Normie Rowe is one of those perennially popular figures on the Australia music scene--given that his career has carried him from covering rock 'n roll standards like "Shakin' All Over" to playing Valjean in the Australian cast of Les Miserables, he might be most easily compared to Tommy Steele or Joe Brown in England, except that his music has crossed several rock genres, even brushing up against psychedelia during the late 1960's.
Rowe was a part-time singer who never intended to become a full-time entertainer until he was fired from his day job because of the length of his hair. A white soul-style singer in the manner of Fred Heath, aka Johnny Kidd of Johnny Kidd & The Pirates, emerged as a popular figure in Australia fronting a band called the Thunderbirds, who managed to compete effectively with the English bands that dominated the island-nation's charts during the mid-1960's. He became popular on local television in the mid-1960's, and in 1965, with his group the Playboys, he hit the charts for the first time with a version of "It Ain't Necessarily So." Later that year, Normie Rowe and the Playboys were responsible for the biggest Australian rock 'n roll hit of 1965, a version of "Que Sera Sera" done in the style of "Louie, Louie" and the manner of "Hang On Sloopy." The whole record was knocked off on the fly, in a quick session that even resulted in a whistled cue ending up on the finished track, but it outsold every other homegrown piece of rock 'n roll released that year.
In the wake of the success of "Que Sera Sera," he left Australia for England. The Playboys, known in England as the Australian Playboys and featuring Kevin Peacock in their line-up with Rowe, released an extraordinary 45 r.p.m. single in 1967 on the Immediate label--"Black Sheep RIP" b/w "Sad" was a classic and bold piece of psychedelic pop featuring some memorable guitar behind Rowe's singing, but like most Immediate singles it never sold, and is a seriously collectable record. Rowe later toured Canada and America before returning home, where he was drafted and served in Vietnam. Rowe's career never regained the prominence and momentum that he'd had in the mid-1960's. Like a lot of other early '60s rockers, he moved to the cabaret circuit and gradually regained some of his popularity. He later emerged as an all-around entertainer and singer, most notably taking the part of Jean Valjean in the Ausatralian cast of Les Miserables. In recent years, he has also taken up an anti-drug crusade, partly because of his daughter's life-threatening experiences with heroin. Rowe remains a fondly remembered icon from early Australian rock 'n roll, and a much-loved musical figure. ~ Bruce Eder