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Encyclopedia entry for 'Warumpi Band' LETTER:

Formed in 1982
StyleRoots rock
 Original line-up: George Rurrambu (born Kumanjayi Rurrambu II Burrarrawanga, vocals, didgeridoo), Neil Murray (rhythm guitar, backing vocals), Sammy Jabanangka Butcher (guitar, bass), Gordon Jabanangka Butcher (drums)
 Albums: Big Name, No Blankets (Powder-works/RCA, 1985), Go Bush! (Festival/ Parole, 1987), Too Much Humbug (CAAMA/Shock, 1996).

History
Formed in Papunya, a remote Aboriginal community 150 miles west of Alice Springs, the Warumpi Band was one of Australia's pioneering Aboriginal rock groups. George Rurrambu was a Gumatj clan member from Galiwinku on Elcho Island (Northern Territory). Sammy and Gordon Butcher were both Luritja clansmen from Papunya. Another Butcher brother, Brian, also played bass with the Warumpis in 1983. White Australian singer/songwriter/guitarist Neil Murray was raised on a farm at Lake Bolac, near Ararat in western Victoria. In 1980, he travelled to the Northern Territory, and worked as a teacher, supply truck driver and outstation worker at Papunya and Kintore.

Murray was instrumental in getting the Warumpi Band off the ground. The band members started out playing covers of vintage rock'n'roll songs before writing original material that reflected their own experiences and celebrated Aboriginal cultural values. The Warumpis were voted best band at the Aboriginal Country Music Festival in 1983, and later in the year issued their debut single, `Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out from Jail)'/`Kintorelaktu', on Sydney independent label Hot (October). It was the first rock song ever sung in an Aboriginal dialect (Luritja). The Warumpis came to the attention of Midnight Oil, which led to the critically acclaimed album Big Name, No Blankets appearing on the Oils' Powderworks label (April 1985).

Big Name, No Blankets featured the single `Blackfella Whitefella'/`Fitzroy Crossing', which came out during October. Grounded in early American R&B and boogie as it was, the album was nevertheless an honest, enduring and bare-boned slice of indigenous country music. Midnight Oil then invited the Warumpis to join the historical Blackfella/Whitefella tour playing to remote Aboriginal communities in the Northern Territory. While the two bands were on the tour (July 1986), the Warumpi Band's `Blackfella/Whitefella' appeared on the flipside of Midnight Oil's 12-inch single `Dead Heart' (alongside Coloured Stone's `This Land').

The Warumpis issued one more single on Powderworks, `Sit Down Money'/`Warm Fire' (October 1986), before signing to Festival Record's Parole label. The Butcher brothers left the band, and the line-up of Rurrambu, Murray, Kenny Smith (bass, backing vocals) and American Allen Murphy (drums) recorded the album Go Bush! in October/November 1986. By the time the album appeared in April 1987, Murray Cook had joined on keyboards. As well as including a re-recorded version of `Jailanguru Pakarnu (Out from Jail)', the album produced two singles, `My Island Home'/`Didjeridoo Blue' (February 1987) and `No Fear'/`Tjiluru Tjiluru' (May).

At the end of 1988, Neil Murray left the band to pursue a solo career which effectively meant the end of the Warumpi Band. Murray reunited with Rurrambu and Sammy Butcher in 1995, and the reconstituted Warumpi Band embarked on a European tour. The album Too Much Humbug followed in April 1996. It boasted slicker production values than either of its predecessors. Standout tracks included the sparse `Djulpan', the hard-rocking `Stompin' Ground', the delicate `Hold Me in Your Arms' (sweetened by the voices of Amy Saunders and Sally Dastey from Tiddas) and a re-recording of `Blackfella/`Whitefella'.



Encyclopedia of Australian Rock and Pop / Ian McFarlane 1999
under licence from Allen & Unwin Pty Ltd

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