A drummer for all times article by Pat Sheil-Sydney Morning Herald
June 19, 2009
Russell Dunlop, 1945-2009
ONE afternoon in the early 1980s, a chuffed Russell Dunlop was delighted to say to his partner,
Bruce Brown: "Do you realise that we have, collectively, produced six out of the top 10 Australian
singles this week?"
Their production company, BAD (Brown And Dunlop), working in the hit factory that was Albert
Studios in King Street, in the city, was churning out some of the most successful local pop music of
the time. Jon English, Mental As Anything, the Reels, Renee Geyer - the list is long. Between them,
Brown and Dunlop pioneered new techniques in recording in Australia, from the early days when
an eight-track tape recorder was high-end technology to the computerised desks that would have
been the stuff of science fiction when they started.
Russell Dunlop was born in Paddington, the son of an engineer, Hector Dunlop, and his wife,
Patricia. He had a brother, Barry. The family lived in Surry Hills, where Russell went to Bourke
Street Primary then on to Narwee Boys High. After leaving school he worked as a tiler's labourer
and in a pharmaceutical factory.
He had started playing in bands at 16 (working in pubs under-age, no questions asked) and in the
late 1960s joined Aesops Fables, an influential band. He was also in demand for session work as a
drummer and vocalist. The band moved to Melbourne in mid 1970, where he met Judi Johnston -
they married three months later. The Fables disbanded and the couple moved back to Sydney,
where he joined Mother Earth, with Renee Geyer.
This was a frantically busy period. He toured the United States with the ground-breaking rock-
fusion band Ayers Rock, starting a firm friendship with the late rock guitarist Jim Doyle - they later
toured many times with the Aussie Blue Flames, backing the British pianist Georgie Fame.
He toured with the Aunty Jack Show, among numerous other acts, while becoming more involved
in recording. In the late '70s, his highly successful collaboration with Bruce Brown began at Albert.
As well as recording dozens of local acts, Dunlop and Brown had success of their own, not least
with the 1980 hit Space Invaders, inspired by the wildly successful video game, which they
released under the appropriate name Player One for Warner Brothers.
They were asked to put an album together for the US but, as Brown recalls: "We sat down and
wrote a bunch of space songs, but instead of sticking to the concept of the hit, we wandered off into
the 'clever' musical genre with fancy time signatures, radical chord progressions and so on. The
reply came back for the States that this was intended for 13- to 14-year-olds: 'You've lost us.'
"There went the Brown-Dunlop gravy train. Nonetheless, we had a great time recording it - many
laughs and copious amounts of drink using our newly acquired credit account around the corner at
the Surrey Hotel on the corner of King and Castlereagh streets."
Dunlop still played in live bands but as years went by session work dried up, as it did for so many
musicians during the 1990s and since - especially for drummers as cheap computerised rhythm
tracks kicked the stuffing out of the market. He worked as a radio operator for a courier company
for a decade, before moving with Judi to Lismore in 2007, where he set up a small studio, and more
recently worked as an ensemble coach at Southern Cross University.
Dunlop was, in the days of hands-on multi-track recording, regarded as one of the best in the
business, and his studio skills, especially in timing, editing and simply knocking bands into shape
were highly prized. When he wasn't recording or playing, he could be found on the golf course - he
was a single-figure player at the Bayview club for many years.
Dunlop was just as well known for a sense of humour that he could bring to bear on the unwary
with devastating effect, and he loved sharing a laugh and a drink with his mates.
As a Sydney drummer, Hamish Stuart, put it: "He was a drummer with great time and an even
better feel. I will always remember the sparkle in his eye - an Aussie rogue, always looking for the
funny side of things."
One of his last projects was producing and mixing the soundtrack for Rachel Ward's movie,
Beautiful Kate, which had its world premiere at the Sydney Film Festival on Sunday.
He died doing what he loved, surrounded by people he loved - he played drums at the wedding of
his son in Sydney last month.
Russell Dunlop is survived by Judi, his son, Aaron, and daughter, Kane.
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