During the '70s, the notoriously decadent Dragon was among the biggest rock bands in New Zealand, gaining even greater success on the Australian circuit. Dragon's history begins with brothers Todd and Marc Hunter, natives of the North Island town of Taumarunui; from childhood on, the siblings performed professionally in their parents' jazz band, with Todd learning guitar and Marc picking up the drums. As the years passed, both Hunter brothers played in a variety of local bands, both together and independently; Dragon emerged in 1973 from the remnants of Staff, a group featuring Todd on bass, in addition to singer/pianist Graeme Collins, guitarist Ray Goodwin, and drummer Neil Reynolds. Personality conflicts quickly emerged, and soon the clean-living Collins was sacked by his hedonistic bandmates in favor of keyboardist Ivan Thompson. That left Dragon without a singer; however, the situation was quickly solved when Marc Hunter signed on as lead vocalist.
After Reynolds was replaced by drummer Neil Storey, the classic Dragon lineup was in place. The group favored a heavy progressive rock sound which quickly earned them a growing cult following, and in early 1974, they took home top honors at the Auckland Festival's all-day Rock Marathon. Their success led to a contract with Polygram Records, and within months, Dragon's debut LP, Universal Radio, appeared, becoming one of the best-selling "underground" records of the period. During a month-long residency at the Fiji nightclub the Golden Dragon, the band began developing their outrageous on-stage theatrics, antics complete with a transvestite mime troupe, pregnant strippers, rotting pigs' heads on microphone stands, and rampant destruction of instruments and stage equipment. During a subsequent national tour, however, Storey was sacked, and Thompson quit in sympathy; with new drummer Geoff Chunn, Dragon struggled as a four-piece before disbanding weeks later.
Scheduling commitments, however, soon forced Dragon to re-form; Storey was reinstituted behind the drums, with ex-Mammal member Robert Taylor coming in on guitar. The group's second LP, 1975's Scented Gardens for the Blind, bore little relation to their new live sound, which rejected their prior prog rock trappings in favor of more concise and punchy pop songs. After a series of NZ tours which greatly boosted their visibility at home, Dragon mounted a tour of Australia; there Goodwin exited, and was replaced by keyboardist Paul Hewson. The group initially fared poorly in Australia; a single called "Starkissed" stiffed, and their equipment was even stolen. After leaving Polygram, Dragon signed with CBS. Their first effort for the label, "Wait Until Tomorrow," was a failure, but the follow-up "This Time" appeared poised to become a hit. Then tragedy struck: Storey died of a heroin overdose in September 1976, an incident which made headlines across the country.
With new drummer Kerry Jacobsen, a reeling Dragon returned to the road with a vengeance, and spent the next two years touring almost non-stop, eventually conquering the all-important Aussie audience. In mid-1977 they issued the LP Sunshine, scoring a hit with the single "Get That Jive"; by the end of the year Dragon was the most popular band in Australia, resulting in a U.S. deal with the Portrait label. Their next LP, 1978's Running Free, went double-platinum down under, notching a massive hit with "April Sun in Cuba." A massive tour followed. Fueled by smack and champagne, Dragon was out of control, leaving destroyed hotel suites and dressing rooms in their wake. Still, they remained enormously popular, and their third CBS album, O, Zambezi, was their biggest yet, with a number one single in "Are You Old Enough?" A subsequent American tour proved disastrous, however, and as Marc Hunter's drug problems worsened, he was dismissed in early 1979. He was replaced by singer Billy Rogers and violinist Richard Lee.
Seemingly overnight, Dragon fell out of commercial favor; their next single, "Love Is Not Enough," failed to chart, and their first New Zealand tour since 1975 was a washout. When the 1979 LP Powerplay bombed, Dragon disbanded; however, in 1982 the group's nucleus re-formed to pay off their debts. The lineup -- the Hunters, Taylor, Hewson, and Jacobsen -- fared so well during their reunion tour that they soon released a new single, "Joanne." Its follow-up, 1984's "Rain," was a massive hit, and many fans agreed that its accompanying LP Body & the Beat was among their best ever. When the old personality conflicts soon arose, only the Hunters were left. (Tragically, just hours after quitting the band, Hewson was found dead.) The next Dragon LP, 1986's Dreams of Ordinary Men, was produced by Todd Rundgren; after 1988's Bondi Road, the band once again called it a day. ~ Jason Ankeny
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