Home CONTRIBUTORS/BLOGGERS AMANDA DWECK RESEARCH NOTES 8 – A CONVERSATION ABOUT AUSTRALIAN BLUES MUSIC: LIFE BEYOND...

RESEARCH NOTES 8 – A CONVERSATION ABOUT AUSTRALIAN BLUES MUSIC: LIFE BEYOND THE MAINSTREAM

0
97
research notes 8 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

“KEEP THE FAITH”

Anon and Dutch Tilders

What does it mean to “Keep The Faith”?

My initial thoughts about the function of early blues music on the creator/musician through to the audience, was that it connotes a feeling of freedom

Through my research that initial hypothesis was proven correct.  I put these thoughts to Dr Len Oakes and a number of musicians when interviewing them and to my great relief they agreed with me.  This music does, but not exclusively, relieve by connecting deeply

So I knew I was onto something

The foundation of most contemporary music finds motivation within twelve bar blues music with it’s microtones and bending notes.  This suggests to me that, among other things, within the criteria is a dominating voice of oppressive states with expressions of anger “blowing off steam” and unrequited love that speaks to the individual and community

Most professional blues musicians I interviewed reject the mechanisms of oppression and the factors of assimilation.  From the psychologically violent attitudes of racism, through to the economic disadvantages that lead to homelessness, these attitudes in an unfeeling Mainstream Society create symptoms for mental illness to flourish

Blues music represents feelings and commentary of what it is to be human

Alan Lomax (1991) in The Land Where The Blues Began states;

“I hold that music and culture are interconnected, in fact that music is communication about, a mirror of culture” (p354)

Due to the overarching influence of the British Blues Explosion on our Australian blues music and culture, I was asked “so why did the British guys pick it up?”  During the 50s, 60s and early 70s, it seems fair to say that in Britain, blues music was regarded as a sub-culture;

Stuart Hall and Tony Jefferson (2006) cite Brake, 1973:36;

“Sub-cultures arise (then) as attempts to solve certain problems in the social structures, which are created by contradictions in the larger society” (p19)

My interpretation of the above statement also clarified my questioning of blues reflecting the mechanisms of oppression. If blues music was a sub-culture under Brakes’ interpretation, then what are the problems it has tried to solve in the mainstream culture and why are they still around today?

“Our times today are similarly out of joint, similarly terrorised. Technology has made the species rich and resourceful as never before, but the wealth and the resources rest with a few individuals, corporations, and favoured nations.

Most earthlings, most nations, are distanced from technological luxury, and that imbalance is presided over by armed forces capable of destroying the planet itself. Rage and anxiety pervade the emotions and the actions of both the haves and the have-nots.”

Alan Lomax, New York City (1992)

Musically, the graduation away from classical music is reflected in Alexis Korner: The Biography, Shapiro (1996) writes;  Alexis was born 1928, he was forced to learn to play the piano – classical music.  His father violently forbade him to play Boogie Woogie on his mother’s piano

Although Alexis was an influencer and played with most of the British Blues Explosion musicians, he preferred to live his life outside of the Mainstream:

‘I found a music that I was totally involved with straight away.  One day my father came back to find me playing boogie-woogie and he blew his top, totally and absolutely.  He slammed down the lid of the piano and locked it, saying, “You don’t play stuff like that on my piano.”’ (Shapiro, 1996 p15)

Alexis Korner suffered from mental illness, was not understood, and seemed to suffer from alienation

Alexis Korner – “Rock Me”

What can we say about the music itself?

Blues is not three minute music; it is artistic; not pop music; expresses honesty in the human condition; uplifts people out of the rejection they feel in Society; for example, has always given a sense of freedom of thought;  describes mental illness but also tries to alleviate those conditions

The music, though simple, is evolving artistically through improvisation and is the foundation of most contemporary music

Through organisations like Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society, with the initiatives of Youth In Blues and the monthly blues jam, they are ensuring an ongoing vibrant blues music culture

 

What is “The Faith”?

Is it to evolve blues music or blues culture or both?

Would a musician argue that music is, as Lomax says, a mirror of culture and therefore the two are not separate?

Does it mean to only play authentic blues music … do we know what “authentic” means?

 

The following interviews are with those blues musicians who have travelled outside of Australia to build their careers.  They have international reputations, they are known and respected for their music in other countries, sometimes before we hear about them at home.  Dave Hole signed to Alligator Records; Leszek Karski’s career began in England and travelled to Australia; Geoff Achison travels every year to America and UK; Dom Turner every year visits Como Mississippi among other blues music areas of the world;  Lloyd Spiegel is very much at home in Japan, Europe, Canada, the United States, New Zealand and his apprenticeship was in American blues country

 

Dave Hole

research notes 8 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

There are very few, if only one person on this planet, who can say they have a room at the head of Alligator Records, Bruce Iglauer’s home but Dave Hole does have a room and can say that.  From studying Physics to Australian blues legend, Dave Hole believes his journey has been an element of luck rather than successful career management.  He has a signature slide guitar style and energy that few could keep up with.  Dave Hole spends most of any year; six months in America, three months in Europe and any time possible in his home in Perth Western Australia

The fact that any Australian blues musician has been lauded by America is an incredible achievement, particularly of Dave’s generation

Dave Hole – “These Blues Are Here To Stay”

The intricacies of playing blues music is best witnessed live and his generation didn’t have access in any way to live performances.  People like Albert King, Freddy King and B B King and slide influences of Elmore James, Robert Johnson, Blind Willie Johnson, among others.  Their music and playing their music would have been a guess from listening and analysing records.   When you could get the records that is

In the 60s, the record shop on Hay Street Perth didn’t know who McKinley Morganfield or Chester Burnett was. “Oh, sorry there’s no artist of that name, we can’t find it, it’s not in our catalogues.”   Somehow Dave had to work out that Morganfield was Muddy Waters and Burnett was Howlin’ Wolf.  Then once discovered, the importing of records would take about two or three months from America.  This made records incredibly valuable and worn out through playing them and playing them

Among Dave’s list of influences is Otis Rush always a favourite, Buddy Guy, Eric Clapton, Lightning Hopkins, Charlie Patton and Son House;

“Son House was quite a monster player going back to the origins of the music or the early days of blues and I really love them all. 

I’ve listened and listened to try and emulate them at various times. 

I think that’s the thing about blues that no matter what your influences are,

 when it comes to playing the blues you just have to be yourself.”

 

Son House – “Death Letter Blues”

As a child Dave liked Buddy Holly and anything with a twangy guitar.   He had the first inkling of the blues with Rolling Stones records and then he realised that the Stones were doing covers of Jimmy Reed, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters.  Meanwhile, The Everly Brothers and The Shadows and the pop music of Dwayne Eddy that instrumental surf style music, which came in the 60s, was all about love for the guitar and love for the blues

Duane Eddy – “The Theme to Peter Gunn”

To call Dave’s guitar style “a lucky accident” is to diminish the passion, professionalism, drive and determination he has invested in his music.   When he first started playing slide guitar, the conventional way, he used the slide on the little finger of his left hand

“But I’d only been doing that for a couple of months when I broke that little finger playing Aussie Rules Football and had to have a cast put on it.”

He couldn’t play the guitar at all for a while.  Ingeniously he found that the slide fit snuggly on his index finger.  He would keep the little finger out of the way and hang the index finger over the top.

“I had about three months when I couldn’t play.  I used that time to doodle around and find where the notes were on the slide guitar.  It’s different tuning. 

it became comfortable and then when I was eventually able to put the slide back on the little finger.  I thought it would be great but no, I was already use to this, so I just continued with it”

Dave had a few bands in High School before The Beaten Tracks.   The Beaten Tracks wasn’t a blues band, it was a pop band and probably the only pop band Dave’s ever been in his life.   Warren Morgan, probably the best musician in the band, who now plays with all sorts of people was in that band.  They headhunted Dave when their guitarist left.   It wasn’t long after that they did the Perth section of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds and they won against very good competition

At the time, Dave was at University studying Physics.  The final of Hoadley’s Battle of the Sounds was held in Melbourne.   So they went to Melbourne during Uni holidays.  They also did gigs and stuff in Melbourne

Dave Hole – “Short Fuse Blues”

From [1st] Chain album liner notes:    “In Melbourne Dave Hole, now recognised as one of Australia’s blues guitarists par excellence, decided to leave the band”   [see Chain” … and the nightman walked on the moon” Part 1 ]

With reputation intact, Dave returned to Perth to complete his Physics degree.   Dave says “you know [its] a paradoxical thing really” While he was in that last year, he then went on with studying and ended up doing two more years.  During that time, Dave was playing in other bands.  He had his own band and didn’t stop playing music.  Earning a bit of money around Perth was helping put him through Uni

“I was getting more and more into the blues thing and more interested in becoming a musician”

So then I asked for a year off.  They granted him a year before he did post graduate.  He really enjoyed it.  Then he asked for another year and that’s when they said “no … don’t think so” you have to keep coming, you have to come back, start studying and carrying on.  So to his parent’s great disappointment, he decided to leave Uni and play music for a while.  Dave has never actually used his Physics degree for any commercial gain

“but I don’t regret doing it cos I think anything you learn in life is good”

So what is the link between music and Physics?  Do these high-level languages complement one another?

“It’s surprising how many physicists or how many musicians are mathematicians and physicists.  Physics these days are pretty much maths so you can’t be a physicist if you are no good at maths. 

If I was really pressed about it, I would say that with music, your brain has to be calculating stuff a little bit ahead of time because you can’t just play one note and then start thinking what am I going to do now?”

It’s a bit like chess you have to kind of know, especially if you are improvising, which is blues and jazz other stuff as well.  Your brain has to have a little bit of knowledge of where you are going with the notes you are playing and what you are trying to express and where you are going to end up

So I think you [have] got to be ahead of the game.  Its not really a case of playing one note and then think what will be next, there’s no time to think “what is the next note I am going to play?”

Dave’s career, since 1990, has been based mostly in America.  He made his first album in Perth and it got picked up by Alligator Records headquartered in Chicago.  They wanted him to tour around America and he toured there for twelve months moving from state to state.  He thinks they have played every state even Hawaii but not North Dakota or Alaska.   Dave spent twenty-seven years on the road, although he has cut back in the last couple of years.  He feels he knows more about America than some Americans.  Putting that down to the fact that Americans only get two weeks holiday a year

Chicago has become his second home.  It’s a vibrant city, where he has lots of friends and the headquarters of electric blues.   Although in the early days the record company wanted him to move lock, stock and barrel over there, he prefers to live in Perth its his place to chill out

Dave Hole is the only non-US artist Alligator Records has ever signed.   That is a huge compliment and an amazing journey from starting off in Perth.   He managed to exist as a musician, but it was pretty rough. He wasn’t making much money, just enough, and his wife was working.  The markets opened-up for him when he went world-wide.  The blues market is significant but when you look at Australia its pretty small.  Its hard work with those that work exclusively in Australia you are going to be playing up and down the east coast in all sorts of little places just to kind of keep it going really.  Festivals pay a lot better, but they are only at the weekends.  So it’s really hard.  If you can tap into the international market it just magnifies everything ten-fold or more.  So you’ve got a much bigger audience base to work with

“I was lucky but its not easy to break into that market.  I mean America is not short of blues players and they are not scratching around looking for blues players from overseas”

Dave Hole – “Key To The Highway”

 

Leszek Karski

research notes 8 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

“You are never really drunk till you’re clinging to the floor” [Booze Blues] was actually written by Mick Lane, an Irishman who was a singer from The Willys.  Mick is a very, very good painter and an art teacher who used to live in Perth.  He then went to Sydney, came back to Perth and then went back to Ireland … there’s a verse in it, which is quite sinister … I rarely sing that one”

Bondi Cigars – “Booze Blues” 

A master of subtlety and innuendo, Leszek Karski’s life is an interesting mix of European intrigues and American schooling.    Born in England to Polish parents, his father got a job when Lez was eight in Munich Germany during the Cold War.  Father worked for a radio station that broadcast news behind the iron curtain.   At the time Germany was divided between the victors of the second world war and his family were in the American sector.  So hence Lez went to a U.S Army high school

“Two and a half thousand kids, co-ed and no uniforms … good fun” 

There was talk that Robert Cray went there as well

“Growing up in an American high school, blues and soul were the same.  There wasn’t much difference between gospel, blues and soul.  I mean some have argued but the differences became apparent when we moved to England where the Mod boys listened to soul music. 

The long-haired people listened to blues music.  It was very factional in England but at its source it certainly [wasn’t]”

Lez has always resonated with blues music, he loved it right from the start and why not really?  Its at the basis of most Western music and that appealed to him.  It’s improvisational and soul music of kind.  He doesn’t limit his music to blues but includes blues to a great extent in all his music

Lez started playing guitar at thirteen and within a year he had a band.  An African American band turned up at school and they played soul blues and it intrigued him.   He couldn’t stop watching the guitar players hands playing what is now called the “Hendrix” chord.  The sound of it having the major and the minor at the same time, the bass lines and the fact that you couldn’t stop moving to it

“It went right through your system. You just couldn’t help but be drawn into it bodily and soul and everything.  It wasn’t just something that you listened to and judged with your senses it was something that involved your whole being.  That’s what I liked the intensity of it”

He played guitar in bands at high school and in Munich with his brother on drums. After his final school year they moved to England and played in a few bands.  Then he got a job with a band from Liverpool called Supercharge.   Supercharge toured Europe and Australia and it was a big soul band.  An eight-piece tower of power type band but they were marketed as a disco band at the time

Supercharge – “You’ve Gotta Get Up And Dance”

That’s when Lez became enamoured with Australia.

“It was like wow, you know and everyone is so friendly and casual.  Not caught up in that much tradition as they are in England and there wasn’t a visible class distinction either, at the time.  I love the sunny aspect of it.  

I lobbed in Sydney and it really appealed to me being able to live by the sea and go swimming everyday and the music scene was vibrant.  [It] was like a never-ending summer.  Great fun.  Still is”

When Lez first came to Sydney, he did a lot of record production but at the same time he wanted to play again.  He first started playing with Ace Follington the drummer, Lez still works with him in Nervous Investors [today].  They met working at Albert Studios doing sessions for George Young and Harry Vanda Lez  played bass and they could have been playing tracks for John Paul Young or Cheetah or Flash N The Pan.  Lez recalls doing an album with Ray Arnott who was drummer from Spectrum, he was singing on this particular album.   Lez played bass and produced the album.  They then hit the road and did a few gigs.  Then Ace and Lez got involved with a band called The Willys, which we played with at The Exchange Hotel, Balmain.  It was Nick Lane on the nylon string acoustic, Lez’s friend Ian Miller who had been the guitar player for John Paul Young’s band on guitar.

“eventually Ian Jones came out of the audience, he had just arrived from Adelaide and he said ‘can I play the saxophone’

and  we went “Can you?”

and he did and he joined The Willys.  Ian, Ace and I added Bridie [King] and John Power and it became The Hippos”

The Hippos – “Tiny Blues”

Balmain at that time was incredibly vibrant.  It had about ten pubs most of which had music.   Following the jazz push that happened in the inner West then it was rhythm and blues.   Dom Turner was in a band called The Stumblers in those days.  You could literally walk from one music venue into the next along the peninsula, so much music going on it was very vibrant and a great area.  Festivals, music festivals, Birkenhead Point, Glebe, Leichardt there were all sorts happening there [fabulous antique shops, restaurants and cafes lining the main streets too]

Lez was also playing with The Foreday Riders but it was through those pubs in Balmain that started the Bondi Cigars

Lez quit The Hippos because he had a young child and didn’t want to tour anymore.  He lived in Newtown with his partner and son.  Ace suggested that they put together a jam band in the back bar of The Bridge Hotel [Rozelle/Balmain] because Ace didn’t want to lose his callouses cos if he didn’t play drums his hands would go soft and eventually get blisters.  So they got Al Britton from The Dynamic Hypnotics and Shane Pacey (who was also with The Foreday Riders) had also been jamming with The Hippos.    They made a list of of songs that they’d play in the back bar of The Bridge and that sort of started it from there

Dynamic Hypnotics – “Soul Kind Of Feeling” 

They recorded within the first three months of putting the band together and that was the first album, which some people say is arguably the best and they just expanded from there.    Touring around Australia a few times, there was a time when most people in rural Australia hadn’t heard the blues except for the Blues Brothers and George Thorogood and that was about it.  So it was quite interesting going out and playing blues to people who went “Huh, what’s that?” They had a few venues in Darwin, they went to Cairns – Jonno’s Blues Bar, basically did the loop, Hobart and Perth, Esperance, Broome, Derby

The Bondi Cigars is one of those very loved bands by all Australians.   Lez says

“I guess you could call it ground-breaking in terms of flying the blues flag in places where they really hadn’t been all that familiar with blues music”

So, now people know, and by now people actually understand what a Bondi Cigar is

but if not Lez likes to enlighten people

You have to have been a Sydneysider in the 60s, 70s and 80s to understand the subtlety of the name

Up until early 1990s Bondi Sewage Treatment plant had needed to put in an underwater sewage pipe that took effluent out to sea.  Until that time, it sort of …. hung around on Bondi beach …

Back in the day, the comments were like, you just couldn’t go to Bondi Beach without getting brown and other jokes about shit … hence the name “Bondi Cigars”

“I left the band before we could do an album “Un-de-turd” or the final album should have been called “Going Through The Motions”

Bondi Cigars – “Bad Weather Blues”

 

Geoff Achison

“I was into blues I was heavily into this idea of the blues poetry and the song of the blues.  I was never interested in being a guitar player, which I’m not today, I mean Geoff Achison is a guitar player you know, Lloyd Spiegel is a guitar player, me I just pick those things because they fit well with the song I’m singing, that’s all I’m doing.”  

Dutch Tilders interview with Ross “Rooster McBlurter” Mortimer.  Saturday 31st January 2004

research notes 8 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Comparable to Jeff Beck , Geoff Achison is an award winning guitarist.   Among many awards, in his early days, he won The Albert King Award at The Blues Foundation’s International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.  That award is named after a very influential electric blues guitar player [Albert King] who made his most famous recordings at Stax records in Memphis during the 1960s.  It’s an award for guitar prowess.  Modern blues music since the mid-20th Century is dominated by guitarists.   So receiving an award like this means that Geoff Achison is among one of the world’s great blues guitarists

Geoff Achison – Allman Brothers “Whipping Post”

It was after that performance at the New Daisy Theatre in Memphis that a man from Gibson Guitars gave Geoff his card saying “the boss really likes your playing but would like you to play a Gibson?”  After his return to Melbourne he kept in touch with Gibson in the States. Then in 1997, Geoff with his Australian manager, Nic Quitner, decided to travel the world.  First stop was Gibson in Montana.  Their host was Robi Johns who took them on the factory tour.  At the end of the day they ended up in a room with all the acoustic guitars hanging around the walls.  Robi just said “play them til you find the one you like”

The first one he picked up was a J45, Geoff’s fans don’t see this one so often, its a beautiful, beautiful guitar.  Robi said, “I think that’s the one for you”  and Geoff mentioned that he loved it but there was no cutaway for the upper frets.   Robi replied “Well maybe keep that for writing songs and choose another for the stage”

The stage model Geoff chose is his blonde coloured Blues King Electro.   Its all maple back and sides.  The back is one piece and its arched and the wood grain goes all the way up the neck. It’s one of his most treasured things  (see Whipping Post above)

Geoff Achison – “Skeleton Kiss” 

“The U.S. is the home of not only the blues, but also country music, bluegrass, American gospel, soul, funk, R&B, jazz, rap and hip-hop.  All of these styles and more are connected. 

The blues is part of a cultural tradition which many of us here in Australia have adopted and studied but it is not our heritage.  That’s not to suggest that we’re less talented or less entitled to practice it.  It’s actually a wonderful and amazing thing that this music has travelled so far from it’s roots with great effectiveness. 

Just why the blues resonated with someone like me so much more than say an Irish jig or the sound of bagpipes I can’t explain … but it changed my life within the first 4 bars of hearing it.  The difference now though is that I really do believe that we are currently discovering how to make our own music out of it. 

When I first started playing around Melbourne, most of the blues bands around town were nearly all playing covers of their favourite Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Elmore James records.  These days we have a lot more original music being produced by our ‘blues’ artists and that’s what I’m all about”  

In 2012, Geoff sat in with the Allman Brothers Band at the Beacon Theatre New York with Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, Oteil Burbridge, for Geoff who is still pinching himself years later he just thinks “how did that happen?”

“It’s a much bigger society in the U.S. so a successful blues artist can make quite a decent living [there] but it will be hard going.  Usually spending months on the road at a time, playing almost every night in order to make enough income. 

The ones we see [in Australia] are usually at the top of the table who are doing better than most but still make a fraction of what the big rock stars make.  Full time musicians in the U.S., usually have no retirement funds, no health insurance and no home of their own. 

There are big moves by organisations such as the Memphis Blues Foundation to hopefully improve the general level of acceptance and respect afforded to professional blues musicians”

 

Geoff Achison & The Soul Diggers – “Natch’l Fax” 

 

Dom Turner

Dom Turner’s blues journey has taken him via popular music like The Kinks, The Rolling Stones, The Who, Bob Dylan, Joan Baez, via a lot of the British Celtic music like Pentangle and his brother’s surf music influences The Ventures and The Atlantics.   As most teenagers of his day, scrutiny of the album covers would open up a deeper connection to the music; Morganfield was Muddy Waters; Chester Burnett was Howlin’ Wolf; etc

The first album Dom bought was the Library of Congress Recordings of Lead Belly, a triple album set which he treasures to this day.  In fact, it was the song “The Backsliders”, that provided his band’s name.    He became obsessed with Lead Belly and then it went from there to the next step, Mississippi Fred McDowell and to this day he is still Dom’s biggest hero and influence

Australian influences were Kevin Borich (New Zealand); The Foreday Riders; Johnny Gray and Peter Doyle; Terry Wilson; and Chain was a big influence.   In high school and post-high school, he always loved to go to see Chain when they performed in Sydney

“If you are talking about Australian blues there it is because Matt and Phil don’t compromise, they just do what they want to do and they sound Australian”

Another artist Dom was influenced by and had learned a lot from early on was Gypsy Dave Smith.  A folk blues artist who now lives in the UK.  He’s primarily an acoustic guitar player and in those days was playing mainly an old 1930s Dobro resonator guitar with a wooden body.  Dom learned a lot from Dave by going and visiting him, becoming friends but also seeing him play at Balmain

 

Dom’s blues journey has taken him to North Mississippi, that’s Fred McDowell’s hometown.   It’s also the home of current artists such as R L Boyce, Little Joe Ayers, Kenny Brown, all the Burnside Family, all the Kimbrough family there’s so many great musicians from that area

Dom is not trying to take away anything from the music form, he is trying to change it and do his own thing with it.  He stresses blues’ authenticity comes from

“that it is an African American music form, hands down, and we are just so lucky that we have that form and basically almost everything in terms of modern music, popular music and rock music stems from there.  

You can hear it, you can hear it in the riffs, you can hear it in the structure.  So we are just so lucky that it did come about”

Dom has read interviews with tradition bearing musicians such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Fred McDowell, Son House and most musicians who are asked that question “What is blues?”   More often than not the answer won’t be anything to do with the form or the structure, it will be “it’s a feeling”, “it’s a feel”.  So that feel, which is at the heart of the music obviously is an emotion.   The instruments and the music are designed to project an emotion and effect the audience.  It’s basically evoking so that people can forget about things while they are listening or watching a performance.  So naturally, it’s a human thing to like blues music

Dom Turner – “Come On In My Kitchen”

Dom is very aware that artists have to immerse themselves in the music and that means having a solidarity with other musicians, somebody who understands where you are coming from

“I find we are all in the same boat in that we are all generally really obsessed with it and really, really passionate.  All of the musicians who are my peers have been playing all their lives. 

It’s not suddenly you turn whatever age fifty or sixty you put a hat on and suddenly I’m going to play blues now.   I’m not talking about that.   I’m talking about people who have lived it and breathed it.   We are all from outside the tradition.  

I try to find ways to immerse myself in it somehow or other and for me that is sonically just listening to the musician then really think about it.  When I’m listening to a Robert Johnson record or a Fred McDowell, you listen to the background noises, what’s going on?  What people were doing at that time.  What was the environment that they were recording in?  What was life like then?”

Now it’s by travelling to these places.  Every year he travels to the U.S. and also brings American artists to Australia.  In recent years, Phil Wiggans, Nikki Brown and her family from Toledo Ohio playing Sacred Steel.  Dom travels to areas like where Mississippi Fred lived.  Where his houses were and all that sort of stuff just to try and get an idea of how the person thought

“You can never work that out but just to kind of get in their space get in their environment and so it’s kind of important to have some connection whether its physical or with other musicians [in Australia] and connecting with them”

Phil Wiggins & Dom Turner – “Some of These Days”

 

Lloyd Spiegel

“As a guitar player, often your focus is to try and put your own sound into something that’s come before.  Certainly, as a blues guitar player it’s a responsibility to make sure that [the] music that influenced you is part of the music that you play so there’s a direct line to it. 

Dutch was really the root of that tree in Australia”

Lloyd Spiegel’s blues journey is exceptional.   His parents, Geoff and Ruth Spiegel, are probably THE most supportive parents anyone could wish for.   From age ten, Lloyd has been a professional blues musician.   In the early 1990s, his father put his work as a panel beater on hold for some years to manage Lloyd’s band Midnight Special. When there was a problem with underage musicians playing in pubs, Geoff Spiegel studied the pub laws and found that there was nothing that would stop the band playing, as long as they didn’t drink alcohol

“I was allowed out on Monday night to the Windsor Castle to play Blues and it was OK if I missed school the next day as long as I learnt something the night before”

When Lloyd wanted to put a band together, he went to the school’s music teacher and found that not only did the school not have young blues players, the teachers did not know what blues music was.   Ultimately, they found three great young musicians and put Midnight Special together

In his early teens, every weekend was spent at one Blues club or another in Melbourne.  Usually the Jook Joint or the back end of the Tankerville Arms, The Corner Hotel, the Central Club these places were home for Lloyd

“they were all my people.   I had a great support group around me because I just knew the Blues crowd as family.  It was a great grounding in life you know to have a supportive network around”

Blues music is the only style of music that, on any given night of the year, in any city in the world, you can go out to a blues jam.  Jump up on stage with professional musicians if you know three chords and one scale

“In those days it wasn’t about promotion and sales and tickets and the bottom line.  It wasn’t about meetin’ girls and it wasn’t about having a drink or not being the norm.   It was just about doing something SO fun that felt natural and it was the best time ever.”

research notes 8 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Lloyd playing with Brownie McGhee in Brownie’s garage

Photo courtesy Geoff Spiegel 

Geoff felt by the time Lloyd was 16 that he was beginning to burn out.  He took Lloyd on a journey to the States, the home of blues music.  Through Dutch’s contact with Brownie McGhee and the fabulous Memphis Blues Foundation, which offers anyone connections to the blues music world, Lloyd started his apprenticeship with real, authentic American blues musicians

From that heady trip to the States, Lloyd became addicted.  He would then spend the next 7 years travelling to the States, busking.  Because legal age for entrance to the pubs was 21 years old, someone (probably Geoff) made him a false identity card which he used for a good deal of the time until he actually turned 21

“It was not a very good one, in fact it was not even close to a really good I.D. but I could kind of play my way in”

The ceremonial burning of the ID card was at The Grand Emporium in Kansas City.   Lloyd said “let’s pop this fake in a bucket and burn it”  The owner said “Lloyd, you’ve been coming here for over 4 years, you probably should have told us you know”

Through his connections with The Memphis Blues Society, Lloyd lived in Kansas and became a radio announcer on KKFI

research notes 8 – a conversation about australian blues music: life beyond the mainstream

Luther Allison photo courtesy of Geoff Spiegel

“sitting back stage at festivals and having conversations with people that I felt did me a world of good. You know and some of the people who you didn’t even really know that much about but then they become icons as soon as you see them because you see their heart is in the right place”

Luther Allison for Lloyd, was a life changing experience to speak with him and get to know him.  Here is a man who spent much of his career overseas, [mostly France], because he couldn’t quite tip the scale in the States. He’d come back around ’95 as an absolute hero making these amazing albums and won a bunch of Handy Awards, which is like the Blues Grammys.  The heart that he had was what impressed Lloyd the most

“They are all great players those guys but I saw both sides of the coin.   I saw horrendous ego and I saw great humility and a guy like Luther Allison whose slogan was “Play the Music, Leave the Ego, Love the People” I learned so much about what music is and what really performing music is”

Lloyd was asked to sit in with Luther Allison at a gig in New York.   Lloyd was so excited.  However, that night getting ready to go to the gig, there was a fight in the hotel where he was staying.   Young and alone, Lloyd was so frightened to go out, he missed the whole gig.   In 1997, Lloyd had one more shot at it and was in Los Angeles Airport on his way to a gig when he’d learned that Luther Allison had died

“You are essentially just selling energy.  You don’t know the people in this audience.  They’re out from different parts of the world, from different walks of life and you don’t know what’s going on in their life.  Your job really when you break it down is just to give them a couple of hours off and make ‘em feel whatever they need to feel to get through.  

People like Luther Allison and B B King that’s what they focus their whole life on you know.  They are almost sacrificing a part of themselves to make people feel important in theirs and that’s what I love about playing Blues music more than any other music 

I’ve played and I’ve tried a few different things and I’ve sat in with a lot of different genres but blues music seems to have this connection to people that can make them feel something quite incredible and I feel really blessed all the time that I get to do that”

Lloyd Spiegel – “Mississippi Sun”

Amanda in Blues Wonderland

In 2012 I graduated from Macquarie University with BMedia Honours degree, 84% and 1% off a First!   My exegesis was titled “The Kamahl Joke: locating disparagement humour and racism in Australian entertainment programs”  this included a creative work, a documentary treatment titled: “The Woman Who Nearly Killed Kamahl”     For the exegesis, I studied racism preferring to use a theorist, Homi K. Bhabha (1997) – “The Other Question: The Stereotype and Colonial Discourse”,  so that I could understand racism from the inside out.   Quite a challenge but thoroughly gratifying

So having completed a degree that, let’s face it, for a 50 year old was completely useless in the working world, I decided to look for an Australian story that I could make into a documentary.  A story about the unknown Australia, a story that would reflect Australian culture for what it really is rather than what we are told it should be

In December 2013, a friend invited my husband Alan and I to see a musician she had seen once before at Camelot in Marrickville, Sydney.  He was from Melbourne.  Alan who has studied music since he was a child, Englishman and Pink Floyd fan was always skeptical about “Australian musicians”.   So we went to Camelot.    About halfway through the performance Alan’s jaw dropped.  With his eyes open wide he said,

“In all my life I could never play a guitar as good as  that!”  

I understood by Alan’s reaction that this musician, Lloyd Spiegel, was an extremely good guitar player

Lloyd also mentioned that he “grew up with Dutch Tilders in his backyard.”  So now I’m really taking notice because I have a large family in Melbourne and one of them kept carrying on about Dutch Tilders.    I then started questioning Lloyd (some may say “annoying”) about Dutch Tilders, blues music etc.    So with my background of studying racism, blues music was very, very interesting to me.   The cultural aspect of blues music gave me a profound understanding of what it means to be marginalised in Society

 

I then met a wonderful man, Rod Freedman who is a documentary film maker.  Rod and his wife have been making documentaries for many many years with his company ChangeFocusMedia . Rod encouraged me to make a short film or a trailer of a film I would like to make.   So among my projects, I asked Lloyd and Helen Jennings if they would consider me to make a film about Dutch Tilders and Community Radio.    They agreed.   Rod Freedman mentored me throughout the project and I made a 40 minute film titled “A Tribute To Dutch Tilders”

I had met and have found a lot of wonderful people in the Australian film world.   I feel, if people know their stuff they will encourage you and support you to make you a better and more professional person in your chosen field.   This was exactly the cultural aspects of Australian Blues Music I wanted to document

Having made the first little film in 2015, I had made some contacts in other camps of Australian blues music and community radio.  I realised this story is much bigger than one tiny film.  Discussing this with my husband Alan, he suggested I should make a web series and so I have embarked on putting the series together titled:

A Conversation About Australian Blues Music: Life Beyond The Mainstream 

Six Episodes:

A Really Heart Thing featuring Chain, Ian Collard, Michael Gudinski.  It’s about how blues music is charismatic and the harmonica

It’s Music For Folks featuring The Foreday Riders, Ron and Jeff King, Jill Tweedie, Bruce Bongers, Shane Pacey, Ray Beadle, Dom Turner, Lez Karski and Peter Howell on how blues music is folk music

Scars of the Soul featuring Broderick Smith, Margret Road-Knight, Buddy Knox discusses the protest song and Australian involvement in Vietnam – Fred’s letters from the front line

Blues for Lost Souls featuring Margret RoadKnight, Fiona Boyes, Steve “The Preacher”, Greg Dodd, Dom Turner about blues music, religion and charity work

Speaking in Tongues featuring Chris Finnen, Adrian Keating, Winston Galea, Don Hopkins and Dave Hole.  This episode compares blues music to classical music. Talks about instruments other than the traditional harmonica and guitar

A Tribute to Dutch Tilders featuring  Helen Jennings, Lloyd Spiegel, Fiona Boyes, Geoff Achison, Johanna and Bill Tilders and Melbourne Blues Appreciation Society. Reworking of the short film with more biography on Dutch Tilders

 

 

These research notes have been a great focus of the books read, interviews and subjects I have needed to concentrate on for background to the documentary films.   I chose to publish the research notes because there is such a wealth of information all documentary makers find to tell their stories and, I feel, to share it gives a greater understanding of blues music subject matter

 

©Amanda Dweck October 2020

 

NO COMMENTS