Rick Doolan prepares for death

Rick Doolan prepares for death

People don’t like talking about Death. Sometimes they have to.

By Julius Grafton, 20 February 1993

“Fred Hollows said a woman has her moment when she gives birth, and a man when he dies”, said Rick Doolan, reflecting. Fred Hollows had died just hours earlier, drawing Rick to again face his imminent departure from our earth.

Because Rick Doolan was preparing to die.

Rick Doolan had almost finished his life’s work, building up the production company Bandanna Entertainment as I spoke with him. He is confined to his semi-rural home near Sydney, with 24 hour care in the form of the Doolan women – his mother, and Tracey his wife.

The wasting form I spent several last hours with hardly suggested the guy I first met years earlier, but his resolve, pride, and mind were every bit as intact near the end.

Originally a drummer, Rick formed a band called ‘Bandanna’, who were capable of greater things than eventuated. “We were tagged a bikers band”, Rick says, “probably because I rode then”. Despite the perception, the band did well, with no more biker hassles at gigs than any other blues/boogie band attract.

Several years relentless promotion saw Rick call any venue or promoter with any kind of work potential – the sort of hard slog that so characterises some people in the rock industry. I recall him dialling me a few years back when I left Sydney for the bush, to ask which gig in which nearby town was run by whom, and how each was going. The approach was low key, but I remember spending time on the long distance line trying to help the guy – he had the right attitude.

This isn’t entirely a story about the end of Rick Doolan, rather it’s also about the firm that carries on working as you read this. Bandanna Entertainment is now a touring production firm that evolved from a band PA into a first class touring system today. First class it certainly is, as a consequence of the profits being poured into new equipment constantly.

James Blundell is Bandanna’s number one customer, his tour “The End of This Road” tour was out doing 40 dates in 42 days with Bandanna’s production during February. “He just spends, and buys more”, sighs Tracey without rancour.

The family have always gotten by, but luxuries are scarce. Rick has put a great percentage of earnings back into the business, then there are the cash flow glitches that affect touring production operators, most dramatic of which are truck repairs. To make recent times more trying, work has been less plentiful than before – with as much as a month passing by between tours.

This reflects the nature of the business, where acts that Bandanna cater for, like Rick Price, Albert Collins and Blundell, are keenly sought customers.

Time is at a premium at Bandanna HQ, where things are understandably difficult. Then there is perhaps a perception problem of not being seen around the traps, (or more aptly, not being thought to be seen around the traps!) or being perceived as not fashionable, or confusion about where Bandanna actually operates because of the rural STD phone number. The reality is somewhat straightfor­ward, as the business is run on a strictly professional basis.

“I don’t get as involved as I could in the business, because I’m busy caring for Rick said Tracey, “but the business will eventually run itself”. The strength of the business, say the Doolans, is the crew tl:eY, currently have on the road-headed up by Mark Gibson, with brother Brett, and Mark Denton or lights.

“The production only goes out with the three crew”, said Rick, “because it is a package”. This can
limit work because some acts already boast a full crew, but it is the only practical way Bandanna can operate. “Our customers love our crew, they’ll do anything to help out, and are highly regarded”, says Rick, and this is
certainly the impression gained around the traps.

The Doolan family live on a few acres in a comfortable & homely sort of place with goats and dogs on hand to entertain 6 year old daughter and only child, Crystal. The house is built above the garage, so a wheelchair lift was installed when the disease Rick has been fighting grounded him. Motor Neurone Disease breaks down the junction between nerve and muscle, slowly and cruelly rendering it’s victims helpless. Rick was as diagnosed over 3 years ago, after at least a year of being told he had arthritis.

With the increase in stature of some of Bandanna’s customers, came the decision to consolidate two complete touring systems into one last year. The second system was taken off the road, truck sold and one larger system emerged. Rick is frustrated at his inability to get more work for this system, which is part of the reason the family chose to talk with Connections at this time. He is sure much of the lower level work handled by the larger production companies is within his grasp, and that his firm can do this sort of work for much less than is often charged.

The Bandanna rig of today is packaged in an 8 tonne truck, and complete with everything a tour needs – including crew. Rick has fine tuned the business so Tracey can run it, written down everything and settled on a firm price strucrure.

Think about how you would focus on your affairs if you knew you were on borrowed time. Rick has decided his family will live from the proceeds of the business, which they can do if the work is???? there and if all goes well. We hope it does.

After I wrote this I sent the story back for Rick to read. He hadn’t asked to read it, but I thought since he’d been the one to first make that laboured phone call asking me to come out, he might feel the matter was completed. I called back, and his mum said Tracey had collapsed that morning with exhaustion.

‘Things are a bit hard at the moment’, she said.

Rick got on the speaker phone and haltingly gasped out that he’d been to hospital the previous day, and didn’t think he was coming back. He made a few minor changes to the story, and thanked me. Then there was that awkward moment when the conversation was over, and the goodbye was due. “Godspeed, Rick”, I said, wondering what it means.

I think if there was more work out there, Rick wouldn’t have called me in the first place, rather it was the fact his production was due back from James Blundell’s tour at presstime, without forward bookings. It was clearly worrying him badly, and he knew he couldn’t do more than contemplate.

“Do a story”, he said, “for the boys.” His crew needed work, he was doing what he could. And that meant going public in his last moments. We are all dying, but Rick went slowly over the years, building his business on the way.

I think the guy has uncommon guts. Rick passed away Saturday 20th February.

This article first appeared in the print edition of Connections Magazine March 1993, pp.52-53. 

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