Top 10 Pioneers of South African Rock





Don’t we live in exiting times! Most of us can say "I was there when they were writing the book of Rock"

Well, while the rest of the world enjoyed the growing ripple effect of Woodstock during the late 60's and 70's, South Africa was largely cut off due mostly to the apartheid regime. So, although not directly involved with the exploding phenomena of Rock, and unbeknown to the rest of the globe, this country down at the bottom end of Africa was busy adding their chapters to the pages of Rock History.

Some of the artists recorded albums and then disappeared into the woodwork, but a lot are still around today in some or other form. One thing though is certain, they will all forever remain in song.

Who were these Pioneers fueling the Rock flame in this segregated country in the late 60"s and 70"s?



The original band included Julian Laxton on lead guitar, Nic Martens on organ, bassist/lyricist Ramsay MacKay, Brian Davidson's vocals, Colin Pratley on drum kit, Harry Poulos on organ/vocals and Gerard Nel's piano. Being very much denied in their part of music history, as they are mostly totally bypassed when it comes prog articles, FREEDOM"S CHILDREN manages to reflect a small but fascinating scene of South African progressive rock. Their 1970 release "Astra" has a very important role that unfortunately often gets overlooked.

Inside the country, gigs where hard to find due to issues surrounding Apartheid and a hard battle was fought trying to break through into the overseas market. Three studio albums hit the shelves, Battle Hymn Of The Broken Hearted Horde (1968), Astra (1970) and Galactic Vibes (1971). In 1990 Colin Pratley and Ken Henson released A New Day under the FREEDOM"S CHILDREN banner.

FREEDOM"S CHILDREN are a proud part of the South African progressive scene and definitely have their own chapter in the book of rock as one of the top 10 Pioneers of South African Rock

#9 - HAWK

HAWK was definitely a pioneer, being one of the first to fuse rock,folk and pop with African beat. Various incarnations flowed through the band while releasing three albums during the early 70's Members mainly consisted of Dave Ornellas: Vocals, guitar, percussion, Mark "Spook" Kahn: Guitar, Braam Malherbe: Drums, Richard Johnson: Bass, Keith Hutchinson: Sax, flute, piano, organ, Julian Laxton: Guitar and Les Goode: Bass.

Another diamond for South Africa's contribution to the bible of Rock, prog-folk Rock band HAWK paved new paths for many to follow.

#8 - SUCK

As the first wave of hard rock hit South Africa, SUCK were part of what was later labelled "The Big Heavies" 1970 to 1971 saw the alpha and omega of SUCK. They recorded one solitary album, "Time to Suck" in the eight months the group existed.

Absolute pioneers in being one of the forerunner groups to cover Black Sabbath! In an article in Classic Rock magazine titled "The Lost Pioneers of Heavy Metal", SUCK is referred to as "acidpunk metal.

Formed in Johannesburg in early 1970 by S.A. born bassist Louis "Moose" Forer and joined by Stephen "Gil" Gilroy on Guitar, Saverio "Savvy" Grande at the Drum kit, and Andrew Ionnides on Flute and Vocals


Surfacing in Johannesburg during 1978, these guys are the true pioneers of South Africa blues-rock. BAXTOP, formed with Larry Amos (guitar,vocals), Tim Parr (guitar, vocals), Fuzzy Marcus (guitar, vocals) and Bruce Williams (drums, vocals) has been labelled "the best blues rock-boogie band that never came out of the American South"

BAXTOP released one lone album 'Work It Out' in 1979 and in 1982 the band disbanded.

Both Larry Amos and, Tim Parr are today amongst the most highly successful and respected musicians coming off the South African circuit


"They had more drummers than Spinal Tap; they combined punk's raucous energy with melodic tunes about off-the-wall subjects; and they released one of South Africa's greatest rock albums - 'Into The Night We Slide. Ladies and Gentleman… the Radio Rats."

(sleeve notes off the re-issued CD 'Into The Night We Slide' November 2002)

The RADIO RATS, formed in 1977 by Jonathan Handley (songwriter, guitar, bass and vocals) and Dave Davies (vocals) shortly after being introduced by drummer Niall Bell. In 1978 a demo led to a recording contract for the first South African "punk" album "Into the Night we Slide" being cut, pioneering RADIO RATS's new wave space-rock into history.

During 1983 RADIO RATS disbanded only to reform in 1990 and have sporadically released a number of studio albums and singles to date.


The McCullagh brothers, Tully and Mike started their trek in 1965 as a folk-rock trio with Richard Hyam in THE BLUE THREE. After several name and lineup changes, in 1969 McCULLY WORKSHOP was ready to pioneer their unique and refined Pop Rock all the way into the 21st century.

McCULLY WORKSHOP have stood the test of time and 40 years down the line are as part of South Africa as rugby, sunny skies and braaivleis.


With Bernie Millar on Vocals, Ronald "Bones" Brettell at Keyboards, Gary van Zyl doing Bass, Sandy Robbie on Guitar and Wally Cullis on Drums, CIRCUS lived up to their name pioneering theatrical showmanship and excitement into the South African arena of Progressive Rock.


Over their two and a half-year spell ranging from 1976 to 1978, CIRCUS released one album "In The Arena" during 1977.

Toady all the members are successful musicians and own recording studios.

#3 - eVOID

"Embracing the jubilant spirit and ethnic rhythms of Africa and the urgent pulse of contemporary white Western rock at once, with open heart and mind, éVoid has meticulously and shrewdly nurtured its own distinct sound"

(sleeve notes off the re-issued self-titled CD November 2000)

Originally known as VOID, eVOID formed in Brakpan in 1977 consisting of the Windrich brothers Lucien and Erik on guitars, keyboards and vocals with drummer Danny de Wet (later of Petit Cheval and Wonderboom) and bassist Terry Andalis. Releasing their eponymous debut self-titled album in 1983, "Here Comes The Rot" released in 1986 and "éVoid (1993) limited edition" cassette sold only at the Springbok Bar in London. Closing a lengthy void in 2008, "Graffiti Lounge" was released.


In 1969 Johnny Clegg and Zulu musician Sipho Mchunu met in Johannesburg, forming JULUKA (meaning "sweat")

They performed on the streets, or wherever they could get into clubs and venues where a multi-racial band could safely play in under the apartheid laws. The banning of inter-racial bands forced JULUKA to pioneer under the radar and their success came from word of mouth. Clegg got arrested and beaten up by police on many occasions due to his activities and musical lyrics.

In 1976 JULUKA released their début single, "Woza Friday" Their second album African Litany (1981) featured the hit single "Impi" which contain lyrics about the defeat of the colonial British army by the Zulus at the Battle of Isandlwana. Impi got banned on South African radio and went on to become an underground hit. Ironically, after an unbanning, Impi was later used as the theme song for the South African Springbok rugby team.

In 1985 JULUKA disbanded and Sipho moved back to his home in Natal to take care of his family and Clegg formed SAVUKA which went on to meet international success. However, in 1997 Sipho and Johnny reunited for one last JULUKA album, "Crocodile Love", although this did not get the critical acclaim of their earlier work.


Performing under the name "Conglomeration" in 1969, Trevor Rabin (Vocals, lead guitar, keyboards) Ronnie Robot (Bass) and Neil Cloud on Drum kit recorded their first single, a cover of Jethro Tull's "Locomotive Breath, which immediately took the charts and stayed there for 14 weeks.

After a two and a half-year hiatus these teenagers reformed in 1974 and with the addition of multi-talented Duncan Faure (Vocals, lead guitar, keyboards) in 1975, RABBITT rapidly captured the hearts of South African teenagers, gracing the top of the South African charts with the hit "Charlie" in 1976.

Their second release "Croak And A Grunt" (1977) went Gold on release boasting a first for the South African record industry.

Unfortunately, due to external political pressures, RABBITT's dream of international fame and recognition imploded, bringing to a halt any further plans of an overseas tour. This led to the demise of the greatest Rock band to ever hail from South Africa. In January 1978, RABBITT broke up leaving Faure to join Scottish band THE BAY CITY ROLLERS (1979 - 1981), Rabin to join British progressive rock band YES (1982–1994), then going on to Hollywood to become a film composer, Cloud to play for PETER FRAMPTON and Robot to become a successful music producer.

"RABBITT reforming for a while to continue their pilgrimage" made my heart skip a beat when mentioned in an interview with CARTE BLANCHE after Trevor Rabin, Duncan Faure, Ronnie Robot and Neil Cloud met for the first time in over 20 years.

The opportunity to see RABBITT, the most influential pioneers to grace South African Rock history, one more time... would be priceless!

Now Didn't That Just Rock Boys And Girls



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