John Archibold Dixon Swan was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 15th March 1952. He migrated to Australia with his family in 1961 and took up residence in Elizabeth, just on the outskirts of Adelaide. When his mother remarried in the mid-1960s, he was the only child to keep the surname of his biological father, who was an adept boxer. His younger brothers Jimmy and Alan Barnes took the surname of their mother.
Swanee started playing the drums at an early age and became entranced with Blues, Soul and Hard-Rock. He left school by the age of 13 to pursue a career in music. He joined his first professional band Happiness a year later. At the age of 17 he enlisted in the Australian Army, and was later discharged after two years of service.
In early 1974 he joined The James Wright Band as a drummer, and by the end of the year he joined the Adelaide band Fraternity as lead vocalist. His brother Jimmy Barnes joined the band and Swanee switched roles to drums, but eventually resumed his duties as lead vocalist after Jimmy Barnes left Fraternity to join Cold Chisel. During this time, Swanee played drums for Jim Keays’ Southern Cross. In 1976 Swanee moved on and left both bands.
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