The last time I took a photographer to a rock blues fest was 30 years ago when we caught my old Economics teacher with a busty blonde who shed her flimsy halter-top and made another subject - history.

Yes, it was Sunbury and my teacher was Brian Dixon - former Melbourne footy star and then Minister For Youth, Sport & Recreation.

The blonde mysteriously appeared from stage right as Brian shook my hand and helped sell a couple of hundred thousand copies of the Monday Truth.

But that was 1974 and this was a mere three decades down the Lost Highway when I got a call from Beat Magazine music editor Mary Mihelakos with an 11th hour offer to cover the second Melbourne International Music And Blues Festival.

There was a sprinkle of country acts headed by Tony Joe White and Bonnie Raitt.

So, with a photographer still at school in Western district cow town Camperdown when Brian debuted at Sunbury, we headed west to Jeff's Shed on the south side of the Yarra.

There was little trouble finding the main stage - we just followed the acrid aroma of the herb superb wafting from the stage at The Wailers wandered out.

Now, Shotgun Willie Nelson, whose July 4 picnics I have enjoyed on the odd occasion, has done a reggae disc so we soaked up the Jamaican jive.


But, with photographers only allowed in the mosh pit for the first three numbers, so to speak, we were escorted back into the Polly Woodside paddock where a diverse cast of Nu Country DJs and members soaked up the late Bob Marley's benefactors.

Aston "Familyman" Barrett, the Wailer whose former colleagues tired of being shot at their peak, and his band put on a surrealistic show.

We enjoyed singer Gary "Nesta" Pine paying tribute to Men At Work, women and trips down Rasta lane with tunes such as Stir It Up, No Woman, No Cry, Buffalo Soldiers and apt Dem Belly Full.

The latter song, passive smoking and day-time hunger are a dangerous combo so I headed east looking for grub.

Having left my photographer with Long In The Saddle and Guru co-host Lawrie Weir, I followed my country instincts and found a nice little enclave with fancy marquees and a flock of politicians and celebs grazing on grub.

A mere 39 years of covering such events suggested that I should put my taste to the test to ensure the photographer not suffer food poisoning - a fate suffered by many at a swag of previous festivals.

It must have been something I ate at Sunbury X 3, Mulwala, Myponga, Wandong and even Pinewood west of Mt Gambier in 1971 where Bill Chambers sang embryonic Hank song I Saw The Light with his band The Deer Stalkers.

My media pass allowed me to pass the corporate tents to a shady grove where I selected an entrée of curried sausages, steak and solitary spud in a jacket.

My stand-up smiling and dining partner was gregarious former PBS roots music DJ and latter day Queenscliff Blues fest promoter Hugo T Armstrong whose long years of dining in the Geelong College canteen had not caused any grievous bodily harm.


It was not quite the same as sharing grits, gravy, hash browns, chicken fried steak, chilli con carne and other southern delicacies with Brit Eklund, assorted Stray Cats and David Allan Coe at Willie's July 4 picnic in Atlanta in 1983.

The herb superb on that occasion had enabled the writer to inadvertently drive a rental car onto the Atlanta Raceway helicopter pad where artists such as Hank Williams Jr, Waylon & Willie, Merle Haggard flew in and out to avoid the summer traffic.

But looking at a fully erect Hugo I recalled Britt's singing spouse & Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom also stood while dining and performing his craft on stage just 20 years ago.

Hugo regaled me with tales about the pollies grazing in the enclosure and with neither of us struck by gastric, glutton gymnastics I headed west to retrieve my photographer.

En route to the Nu Country shade tree I encountered a jovial mine host Michael Chugg who bellowed "how did you get in here" and "what are you doing."

"Through the gate" and "looking for your shirt" were the obvious answers and we shook hands and began to reminisce.

I met Chuggie in Van Diemens Land in 1965 while toiling on my journalistic cadetship on the Launceston Examiner.

Michael Chugg (photo by Carol Taylor)

To book his bands you called extension 20 at the fire station from where his dad hosed blazes or you phoned Routley's Menswear where Chuggie had a very nice straight line on inside leg measurements on FJ slacks from my hometown of Warrnambool.

I learned the ignoble art of promoters feeding the media chooks after I interviewed Paul Musson from local band Sons Of Bacchus.

At the foot of the bed lay a huge pile of fan mail that a long departed photographer shot for the next day's paper.

On publication a Launceston lass called me to reveal that Chuggie had instructed Paul to obtain the addresses of fans at concerts and write to them.

The return letters dominated the others in the pile.

Not one to grudge a bear, I came to Chuggie's rescue when he needed a name for a young cutting edge soul band featuring a brass section and wishing to be seen as psychedelic.
The Children Of Zen were born.

But I digress.


I returned to the feed lot with the photographer, who shot a President, Bill Clinton, with singing Texan crime novelist Kinky Friedman, for the Sydney Daily Telegraph Mirror on his 2002 tour.

Sadly, there was a different door person who took one look at the camera bag and said we didn't have the right passes.

Maybe Sons Of Bacchus had been reborn with a debauched entourage of soul bunnies au natural.

After several fruitless attempts to find the now decamped promoter we escaped the aural assault of Chrissie Hynde & The Pretenders to eat in a leafy suburb for the return on the Sabbath.

Having slept the sleep of the just it was fitting to see nine-time Grammy winner Bonnie Raitt, now 53, prove why she is a supreme country blues artist.

There was a severe schedule problem here - Bonnie and swamp fox Tony Joe White were on separate stages at the same time.

But with Raitt only doing one spot on a well-lit outdoor stage the photographic and aural choice answered itself.

Raitt paid tribute to Port Fairy festival headliner Chris Smither by reviving his Love Me Like A Man.

Bonnie Raitt
(photo by Carol Taylor)

Smither, whose dad lectured in a Louisiana university Arts faculty with Professor Miller Williams - father of April tourist Lucinda - may or may not need the royalties.

It was no surprise there was a hush as Raitt did a riveting acoustic cut of former Chicago postie John Prine's classic Angel Of Montgomery.

She was electric again for John Hiatt's Thing Called Love and The Fundamental Things, punctuated by Canadian singer Shirley Eikhard hit Something To Talk About.

Jon Cleary, who replaced Glen Clark from a previous Aussie tour on piano, was a bonus as a duet partner.

Country quota from a 17-album career included an evocative treatment of I Can't Make You Love Me, penned by Allen Shamblin and former gridiron star and solo artist Mike Reid.

The ease with which Raitt, Cleary, drummer Ricky Fataar, bassist Hutch Hutchinson and guitarist George Marinelli gelled, was a festival highlight.

So was a duet with Renee Geyer on Aretha Franklin hit Baby, Baby I Love You that ended with a kiss - not quite as headline grabbing as the onstage Willie Nelson-Charley Pride or Britney Spears-Madonna smooches.

But a kiss is just a kiss - especially when it's genuine and not made for TV.

Bonnie Raitt and Renee Geyer
(photo by Carol Taylor)


The last time I caught Chicago was at the MCG in 1979 on a night when Geelong was not engaged in battle with a city team.

There had been a much fuller house back then but Chicago won airplay at their peak and did not have to compete with a Whittlesea Country show or a free for all fest in St Kilda.

(photo by Carol Taylor)

So where's the country connection - drummer Tris Imoden toiled with former Fairport Convention and Matthews Southern Comfort singer Iain Matthews in one of his country combos before enlisting in Chicago in 1990.

Keith Howland
(photo by Carol Taylor)

Lee Loughnane
(photo by Carol Taylor)

And, hell, Chicago is one of the few bands with a relatively stable line-up that can still cut it.

The newest kid in the band is a 39-year-old guitarist who crashed a 1995 audition at the suggestion of the son of Elvis's bassist there is an expectation this is the real deal.

So it was when Keith Howland strutted his stuff with "new" bassist Jason Scheff who joined Chicago 19 years ago.

Sure the high-octane octet was playing to a smaller audience but they didn't deviate from their full show.

But, unlike many peers, multi-instrumentalist, singer and hit writer Robert Lamm and his band - enriched by the original three-piece brass section - never lost a magic that enabled them to sell 120 million albums over 37 years.

It helps that other new kid - fellow keyboard player Bill Champlin was a Grammy award winning hit writer for Earth, Wind & Fire - before enlisting 23 years ago.

So why does the band, that debuted as the Chicago Transit Authority in 1967, hang in? Well New York born Lamm, 59, wrote many hits with or without bassist Terry Kath who went to God in 1978 and trusty tenor Peter Cetera who quit for a solo career in 1985, and those publishing royalties need priming.

Bill Champlin
(photo by Carol Taylor

Especially as trombone player James Pankow and trumpeter Lee Loughnane share credits - with Champlin's tunes also a nice earner.

There was a surreal feel as Chicago emerged after a soulful set by Raitt - this was a wall of sound where the fittings were solid brass with no visible cracks in windows.

Jason Scheff (photo by Carol Taylor)


They reached back to their debut disc for Lamm penned hits Question 67 & 68 and Does Anybody Really Know What Time It Is?

Their music stood the test of time and enjoyed dynamic delivery superior to most peers.

"And I was walking down the street one day/ being pushed and shoved by people trying to beat the clock."

It's hard not to like hook heavy tunes such as 25 Or 6 To 4, Make Me Smile, Colour My World (penned by Kath) and You Are My Inspiration.

The pacing was perfect with just one woodwind deviation seeming self-indulgent.

Having been weaned off rock and blues in the sixties for a rustic rural diet, the drum solo was an island in the stream for me - not a facile flood.

Imoden, a visual hybrid of Gary Busey and Nick Nolte on a good day, retained his smile from surf music days punctuated by stints with Matthews and another Loggins - Kenny - Chaka Khan.

And the encore included beatific ballad If You Leave Me Now that left us hungry - for music not food.


As darkness descended mine host Chuggie announced that Premier Bracks - yes, another Geelong supporter - was putting his Government's "arse behind" the 2005 festival.

We never did find Chuggie's shirt but maybe in 2005 he could frock up in coats of many colours and hire Dolly, Alison Krauss & Union Station, Rhonda Vincent, Willie, Lee Roy Parnell and Delbert McClinton.

Melbourne International Country, Blues and Bluegrass Festival has a much nicer ring to it - especially on a different lazy summer weekend to St Kilda and Whittlesea.

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