DIARY - 16 AUGUST 2005 - SINGING AUSTRALIAN - BOOK REVIEW
of the many joys of writing columns, features and news stories on
music, mirth, mayhem and melancholia for 40 years is hostile reaction
an opinion can ignite.
Once in distant Van Diemens Land my reporting of politics, religion
and street crime fired up readers and provoked violent assaults
on this writer.
The year was 1968 and the many assaults, resultant court cases and
threats of lawsuits continued throughout the seventies and beyond
to the new millenium.
But rarely does a column item provoke all of the above and inspire
a country song that makes national television and commercial radio.
it wasn't Slim Dusty parody I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie
or Jodie - the tale of a sweetheart of the rodeo who rode
back into my life 26 years down that Lost Highway.
I had almost
forgotten the source of Hillbillies Hate Change until I reached
Page 109 of Graeme Smith's new country and folk encyclopedia Singing
Australian - A History of Folk And Country Music (Pluto Press)
There it was - the incident that provoked the song when I wrote for mass
circulation Sydney Daily Mirror from 1980-5.
Smith reported this columnist wrote it as a reaction to "the continued
negativism of the traditional country music community to his championing
of New Country."
Yes, that phrase New Country was a salient signpost in this uncivil war.
It all happened in 1981 when employed as a music feature writer and columnist
in a city not known for its support of country music.
Certainly not for the progressive tributary that had its roots in the
California in the late sixties and Austin, Texas, in the early seventies
with collateral explosion here.
I had the temerity to write frequently about superior song writing, production,
playing and singing of the artists of the day and their relevance to Australia
in the eighties.
This included comparison with the vintage nasal whine of homegrown hillbillies
who resented changing of the guard in the most under-represented genre
reward was an avalanche of hate mail and hefty lambasting on sin city
community radio shows.
Local hillbilly fans resented the progressive country artists who
were winning airplay on Sydney commercial radio station 2KY in between
its race broadcasts.
2KY DJS including John Singleton, Ron Casey and George Gibson were
playing the country music of the day as was John Laws on 2UE.
Veteran Melbourne outlaw band The Dead Livers performed on Singleton's
popular Ten Network TV show and also on Donnie Sutherland's Sounds
show on Seven.
I wrote about
their exposure of progressive country music and the active live scene
in the inner and western suburbs featuring artists diverse as former rocker
Digger Revell, Saloon, Grand Junction, Wright Brothers and the Sydney
version of Melbourne band Hit & Run featuring Dan Robinson and a young
This didn't please a vocal hard core of Sydney hillbilly fans who preferred
hokey acts in a time warp tainted by their inadequate talent.
So they went on the attack against this satiric southerner who chanced
his writing on artists who were ahead of their time in the unlucky radio
Well, having been reared on a Shipwreck Coast dairy farm, I knew the advantages
of turning manure into fertile phosphate for cropping for Friesian herds.
HILLBILLIES HATE CHANGE
with support of co-writer Darcy LeYear - latter day lead singer
of The Wolverines - we returned fire in a song that took less than
an hour to write.
Darcy, who fronted Saloon and John Singleton backed 2K Wireless
Band, recorded it for Powderworks and Melbourne country singer B
J McKay also cut it on his album.
The ensuing media and radio furore landed Darcy on Simon Townsend's
national Wonder World TV show with Edith Bliss playing the female
lead in a video.
Expatriate Kiwi Darcy sang a verse about a faux Aussie country star
who claimed to have made it in Nashville.
The day the story made headlines in the Daily Mirror TV column,
Darcy opened for song subject Reg Lindsay in Grafton - hometown
of Troy Cassar-Daley.
had many questions for Darcy - especially why we picked on him.
evasive action before opening the show - he blamed it on his lyricist.
Now, that was manna from heaven for me.
Reg split with singing spouse Heather McKean - sister of Slim Dusty's
widow Joy McKean - on the eve of Tamworth Country Music Awards.
So recently single Heather was seated next to this dateless songwriter
at the gala event so I was obliged to hug and plant a kiss on her tear
stained cheeks as she stood for the TV cameras to accept her prestige
That pathos-primed cameo is obviously not in Graeme's well-researched
250-page tome, launched on Friday August 19 at Fitzroy Community Centre
by Dobe Newton.
But, like George Jones, I lived to tell the tale - in song, print and
on the wireless.
examines the history of folk and country music in Australia and their
His first 76 pages trace folk music's local roots and its development
as a reflection of the politics of its practitioners, power brokers and
Smith also delves into the cultural gap between members of the elitist
folk genre who sneered at country for being the product of a lower socio-economic
He contrasts the urban and rural roots of both genres and later the blurring
of the lines in a shotgun wedding of the genres as they fought, no longer
with themselves, but the pop industry for survival and growth.
And he also explores the growth of local world music artists who shared
city and rural stages and the lucrative festival circuit.
But that is examined in Crossing Borders - a section followed by the folk,
country and rock hybrid.
nails the elitist treatment of country music by many mainstream media
critics in his birth of country entrée.
It's here that Smith reveals most journalists writing about country
reinforce the hokey stereotype by concentrating on their own perceptions
Smith quotes stories from The Australian, Sydney Morning Herald and
beyond that reveal critics have a traditional disdain for the genre
despite its huge popularity.
He details the subjective judgments of critics who only like one type
of country music - the sub genre that appeals to their own peer group
It's something that I have lived with since I first began writing
about country music on the Launceston Examiner in 1965.
< Kasey Chambers
then it was uncool to admit you liked country let alone wrote about it.
That was despite country music artists such as the late Johnnys - Cash
and Horton - Marty Robbins, Everly Brothers and many more being the staple
diet of mainstream pop radio.
I found that I was writing about artists such as Bob Dylan, Eric Andersen,
Joan Baez and others whose music was a country folk hybrid in the same
pages as major country artists.
Having been born on the Shipwreck Coast at Warrnambool that was the music
I heard on the local station 3YB.
I was bemused by some peers' dismissal of country music because of the
sub-standard recordings of many local artists.
To me it has always been a matter of choice - you gravitate to the best
practitioners of the art and do your own sorting of the wheat from the
I struck the elitism Smith discusses when I worked for the Sydney Daily
Mirror - not from my colleagues but greenhorns writing for other newspapers
COUNTRY BECAME COOL
In that era major music writers such as Roger Crosthwaite (Sydney Daily
Telegraph), the late Susie Molloy (Sydney Morning Herald), Carol Knight,
Tim Cobbin (Daily Mirror) and Anthony O'Grady (Sydney Sun) had an affinity
for the genre.
Others, often handed country music stories as a casual task, fell for
the stereotypical image bashing, and revealed their own ignorance of the
In fairness to those culprits most were greenhorn cadets or news desk
writers from the cities, raised on mainstream rock radio.
Others were cheerleaders for a rapidly dying punk fad and anxious to win
points from fellow travellers.
They had accomplices in TV news crews whose voracious appetite was to
find freaks on streets for their annual pilgrimages to Tamworth.
There's still a hard core of urban reared writers, commercial radio and
TV puppets who sneer at the genre in the mainstream and street press and
But there's also a vast cast of discerning supporters of country music
on commercial TV variety shows, regional and ABC radio and community TV
And I admit there's still a cloth eared hick contingent on community radio
who add to the stereotype by playing sub standard music.
But that's the beauty of community radio - freedom to follow your dream
untainted by corporate commercial radio chains' me-too centralised programming.
We had the best of both worlds during aspirant Nu Country FM's eight-year
reign on Melbourne radio - a beatific era that has been resurrected on
Nu Country TV.
But I digress - this began as a column on Graeme Smith's excellent book.
the local country music from the late twenties with Len Maurice, aka Art
Leonard, Dick and Arthur Scott, Smoky Dawson, now 92, and the late expatriate
Kiwi Tex Morton.
The multi-talented Smoky and Tex blazed a trail for Slim Dusty, Buddy
Williams and many more on the wireless, cities and in the outback.
Smith examines the pre and post war growth of Country And The New Nationalism
in a chapter that also contrasts accents, uncivil war between hillbillies
and progressive artists and universal acceptance of Kasey Chambers and
chapter The Voices of Country covers Australiana act John Williamson,
Lee Kernaghan, Chambers and Koori star Troy Cassar-Daley and peers.
Part 3 of the book, Crossing Borders, embraces further chapters From
Multi-Cultural To World Music and Between Folk, Country And Rock.
The latter is a detailed study of the enriching of the music by artists
diverse as Shane Howard, Goanna, Paul Kelly, Neil Murray, Bushwackers,
Redgum, Weddings, Parties Anything, Roaring Jack and others.
These artists broadened the base of the genre with a diverse musical
and lyrical input and helped consummate the Shotgun Wedding with delicious
< Dobe Newton
faux country pop acts, refried rockers, blues moaners and punk refugees
they stayed for the journey rather than horrific hit and run forays to
test the waters.
The results are highly visible at Victorian festivals such as Port Fairy,
Queenscliff, Maldon, Apollo Bay and other rural, regional and suburban
LAUNCH AND CONTEST
Australian is launched in Fitzroy on August 19 and is available in
all good book stores.
Bushwackers singer Dobe Newton hosts the grandstand gala at the historic
home of the former Fitzroy VFL footy team with support from Conundrum
and Flora Smith.
Check out our promotion on Nu Country TV on C 31 this Saturday at 8 p
The show is repeated Monday - 3.30 p m, Tuesday 7.30 p m and Friday at
high noon on C 31.
CLICK HERE for details of our giveaways
for new members and members wishing to renew.
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