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Remembering Joe Halford, legendary songwriter and music publisher

Story Published Wednesday 26 May 2021
Clockwise from top left: Joe Halford & Jay Justin; Joe and daughter Sue; Joe & Little Pattie, Joe with his 3UZ Golden Sound Award

Longtime APRA writer member and publisher Joe Halford played a major role in contemporary Australian music, and we were saddened to hear of his recent passing. Joe crafted popular hits by Little Pattie, Buster Noble, Patsy Ann (Trisha) Noble, collaborated extensively with Jay Justin, and made landmark publishing deals in the Australian market.

Joe joined APRA as a writer in 1957 and his publishing company Halford Music became a member in 1966. He championed songwriters and music publishers throughout his career.

Joe was born in Liverpool in 1929 into a musical household. Still in his teens, he traveled the world as a merchant seaman, eventually landing in Fremantle and then heading to Sydney to pursue music. A fateful audition at EMI's offices led to an A&R role.

Joe's daughter Sue Halford, generously shared stories about her dad and his one-of-a-kind career.

How did your father get his start in music and songwriting?

Dad began his career in music by pitching his songs around Sydney in the late 1950s—knocking on doors and pounding the pavement—doing his best to get his music past the “gatekeepers” and to the artists of the day. Due to his ability to write both words and music, it didn’t take long for word to get out about a young songwriter from Liverpool, England, who was the new “Rogers and Hart” about town. In 1959, he captured the attention of John Sturman (former APRA Australia CEO) who was manager of EMI Australia’s record division. An original a capella song performed by Dad in John’s office was enough to convince him to sign Dad as an in-house producer and A&R manager at EMI where he was also given the opportunity to flex his songwriting prowess.

What are some of your dad’s proudest achievements as a songwriter, producer, publishing executive?

As both a songwriter and producer, I believe that Dad had many proud achievements. If I have to highlight a couple, launching the career of Little Pattie would have to be one of them.

In 1963, Dad spotted 14-year-old Patricia Amphlett singing at Bronte Surf Club with a band called The Statesman. After officially auditioning for him at EMI, he signed “Little Pattie” to a recording contract with EMI Records, co-writing with Jay Justin her double-sided No. 1 hit record in 1963 “He’s My Blonde Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy”/“Stompin’ at Maroubra,” which Dad also produced.

Another proud achievement as a songwriter/producer, ironically, would have to be “Proud of You,” another chart-topping hit (1962) that Dad co-wrote with Jay Justin as well as produced. The song received the 3UZ Golden Sound Award for best Australian record and song of 1963.

As a music publisher, Dad secured a number of major global sub-publishing catalogs for Australian territory throughout his career that I know was quite the achievement and he had to be proud of, including Dick James Music (Elton John); Acuff-Rose Music (Roy Orbison, The Everly Brothers); Coalminer’s Music Publishing (Loretta Lynn); and Owe-Par Publishing Company (Dolly Parton, Porter Wagoner).

Tell us a bit about the artists and songwriters your father worked with and some of those memorable hits he played a role in.

Throughout the 50s, 60s, 70s and 80s, Dad wrote for/produced/collaborated with a slew of artists, including Little Pattie, Jay Justin, Frank Ifield, Patsy Ann (Trisha) Noble, Buster Noble, Dave Bridge, The Sapphires, Grade Wicker, Bryan Davies, Noeleen Batley, Johnny Ashcroft, Peter Ciani, Peter Wright, Judy Stone, Reg Lindsay, the Bee Gees, Umberto Tozzi, Francis Lai and many more.

Another notable 60s hit was Jay Justin’s “Reminiscing” which Dad co-wrote with Jay as well as produced. Dad would often talk of how the spoken mid-section of the song came to him while he was shaving one morning. The song was also released in the USA and recorded by American country music legend Slim Whitman.

When Dad left EMI in 1965 and joined Festival Records as an in-house producer, one of the first artists he produced was the Bee Gees, whom he affectionately referred to as “the boys.” I remember him reminiscing many times of how he produced their single ”I Want Home” backed with ”Cherry Red" (both written by Barry Gibb) on Festival’s “brand-spanking new” 4-track equipment—which was cutting edge at that time. “I Want Home” and “Cherry Red” were both featured on the first ever compilation album by the Bees Gees: Turn Around, Look at Us in 1967.

In 1966, Dad encouraged the Bee Gees to release “Spicks and Specks” as a single, which stood out to him among a batch of Barry Gibb songs he’d been sent for consideration for popular Australian recording artist Noeleen Batley. Dad would always tell me how Barry, Robin and Maurice found out via telegram that the song had become their first Top 10 hit in Australia while en route to England (by boat) to pursue their career across the pond.

What is the influence your father has had on Australian music?

Culturally, Dad’s musical influence will always be intrinsically associated with the Australian surfing era of the 60s—Australia Post even made “Blonde-Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy” into a postage stamp in 1998. His music has also been part of the soundtrack of the Vietnam War. In the recent movie Danger Close, “Blonde-Headed Stompie Wompie Real Gone Surfer Boy,” can be heard echoing through the jungle as Australian soldiers engage in the Battle of Long Tan.

Known to many as “The Music Man” who had an uncanny ear for a hit, Dad was one of the trailblazing pioneers who shaped the Australian music industry as we know it today. His gift for songwriting, his innovative music production techniques, and his ability to capture the essence of an artist in the recording studio has left a lasting legacy that continues to inspire others. Of course, he would never want to take credit for that. That’s just how he was—a very much behind-the-scenes kind of guy, who was happy and proud to be the wind beneath so many artists’ wings.