FRIDAY, JUNE 22, 2007

Vale – Shorty Ranger

Shorty Ranger – one of Australia's most prolific country music songwriters – has died. He was 81.

Shorty died this afternoon at Kempsey Hospital surrounded by his family, wife Ruby, John, Glen, Meryl, June and Dale, after suffering a severe stroke yesterday.

Born Edwin Haberfield in Kempsey on October 9, 1925, Shorty's early country music career mirrored that of his singing mate David Gordon Kirkpatrick (Slim Dusty). After success in such quests as Australia's Amateur Hour, Shorty concentrated on songwriting.

Having written and co-written more than 400 songs, many of which have been recorded by some of the big names in country music, Shorty recorded more than 250 of his own songs on more than 20 albums.

He was one of the first to be inducted into Australia's Country Music Hands of Fame in 1977, was named Tamworth Songwriters' Association's Song Maker in 1989 and elevated to the Country Music Roll of Renown in 1993.

Best known perhaps for his iconic song Winter Winds, Shorty – nicknamed "Bob" by family and friends and also as "The Singing Wanderer" on his records – was the eldest of six children. His parents were engaged in mixed farming on the Nulla Nulla Creek in NSW just three miles from the original Slim Dusty homestead.

Shorty and Slim attended the Nulla Nulla school and were friends from the first day. He and Slim went together to take their thirty shillings ($3) across the creek to purchase their first guitar from Jack Kyle (Clem Rogers). Shorty was there When the Rain Tumbled Down in July and was the first to hear the song. He took part in the early trips in which they tried to make a start in entertaining.

The boys busked in the streets of MacLean and Coffs Harbour, each taking his turn at passing around the hat. They were engaged to sing at the Mayfair Theatre, Kempsey for two pounds ($4) and enthusiastically plied their chosen careers in the early broadcasts of radio station 2KM Kempsey. They travelled Queensland with Hayden's Circus and Zoo and again with Dante the Magician.

Shorty and Ruby Jane at the launch of Bellbird MusicAll these experiences paved the way for the many successful Shorty Ranger songs to be recorded later by artists of the calibre of Slim, Buddy Williams, Reg Lindsay, Rick & Thel, The Singing Kettles, Barry Thornton, Lindsay Butler and many others.

Some Shorty's other classic compositions included My Old Aussie Homestead, Somebody's Mother, Somewhere Up In Queensland, Willy Willy, Song of the Macleay, Old Rusty Bell, Toy Telephone (written with Ivy Waters), The Big Banana Land, Buggy And Pair, Queensland Texas Rose and Old Kentucky Rig.

Shorty recorded 10 sides for the Rodeo label in 1951-2 after coming runner-up to Reg Lindsay in a mammoth talent quest in the Sydney Town Hall. Through the 1970s, he recorded albums for Hadley Records and, in the 1980s, formed his own record label, Wildwood Records, to continue to release and market his own material.

For some years, Shorty devoted himself to country gospel songs, sometimes co-writing with Jim Wesley and, in 1978, an album called Heaven Country Style was released. However, the pressure continued upon Shorty to write bush ballads, so he once again embraced the task of creating songs in this genre.  In 1968/9 Shorty wrote all of the material used by Buddy Williams on his Big Banana Land album and half of the songs for Buddy's Along The Outback Track.

Although Shorty performed on many major country music show in Australia, he made the decision early on in his career to give his first priority to being a family man. This has meant that life was too full for him to go out on the road for any length of time, so he put the major effort into being a songwriter.

Shorty's funeral will take place at the Presbyterian Church, Rudder Street, East Kempsey at 11am this Thursday (June 28).

Photos: a recent pic of Shorty (top) and an early publicity shot of a very young "Singing Wanderer".


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