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Val Elliott + Rhythm Ramblers

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Val Elliott and The Rhythm Ramblers  —  Caroline Bay Sound Shell late 1960s

 

Val Elliott & The Rhythm Ramblers
Jim Lange, Val Elliott, John Cooke


Val Elliott and The Rhythm Ramblers reunited in 1994
John Cooke, Val Elliott, Jim Lange.


Val Elliott performs
at The Rendezvous

 

Born into a musical family in the North Canterbury town of Rangiora in 1946, Val Elliott was the youngest and only girl in a family of five boys.  She played the piano by ear, and undertook seven years of study with the Trinity College of Music, passing all her exams with honours.  Val listened to the popular music of the day but was drawn to the country music played during a 15-minute radio slot called Cowboy Corner, which regularly featured the likes of Jim Reeves, Hank Snow, Slim Dusty, and Marty Robbins.  After leaving school, Val worked in Rangiora as a dressmaker and she attended dances at country halls in Oxford, Amberley, Ohoka and Fernside as well as Christchurch venues The Latimer, The Caledonian and The Rendezvous.  At the latter, Val was invited to sing with The Caroline Ramblers, and the experience encouraged her to take up guitar so she could accompany herself.  This led on to talent quests.  A musician friend introduced Val to country record collector John Cooke, a mean fingerpicking guitarist in The Carter Family vein, who played her LPs by Porter Wagoner, Merle Haggard, George Jones and Loretta Lynn along with Floyd Cramer's 'Last Date', which would would remain an ongoing influence.  Val was hooked and they teamed up, soon meeting steel guitarist Jim Lange, and forming Val Elliott and The Rhythm Ramblers.  They honed their sound while playing at concerts in Oxford, Rangiora, Duvauchelles Bay and around Christchurch, with Val often playing her Floyd Cramer split-note-style piano.  After a big concert at the Caroline Bay Sound Shell, the band was approached by local radio station 3ZB and invited to play live on Murray Forgie's Sound Show.  They brought in lead guitarist Dave Johnston and bass guitarist Malcolm Lilley (both from The Caroline Ramblers) for the occasion.

 

Val Elliott and The Rhythm Ramblers
Dave Johnston, Val Elliott, John Cooke, Jim Lange (in front)


Val Elliott and The Rhythm Ramblers
John Cooke, Val Elliott, Dave Johnston, Jim Lange (in front)

 

  In 1968 Val Elliott and The Rhythm Ramblers recorded a demo tape, submitted it to HMV and were asked to fly to Wellington to record an LP which would bring the Nashville sound to New Zealand.  With Howard Gable producing, Frank Douglas as engineer and augmented with session pianist Garth Young and Soundells drummer Leo George, they committed 26 songs to tape.  The result included many country standards and was entitled Country Sounds.  A couple of Val and John Cooke duets were featured along with the Jim Lange instrumental 'Orange Blossom Special'.  Gable's initial plan to release band favourite 'Blue Kentucky Girl' as a single independent of the LP never eventuated and the remaining tracks were never pressed.  The band promoted the record at concerts, and Val appeared on the first series of the NZBC show The Country Touch.  She also appeared in the third series in 1970, but by then Val Elliott and The Rhythm Ramblers had disbanded.  With most of the music opportunities and tours originating in Auckland, Val and John decided to get married and move there, but Jim Lange stayed with his Christchurch employer.

   

Shortly after, Val and John moved to Australia, where Val stopped playing music to establish a sewing business and raise their two Sydney-born daughters.  The family returned to Auckland in the early 1980s and in 1983 Val and John took up square dancing.  John had previously been a caller and Val was soon calling too.  The dances encouraged the couple to start their own club they named The Dixie Twirlers.  In 1994, Caroline Rambler Malcolm Marshall invited Val and John to Christchurch to be judges for the Garden City Country Music Awards and to feature as the main guest artist, reuniting them with Rhythm Ramblers bandmates Jim Lange, Dave Johnston and Malcolm Lilley.  Three years later, Val and John relocated to Christchurch and again took up square dancing and calling.  When Val bought a Yamaha keyboard and began entertaining the square dancers it led to invitations for her and John to perform at all manner of clubs, retirement homes and private functions, naming themselves Vee-Jay.  The square dancing came to an abrupt halt after the Christchurch earthquake of September 2010 damaged the hall they had been hiring.  The violent quake in February 2011 severely damaged Val and John's house, and in August 2012 they had to move.  Soon thereafter, John passed away.