From 1971 to 1992, there were very few recordings to come out of Tamworth, New South Wales, Australia, that didn't have Norm Bodkin associated with them in some way or other - either as pedal steel or dobro player or musical arranger - and often, both. Norm's contribution towards the making of Tamworth Australia's Country Music Capital" cannot be over estimated.
His professional career started in December, 1965 at a dingy Surrey Hills hotel (The Carrington) where he played with Kevin King's band just six months after discovering how to play the steel guitar. It was there that he was first noticed by Reg Lindsay who, at the time, was on the lookout for a new band member. Subsequently, Norm became the featured steel player on Reg's club shows, records and television appearances.
After three years on the club circuit, Norm had had enough of the Sydney "rat race." Pee Wee Clark took his place in Reg's band, and Norm took the opportunity to go into temporary musical retirement. He became heavily involved in a subsitute hobby - building midget speed cars. Inevitably, the temptation to race the cars himself became much too strong, but he realised that his family obligations must come first, so the cars had to go!
Norm's eyes turned towards the dusty steel guitar lying disused in the corner. He wanted to return to music, but the prospects of going back to the Sydney grind of endless appearances, doing the same songs night after night, just didn't appeal anymore. An invitation from a dance band in the mining town of Cobar in western New South Wales decided his future. Norm moved to Cobar and opened a signwriting business and started the town's first security service. The dance band, "The Tyme Keepers" were averaging playing three nights a week and he was settling down ...... until someone mentioned Tamworth!Norm drove over to Tamworth in 1971 to have a look at the place that was to become "Country Music Capital of Australia," and decided that this was the place to be. Over the next few years, he made countless trips to Tamworth for recording sessions, and each time the attraction grew stronger and stronger, until, finally, with his wife Pam and three children, he arrived.
However, at that time, suitable rental accommodation was not available, so reluctantly, Norm and the family were forced to return to Sydney, where he became musical director for Lonnie Lee who had just returned to Australia after eight years in Nashville.
For a hectic twelve months he did the rounds of the clubs with Lonnie's group, for five or six nights a week .... it was back to the same old grind!
In February 1975, the accomodation situation in Tamworth having improved, the Bodkin family - now six in all - moved back to Tamworth and for the next 17 years, Norm became totally immersed in his music, contributing greatly to the progress of "Country Music Capital." He worked long hours as a studio musician and as a session musical arranger, and in addition tended to several business ventures.
From 1976 to 1978 he ran his music store "Elbo Music," which supplied customers as far away as England and Canada as well as every state in Australia.
From 1978 to 1979 Norm joined Hadley Records as house arranger and musical director, but relinquished the position to give due attention to his signwriting business which had blossomed into an artwork and printing shop.
In December 1975 he started the half hour radio programme "Steelin' Time" as part of the "Hoedown" country music programme on 2TM. It was the first Australian radio programme to exclusively feature the steel guitar, and it ran weekly until November, 1981. Norm's first record album took its name "Fender Bender" from an original composition he wrote especially as a theme tune for the radio programme.
Always "on the go" and thoroughly dedicated to the musical instrument of his choice, in December 1975 Norm founded "Steel Guitar Australia," an international organisation with members in 9 countries, and retained leadership of the organisation until January, 1980, when pressure of the multitude of his activities forced him to hand over to Benny Joiner in Melbourne for four years.
At the 1978 "Australasian Country Music Awards" Norm was awarded a Golden Guitar for "Best instrumental" for his composition "Fender Bender."
He was inducted into the "Hands of Fame" in Tamworth in January 1979.
At the International Steel Guitar Convention in St. Louis, Missouri, USA in 1987 Norm was awarded a Special International Citation for the support of the Pedal Steel Guitar through his radio show, "Steelin' Time," his Steel Guitar Association newsletter, and his support of Australian steel guitarists.Sadly, after a battle with cancer, Norm passed away in Canberra, on Saturday 11th September, 1999.
11th September 1999