Gene Pierson 1969

For years he polishes his image, presents it, glittering, to his public. He sees himself reflected in his fans’ eyes as the hero they want him to be ... if he is lucky, and successful, he becomes that hero, but the danger lies in coming to believe in the image himself. Gene Pierson’s story is that of every hopeful young pop singer but recently he has begun to pull ahead in the race to the top of the charts.

Here is the “anatomy of a pop singer” the story of how Gene Pierson has managed to get this far.

Gene Pierson is a personable young man, with a pleasant, yet hardly powerful, voice.

This puts him in the same category as thousands of other 22-year-olds who are occasionally inspired to make the bathroom rafters ring.

The difference is that he is a professional pop singer.

His assets include passably good looks, nearly five years experience as a performer, and the ability to make the most of what he’s got.

They also include a business manager who happens to be an attractive 19-year-old girl.

Nowadays you don’t need a booming great voice to be a singer: electronics can take care of that.

It’s personality and determination which count in ‘the long run.

If you are amiable and outgoing enough to make an audience like you, half of the battle is won.

And if you keep plugging during the bad patches (when your last record is forgotten, coffee bar crowds keep chatting, promoters and record companies don’t call), you could make the grade, make a living, and maybe reach that indefinable pinnacle “the top.”

Born Giancarlo Salvestrin in Switzerland, near the Austrian border -. Gene was taken to Australia at four by his Italian/ French/ Austrian father and Swiss/ French mother.

The migrant couple with no money and no English persevered until they became an industrial chemist and an .Australian housewife, bringing up their only child strictly, in the continental manner. Perhaps determination runs in the family?

As a schoolboy, Gene Pierson set his sights high in Sydney. Then it was drama classes and dreams of acting, “but only so that I could go to the United States and be a star,” he admits now with a grin.

The breakthrough which turned Giancarlo Salvestrin, employee of the E.M.I. recording organization, into Gene Chandler, singer, didn’t come from his work in the royalties section, but from a dance hall talent quest:

“I sang a crazy song - and then I walked out in embarrassment. When I went back next week, the manager said I’d won. And he offered me a job on Saturday and Sunday nights for $3.”

So Gene Chandler existed at weekends - and later on week nights, too - as guitarist and singer for a white-clad group called the Interns. Its five members had separate lives and spare time music, until they were offered a six months’ tour.

Their jobs wouldn’t wait that long, so they started as professional musicians the following week.

And then it was town to town 140 of them - playing or travelling every day and night from Sydney to Mt Isa to Melbourne.

By mid 1965 they were home with enough of a reputation for agencies to book them almost automatically at hotels, clubs, universities, teenage dances, balls and private functions.

“It looked wonderful and it looked easy - success, money and roses all the way. We thought we’d just keep playing better all the time, more people would get to know us, and we’d get to the top.

But it wasn’t easy.

“There’s too much hard work involved, too much planning and too much rehearsing for that. And there are too many empty promises which come to nothing. Everyone wants ‘[0 make money out of you. The more you work, the higher your overheads become.

“We needed more clothes,'of course, and also a van for transport. The others were paying off equipment and I was paying off the sound system. We also had a combined insurance policy for anything that could go wrong.

“In theory you could be getting $50 a week, but these overheads leave only $20 or $30 in your hand.

“And you haven’t got a trade, you’re not getting any younger, and there are dozens of hardpushing singers and their managers right behind you. The rat race is on.

“So what do you pin your hopes on? A hit record!”

About a year later it came.

“Smokestack and Lightning,” backed by “Almost There” was recorded in mid 1966, and reached No. 8 position on the Australian charts. But where was the money?

“You get five per cent royalty on a $1 “45” when you haven’t made the record yourself. The group got five cents on every record - a cent apiece. That game to $260 altogether - just over $50 each. I

“So now you need another record.

Some functions didn’t want a group: just a singer, which is cheaper. But for Gene Chandler, a 20-minute spot alone was worth as much as a fifth share of four hour’s work on guitar and vocal

There was conflict: arguments about songs and arrangements. It looked like the beginning of the end of the Interns.

And then the La Dee Dahs arrived in Sydney, just one of many New Zealand groups finding success in Australia.

“I thought it might be an idea to reverse the geographical situation. I had no contacts, but on their advice I decided to come for a short holiday.”

Gene flew into Auckland on‘ a 21-day return concession. And like American tourists who look for kangaroos in Sydney’s George Street, he expected to find people cooking eggs in thermal pools in Queen Street.

He knew nobody. In 10 days most of his money had gone, and he couldn’t use his return ticket until he’d been here a fortnight.

He asked at a dance hall for a job - any job. (“I was prepared to sweep the floors if necessary”) and was made temporary compere for $3 a night. After three nights he filled in for a missing guest artist, and a few days later was offered a recording contract by the owner, who also managed a record company. But he discovered Gene Chandler was an American singer’s name.

“If I was going to get anywhere,’ I’d have to change my name again. Pierson seemed to go with Gene, but now nobody had ever heard of me!”

By then he could sing better than before: he knew a bit about the business. But he badly needed publicity.

You phone and say: “This is Gene Pierson.”

They say: “Gene who?”

“I’m a singer.”

“What have you done?”

“I’ve sung in Australia, and had a record, on the charts.”

So I’d show them the record, and they’d say: “But this is Gene Chandler.”

“I was right back where I started. I might as well haVe° been Fred Bloggs!”

He got to know people during two months spent preparing to record. Radio Hauraki offered him a place on a tour of four North Island centres when an Australian artist didn’t fulfil a booking.

The record company paid him a retainer. It’s not usual, but he was threatening to go home.

By July 1967 he had pressed his first local record, “Love, Love, Love.” It achieyed No. 2 on the Napier hit parade, No. 20 in Auckland, nowhere in Wellington and nowhere in the South Isla.nd. But it took on in Australia.