The name change to Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band came when they made it to the finals of Nine Network’s New Faces.
As Conway ruefully admits, they started out as a piss-take on the rock scene and despite their best intentions became part of it!
Their first single, a cover of the 1931 druggy song “My Canary Has Circles Under His Eyes”, went Top 40 in Melbourne in November 1972.
Debut album Smoke Dreams, from that year, stuck only to 1930s and 1940s jazz, blues and jugband standards. It was released in the US in the short-lived quadrophonic format, and very much in demand as a result.
The second album Wangaratta Wahine (1974) included covers of Fats Waller “Your Feet’s Too Big” and tango show tune “Hernando’s Hideaway” from the musical The Pajama Game.
But Mic and new Matchbox multi-instrumentalist Dave Flett were also penning songs, like “Wait For Me Juanita” and “Wangaratta Wahine”.
Legend goes that Jim Conway hated “Wangaratta Wahine” so much that he threatened to quit.
It wasn’t even intended to be a single, but radio started playing it, and they were invited to perform it on Countdown, and it reached #4 nationally.
Cartoonist Michael Leunig’s cover artwork saw it win 1974’s Album Cover of the Year.
Through the years, no less than 34 musicians passed through the ranks – all fine ones, including Stephen Cooney, Eric McCusker, Jimmy Niven, Louis McManus, Dave Hubbard, Peter Inglis, Mick Fleming, Chris Worral and Manny Paterakis.
Some went on to play in major bands, made movies, became major names overseas, and one joined the Hare Krishnas.
When the band began, Mic’s ambition was just to make an album.
In the end, they ended up releasing half a dozen, “two gold records and a ton of bad gigs.”
Early on they appeared in the Tim Burstall film “Stork” and later John Duigan’s1979 film “Dimboola” at about the same time as their last album “Slightly Troppo”.
The end came after the band suffered two disasters.
A nine week tour across the US, six with US bluesman John Lee Hooker, was cancelled when Hooker had a stroke.
In 1980 they split up after a tragic truck smash which killed a crew member, seriously injured two, and destroyed much of their equipment.
Members remained in the spotlight with The Backsliders, The National Junk Band, The Conway Brothers Hiccups Orchestra and The Nighthawks.
Then in December 2010, Queensland’s Woodford Folk Festival asked them to reunite, and they played at the festival which drew 126,000 patrons over six days.
It made sense to extend that to a national tour which saw them return to Ormond Hall.