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Whatever happened to... Dunedin singer Craig Scott?


A promotional shot of Scott, 1970.

In the 1970s, Craig Scott was about as famous as you could be in New Zealand. Sharon Stephenson tracks down the shiny-haired, Loxene Golden Disc-winning prince of pop.

Craig Scott has a theory about fame. Actually, the 68-year-old has a theory about lots of things. But then Scott knows more about fame than most blokes his age: in the 1970s, the Dunedin-born singer crooned his way into the charts with a string of top-10 hits including “Smiley”, “When Jo Jo Runs” and “Star Crossed Lovers”.

If you were female, you loved Scott, with his full lips, toothy smile and hair the colour of cinnamon that curled around his oversized collars. Few under the age of 50 will remember him, but for a few glorious years, Scott’s was the face plastered over bedroom walls, the sexy voice rumbling out of every turntable.

“Ah fame, I knew it well,” he laughs. “You have to remember, it was full-on pandemonium at the live shows and I’d have girls throwing themselves at me and hanging out in front of my house. Some nights, I’d have to sign up to a thousand autographs.”

Early on, he realised fame was fleeting and the only way to handle it was to be sensible. “I was lucky that I had the support from family and friends who warned me about not letting fame go to my head, staying on the right side of the law and not taking too many drugs. I wanted to be successful and professional, so I did what I was told and made it through that time when so many others around me didn’t.”

Born at the front end of the 50s, Scott was an unlikely candidate to be one of New Zealand’s most prolific recording artists (15 singles and six albums, by his count): the lanky middle child of a grocer turned taxi driver, destined for a career as a bank teller. But music found him early and walked him through not only a successful musical career – including opening for acts such as Tony Christie, Cilla Black and Robin Gibb – but regular appearances on TV shows Happen Inn, Ready to Roll and Radio Times, which he fronted alongside the late Billy T. James.

Later came his own music promotions business, one of New Zealand’s first home video companies and, later still, a toe-dip in the property development business in Dunedin. In 2009, Craig and his wife Jo became real estate agents with Ray White Arrowtown. A few years later, son Adin, 42, joined their work partnership.

These days, the famous smile is still there but his hair is closely cropped and completely white. If there are a few more kilos, he hides them well. Life, says the grandfather of two, is good. “Arrowtown is a great place to live, I love what I do and I have my family around me. You can write down that it worked out okay for Craig Scott.”

Craig and Jo Scott with their son, Adin, who works with his parents at Ray White Arrowtown.

North & South: Where did it begin for Craig Scott?

Craig Scott: I was a 16-year-old student at King’s High School in Dunedin and some of my mates were in the school band. I would tag along to their rehearsals and eventually had a crack at playing bass guitar, until someone said to me, ‘You’ve got a pretty good voice, why don’t you be our singer?’ I left school at 17 and worked as a teller at the South Dunedin branch of the National Bank, but 18 months later the members of our band Fantasy decided to try and make it as professional musicians, so we moved to Christchurch and started gigging every Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday nights. Surprisingly, both my parents and my boss encouraged it, telling me I’d never know if I didn’t try.    

N&S: Growing up, was music always a constant?

CS: Yes. My grandfather was in a ukulele band in the 1920s, but apart from that, no one else in my family was musical. But I grew up listening to a lot of old-school R&B. In the mid-60s, a lot of the African-American navy guys would call into Dunedin on their way to Antarctica and they’d bring the latest singles, which they’d give us. It’s how I got my favourite record of the time, “Knock on Wood” by Eddie Floyd.

N&S: If the band was doing so well, why did you end up going solo?

CS: The Fantasy morphed into Blues Revival which, at the suggestion of Ray Columbus, we shortened to Revival. We won a Battle of the Bands contest and caught the attention of HMV’s main A&R [artists and repertoire] guy, Richard Dawkins, who went on to have a career with Air Supply and John Farnham. He got us up to Wellington to record a single, which made it to number 14 on the charts. But then Dawkins decided he was looking for a solo artist who could be groomed to appear on TV, rather than a band, so I took the opportunity and jumped ship.  

N&S: What were the highlights of your musical career?

CS: The fans, the enthusiasm and the fun we all had, along with achievements such as the records, live shows and TV programmes. 

N&S: When did the merry-go-round finally stop?

CS: I’ve been with my wife, Jo, since I was a teenager and we got married in 1972. I realised that settling down and having kids [they have two, Adin and 44-year-old hairdresser Lainie] wasn’t going to be compatible with being a recording star. So in 1978 we made the decision to stop recording, and I did my last TV show with Billy T. It wasn’t hard to walk away – I’m the kind of person who makes a decision and sticks to it.  

N&S: So what came next?

CS: I was living in Auckland by then and a friend and I started a music promotions business that we ran for a few years, promoting gigs by bands such as Hello Sailor and Toy Love. We also brought Aussie bands like Cold Chisel and The Angels to New Zealand, as well as stars such as Elton John and Rod Stewart. By 1980, home video had arrived here, so I started a company importing them, which led me to the role of marketing manager of Warner Bros’ home video division and, soon after, to the managing director’s seat, where I remained until I left the industry in 2000. 

Rehearsing at a Gisborne gig, April 1970.

N&S: Real estate is a long way from singing. How did that come about? 

CS: By 2001, we’d been living in Auckland for 30 years and the traffic was starting to become a nightmare. We’d always wanted to move back to Dunedin and that’s what we did. I’ve always had an interest in property so we started buying and doing up houses to sell. When that stopped being so lucrative, we decided to do our real estate agent exams. We’d had a holiday home in Arrowtown for some time and when we got the jobs at Ray White, we moved into that house full-time.   

N&S: Why not put up your feet and enjoy retirement?

CS: I think I’m allergic to the “R” word. We were brought up to work and we’ve always worked hard at whatever we do. I enjoy being a real estate agent and working alongside my family. We work odd hours, rather than long hours.   

N&S: Are you recognised very often?

CS: All the time. I’d probably get recognised three or four times a week. People come up to me and say, “I had your pictures and posters all over my wall, I remember the words to all your songs.” I’ve even had clients say, “I’ll buy this house if you sing for me,” but I politely refuse.

N&S: That’s a nice segue into your current performing career – do you have one?

CS: No. For a while I did the odd Telethon, things like that. And a few years ago, a group of mates in Dunedin asked if I’d come out of retirement and do three or four songs with them. They were great musicians and friends, so I agreed. But these days I only sing in the shower.

N&S:  How would you like to be remembered?

CS: As an honest, caring person who always tried to make time to engage with people who showed an interest in me and my career.

This article was first published in the October 2018 issue of North & South.

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