Drumroll! Bruce Fuller, Rudy & the Crystals, and The Ensigns in the 1960s

It is the fascinating, and sometimes humorous stories behind some of the donations that we receive at Auckland Libraries that adds intrinsic value and interest to our collections. Recently, I had great joy in discovering the back story to a small donation of 45rpm (also known as 7-inch) records donated by drummer Bruce Fuller. The donation of these early New Zealand recordings was accompanied by letters describing his memories of playing in covers bands in the 1960s Auckland music scene. I have incorporated Bruce’s memories into this blog post.

A young and bright-eyed Bruce Fuller stepped in to a vibrant Auckland music scene after he started taking lessons from legendry drummer Frank Gibson (Senior). Fuller was fortunate to meet Rudy and Hugo Spemann - the Spemann brothers often played for Bill Sevisi. Friends Jason Hiko (guitar), Neil Johnson (bass), and Brian Prout (second guitarist) also joined the trio and 'Rudy & the Crystals' was born. This was in 1960-1961 when rock and roll was still in its early development.

Image: From the Audioculture website. An Octagon publicity shot of Rudy & The Crystals. Left to right, Hugo Spemann, Bruce Fuller, Neil Johnson, Jason Hiko, Brian Prout, Rudy Spemann.

The band played numerous gigs around Auckland with a twelve-month stint at the Point Chevalier Sailing Club. 

Image: Unknown photographer. Pt Chevalier Sailing Club, 1920s.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 567-1-1.

'Rudy & The Crystals' had a reasonable following and had built up a repertoire of cover versions which were being played on the top ten. The band eventually began doing recording sessions at Bruce Barton’s Wireless Services house at the Pacific Building on the corner of Queen and Wellesley Streets.

Image: N.M. Dubois. Pacific Buildings in the course of demolition, 1965.
Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections 786-A004-3

Barton’s recording studio was still in its infancy at this time. Barton did not have echo facility so he used to run speaker wire from the studio into the men’s toilet that had concrete terrazzo walls and another set of speaker wires with a speaker on the floor. As primitive as it was, this method provided an excellent echo chamber and reverb effect. 

At this time there was no such thing as a multi-deck recorder which meant there was no ability to cut and dub instruments or singers. There was also no thought given to isolating the drums (and therefore there were no microphones on the drums) which meant it was a real challenge to have to play the drums quietly to ensure the sound did not wash through the other instruments. Coupled with this was the cost of hiring the studio. Often it was decided by the producers to go with what they had and save on costs. The band did well and not only recorded tracks for themselves but were asked to provide backing tracks for other artists associated with the studio. This included bands such as 'The Sheratons' (a four piece vocal group), and artists such as Mike Buckler, Ken Lemmon and Lew Pryme.

Image: 'The Sheratons' from left: Graham Pettett, Peter Smith, Terry Sorensen and Bruce Sorensen (sitting). From: The Listener, 23 August 1963, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

The Pacific Buildings site played a large role in the development of New Zealand’s recording history over the years. Brothers Eldred and Phil Stebbing built their first studio on the premises in 1950, selling it to former Tanza employees Fred Green and Tony Hall in 1953. It was here that Johnny Devlin made his first recordings for Prestige Records.

Image: 45 records from the Bruce Fuller donation. Rudy & the Crystals. Southern rora, 1962. and Rudy & The Crystals. Raincloud, 1963. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

Image: 45 records from the Bruce Fuller donation. Ken Lemon and Rudy & The Crystals. Moody River, 1963.Mike Buckler and Rudy & the Crystals. Swingin' down the lane, 1962. and The Sheratons and Rudy & the Crystals. Hi-Lili hi-lo, 1963. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections.

'Rudy & the Crystals' ended up filling in one time on the television show 'In the Groove' and later performed at the Auckland Town Hall when 'In the Groove On Stage' was held there. The band continued successfully through 1962 and 1963 travelling to Whangarei for gigs. Rudy, the band leader, was a printer by trade and bought a printing business late in 1963 and the band disbanded. However, that was not the end for Bruce Fuller.

Image: Unknown photographer. Robbie Lavën and Marion Arts with the 1953 Memorial Society Rock 'n Roll Band, at the Surfside Ballroom, 1960s. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, T1449.

In the early part of 1964, Bruce was approached by Hugo Spemann to be part of a new band called 'The Ensigns'. The original band was comprised of Hugo Spemann, Jason Hiko, Bruce Fuller, Lou Miller and Dave Adams. Dance promoter Joe Wheelhouse (who used to run the dances in Khyber Pass Road) was insistent that they get another saxophone player, so Graham Watson was recruited to help create a formidable horn section – an ideal sound for rock and roll. Joe Brandon also came on board and Rod Gibson, who replaced Dave Adams. Introducing two horns into the mix meant the band could also play 'Sounds Incorporated' numbers (a British instrumental pop band which recorded extensively in the 1960s) as well as provide a big band backing for all the artists who frequented the Surfside Ballroom. 'The Ensigns' also participated in a very successful charity concert where such performers as Alison Durban, Lorraine Durban, 'The Chicks', Mauri Chan (steel guitar) and the 'Surfside Singers' took the stage. 'The Ensigns' remained at Surfside Ballroom until 1966 and were eventually replaced by 'The John Walker Band'.

Image: Cantouris Studios. The original line-up of 'The Ensigns'. At the back (from left to right): Jason Hiko, Lou Miller, Hugo Spemann. Front row: Graham Watson, Bruce Fuller, and Dave Adams. Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, 1740-1.

Included in the Bruce Fuller donation is a 45 record of 'Guitar Boogie', a guitar instrumental recorded by the famous Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith - an American musician, songwriter, and producer of records, as well as a radio and television host. This original version was studied and emulated by every up-and-coming guitarist and used in auditions at every talent quest in the early sixties and seventies. It was one of the first recordings in the style later dubbed 'hillbilly boogie' to reach a widespread audience, and eventually sold nearly three million copies.

These were heady days in the early 1960s when the excitement of a new and vibrant music scene was growing momentum. Bruce Fuller was lucky to be at the forefront of the Auckland music scene and to be part of the birth of a new genre of music that was impacting the world.

Bruce Fuller’s donation of 45s is a small part of a larger archive, in Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, of New Zealand music on LP record worth exploring. Beginning from the 1950s right up to current releases, the collection covers the gamut of musical genres. At the moment, physical access to the Heritage Collections reading room on Level 2 of Tāmaki Pātaka Kōrero | Central City Library is temporarily closed due to the roof refurbishment project. The Bruce Fuller 45s will be readily available to listen to in the Heritage Collections reading room when full access to this level resumes at the start of 2022.

Author: Marilyn Portman, Senior Librarian Music


Audioculture 'Rudy & The Crystals' profile 

Audioculture Mascot record label article 

Wikipedia entry for Arthur 'Guitar Boogie' Smith 

Bruce Fuller letters, Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections, NZMS 3975.

List of 45s in the Bruce Fuller donation in Auckland Libraries Heritage Collections:

The Sheratons. Peanuts, 1963.
The Sheratons and Rudy & the Crystals. Where are you going little boy, 1963.


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