During the late 1970s, New Zealand band Dragon was one of the most popular and notorious acts on the Australian scene. Led by the charismatic Hunter brothers (Marc and Todd), the band earned a reputation for fierce live shows, arrogant behaviour and a decadent lifestyle which resulted in unprecedented media attention. The rock'n'roll lifestyle, however, also eventually contributed to the deaths of two members, Neil Storey and Paul Hewson. Among the tragedies, Dragon created a legacy of perfectly constructed rock and pop songs, a number of which had sprung from the pen of the erudite Hewson.
Todd Hunter and Ray Goodwin formed Dragon in Auckland during January 1972. By the beginning of 1973, Neil Storey (ex-Mandrake, Billy TK's Powerhouse) had replaced Neil Reynolds, and Ivan Thompson (ex-Mandrake) had replaced Graeme Collins. Todd's brother Marc also joined around that time as lead singer. By the end of 1974, Dragon was New Zealand's top live attraction. Dragon recorded two progressive art-rock albums for Phonogram's Vertigo label, Universal Radio (June 1974) and Scented Gardens for the Blind (March 1975). `Vermillion Cellars'/`Rock'n'Roll Ponsonby' was Dragon's first single. The records sold steadily without charting.
With Robert Macklin Taylor (guitar; ex-Mammal) having replaced Thompson in December 1974, Dragon eschewed the art-rock trappings for raunchier dance music. Vertigo issued a second Dragon single, `Education'/`Swell Foot Sue' in early 1975, but once again it failed to chart. Setting its sights overseas, Dragon relocated to Sydney in May 1975. The move, however, was fraught with mishaps. Within weeks of arriving, most of the band's equipment had either been stolen or damaged in a road accident. Vertigo issued Dragon's third single, `Star Kissed'/`Crystal Dove' (both tracks written by Goodwin) in September, and a month later the band supported UK visitors Status Quo on an Australian tour. Another New Zealander, Paul Hewson (ex-Freedom Express, Cruise Lane), joined on keyboards to fill out the sound, but in January 1976 Goodwin departed.
Throughout 1976, Dragon staked out Sydney's famed Bondi Lifesaver club as its own territory. CBS signed the band and issued the singles `Wait Until Tomorrow'/`Show Danny Across the Water' (July 1976) and `This Time'/`The Dreaded Moroczy Bind' (October 1976). Just as `This Time' began to chart (it eventually reached #26 nationally), Neil Storey died from a drug overdose. Wellington-born Kerry Jacobson (ex-Mammal, Quincey Conserve) came in as Storey's replacement. With renewed vigour, Dragon spent the next two years touring and eventually achieved the status of Australia's most popular band.
The new line-up recorded `Get that Jive'/`On the Beachhead' (#16 in April 1977) and Sunshine (#18 in June). Sunshine confirmed the band's uncanny ability to craft both anthemic pop songs and tight, funky rock'n'roll. Combined with an arrogant attitude that they were already stars, this showed Dragon to be a band of almost limitless possibilities. Like AC/DC before them, the members of Dragon were the bad boys on the block, able to outclass the likes of Sherbet and Skyhooks at their own game.
As the single `Sunshine'/`New Machine' reached #33 in September 1977, Dragon signed with CBS's US West Coast subsidiary label Portrait. Sunshine came out in the USA as the retitled Same Old Blues. The Australian Top 10 (#6) album Running Free yielded the Paul Hewson-penned classic single `April Sun in Cuba'/`Telephone' (#2 in November 1977), which remains Dragon's most identifiable song. It was only kept from the top spot by Paul McCartney and Wings' huge hit `Mull of Kintyre'. In New Zealand, it also provided Dragon with its first-ever chart hit when it peaked at #9 during March 1978. Both follow-up singles, `Shooting Star'/`Some Strange Dream' (December 1977) and `Konkaroo'/`Mr Thunder' (April 1978), missed the national Top 40. Dragon supported US singer Boz Scaggs on his February 1978 Australian tour.
Dragon's second Australian Top 10 (#4) album, O Zambezi, included the #1 hit `Are You Old Enough?'/`Company' (August 1978) and another archetypal Dragon song in the funky title track `O Zambezi'. The album's second single, `Still in Love with You'/`Politics', reached the Top 30. By the end of 1978, both Running Free and O Zambezi had achieved double platinum status (in excess of 140 000 copies of each album sold). In November 1978, Portrait issued Dragon's second US album, Dragon, and the band toured America with the mismatched Johnny Winter Band. The US sojourn culminated in an infamous episode during a gig in Dallas, Texas during which Marc incited the audience to wreck tables and chairs and smash glasses.
In February 1979, Marc Hunter was sacked due to his unreliable behaviour and escalating drug addiction. Richard Lee (violin, guitar, vocals) took Hunter's place in Dragon. Lee had been a member of Melbourne pub bands Issac Aaron and Sidewinder. The second-named band issued one independent EP, Sidewinder. Perth musician Billy Rogers (sax, piano, harmonica; ex-Last Chance Café) also joined in March. The new line-up released the singles `Love's Not Enough'/`Four Short Solos' (April 1979), `Counting Sheep'/`Now that Daddy's Home' (August) and `Motor City Connection'/`Same Old Lies' (October), plus the album Power Play (September). Although the new album failed to reached the national Top 40, Dragon's Greatest Hits Volume 1 had peaked at #8 during July. The new Dragon aimed for a more sophisticated audience, but by that stage the magic had faded. Dragon broke up in December 1979.
Meanwhile, Marc Hunter had launched a successful solo career. Todd moved into production before joining XL-Capris as guitarist. Hewson enjoyed success back in New Zealand with The Pink Flamingos. Taylor joined pub band The Magnetics. Jacobson joined the Willy Winter Band and then Kevin Borich Express.
In August 1982, the classic Dragon line-up of Marc and Todd Hunter, Robert Taylor, Paul Hewson and Kerry Jacobson reconvened for the national Class Reunion tour. Ostensibly run to pay off outstanding debts, the tour proved so successful that the band re-formed on a permanent basis. Dragon issued the tentative one-off single `Ramona'/`Blacktown Boogie' (October 1982) on EMI, but it failed to chart. The band hit its stride with the follow-up singles on the Mercury label `Rain'/`It's Too Late' (national #2 in August 1983) and `Magic'/`April Sun in Cuba' (#24 in December).
Around that time, Jacobson had fallen ill and Englishman Terry Chambers (ex-XTC) took his place. English keyboards player Alan Mansfield (ex-Robert Palmer Band), who had produced `Rain' and `Magic', also joined the band. This resulted in a much fuller, more rock-oriented sound. The Carey Taylor-produced album Body and the Beat (June 1984) was a polished, contemporary sounding Adult Oriented Rock rock album. It reached #5 in July and produced three more strong singles, `Cry'/`What Am I Gonna Do?' (#12 in June), `Body and the Beat'/`Are You Old Enough?,' (July) and `Wilderworld'/`Easy Street' (August). `Wilderworld' also appeared on the Street Hero film soundtrack. At the end of 1984, Dragon travelled to the USA to tour and record. That resulted in the `Speak No Evil'/`Witnessing' single (#16 in March 1985). The band was forced to change its name to Hunter for the US market, in order to avoid any heavy metal connotations the name Dragon implied.
Tragedy struck the band again on 10 January 1985 when Paul Hewson died in New Zealand. The live album Live One (June 1985) was a stop-gap measure until Dragon could sort out a number of pressing problems. Coupled with Hewson's death, both Robert Taylor and Terry Chambers left the band. Eventually Don Miller-Robinson (ex-Lifesavers) replaced Taylor and English drummer Doane Perry (from Jethro Tull) replaced Chambers. Respected guitarist Tommy Emmanuel replaced Miller-Robinson in 1986.
Dragon bounced back with the Todd Rundgren-produced, pure pop album Dreams of Ordinary Men (August 1986), which reached #15 on the chart in October. The album sold close to 100000 copies and produced the singles `Dreams of Ordinary Men'/`Start It Up' (#12 in September), `Western Girls'/`When I'm Gone' (November) and `Nothing to Lose'/`Intensive Care' (March 1987). Dragon undertook an extensive European tour (as Hunter), which took in festival dates and supports to Tina Turner across Germany and Austria. The album sold 40000 copies in those territories. The joyous cover of Kool and the Gang's `Celebration'/`Blue Blue is the Radio' (November 1987) returned the band to the Australian charts (#12 in January 1988).
In early 1988, guitarists Peter Grimwood and Randall Waller (ex-Avion), plus drummer Barton Price (ex-Models) complemented the basic Dragon line-up of Marc, Todd and Mansfield temporarily. Dragon's only release for 1988 was the non-album single `River'/`Bottom to the Top' (May). Bondi Road (April 1989) yielded the singles `Young Years'/`Runaway' (#18 in May), `Here Am I'/`Good Time Girl' (July), `Summer'/`Heart of Fire' (October) and `Book of Love' (February 1990). Emmanuel appeared as a session player on some tracks, while New Zealander Mike Caen (ex-Pink Slips, Scribble) had joined as the band's new guitar player. Mitch Farmer and John Watson (ex-Australian Crawl) played drums on the album. Bondi Road peaked at #14 on the album chart in May. By early 1990, Dragon had effectively disbanded, but not for long.
The 1995 album Incarnations featured the single `Chains of Love'/`Still in Love' (September), plus re-recorded versions of some of Dragon's most memorable songs including `Are You Old Enough?', `April Sun in Cuba' and `Rain'. As well as Marc, Todd, Mansfield, Caen and Peter Northcote (guitar), the album featured an array of guest musicians (including Kevin Borich, Renée Geyer, Tommy Emmanuel and Kirk Lorange). Dragon was still creating radio-friendly, corporate pop, but with Australian radio more interested in silverchair, Oasis or Green Day, there was little chance of airplay.
The 1996 touring line-up featured Marc, Mansfield, Caen, Ange Tsoitoudis (guitar), Dario Bortolin (bass; ex-Scary Mother) in place of Todd and Mick O'Brien (drums). In October 1996, Sony issued the `best of' CD EP Dragon which featured the tracks `Get that Jive', `This Time', `April Sun in Cuba' and `Are You Old Enough?'. In 1997 Marc Hunter was diagnosed as suffering throat cancer. He died in July 1998.