research notes 5 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

 

 

research notes 5 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Building a “scene” involves lots of facets.  It involves recognising that a “scene” should exist when there is no real organisation.   Australian blues music has a “scene”.  It began in the 1950s with musicians playing coffee shops, pubs and some jazz venues.   It then became more organised in the 1960s with radio, record shops, concerts and music magazines.  By the 1970s, TV, film and festivals were all the go.  With passion and foresight many, many people became instrumental in building the foundations that we enjoy today.  The following story tracks some of these people who have dedicated their lives to Australian music.  They speak authoritatively on Australian blues music both then and now

You’re with the King don’t worry

Muddy Waters

Like a number of successful creative people, Michael Gudinski left high school early.   He was already running dances, or “discos” in the school holidays.  He’d worked out one thing, that is whether you are a plumber, an electrician, a promoter or whatever your job is, if you love your job you’ll be better at it and you’ll be a happier person.     At the time, music promotion was very different you could get away with doing it on a shoestring

research notes 5 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream(Photograph courtesy Mushroom Group)

For Michael, blues music had so much soul, so much heart to it.   He was lucky to have grown up with a lot of people that loved music.   A couple of friends at high school listened to a lot of blues and innovative different music.  He loved Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, Cream and Jimmy Page

Fraternity – “Seasons of Change” GTK71

So much influence came out of the blues.  Starting out as a “shit kicker” putting up posters in the music business, the blues gave Michael a foundation to make a career in his first couple of jobs.  It was inspirational even before he started to work with blues acts.     One of the first bands he worked with was The Valentines, who were completely pop.  After that the late and great Bon Scott, such a great singer, Fraternity which was a blues band

“I would have been 18 or 19.  The head of business, in those days, at AMBO rang me and said ‘there’s a bunch of guys on the floor in your office, they’d driven straight down from Brisbane all the way to Melbourne.’  And I met Chain.  Chain was such a huge influence on me.  To have that Number One song with Black and Blue was just … and I had to really fight hard to get it.  The song was unique”

Chain “Black and Blue”  (Move) 1971

Matt Taylor recalls “I think one of the first things, was how big Chain was in Melbourne”

When Matt Taylor was in Genesis he had to go to AMBO, a big booking agency, to get his weeks work gigs and everything.  He’d be waiting to see the “Big Wigs” and talking with the office boy in a little desk out front.  He was a young fella and he’d been at Melbourne High.   He told Matt he wanted to get into show business so he left school.  His dad was giving him a hard time.  So Matt invited him to a few gigs

One night he says, “Matt, those guys at that agency they spend about half an hour on you a week.  They book all their bands and then whatever is left over they’ll give to you”  He said “I’m starting my own agency and I want really good bands.  So I’d love you to come along and you won’t be just one of the bands you’ll be THE band”

Matt said “you are a bit young, seventeen”

He says “No No No I can pull this off” and Matt said “Oh OK” and of course the young man is Michael Gudinski

After Genesis had broken up, Phil Manning asked Matt Taylor to go to Brisbane where Phil, Barry “Little Goose” and Barry “Big Goose” needed a new singer

Michael was an Agent at the time.  “I’d never met them.  I’ll never forget the phone call I got from the great Matt Taylor.  Chain were based in Brisbane at the time. He rings me up and he says ‘Do you want to manage us?’  I don’t think anyone can become a Manager today without meeting the Act“

Matt Taylor says; “When I go up and join Chain, Michael says ‘Matt make me manager of Chain with you in it and by the time you get to Melbourne you will be the biggest band in town’   So when we got back [to Melbourne] you know we were just packing places everywhere.  When Black and Blue is released, I think 3AW or one of those radio stations, it was already in the top ten”

Michael admits that he learned more from Chain than anyone at that time.  He said to the bosses of the agency, “look if I’m going to Manage this band, I have to still be allowed to be the Agent.”  So [Chain] had the best of both worlds

 “It was just a period of time that really set so much up for my life and I’ll never forget it”

The Acts that were most influential on Michael were Muddy Waters from America, Bo Diddley ‘cookin’ southern fried chicken’, Chain and Carson.   Broderick Smith (Dingoes) had the most amazing voice and went on to make some really good solo records

Muddy Waters – “Got My Mojo Working”

Michael became very close to one of the greatest blues players of all time, Muddy Waters.   He went to Chicago after doing two Muddy Waters tours.  In typical blues cultural fashion, if you treat descent people right and look after them on your home turf they say to you “Give us a ring if you are coming over” genuinely and they call you back.   So Michael went out with Muddy Waters in Chicago one-on-one

Now Chicago in the 70s, well it wasn’t a place for a white Australian kid on his own … if you know what I’m sayin’ …

“I went to the restaurant, there wasn’t one white person there and Muddy he said to me

‘You’re with the King don’t worry’”

The heart and the soul of where Michael came from; “I came from the blues and I’ll never forget that trip to Chicago.  Going out with Muddy Waters and you know he had been so ripped off but if you did the right thing… it really meant a lot.”

A Fun Fact: – In an era when there were skinheads, sharpies and the like, Michael noticed that you had decent people listening to the blues.  Wielding his influence Michael along with partner Ray Evans, ran a blues festival called “Levi’s Blues”.  On the bill was Freddy King, Duster[Bennett], Junior Wells and Buddy Guy and maybe Sonny [Terry] and Brownie [McGhee].   Michael says “It was so far ahead of its time.  You’ve got to be a leader not a follower.”  Michael lost money on it but Freddy King was amazing and it was a great event

Michael has never been scared of different styles of music.  And just like a house or anything else, foundations are critical, and the blues was such a big part of our foundation.  “It’s great to see BluesFest now even though we were so far ahead of them with ‘Levi’s Blues’ but sponsorship back then was unheard of”

research notes 5 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

(Photograph courtesy Mushroom Group)

Mushroom nearly went broke a couple of times

“look you learn one thing when you are young.  No matter how cool or hip or supportive you are, if you can’t pay your bills you’re shit”

It wasn’t only about making money.  It’s about developing and having faith in Artists and letting Artists have much more control of their career.  In the late 60s, the music business was backyard and had no credibility.  There were fly-by-nighters, people wouldn’t pay royalties

“That’s why I started the Mushroom label.  I was determined for people to realise we weren’t that and it took us forever”

Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs “C C Rider” Live at Sunbury

The 70s were an age of imported cars, imported clothes and imported records. Mushroom put out a very significant record.  A triple album with the most incredible packaging from Sunbury ’73

This made people realise that Australian music could stand on its own and it was a very important thing

The band that made Mushroom records successful, Michael will never forget “Everybody’s wearing blue jeans” by The Skyhooks

 

Michael Gudinski is unquestionably the most influential person of Australian music in the last 50 years.  More influential than any performer.  His whole career was built around … and people don’t know this because they think of Kylie Minogue, Jimmy Barnes, Paul Kelly, blah blah all that sort of stuff.  The first signings to Mushroom records back in the early 1970s were predominately blues-based music artists.  The very first tour Michael Gudinski promoted was John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers  He was the guy who brought Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and all of these guys to Australia in the late 1960s, early 1970s and he tells stories of his overseas trip.  He was 22 and he went to Chicago and he said ‘for a white Jewish boy from Melbourne not a good place to go.’  But he said ‘when your chaperones have got names like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf’ he said ‘you are welcome in any blues club you want to go to in Chicago’”      Stuart Coupe interview 2015

Growing up in Launceston, Tasmania, music commentator Stuart Coupe remembers listening to the radio.  Things like “I’m A Boy” by The Who, The Supremes, Mitch Rider and The Detroit Wheels “Linda Sue Dixon” , Tammy Wynette’s “Stand By Your Man.”  He admits winning those singles in a radio competition by ringing up and attempting to sing “I’m A Boy” by the Who

The Easybeats “Friday On My Mind” (French TV 1967)

The first album Stuart bought was the Easybeats “Friday On My Mind.” It was in his mid-teens when he decided to try to articulate his passion for music by writing about it.   “A guy called Rob Smyth who wrote for The Nation Review who kind of shaped my aesthetic.  To this day… he didn’t say this … it’s paraphrased …‘there’s nothing wrong with loving ABBA and Hank Williams at the same time’ and he wrote about an incredibly disparate array of music”

A firm believer that if you are still [living] somewhere like Tasmania when you are twenty you will die there and that’s not a good thing.  Stuart left for Adelaide and Flinders University.   He paid part of his way through university, by hiring his record collection for thirty bucks a week to the new ABC FM library in Adelaide.  On the condition that they had a 24 hour concierge.  So if he wanted to listen to a particular record at four o clock in the morning there would be someone there to get that record.   His good friend David Woodhall was presenting the rock music show

Stuart didn’t finish his degree.  He became Editor or one of the Editors of Empire Times which was the student magazine at Flinders.  Johnny Rotten was on the cover of one issue.   After attempts at starting his own magazine, he was also freelancing for RAM magazine in Sydney.   Where in 1978, Anthony O’Grady offered Stuart a job at RAM and he moved to Sydney.   A full-time job, he was paid $90 a week to write about music, listen to records and go see live music. “Fundamentally nothing has changed in forty years”

“Was it possible to be someone in your late teen’s, early twenties in 1975, 1976, 1977 and listen to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters and Robert Johnson at the same time you’re listening to The Clash and the Sex Pistols and television and Patty Smith?

Of course it was.  That’s exactly what we did.”

Blues music infuses every aspect of popular rock ‘n’ roll.  People don’t realise how diverse and varied it is.  What falls under this umbrella of blues?  It can be Charley Patton, Booker White, Robert Johnson and all of the greats from the 1920s, 30s and 40s.  Or it can be the harder edge Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, B B King and it can be Jeff Beck 

Dutch Tilders with The Foreday Riders “The Hunter”

Dutch Tilders was revered as a significant pioneering influence and one of the cornerstones of the Australian blues scene.  His was also a name outside of the blues community too.  If you weren’t intimately across what he did you were aware of how prolific he was, how much he played and his influence on a generation of Australian blues performers

The blues were a big deal in Australia from the late 60s through to mid-1970s.  More coming out of Melbourne than Sydney but a very strong blues-based rock ‘n’ roll fusion, which Dutch would have been very much part of that.  For Stuart, Melbourne was a very, very vibrant blues-based scene and a lot of it had to do with very good import record stores in the late 60s early 1970s

In Launceston, Stuart would listen on a crystal radio attached to his parent’s telephone.  He’d stay up to listen to Chris Winter’s “Room To Move” radio show.  Hugely influential and a better quality of music journalism.  Playing amazing music from overseas

Australian blues music gets limited media exposure.  Very dedicated and passionate pockets of Community Radio presenters broadcast blues specialist programs.  There are Blues Societies, there’s even one in Launceston Tasmania.  They are very active and they put on a lot of shows.  [Blues Societies] are all over the place.  So the intensity and the passion of the people involved cannot be questioned.  They are, for the larger portion of the time, operating in a niche area of the media in general

Stuart plays his “array of disparate music” on his Community Radio program Dirt Music.  Broadcasting every Saturday at 1pm on 107.9FM 2SER in Sydney.   He introduces each show with “music that comes from the heart and takes no prisoners”

“Its real music, it’s not made to fit a particular fad or fashion at a particular time, its authentic, its passionate and its music from the heart“

Stuart wanted an aesthetic with Dirt Music, that’s broad enough to mean that in a typical radio show, should he desire, he can play Blind Blake and Tamam Shud  and Keith Hudson’s reggae and Sonny Rollins saxophone playing.  The range right across the whole “gammit” of styles, which is what he does when sitting at home listening to music.   “So that means that I’ve got a radio show which doesn’t really have too many constraints which is exactly the way I like it”

Many, many volunteers put their hands up to be part of Community Radio.  In a 2014 interview with the then President of the Community Broadcasting Association of Australia (CBAA), Adrian Basso, explained the heart of Community Broadcasting

“It is an organisation that is a good reflection of the Australian community in all of it’s diversity”

From Christian Radio, Muslim, Atheist programming.  A strong and vibrant indigenous sector either in the cities or Alice Springs.  There’s a program for print-handicapped people that have problems with reading.  Whether it’s sight impaired or just that they can’t read English.  There’s ethnic programming, in Melbourne, Triple Zed cover over a hundred languages across the country.   As well as a lot of focus on music and these programmes connect with the local communities.  So if it’s in the capital cities, or out in the suburbs or rural, regional and remote areas Community radio covers all bases.  The national broadcasters’ ABC and SBS do good things but community broadcasting covers a strong local grass roots aspect that they just can’t.  At the time of the interview Adrian quoted a figure of five million listeners each and every week.  Which he says, is in the high twenty percent of the population

The Allman Brothers Band “Stormy Monday”

Austin Harrison Stormy Monday Monday 8pm 102.5FM FineMusic (nee 2MBSFM)

Chris Rhule and Tim Gunn originally called the program “Blues After Hours.”   A generous listener donated money so Chris and Tim could go to America to see those musicians they so passionately loved.   The show was midnight to dawn on a Sunday and they needed someone to do the show while they were away.   In 1979 Austin Harrison put his hand up

He doesn’t know what possessed him because he only had enough records to last one hour of broadcasting.  His entire broadcasting experience was limited to weekend phantom broadcast from the spare room of a group, that were trying to get one of the nine low powered radio licences, in Canterbury in the inner west of Sydney.    He borrowed records and on his own with virtually no experience either about music or radio, Austin did the midnight to dawn show for six weeks

He doesn’t remember whether it was because he refused to leave or they actually offered him a position but Austin through thick and thin has been broadcasting now for over 40 years. Mondays 8pm – 10pm “Stormy Monday.” What Austin doesn’t know about blues music isn’t worth knowing

John Lee Electric Barnyard Hornsby NSW Tuesday 2pm 100.1FM 2HHH

Helen Jennings OAM Roots of Rhythm Melbourne Wednesday 9am – 11am PBS 106.5FM PBS.    One of the pioneers of Australia’s blues scene, Helen Jennings is most cherished and loved by all blues people and especially her audience.  Helen became enamoured with the blues in 1950s.  She was manager to Dutch Tilders throughout the 1980s and 1990s, it is said his most successful years.  Encouraged by Kasa Della Rosa, she eventually started Roots of Rhythm in the 1980s with a record collection to die for.   Helen is very well regarded both in Australia and in the home of blues itself America

Guy Brookes BluesRadio Sydney Thursdays 8pm on 99.3FM Northside Radio

Cathy Vaughan “Rockin’ The Blues” Hawkesbury Radio

Cathy Vaughan Rockin’ The Blues Sydney Thursday 10pm – Midnight 89.9FM Hawkesbury Radio.  Being a drummer and fabulous singer with her and her husband’s band “Working Poor” Cathy has been broadcasting since 2006, with a great insight to a musician’s life.   She really enjoys interviewing musicians, finding out how they write and tries to connect with the brain of the Muso

Max Crawdaddy Son Of Crawdaddy Melbourne Thursday 10pm – Midnight 102.7FM Triple R

Al Swanton Recyclin’ The Blues Katoomba Blue Mountains Friday 7pm on 89.1 2RBM

Bruce Bongers Hoodoo Kitchen Sydney.  Saturday 12pm 99.3FM Northside Radio

Gavin Pillidge Blues In The Afternoon Braidwood NSW Saturday 1pm 94.5FM 2BRW

Werner Martin Hot Damn Tamale Melbourne  Saturday 7pm – 8pm  855AM 3CR

Geoff Pegler BluesBeat Radio Wentworth NSW (where the Murray meets the Darling River) Across Australia on most Community radio stations from midnight

Geoff started BluesBeat Radio around 1995 on 3HOTFM Mildura.   He now prepares his program from home and sends it out via the Community Broadcasting radio network.   Interestingly, Blues music presenters around Australia have got their own chart ABARACs (Australian Blues and Roots Airplay Charts)   It was started by a another blues radio presenter up at Byron Bay called Anthony Moulay, who together with Dave Barker a blues presenter from St Helen’s Tasmania put out the very first ABARAC chart in December 2010. (see http://www.abarac.com.au/)

 

The Australian Blues Music scene is incredibly vibrant and successful across Australia.  Due to new technologies, Australian blues musicians enjoy popularity not only at home but across the world.   Australian promoters, journalists, radio commentators, musicians, are some of the passionate people forging an Australian blues scene that is as well-known at home as in America and Europe.  Bands like The Teskey Brothers enjoy and build upon the foundation that was built in the 1960s and 70s.  Being part of Australian blues culture, their music will have a longevity that other music genres envy

As Michael Gudinski says;

“Great music will always come back   

Great things will stand the test of time

and music goes in cycles”

The Teskey Brothers – Hold Me (Live At The Forum)

First published: Saturday 11th April, 2020

© Amanda Dweck March 2020