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Dennis Garcia

In 1976, a Melbourne based musician named Dennis Garcia released an electronic album with a difference.

Rather than using conventional methods of playing music with his hands, Garcia built an album entirely around bio-electronic techniques. Wired up with feedback devices, cables and electrodes attached to his head, he would produce music by "thinking" it!

Somewhere in the scheme of things, David Bowie must have heard about Dennis Garcia and in 1978, when he found himself a keyboard player short, it was Dennis that took the stage for Bowie's first shows in Australia.

Today at 63 years of age, Dennis is semi-retired and living in North Queensland. Last year, he popped up at a local festival called Seafest and they afforded the following write up about the musician including some memories of his time with Bowie...

'Music Veteran Adopts a Low-Key Life at Mission Beach'

Published 23 July 2007 at the Seafest website.

When Mission Beach musician, Dennis Garcia, was three, his Dad gave him a miniature piano accordion – an unlikely and somewhat uncool springboard for a career that would see him performing onstage with David Bowie, 30 years later.

In his teens, Dennis abandoned the piano accordion for a far more sophisticated instrument – the Hammond organ. He took music lessons in Newcastle, where the Garcias settled after a seven-year sojourn in Innisfail. In 1960, the 15-year-old packed his organ and left home, heading for the bright lights of an emerging tourist and entertainment hub called Surfers Paradise, where he joined a band called Julian Jones and the New Breed.

As luck would have it, the band’s manager, Ivan Damon, also managed Normie Rowe and the Playboys. When Rowe, a national teen idol, was conscripted and packed off to fight in the Vietnam War, his manager turned to Julian Jones and the New Breed.

"He took us to Melbourne in 1965 and began grooming us to become the new Normie Rowe and the Playboys," recalled Dennis, who left the New Breed a year later, when he was 'poached' by a wild rhythm and blues band called Running, Jumping, Standing Still.

The band, featuring drummer-singer, Andy James, pioneered the practice of smashing guitars onstage. The damage bill for sound equipment climbed to 2000 pounds within three months.

However, the feisty group folded after Andy James suffered a throat haemorrhage during a performance at the famous Melbourne venue, Thumpin' Tum, in late 1966.

"He sprayed us with blood," recalled Dennis. "The audience thought it was cool – part of the act."

In 1967, Dennis was invited to join The Mixtures, which scored a number one hit with 'In the Summertime' in 1970 and topped the charts in both Australia and Britain with 'The Pushbike Song', in 1971.

Dennis left The Mixtures soon after, when he married and decided to settle down and devote himself to session work. He employed his keyboard skills in the recording studio for a succession of iconic Australian groups during the seventies, including The Seekers, The Little River Band and Master's Apprentices.

After his marriage ended in 1972, he went overseas and toured the "psychedelic" art venues of Amsterdam and Belgium with a band called Urantia. He returned to Australia in 1976 with an instrument which soon became synonymous with 70s music – the keyboard synthesizer.

His prowess with this new instrument led to an invitation to join part of the Australian leg of David Bowie's 1978 world tour, after the superstar's British keyboard player fell ill.

"It was incredible, as you can imagine. I was given my own limousine," Dennis marvelled.

He found himself playing with "three guys from Stevie Wonder’s band" and "a guy who played for Frank Zappa", as well as the violin player from Hawkwind.

Bowie himself was gracious. "He was a gentleman," Dennis said. "He gave me a lot of good raps in the Australian press."

Dennis was subsequently recruited to tour Australia with Grace Jones in 1981 and Max Merritt, the following year.

When not on the road, the keyboard player was open to exploring new ways to perform and new avenues for his music. In 1976, he received an Arts Council grant to experiment with the use of biofeedback in keyboard playing.

"Basically, it means you think the music, instead of playing it with your hands," Dennis attempted to explain. "Electrodes are attached to your head, then hooked up to the keyboard via a computer and a synthesizer".

"The electrical signals from the brain are transmitted to the keyboard to play the musical notes you are thinking."

The project won the support of IBM and Dennis recorded an entire album using the biofeedback method.

However, biofeedback musical performances did not take off.

"It was a bit too weird for audiences – watching a guy playing with electrodes sticking out of his head," Dennis admitted.

In 1982, Dennis supplied the music to accompany one of the first major laser light shows in Australia, staged at the Royal Easter Show in Sydney. His music was relayed live over radio station Triple J. In 1988, he embarked upon an 18-month stint as a musical ringmaster for Ashtons Circus.

In the mid-nineties, he began playing electronic drums for Australian jazz singer, Sharny Russell. A tour of Far North Queensland reignited his love of the area, and he settled at Mission Beach four years ago.

Now aged 62, Dennis classifies himself as semi-retired and refers to music as "a hobby", which is interesting, considering he has just recorded two new albums and recently teamed up with Brendan Laman, a guitarist from Kennedy, to form a blues, rock and funk band called Section 19.

"I liked Brendan's style," he said simply.

Section 19 will be performing at 6.30 pm on 4 August, 2007 during the three-day Seafest (3-5 August) in Cardwell, Queensland.

Brendan is also coordinating the main stage entertainment for Seafest and he is enthusiastic about the regional talent line-up he has assembled for this year’s event.

"It is amazing how much musical talent is being generated in Far North Queensland," he said.

"As a young guitar player in the seventies, I listened to a lot of jazz, fusion and blues and got to meet a lot of the composers," he said. " This fostered a love of improvisational style playing which culminated in me joining a band called Steam Radio. In those days, you could stretch out a piece to 15 or 20 minutes, swapping solos. Audiences loved it."

Brendan is looking forward to performing at Seafest with Dennis Garcia.

"Meeting Dennis has reopened those doors and being able to expand on a groove in any given song – if it's really cooking – is a huge buzz. You can't buy that sort of experience," he said.


Further Reading and Resources


Kinetron's page about Dennis Garcia where you can register for a CD/DVD.

Clone Records page about Dennis Garcia where you can hear some tracks from Door to Dimension 4.

MDivisions page about Dennis Garcia where you can see some images and articles.