DIARY - 13 FEBRUARY 2004 - REVIEW OF MELBOURNE BLUES FEST
WILLIE TO THE WAILERS
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
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
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.
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
Aston "Familyman" Barrett, the Wailer whose former colleagues
tired of being shot at their peak, and his band put on a surrealistic
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.
JULY 4 PICNICS
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
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
paid tribute to Port Fairy festival headliner Chris Smither by reviving
his Love Me Like A Man.
(photo by Carol Taylor)
whose dad lectured in a Louisiana university Arts faculty with Professor
Miller Williams - father of April tourist Lucinda - may or may not need
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.
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
But a kiss is just a kiss - especially when it's genuine and not
made for TV.
Raitt and Renee Geyer
(photo by Carol Taylor)
CHICAGO - TRANSIT WITH AUTHORITY
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.
by Carol Taylor)
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.
by Carol Taylor)
(photo by Carol Taylor)
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
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.
(photo by Carol Taylor
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.
Scheff (photo by Carol Taylor)
ANYONE KNOW WHAT TIME IT IS
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
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.
BLUES & BLUEGRASS
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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