1963-1966: The band which eventually became The La De Das was started by three young musicians from the rural Huapai district, near Auckland on the New Zealand north island.
Friends Kevin Borich, Brett Neilson and Trevor Wilson were all from Rutherford High School in Te Atatu. Kevin had actually started much earlier in music -- at 12 he had recorded a private single with two young sisters, Judi and Sue Donaldson, who lived on a neighbouring property. The pair later became a popular NZ singing duo called The Chicks, and Sue later went on to work overseas with artists such as Cat Stevens.
The Mergers was a typical group of the time. They formed in late 1963 as a Shadows-style instrumental group and began playing local dances and school socials, but The Beatles' visit in June 1964, and the emergence of The Rolling Stones, crystallised the need for change of style -- and a lead singer. Trevor Wilson suggested a friend from nearby Mt Albert Grammar School, Phil Key, who was invited to join as vocalist and rhythm guitarist.
Like the recruitment of Jim Keys to The Masters Apprentices, Key's entry was a major addition to the group and he quickly developed into a fine lead singer and guitarist. As NZ music historian John Dix points out, Phil Key:
"... has been generally underrated as a vocalist, and few people have appreciated as one of the best to come out of the Antipodes ".
It was Phil's older sister -- an avid record collector with an interest in obscure British groups, as well as hard-core American R&B -- whose influence provided the bulk of their early repertoire.
The group realised quickly that "The Mergers" didn't really reflect the toughness of their music, so they experimented with other names. One promoter even changed their name to The Gonks for an early 1965 gig at a summer carnival. They decided on The Criminals but Phil's mother was not impressed and after rehearsals one night at the Wilson house she jokingly suggested instead that they call themselves "something nice, like the la-de-das ...". Phil loved it, and the name stuck.
1973-75: By mid-year, the band were being hailed as Australia's leading live act and Borich's was widely regarded as our pre-eminent guitar hero. With Chugg back on board as manager, Kevin was impatient to record a new album, but EMI were less enthusiastic. To pressure them, Borich instructed Michael Chugg to get the band out of their contract. The ploy worked, and EMI reluctantly agreed to a new record in September. But the first sessions at EMI's studios were deemed unsatisfactory by the band and all but two tracks were scrapped. (The two tracks, "She Tell Me What To Do" and "No Law Against Having Fun" later surfaced on the compilation LP Legend.)
According to Glenn A. Baker, the main stumbling block was that Borich couldn't get a guitar sound that was anywhere near his live sound, so Rod Coe solved the problem by installing a portable 8-track recording rig and JBL monitors in the Green Elephant Hotel and recording them there. Kevin swapped his familiar Gibson SG for a Fender Stratocaster and, as Glenn Baker charmingly puts it " ... the whole album went down like a sinker off a pier, in just two days." Back at EMI, they overdubbed piano parts, added backing vocals by Renée Geyer and Bobby Marchini and horns by Don Reid.
The resulting LP, Rock'n'Roll Sandwich, was lauded by Glenn Baker as "one of Australia's finest rock albums, a fiery, cohesive work dominated by the superbly talented Kevin Borich and carried off by the reliable gutsiness of Peel and Barber." Touring behind the new LP, released in November 1973, the La De Das enjoyed their most successful period to date, including supports for Elton John and Suzi Quatro on their Australian tours.
Although they were still a top concert attraction, by early in 1975, the band's spirits were flagging and it was clear that an attempt to try their luck overseas would probably be futile. In March EMI issued Legend, a valedictory grab-bag of single A-sides, recent recordings and leftovers put together by Michael Chugg, which also included a much-requested studio rendition of "All Along The Watchtower", Kevin's Hendrix-inspired live showpiece.
In May 1975, Borich officially announced that the La De Das would disband. (wikipedia)