became a minor cult classic. Todd Hunter produced both their albums Where's Hank? (March 1981) and Weeds (October 1981), and was a member of the band for the second.
Paul Hewson moved back to Auckland and joined The Pink Flamingos, who became one of New Zealand's top musical acts in the early 1980s. They were led by Dave McArtney ex-Hello Sailor, which had toured with Dragon but had also split.
Dragon reformed in August 1982 to pay off outstanding debts, not long after Kerry Jacobson left the band for health reasons. He was replaced by noted British drummer Terry Chambers, formerly of XTC,. Chambers, who quit XTC in 1983 after they were forced to stop touring (due to leader Andy Partridge's debilitating stage fright), had married his Australian girlfriend and settled in Newcastle, New South Wales. Dragon decided to stay together when their second comeback single, "Rain", proved to be a No. 2 hit in 1983, American keyboard player and Dragon's producer Alan Mansfield also joined. Mansfield had worked for Robert Palmer (including guitar for the "Johnny and Mary" single from Palmer's album Clues) and Bette Midler in the late 1970s, by 1982 Mansfield was living in Sydney and produced tracks for Marc Hunter. Marc Hunter convinced Mansfield to also produce Dragon's single "Rain".
Dragon's 1984 album Body and the Beat became one of the biggest-selling albums in Australia and New Zealand; they were restored to something close to their late 1970s glory. Their public profile was further raised by Marc Hunter's solo album, Communication. Its title track became a moderate hit in Australia and featured a loosely cabaret-oriented video-clip filmed in Amsterdam in which Marc – resplendent in a bright red cowboy hat – was flanked by two women who also danced away under red Stetsons. Body and the Beat yielded further successful Australasian singles, notably "Magic" and "Cry", but the 'new' Dragon and the ascendancy of the Hunter-Piggot team also marked the rapidly declining influence of the band's former songwriting powerhouse, Paul Hewson, who only managed one co-writing credit on the album. Mansfield and New Zealand-born singer-songwriter Sharon O'Neill met on Dragon's Body and the Beat tour: they later became domestic and professional partners.
Paul Hewson left Dragon in late 1984, and returned to New Zealand, where he died of an accidental drug overdose on 9 January 1985. During 1984 Hewson had shared an apartment in Elizabeth Bay, Sydney, with singer-songwriter Paul Kelly, who had recently arrived from Melbourne, and was trying to relaunch his career. He and Hewson became close friends. In May 1985, four months after Hewson's death, Kelly released his breakthrough solo album Post, which dealt extensively with themes of addiction, and which he dedicated to Hewson's memory. Terry Chambers and Robert Taylor left some time after. Dragon performed three songs for 13 July 1985 Oz for Africa concert (part of the global Live Aid program) – "Speak No Evil", "Rain" and "Are You Old Enough?"; which was broadcast in Australia (on both Seven Network and Nine Network) and on MTV in the US. American drummer Doane Perry replaced Chambers, and Taylor was eventually succeeded by local Sydney guitar ace Tommy Emmanuel. This line-up went to America to record the Todd Rundgren-produced Dreams of Ordinary Men album in 1986 and toured Europe with Tina Turner under the name Hunter in 1987. By this time Mansfield was writing with O'Neill; they wrote "Western Girls" for Dreams of Ordinary Men and then three tracks for her 1987 solo album Danced in the Fire.
Dragon briefly split up in 1988 but the Hunter brothers and Mansfield then regrouped with guitarist Randall Waller and drummer Barton Price (ex-Models) for the Bondi Road album released in April 1989 on RCA, it also featured Emmanuel's guitar work. Bondi Road reached No. 18 on the Australian albums charts and the single "Young Years" written by Mansfield and O'Neill also reach No. 18. The pair had written two other tracks: "Ice in this Town" and "Good Time Girl". Dragon continued to record and tour with varying line-ups centered around the Hunter brothers and Mansfield. They also supported Elton John for his 1990 Australian tour. Todd Hunter worked on Heartbreak High (TV series) from 1994 for six years as Music Composer, he retired from Dragon in 1995 after the release of Incarnations.
Dragon continued on without Todd Hunter. Then, in November 1997, Marc Hunter was diagnosed with severe oesophageal cancer and died on 17 July 1998. A memorial service for him was held at St. Andrew's Cathedral in Sydney, followed by an all-star benefit concert to raise money to support Marc's widow and child. A compilation CD Forever Young was released on Raven Records, highlighting his solo career.
1997–2006: Second split
Dragon broke up a second time after Marc Hunter's illness had been diagnosed. Todd Hunter continued composing music for TV and film with Heartbreak High to 1999, Walk the Talk (2000 film), Out There (2003 TV series) and Out of the Blue (2008 BBC-TV series). Mansfield and O'Neill continued songwriting including "True Love" co-written with Robert Palmer for his 1999 album Rhythm and Blues. They both performed with Leo Sayer during his tours in 2006 and 2007, O'Neill would sing "Young Years" in honour of Marc Hunter.
2006–present: ARIA Hall of Fame & Mark Williams years
Todd Hunter (bass) reformed Dragon in 2006 with a line-up of Mark Williams (vocals, guitar), Bruce Reid (guitar), and Pete Drummond (drums). The new line-up released Sunshine to Rain on the Liberation Blue label.
Dragon's performance featured Ian Moss and James Reyne on vocals, alongside founding member Todd Hunter. During a fiery version of "April Sun in Cuba", the late Dragon singer Marc Hunter was incorporated into the chorus via a stirring performance video shown on a huge screen behind the band. Reyne said: "I used to go and see Dragon play in the mid to late 1970s before I even had a proper band, so it's great to be able to do this. I'm a big Dragon fan, and did tours with them when Marc was alive, and I knew him quite well. He'd think this is a blast." According to Todd Hunter, Dragon has had, at last count, 35 members and umpteen reincarnations. "Well, Wikipedia says 35 members so far," he said. "We had a long break as a band, but we started doing acoustic shows a couple of years ago. But we couldn't be heard above the crowd because they were singing so loud, so now we're back doing electric shows."— 2 July 2008
In March 2009, Dragon released a number of previously unreleased material, including live albums.
In October 2009, Dragon released Happy I Am on Ozmo Records, distributed internationally by MGM Records.
In September 2011, Dragon released an EP titled Chase The Sun and in November, The Great Divide. The band continues to tour, including the Rhythm and Vines Festival in New Zealand in 2011, The 40th anniversary Tour, The Long Way to the Top, The Red Hot Summer Tour with Jimmy Barnes across 2012/13. A 2-CD set compilation was released in 2012 titled The Dragon Years – 40th Anniversary Collection which peaked at number 21 in New Zealand.
- Universal Radio (1974)
- Scented Gardens for the Blind (1975)
- Sunshine (1977)
- Running Free (1977)
- O Zambezi (1978)
- Power Play (1979)
- Body and the Beat (1984)
- Dreams of Ordinary Men (1986)
- Bondi Road (1989)
- Incarnations (1995)
- Sunshine to Rain (2006)
- Remembers (2009)
- Happy I Am (2009)
- It's All Too Beautiful (2011)
- Roses (2014)
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