Tuesday, February 27, 2024
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Speaking In Tongues

The Australian blues music community is a family.  I have been incredibly privileged to have interviewed some of Australia’s professional musicians.   The following interviews tell another aspect to blues music.  More about instruments other than the core harmonica and guitar.  This blog is also about family and the way in which family influence a musical career from a very young age

Following is Chris Finnen – rhythm; Adrian Keating – Electric Violin; Winston Galea – Drums and Percussion; Don Hopkins Piano & Piano Accordian; Peter Howell – Double Bass; and Ray Beadle – Busking

This blog is dedicated to Chris Wilson, Greg Fisher, Dave Ball and Kenny Sutherland

Chris Finnen

Video: Chris Finnen with Berimbau

At a documentary conference in Adelaide, March 2015, and because I had just begun my research journey in blues wonderland, I grabbed my friend and said let’s go to some of the blues bars in the city.   I don’t remember how I found the Gaslight, but I did, and there was some fantastic blues music being played.  Of course, sticking out like sore thumbs … as Adrienne and I were, I got talking to some of the locals and mentioned Dutch Tilders.   “Wow you’ve got to meet Chris Finnen, we’re trying to get him to come down here to play, he is great friends with the ol Dutchman”   Unfortunately, Chris Finnen’s friends didn’t manage to get him to the Gaslight that night

Roll forward a couple of years and I think someone in the big ol’ blues family contacted Chris Finnen for me and asked him if I could get in contact about an interview for my project

I telephoned Chris at the arranged time, knowing that Chris was extremely busy with all his music projects

Chris answered “Hello”

“Hello Chris, my name is Amanda and I want to talk to you about Dutch Tilders and Australian blues music, Oh by the way how far behind Sydney is Adelaide cos I’ve now realised I’m calling you on Sydney time?”

Chris said “Adelaide is about 20 years behind the rest of Australia”

So we finally arranged the interview and I drove from Sydney to Adelaide via the Hay plain


Chris Finnen came to Australia from England when he was 14.   He was 10 years old when the Beatles, the Stones, Eric Burdon and the Animals, British R&B were really hitting it.  He liked the beat of the music, the words.   At that time, he’d watch Top Of The Pops and Thank Your Lucky Stars and a radio show on a Saturday morning called Saturday Club with Brian Mathews as the MC.  [Mathews] interviewed people like Chuck Berry and you’d hear, what Chris thought was R&B but was, blues

A Primary School teacher bought him a record called “The Real Blues Volume 2” on the Pie Label in the UK (would have been Chess in America).   So he got to hear tracks by Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Buddy Guy.  He loved the feel of that music, the guitar playing and the singing.  Although he was a bit young on picking up the sexual connotations, what he could understand was that these people were singing something that was very real

By 1968, Chris had left school aged 16.  His first band was called St James Infirmary and the music that was being released at the time was Jimi Hendrix, Cream, John Mayall and the Bluesbreakers, the early Fleetwood Mac.    Chris’s Nan [grandmother], who lived in the north of England, god bless her … she couldn’t afford to do it but every month she would send him a parcel, which would have; the Beano, the Dandy, New Music Express and Melody Maker magazines … you couldn’t stop her … and Chris would read about what records were being released.    Living in Melbourne suburbs, he travelled to the city on the train where there were a couple of import record shops but what he really liked to do was hear the music live

“I really cut my teeth and did my apprenticeship on Melbourne blues scene.

At the time, the Australian bands were the early Chain, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, among others”

Chris is visually impaired so he couldn’t drive a car.  He’d take the train to all the gigs and choose to stay in town.  Often the group he’d want to see would be on at one thirty in the morning and the last train left at eleven thirty.    So he’d walk around until the next morning because at that time there weren’t all night places or coffee shops

It was important enough for him to go and hear the music.  He’d go right up close to the stage so he could see what was going on, watching, and listening, asking questions.   Even though the musicians were a few years older, nine times out of ten, they were happy to answer questions.  Occasionally, he’d get up and jam with them and they would be very helpful

“I took this [culture] onboard as something I needed to do for the rest of my life,

to help people.   

I learned by surrounding myself with the music and hearing it live was not like hearing it on a record.  It was louder, there were sounds and smells of a live gig that were very exciting for a young teenage boy at the time and to follow the bands around.

You’d learn a lot because their singles might be two minutes but when you saw them live they’d do a song that went for ten minutes and they’d jam and improvise.  You’d remember those things and you’d take them home”

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Video:  Chris Finnen B B King’s “Sugar Mama”

Chris considers blues music as, what he calls, “folkloric” music – it’s stories about people.  He has a great love of English tradition folk music people like Martin Carthy and Nick Jones and he got hold of the Child ballads and that goes back to the 16th, 17th and 18th Century.  Those tunes would travel on broadsheets via horseback.  Blues music started that way, it started beyond electricity.   It started as an acoustic musical form so that those folkloric roots are well and truly there.  You are dealing with people who; didn’t read music, a lot of people didn’t go to school or learn to read and write

“I don’t read music so anything I play

I have to retain by memory”

Chris believes the most important essence of blues music is honesty.   There are basic musical things that need to be there all the time, you need to be in time, and you need to be in tune.  When you look at the blues the timing can differ.  You can have things such as polyrhythms, you might have a basic beat and then you’ve got all other rhythms going on all around them.  But you need that basic beat so that people can understand all the other rhythms that go on around it

This was brought home to him very strongly once when he was playing on a Thursday night at a shopping centre, which is not necessarily the best place to play blues.  He was playing “Sugar Mama” very polyrhythmically on the guitar.  To involve the audience, he got them to clap their hands to the rhythm but was breaking the rhythm up in all sorts of different places.  They had no idea of when to clap.  So, in the break he asked the storeman to get a pallet from the storeroom and Chris stuck a microphone under the pallet.  With foot tapping the audience had a simple basic beat to follow

Describing the cracks in between rhythms:  rhythmic ones, melodic ones, ones to do with phrasing.  If you leave a gap where you put an extra note it will make the music interesting.  You bend notes so then you look at things such as the cracks in between the notes.  In western music it is mostly tones and semi-tones.  In blues you have a vibrato with your music and using this can make the music talk.  Quick vibrato is talking differently to slow vibrato but now it has some essence of human voice in it and has some degree of meaning to it  

For Chris, the most important part of his playing is that he wants to get a good sound.  “I don’t want to throw any notes away, which I spent many years doing.  Because the rock n roll essence of this and the entertainment essence of this is being large and live and entertaining people

“Every time I pick up an instrument,  

I’m striving to play better, striving to play less,

  So that when I do play,

 it jumps out like a well-read book or

a well punctuated story

 it’s got a reason for being there”

Chris is always trying to improve because, there was that saying from Brownie McGhee, “never play a note you don’t believe in.”   Chris feels that he has thrown a lot of notes away in his life and now he tries to not throw so many away.  Striving to make them mean something

One of his favourite musical formats is a slow blues, although you can’t play that many slow blues at a concert.  He might play twenty over a course of a month or two.  There’ll be one where he nails it and got it dead right and he feels like the cat that got the cream.  “I go home and think Chris; you did it, you showed restraint and then you showed passion and then you played a mass of notes and you called it right, you got it right tonight and somebody, who likes the slow blues, might enjoy everyone that I play.”

 So he knows when he has done a special one and that’s what he strives to attain


Before I met him, I’d heard and read that Chris Finnen had a visual impairment.  Once I had met and interviewed him and heard about his life and how humble he is and what a gentleman he is and the struggles and challenges that an average sighted person would find challenging, I realised that after reading Albert Murray’s “Stomping The Blues” that in Chris Finnen is the epitome of a hero.  Someone who beyond himself will help anyone who asks.   He says it is this that keeps him going because there are a lot of days when we all have the blues.   When Chris has back aches through travelling long distances to gigs, setting up and travelling home at all hours of the day and night alone.  What keeps him going?  

“There were certain things due to my vision impairment that I couldn’t do, or I couldn’t do the same way as other people.  Some things I couldn’t do at all. 

So I focused on the things I could do, and music was the first thing in my life that made me feel that I could do something that made other people feel good.  I felt quite insecure as a kid.  I never told anyone, I never told my parents, I never told teachers.  When I played music, people liked what I did, and they enjoyed it. 

 so that was a start of not feeling insecure”

Chris Finnen is a phenomenal blues musician, who everyday slays a lot of dragons.   Where others would not take on the challenges that life unfolds, he has dedicated his life to blues music

“When the story book hero is reported to have lived happily ever after

 his triumph over the dragon, it is not to be assumed that he is able to retire

 but rather that what he has been through should make him more insightful,

 more skilful, more resilient, and hence better prepared to cope with eventualities.

  Because there will always be other dragons, which after all are as much a part of

 the nature of things as is bad weather” 

Albert Murray “Stomping The Blues” (p258)

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Video: Chris Finnen “Nuclear Wasted”

Adrian Keating

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstreamThe Windsor Castle Hotel, Prahran, Melbourne

Geoff Achison tells the story of when he had a residency of a Monday night at The Windsor Castle in Prahran Melbourne.   Adrian turns up in his black tie and tails with a teeny tiny guitar case asking to sit in with the band.     Geoff thought, at that time, he’d seen everything, but he hadn’t come across Adrian’s electric violin and his passion for contemporary music

Adrian Keating is Principal Violin for Opera Australia.   Being classically trained from the age of seven, he did not improvise at all until he was twenty-one.  As a child his parents observed that he was always singing along with the music they played; Beethoven, Mozart and the stuff that fires the brain up with the rhythm and the phrasing.  So, having that on in the background does a lot of training money can’t buy.   His parents took him to a music store and Adrian pointed up and said “I’d like that” pointing to a trumpet, “I’d like to play that”

and his mum said, “No, no, no you are going to play the violin” 

The violin is an instrument that is intricate and requires fine motor skills.   It’s always difficult to improve something you are trying to work on, that’s what he calls a normal difficulty.  But if you’ve done something for ten years the difficulty is relative.  A violin, stringed instruments are harder, mainly because of the right-hand cos you draw your sound this way [pointing to the right].  A guitarist is attached to the instrument, you don’t have this third party operating to make the sound and I think that’s a really big difference.  When I look back over thirty years of watching other violinists, I think that’s the thing it’s the right hand that’s actually the difficulty

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Video: Adrian Keating and Geoff Achison “Kissing Angels”

What is the practical difference between being a classical musician and being an improvised musician?  

Adrian uses an analogy to describe the difference between a trained classical musician and someone who has really worked up their skills in improvisation

Playing the first violin section of an orchestra you might have a big orchestra.  You’d have fourteen first violins and they are all playing the same line, that’s crafting the written note, that’s crafting to an end result.   A lot of independent musicians do that with crafting their albums.   It’s the same process but in this regard, we are reading a code, we are code reading.  All the information is on the page.  It’s to do with tradition and the conductors bring something and you bring something yourself to a performance.   The main difference in classical music, would be if you had fourteen actors all reproducing Shakespeare’s Hamlet soliloquy with the vocal inflections and with the same highs and lows in the phrases.  They have to do it together 

It’s crafting to an end result that actually doesn’t change that much  

In a band context, if somebody does not feel “Oh it’s a B chord but I might do this inversion” or the rhythm could be a bit loose or something happens in the band, there is an interactive thing.  People interact and there is a music thing and the music can change slightly that’s kind of loosely the difference between the two skills

“That’s why classical musicians are trained to craft and reproduce which is not the same skill required of contemporary musicians”

Playing music is always about interacting with people.  There are tremendous social opportunities to meet people, tremendous fun in the whole thing when making music. When you are performing a piece, it’s like getting on a ride and you ride through that piece.  When they are playing, all musicians know you get trapped in that focus of what’s going on, which is what everyone’s going for and it’s the same for contemporary music

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Video:  Mike Elrington and Adrian Keating “Wicked Game”

Winston Galea

Video:  Winston Galea describes African drumming

Born in Redfern, Sydney, Winston “Winnie” Galea grew up in a musical family.  His older brothers, Joe and Frank had a band called The “Midnighters” [See attached ‘Maroubra’ by The Midnighters] and they rehearsed in the garage at home.   Winnie remembers when he was about eight or nine, he was listening to his brothers play cos he was really impressed with what they were doing.   Three guys were hangin’ round outside listening to the rehearsal.  He said “who are you guys, what are you doing here?”    Turns out these guys were The BeeGees and they lived about three or four blocks away from where the Galea’s lived in Kingsford Sydney  

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Video: Winston Galea “Something Ain’t Right”

Winnie started playing drums at school.  Having two brothers and a sister with a magnificent singing voice, he got the bug when asked to play drums for a school concert playing Beatles songs.  His parents bought his first drum kit and he paid them back working as a golf caddy on weekends and returning empty bottles he’d pick up from the beach

Drummers like Brian Freeman who played with his brother’s band, showed him some bits and pieces.  Greg Henson, a famous drummer was pivotal, very instrumental instilling the right and wrong way to play. How to hold the sticks traditionally and hold them match play.  Greg was the original drummer in Jesus Christ Superstar as well as another guy called Greg Bushell the percussion player.  Winnie’s brother Frank played bass and Winnie’s brother-in-law, Mike Wade was the band leader and musical director with Eric Dare   

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Dave Ball  (photograph courtesy of Ross ‘Rooster McBlurter’ Mortimer)

Winnie followed his brother down to Melbourne.  They both played in a band called “Melbourne to Memphis” with a great guitar player called Dave Ball, an absolute gentleman.  Joe played sax and Winnie drums and percussion

“Blues music is dear to my heart because

 it’s workin’ man’s music and contrary to popular belief

 it isn’t, as it used to be called, the devil’s music

 but it’s just workin’ man’s music

 from the cotton fields and then modernised”

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Video: Dutch Tilders and the Blues Club “Baby Please Don’t Go”

Dutch Tilders was a mentor just like Joe and Frank had been,

“I’ve seen the soft side to Dutch and the hard side to him and I miss him everyday”

When Dutch asked Winnie to join the band, he wanted to get an electric edge to what he thought was missing in his music.  Dutch wanted an electric feel, a Chicago style feel that he could mould into his own 

These days, Winnie spreads himself thin by playing in various bands but always tends to fall back into the R&B, blues, early blues – early blues like three-piece, upright slide guitar and drums.  He’s been doing that all his life having travelled and seen all the various different styles of blues from Europe to the UK to the US

“You can see the difference when it becomes

electric blues

it becomes a little bit more toe tapping

and a little bit more of a rocky sort of feel,

stuff that everybody likes”

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Dutch Tilders, Barry Hall, Winston Galea, Martin Cooper

(photograph courtesy Ross ‘Rooster McBlurter’ Mortimer)


Don Hopkins

Phil Manning of Chain recommended I interview Don Hopkins as one of the accomplished blues piano musicians in Australia.    Phil Manning was also an inspiration for Don because as Don says he began on guitar.  He’d had some piano lessons when he was seven but

“I was hopeless at sticking to the notes as written”

However these lessons showed him you can have notes that represent the sounds as he played by ear

Don started on guitar, also harmonica and he plays Zydeco, a musical style, on piano  accordion.  He also learned to sing and play chords.  Through that he would sing and play chords on the piano

“Cajun and Zydeco I love and when I look back, I notice a lot of the songs I’ve selected come from the Louisiana area, so I do a lot of New Orleans stuff.”

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Video: Big Wheel Clips

Don Hopkins on Zydeco, Jim Conway’s Big Wheel. 

See also Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band under Peter Howell

To this day, Don has his parent’s blues and folk 78rpm records.  His father visited New York in 1940s and brought back a Josh White 78 album and his mother had a great Pete Seeger Live At Carnegie Hall album with really strong rhythms.  That album got him into rhythm

“Blues rhythm is so fantastic, and the freedom of expression is naturally flowing.  The fact that blues music is not mainstream, it is unusual, exotic, and opened up a whole world of African American culture was very attractive.   It had sex, drugs, jail, and all sorts of things like having a good time that a teenager in the 1960s might be into”

Blues music also offered Don a sanctuary in his teen years for letting off steam.  He had a need to express pain because of his father’s death when he was seven years old.  Looking back Don realised that is why strong male figures like Lead Belly appealed to him.  The father becomes more of a mystery figure so that’s why blues music really appealed to him.  It’s very cathartic singing emotionally and letting out that pain and blues music has also spontaneity, another quality Don enjoys

“If you compare blues to Western classical, it’s more preconceived.

Its more looking at emotion,

looking back sentimentalising.  

What is at the heart of blues music?  It’s really down to earth”

Most of Don’s influences revolve around experiencing and expressing the emotion in the present moment.  His Boogie Woogie drive is from Otis Spann’s rhythm.  If you listen to Muddy Waters Band, Spann’s rhythm creates the whole rhythm of the band, its all coming from him.    Watch the Newport Jazz Festival, every song Otis Spann plays, the band comes into his opening grooves and you can tell that Otis Spann is influenced by Memphis Slim, a giant of Blues music 

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Video: Muddy Waters Newport Jazz Festival 1960.  This video seems to start at 27mins

[see Otis Spann about 7mins and 12mins]

As a singer Don’s influences are Bessie Smith, people from that era Sister Rosetta Tharpe, Inez Andrews and a lot of gospel singers.  He absorbs their styles and somehow taps into the spirit of it.  Resonances are blues from each decade up to 1960s, he’s not mad on the more rock end of blues, but the more jazzy side of the blues people like Charles Brown

On Don’s fourteenth birthday he asked for a twelve-string guitar.    When he was buying the guitar, he also bought “Leadbelly – King of the 12 String Guitar” album.  Don has never heard anyone else play that style, so he got stuck into learning this very intricate and tricky style

“I’m influenced by a lot of the guitarists

 and the amazing thing is historically

 a lot of the early blues guitarists were very influenced by piano style”

Ragtime styles like Mississippi John Hurt or he goes for vaudeville blues like Bessie Smith which is more hybrid ragtime

Don considers himself a bit like that of a songster.  He doesn’t just stick to twelve-bar blues or ‘San Francisco Bay Blues’ songs that have other chords like Fats Domino type songs and more

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Video:  Don Hopkins “Wella Baby Love”

Of a Saturday night in the juke joints or barrel houses, they’d get a couple of barrels and put a plank across to form a bar often there would be a piano there.   They reckon there’d be people who’d just start with a rhythm to get people dancing.   Don’s question is when did twelve-bar blues form?   Because Boogie Woogie is based on the twelve-bar blues.   It comes from Boogie Woogie.  Probably the three-line blues where you are seeing two lines repeating the second line; second line repeating the first; then the last line is an answer; the punch line.  That would have started first from blues being a vocal idiom first and foremost. It was just people singing in the fields about their woes and misery or singing on chain gangs, work songs or singing working to the rhythm

Rock n Roll grew out of Boogie Woogie piano via big bands and R&B.  There is a lot of repeated little riffs like that.  So the horns would do that and from that grew the Jump Blues scene – Louis Jordan was the first to have hits with that jumpy sound. Swing is more like the jazz thing.  It’s got the four to the bar.  It’s got that walking bass that grew out of the Boogie Woogie too, and that’s influenced things like country music Honky Tonk.  Obviously the New Orleans style of Professor Long Hair rhumba rhythms.  Sounds that you can hear on the streets of New Orleans because it’s a hotbed of these different influences.  Soul music too is more influenced by the gospel styles, black gospel music but there’s a lot of blues influence in there.  Don came to the conclusion that every genre is a hodge podge, even classical genres, of different influences and folk influences

“When I start singing and playing, people get into it

 even if they don’t know the song.  They get into it,

they love it,

 it’s infectious for some reason with rhythms and

great music”

Don compares mainstream music to where he lives musically.   He manages to survive by being able to play some of the mainstream genres when required.  His experience of playing in bands of many genres over the years has come in handy.

Don’s natural style can be equally acceptable to a jazz festival, country music festival, folk music festival and as a session musician.  His music has an appeal that crosses boundaries and all of them are influenced by blues music

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Video: Don Hopkins “Wattle Bird”


The liner notes of Broderick Smith’s Man Out Of Time album reads:

“ANGUS McMILLAN – About 7 or 8 years ago I saw a comment made on TV by John Howard (ex Prime Minister) who stated that we need to forget the past and move on (to paraphrase what he said ) and I thought “that’s all well and good but how can we forget something that we don’t even know about”

I came upon a book called ‘Our founding murdering father: Angus McMillan and the Kurnai tribe of Gippsland 1839-1865’ by PD Gardner.  The more I researched this, the more I realised that McMillan was a low life and, in a way, the biggest mass murderer in our state’s [Victoria] history.

About 5 years back I sent the lyrics off to Rob Hirst to do the music and the song is now recorded.  Now there are moves to have the shire of McMillan changed to Monash shire which is no doubt a good move. [2019 The Division of Monash]

From 2019 the Division of Monash includes the western part of what is known as Gippsland

On several occasions I drove down the Princes Hwy from Sydney to Melbourne.  A fourteen-hour drive straight through but I usually stop to visit relatives.   Although a longer drive than the Hume Motorway, it’s a drive every Australian should take at one time in their lives

A huge blues music community lives along the Illawarra coast, people like; Kerry Sweeney, Michelle Van Der Meer, Alison Penney, Dan Sullivan and many others.  The coast is spectacular and traveling south through to Bega (where my cousin lives) on the Sapphire Coast, subsists with beautiful farming land to magnificent beaches.   A drive you never tire of.  A drive that around every corner is another awesome panorama

From Bega through to the Melbourne suburb of Frankston (where my other cousins live) is possibly the most beautiful landscape on the planet…  (Depending on your taste of course because I say the same thing about the Kakadu) Leaving Bega, Yambulla State forest envelopes you in a tropical forest of tall trees.   Then opens up to more beautiful farmland, Canola crops, a yellow sea for miles in every direction.  Encompassing an atmosphere of tranquillity is the fishing and seaside towns of Lakes Entrance

The delicious thing about driving long distances in Australia is there is always a bakery to have coffee, a pie, a finger bun and heck after all that driving you’ve deserved it.   Holbrook (NSW) on the Hume Hwy, West Wyalong (NSW) on the Newell Hwy, Cann River (Vic) on the Princes Hwy, Rosedale (Vic) Princes Hwy, Mildura (Vic) on the Calder and Stuart Hwy, there is usually a bakery in every Australian town


A lure for musicians, Raymond Island is a ten-minute ferry crossing from Paynesville.    The island is approximately 6 km (3.7 mi) long by 2 km (1.2 mi) wide and it was on Raymond Island where I interviewed Peter Howell

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Video: Raymond Island Sessions #1 – Stuart Hughes guitar and Peter Howell double bass

Peter Howell

Among a catalogue of incredible professional musicians, Peter has played with Margret RoadKnight, Broderick Smith and Dutch Tilders

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Ron Howell  (Peter Howell Collection)

Peter’s dad was a jazz musician in Melbourne from 1930s to the mid-1950s.   At the time, his father was playing a pretty-serious jazz style.  Heavily influenced by Eddy Lang and Django Reinhardt.  There would have been a lot of blues derivative jazz being played in the house.   For Peter, blues music had a feeling of warmth and something that was real


At Melbourne High School, Kerry McKenna (who became Madder Lake’s bass player) turned up with John Mayall’s Hard Road thrusting it at Peter he said “take this home this is going to change your life”.   Peter couldn’t believe it, that first moment of falling in love with the blues was the guitar playing of Peter Green

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Video:  Nick Charles Peter Green’s “Albatross” 

In those days, album covers were thoroughly scrutinized for as long as the record played every part of the album cover was absorbed.  “What’s a Morganfield?” and there’d be a whole other aspect of blues which was the black guys


With a mob of his friends, Peter went to see Bob Dylan’s film “Don’t look back” but he didn’t think much of it.   Afterwards they all went to a place called Frank Traynor’s. The music was Danny Spooner and Declan Affley sitting on barrels playing English/British folk music, Peter had to go back the next night.    In those days, there was Margret RoadKnight, Dutch, a guy called John Graham (a country blues type player) and various other people and Peter just thought

“I gotta be here”

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

(Peter Howell collection)

For a couple of years, he was learning and playing Double Bass at school.   It must have been 1967 or 1968, he was going to Frank Traynor’s a lot.   The most beautiful player out of the folk scene, in his mind, was a Scottish fella called Gordon MacIntyre and he had a beautiful style.   Peter overheard him say “That’s all very well George but we need a bass player”, whereupon Peter spun around and said, “Here I am!”.  They rehearsed and Peter was in the band, that was the start of it

Once they were playing at the Dallas Brooks Hall and Margret was on the bill.  After he and Danny Spooner played, Margret came up and gave him her phone number on a piece of paper and just said “Anytime”.  So in 1971, Peter started playing blues with Margret RoadKnight as well as English, Irish, Scottish songs definitely a folk influence.  And in those days, there were no PAs at Frank Traynor’s it was all acoustic, just pure unamplified playing

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Dutch and Peter  (Peter Howell Collection)

Peter and Dutch played on and off for thirty-two years. He’d met Dutch in 1973, he’d seen him play years before but never really said anything to him.  On a Tuesday night, Dutch played at a folk club in North Melbourne called “The Commune”.   Dutch said “Howell I’ve been lookin’ for you” Mary (Dutch’s wife) gave Pete Dutch’s phone number and address, “so next time we’re in the same room together we’ll play”.  A  couple of months later at a gig at the RMIT Peter was playing with some people and Dutch was there he said “here we are, so let’s go do it”

“Sight unseen, baptism by fire, and bless Dutch’s heart

we walked straight out

 and it was lovely”

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Peter with Jim Conway and Dutch  (Peter Howell collection)

Not long after Peter and Dutch started playing Jim Conway (harmonica) [see Don Hopkins above Big Wheel video] and Peter’s dear mate Ian Clark (percussion) were playing together.  Peter thought it would be nice idea for his Dad to meet players like Jim and Dutch

“Dad thought that because we were into folk music we had to be cowboys. 

We couldn’t possibly know what playing music was about

because according to Dad, I should have been a jazz player”

Peter remembers clearly the first night.  Jim Conway was a little bit late and it was the middle of winter and he was all dressed up in multi-coloured scarfs and traffic light buttons on a great coat, a cap of another million colours and mismatching socks of five hundred different colours and Dad thought “What the hell have I walked into?”

Until Jim stated playing … and that was just beautiful

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Video: Nagasaki – Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band

“Jim asked dad if [he’d heard] that song “Nagasaki”  that Captain Matchbox had in their repertoire.  So Ron started playing it and Jim started playing harmonica and I think the two of them [had enormous respect for each other] then.  With Dutch … it was just a nice thing between the two of them and they ended up forming their own friendship”

Ron Howell’s advice about becoming a professional musician was to keep reminding Peter of the Duke Ellington book “Music is My Mistress” that a fella should have something behind him.  That it was a tough and cruel world

He gave Peter a beautiful guitar, which Peter didn’t take up.   Ron then bought Peter a double bass when he saw Peter going into that.  Musically, he only gave Peter the scale of C.  But he would have chapter headings of beautiful philosophies on being truthful with yourself because your instrument is not going to stand up for you if you tell the story any other way.  So, Peter took that little lesson and looked at that.  You can tell as a kid that your music is not quite sitting right.  Or you might run off saying “I’m brilliant” but then you know you are not because its just not right until it becomes right and how does it become right?  You have to know as best as possible 

“So Dad started me off on a journey where the music and playing music let me know where I was and then I could work on myself from there and be self-critical and self-appraising I couldn’t ask for anything more”

There was quite a lot of those little bits of wisdom that Ron would throw at Peter and let him write his own story 

Peter did have other non-musical jobs here and there throughout his life

It was a big story for Ron because he gave up playing music in 1954.  After Peter’s second sister was born.  He knuckled down so that they wouldn’t have a life like he had.  They had a great life and never lacked for anything, he made sure of that 

One Christmas in the 80s, Peter just looked across the room and saw this look and asked Ron what was going’ on?  He said it was only in that week, from 1954 to say 1984, where he’d realised that he never had to give up playing music and that Peter and his sisters would not have suffered.  He thought he had to give up playing music because it wasn’t secure and his own upbringing wasn’t secure.  So anything that was insecure he got rid of, which was very sad 

It was quite a choking moment for Peter because Ron was such a beautiful player and he had sacrificed his music for them,

“I really didn’t have anything to say … it was just too powerful. 

I could see it in his face that there was no talking needed.  he said to me, “when you go and play son would you play something for me?”  … that coming from a perfectionist just meant that I must have had some worth 

He never told me he loved me, but I guess he did by saying that.  With what he gave me with all the wisdom, the philosophy, which I adopted.  I found them to be absolutely, beautifully true as a lovely way to live your life

My only response to him was, I always do Dad, I always play for you”

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Ron Howell on guitar (Peter Howell collection)


October 2019, I’d just been up Tamworth way to interview Buddy Knox.  That area, usually green and dams pretty full, was as red as Alice Springs and dams were reduced to brown puddles.  No water.  In Victoria they called it a “green drought” where the little rain was just enough to give a superficial grass coating on rock hard earth.   For all Australians, the summer of 2019 – 2020 was going to be hell … we all knew it … the signs were everywhere

It was in November, before leaving for London in February 2020, I was privileged to record my last interview with Ray Beadle.  As with most of the musicians, a privilege because of the time they gave me for the interviews, their lives are full, busy and they were all very generous

Ray’s dad (also Ray Beadle) had just lost everything in the bushfires on the New South Wales north coast around Port Macquarie way.  Literally he lost everything.  His family had set up a place where we could donate

Video: Mooral Creek Bushfires

About half-way through the interview with Ray suddenly the heavens opened and we really couldn’t hear ourselves think for the sound of the downpour on the roof.   I shouted to Ray “looks like you’ve broken the drought”

Ray said, “I’ve actually done a few gigs where it starts bucketing down and they call me “Rain Beadle”

Ray Beadle

That night at Street Market in Crows Nest Sydney, Ray was playing his acoustic guitar.  It’s the only acoustic guitar he owns, and it was made for him twenty-five years ago, when he was sixteen, by David who makes all Jeff Lang’s guitars

YouTube player

Video: Ray Beadle “The Good Life” (Rehearsal)

In the early 90s, Ray and Kenny were busking on Circular Quay in Sydney when a guy came up and asked if they wanted to play at The Basement, which was a pretty good venue back in the day.  Ted Hawkins,  a blues man from the States, who started out as a busker, wanted buskers to support him at The Basement

Although Kenny was younger than Ray and Ray was pretty-green in those days, the first thing Kenny said was “How much man? How much are you going to pay us?” 


Ray’s genre among his musical family was blues.   He heard Robert Johnson when he was about thirteen, then decided to study blues music because of Johnson’s story and the mystery surrounding him.  From that beginning he found others and it seemed like a million years ago.  But when Ray listened it seemed like right now, really relevant and it felt really good and powerful

“So I remember that feeling the music felt powerful

 and I guess that’s the whole thing with the blues is

the honesty of the music”

Ray’s mother is Maori and has a huge musical extended family.  Fifteen brothers and sisters.  Ray’s Dad was an historian of Rock N Roll.  He arrived in Australia from Essex in England.  He had a band there called “The Silver Dollars” and they played Rock N Roll.   His dad taught him to play and listening to that music made Ray curious.  So he dug back to where it had come from and that’s pretty much where he found the blues

YouTube player

Video: The Best of Chess Records: Ray “Rocket 88”

In the early 90s, Ray was about fifteen and Kenny Sutherland, a great harmonica player, Ray says “Kenny was just so fresh”, was three years younger.   For Ray, Kenny was a real old soul and he had a connection playing with guys in Queensland and Melbourne and because his playing was so mean people would just let him sit in.  He introduced Ray to blues musicians he’d never heard of like Lil’ Fi , Buzz and the Blues Band, Mojo Ware.  Kenny would say “man you wait til you see these guys and you’re going to love these guys” and Ray was just going “Wow! swinging like real jazz swinging blues 

“all those little things all those little influences

 you just grab it with both hands and suck it up”

Ray and Kenny would busk together down at Circular Quay, Kenny had his own style.  They were as thick as thieves and just got pretty tight there for a while going to a lot of gigs and they played together for a good couple of years

So when Ted Hawkins’ people asked them to support at The Basement, Kenny was the type of character who made sure he was going to get paid.  That was a great experience doing that and meeting Ted Hawkins particularly for Kenny

Kenny Sutherland was very well known in the Melbourne blues scene.  His father Peter would take him to the Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society and Dutch Tilders was really impressed with him.   Dutch was very fussy about who sat in with him, particularly harmonica players, he asked Kenny to sit in

research notes 7 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Kenny with Chris Finnen  (Photo courtesy Ross ‘Rooster’ Mortimer)

Kenny also played with Geoff Achison, Kaz Della Rosa, Phil Manning, Matt Walker. Kenny played with the who’s who of the Australian blues community


Come 2019, Ray hasn’t heard from Kenny in years.   In his teens, his parents divorced, and Ray says, “Kenny got on the hammer”.  Friends tell Ray that Kenny doesn’t recognise anyone anymore

YouTube player

Video:  Foreday Riders with Ray Beadle, Don’t Hold Back

It was one of those lucky thing’s cos Ray was underage and The Foreday Riders were playing in pubs.  At sixteen it was pretty hard for him to go and see them.  Ray was a shy kid.   He met a really special guy, Peter [Gosene] who really helped Ray.  He had the gift of the gab and asked The Foreday Riders at a gig if Ray could get up and play a song with them.  Ray got to play with them at The Royal Hotel in Ryde and from then on, they became good friends.   It was a time in his life between sixteen and twenty when he was out of home and pretty loose,

“So those guys really took me under their wing and being out of home they made sure I had enough gigs to pay the rent.   I look back and just think wow it was a big deal you know and I’ve always been really close with those guys”

While I have interviewed some of the most proficient blues musicians in Australia most of them mention Ray Beadle to me as a virtuoso, a magician, they totally revere him. 

Ray, in his shy humble way, says he gets a bit funny when people are saying nice things

“They are the guys that I have been watching since I was a kid.  They showed me how to do what I do.  So its mainly because of them.  Really playing with those guys and watching them for years is where I have learnt.

  I didn’t grow up playing in Mississippi or Memphis where you could see those guys play and you really learn off people that you watch and it’s live … so they’re the guys”

YouTube player

Video: Ray Beadle “Let It Burn” (Rehearsal)

© July 2020 Amanda Dweck

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