"Australia's Greatest Voice." The Melbourne Herald Sun
Doug Parkinson may look like the devil with his large frame and that goatee, but when he opens it up his voice is sweet and soulful, resonating in a way that few of his contemporaries can match.
Parkinson began singing while still at school and his first band Strings and Things, formed with the children of legendary test cricketer Sid Barnes, made a minor impact around Sydney in 1966. By 1967 however he had teamed up with some of Sydney’s best musical minds to form The Questions and began exploring the outer regions of psychedelic rock. Their first recordings established them as one of the more innovative and interesting acts in a rapidly evolving scene.
In 1967 the band supported The Who, Small Faces tour nationally and were placed second in the finals of the prestigious Hoadleys Battle of the Sounds. This led to appearances in Melbourne and this is where the story really begins.
A year later he formed Doug Parkinson in Focus which was the musician’s musicians outfit of the time. The band would later prove to be a benchmark in Australian rock folklore.
With this group he recorded the Beatles’ Dear Prudence in 1969 and it topped the charts. Parkinson re-interpreted this masterpiece and made it his own. He followed it up with another spectacular chart topper Without You. The same year they won Hoadleys Battle of the Sounds and played to sell out shows around the country. In Focus recorded a third single Baby Blue Eyes which immediately entered the charts but the single died soon after, a casualty of the notorious Record Ban which denied Australian artists airplay.
In 1970 he moved to London with a new band Fanny Adams and recorded an album but returned a year later and formed a new In Focus. They packed the clubs and festivals but were kept out of the studio due to contractual restraints.
After a two year hard slog with no prospects of recording he made a major decision and went solo. In 1973 Doug took on his first major stage role in the concert production of the Who’s rock opera Tommy. He recorded an album No Regrets. He was involved in a media storm over a political commercial. More touring, this time as a solo performer. A lonely existence. But other roles beckoned.
1975-1976 he appeared in two shows Sgt Peppers Lonely Hearts Club Band and Ned Kelly. A steady stream of music and theatre followed. He collaborated and recorded two tracks for the cult film Stone and had another top ten hit with Everlasting Love.
In 1978 he teamed up again with old friend Duncan McGuire to form the Southern Star Band. Once again it was a band made in heaven. The group included guitar whiz Tommy Emmanuel, drum prodigy Mark Kennedy and pianist Frank EslerSmith, who later went on to record and arrange the lush string arrangements for Air Supply. They recorded the album I’ll Be Around which produced two top 10 hits The Hungry Years and I’ll Be Around. The following year they supported Bob Marley and the Wailers on what was to be the legendary singer’s last tour.
More touring in 1979-80 and Parkinson’s first appearance as an actor in the Young Doctors television series.
In 1981 he recorded a solo album Heartbeat to Heartbeat which produced another top 10 hit The Sun Ain’t Gonna Shine Anymore with vocalist Broderick Smith.
The early 80’s saw Parkinson star in the role of Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar. The production toured Australia for 12 months to rave reviews before final performances in Singapore and Hong Kong.
His distinctive voice was also in demand in the advertising world. He recorded packages for Coke (which won an international award), BHP, Toyota, Carlton United Breweries, Sanyo, Philips and a host of other corporate giants. He was the voice on packages for radio stations 2SM, 3AK, 3UZ, 5AD, 4MMM, 6PM and the 0-10 television network. During his career Doug has appeared alongside many International stars including The Who, The Small Faces, Paul Jones, The Four Tops, The Temptations, The Pointer Sisters, Thelma Huston, Bob Marley and The Wailers, and Randy Crawford.
In 1985 acting roles in the tele-movies The Body Business, Butterfly Island and Watch the Shadows Dance.
He starred in the Kinsellas production Soulman in 1986 which toured nationally and in 1987 co-wrote the score for the surfing film Wind Warriors as well as co-writing the theme song Willing and Able for the 9 network series of the same name.
1988 and another collaboration with Kinsellas, the Motown Story. He produced and starred in Destination Moon a glittering tribute to the big band era which debuted at World Expo 88 in Brisbane. He was showcased at the Fosters Grand Prix Ball in Adelaide the same year and performed a season of Soulman at the Sydney Hilton.
In 1989 Parkinson cemented his reputation as an exceptional actor/singer by landing the role of Pap Finn in the lavish hit musical Big River. The production ran for 18 months.
1991 and Parkinson shines as The Big Bopper in the smash hit musical Buddy. The show becomes the box office phenomenon of its time and Doug’s rendition of Chantilly Lace evolves into a showstopper. During this period he somehow finds the time to appear as the Barrister in Mike Batt’s musical The Hunting of the Snark.
In 1994 Parkinson produced, directed and starred in the The Original Stars of Buddy in Concert. Due to unprecedented success the production toured capital cities and major regional centres for the next three years. In 1995 he recorded the theme song for Australia’s Wallabies competing in the Rugby World Cup in South Africa.
1997 and Rock historian Glenn A. Baker released a definitive anthology CD entitled Doug Parkinson-In and Out of Focus.
Digitally re-mastered from the original recordings and taking more than two years to collate, the CD re-captured the very essence that has made Doug Parkinson one of the key players in Australian rock music.
Parkinson secured the role of Vince Fontaine in the 1998 production of Grease-The Arena Spectular. Together with fellow luminaries Anthony Warlow, Craig McLachlan, Glen Shorrock and Danni Minogue, this unique theatrical event re-defined the phrase box office smash grossing more than fifty million dollars.
In 1999, hot on the heels of Grease he appeared in Happy Days-The Mega Arena Spectacular. As Big Al Delvechio, Doug stopped the show night after night with his rendition of Unchained Melody. The song was a standout in the live cast recording which included performances by Max Gillies, Wendy Hughes, Human Nature, Jon Stevens, Craig McLachlan, Rebecca Gibney, Jobeth Taylor and Tom Bosley.
2000 and more touring. The same year he was asked to put together a retrospective cabaret show. It was his first attempt at this up close and personal format and was a sellout success in Melbourne on two occasions.
An incredible opportunity then presented itself. In 2001 he auditioned for and won the role of the Cowardly Lion in the multi million dollar production of The Wizard Of Oz. His became a celebrated performance and together with Bert Newton, Nikki Webster, Pamela Rabe and Phillip Gould, and directed by the legendary Nancye Hayes, the show ran for thirteen months despite considerable economic hardship caused by the worst drought in 100 years
After more than thirty years in the industry Parkinson was then rewarded with recognition he never expected or sought. At the prestigious Mo Awards he was voted Classic Rock Performer of the Year for 2001. It happened again the following year. More Wizard of Oz. Sydney. Melbourne. Brisbane. In 2004 he won his third Mo Award, this time as Contemporary Rock Act of the Year.
2003 and a phone call to the Producers saw Parkinson on the regional tour of A Long Way To The Top a journey from Hobart to Cairns and all points in between. A long journey but definitely not the last.
In 2004 Doug rekindled the passion to record again. His first album after a hiatus of many years became a reality with the help of Sydney stellar musicans Gordon Rytmeister drums, Leon Gaer - bass, Bill Risby - piano and David Longo - guitar. Doug recorded songs he recalls hearing and loving as a boy laying awake and glued to his bedroom radio somewhere after midnight.
The result a beautiful selection of standards sung by a man with an amazing gift we have all grown up with and loved for over four decades.
One of the truly versatile talents in Australian music, Doug Parkinson is happiest in front of an audience. Either starring in a hit musical or singing a bluesy soul tune backed by a pack of horns and a crack rhythm section, the fact remains that for four decades he has been Australia’s pre-eminent voice amongst the musical community.