DIARY - 9 MAY 2011 - MCALISTER KEMP INTERVIEW
- OUTLAWS IN TRIPLICATE
story goes young Billy was a farm boy sitting in a city bar/ minding his
business when a fight broke out/ it was one that he didn't start/ from
out of nowhere a mountain of a man stuck a bottle in Billy's face/ so
Billy took a knife, he was fighting for his life/ he wasn't gonna die
that day/ with every ounce of strength had he swung that blade around/
he left that big man lying in a pool of blood face down." - Billy
- Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.
have been a staple of country music dating back to the murder ballads
of the twenties and thirties.
So it's no surprise modern versions are rooted equally deep in the past
and cut from the same cloth.
Texan Emily Irwin, whose former singing spouse Charlie Robison was no
slouch at crime tales with songs such as Desperate Times, recently
ignited a debate about artists pillaging the past for song sources.
She argued that Oklahoma flag waver Toby Keith's 16th album title track
Bullets In The Gun borrowed it's theme from Texan Robert Earl Keen's
epic The Road Goes On Forever.
The latter was a nice earner for Keen when it became the title track of
an album by The Highwaymen who borrowed their name from a folk group that
featured recently deceased octogenarian Gil Robbins - father of the singing
Emily, co-founder of the Dixie Chicks with sister Martie Maguire, and
Courthouse Hounds, drew parallels between the male and female bandit duos
in both songs fleeing to Mexico after armed robberies north of the Rio
She could have added Tom Pacheco's Robert & Ramona where the
duo drove their car off a cliff after their armed robbery.
And, of course, there's a vast cast of other country songs - especially
by Texan singer-songwriters diverse as Joe Ely, Adam Carroll, Ray Wylie
Hubbard, Steve Earle and the late Townes Van Zandt, that exploit similar
themes without attracting such scrutiny.
But when it happens in Australia less than a year apart the spotlight
is a little brighter - especially when the songs share the same title
and appear on three separate albums.
ANOTHER BILLY - NOT A SHAVER
was a friend of mine, you must have heard me say/ it was back in the summer
of 62/ in a mid term weekend holiday/ Billy got mad and a boy got stabbed/
I remember to this day/ we all went down to the railroad yard just to
watch him get away." - Billy - Kim Cheshire.
reared NSW duo McAlister Kemp wrote and recorded their crime narrative
Billy they were obviously oblivious to a song with same title and
similar theme by fellow Golden Guitarist James Blundell and its writer
And with good reason, I suspect.
The McAlister Kemp album All Kinds Of Tough came out late last
year on ABC through Universal.
recorded 10th album Woolshed Creek north of the NSW border in the
shearing shed on his Mt Malakoff family farm with the Olympian athlete
and singer-songwriter Paul Greene as producer.
Blundell didn't release his album - featuring that other local crime
narrative Billy - until earlier this year on his own Revenge
The Blundell Billy was written many moons ago by Cheshire who
made his name with Danglin' Brothers in the eighties before going
Although Cheshire included the first version of his song on independent
solo album Dead Man's Shoes - also released last year - it
seems unlikely McAlister Kemp were aware of it.
commercial corporate radio chains don't play local roots country music
and ABC and community radio don't have the reach with album tracks airplay.
also a columnist for national magazine Country Update, won't be
complaining about the brace of Billy recordings.
Ironically, the sire of Billy might be Hard Doin' Ken by outlaw
country band the Dead Livers in which the hapless Fitzroy bank robber
cops a bullet in the back of his head from a 38 in his getaway car.
And there's the Dale Watson song Where Do You Want It about another
Billy (Joe Shaver) who shot a Waco honky tonk barfly who stirred his drink
with his rusty knife in 2007.
But I digress - this started as a feature on McAlister Kemp who return
to Nashville for a Global Showcase concert in June, sponsored by country
radio, and a two-week songwriting sojourn.
NO BILLY VIDEO
lawyers claimed that it was self-defense but it fell upon deaf ears/ the
jury found him guilty and they gave him twenty years/ somewhere between
the court house and those rusty prison gates/ that jail bus crashed into
a river he made his great escape/ he crawled from the water and he ran
towards the hills/ knowing they'd be after him with orders shoot to kill."
- Billy - Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.
Kemp has no plans to make a video clip for Billy - for a much more practical
"I imagine if we ever tried to do Billy as a video clip it
would be a rather large budget," Drew McAlister told Nu Country TV
on the eve of their Victorian tour this month.
"There would be a lot of locations in that video. And we already
have another song scheduled in a couple of month for our final single
from the album."
Neither Drew nor partner Troy Kemp heard Cheshire's song before they wrote
their Billy for debut disc All Kinds Of Tough.
It was one of their 11 originals on a 13-track disc that enjoyed production
of Matt Fell.
The duo's country character Billy stabs a man mountain who glassed him
in a city bar and is jailed for 20 years.
But the bus taking the prisoner to jail crashes into a river and he escapes
by jumping off a cliff despite Copperhead Road like choppers in the air
and hound dogs on the ground.
In Cheshire's song Billy - a junkie - also stabs a bully in a railway
yard and escapes in a beat-up car.
So what was the source of the duo's Billy?
"I already had the musical idea and went to Troy's place at Newcastle,"
"We sat around played with it but how it started is not how it finished
up at all. It changed.
We had been
touring with the Johnny Cash show Walk The Line and were exposed
to all that old school country. It was not based on any Billy we know.
It was all vivid imagination."
What about the punchline where the singer's character reveals he is Billy?
"We debated about whether to end it like that," McAlister said,
"it seemed to work and it's one of our most popular songs live."
ALAN JACKSON TOUR
"He was slowing down with every step, chains heavy on his skin/ night
sky bright with chopper lights and hound dogs closing in/ the hunt led
to a canyon and with nowhere left to go/ Billy's choice was prison or
the water far below/ he yelled I'm not going back and turned himself around/
and threw himself right off that ledge never to be found." - Billy
- Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.
son of a farmer turned meat worker, was born in Narrabri and raised in
rural towns Moree, Casino and Dubbo before moving to Sydney.
Kemp, whose dad is a physiotherapist, hails from Slim Dusty hometown Kempsey
and met McAlister in the Australian production of 2008 Johnny Cash musical
Walk The Line.
But it was fellow singer-songwriter-musician Michael Carr who co-wrote
two songs on their debut disc and suggested they write and perform as
It was a smart move.
The duo toured the east coast with Georgian born superstar Alan Jackson
and Fawkner singer Jasmine Rae in March.
They also played the CMC Rocks The Hunter festival with Jackson, Jack
Ingram, Joe Nichols, O'Shea, Buxton Hughes, Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daley
and many more.
That was after national tours with Lee Kernaghan and Adam Brand who guests
on Sing Me Home - one of two covers on an album for which they
pitched 30 of their own songs.
On the first Nashville trip Drew wrote with expatriate Australian Heather
Field and a brace of local tunesmiths.
This time Troy, who performed in Canada during his sojourn, and Drew have
two weeks of songwriting sessions booked.
"My first trip was inspirational," says McAlister who now lives
in the Blue Mountains with neighbours including producer Roger Corbett,
Pat Drummond and The Robertson Brothers.
"I was already headed in that singer-songwriter direction then I
saw these writers in the round showcases at the Bluebird Café and
Douglas Corner. I came back home inspired.
Some writers were not well known but I was intrigued by the quality of
the songs. I knew when I came home I would have to raise the bar and lift
my game a bit."
KINDS OF TOUGH
tough was just how hard a man could hit a man/ you don't back down from
a fight, and that was understood/ I learnt tough was drinking hard and
laying rubber down/ driving fast and living large that V8 growling under
the hood." - All Kinds Of Tough - Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.
and Kemp, who did their time in the beer and wine mines with rock
bands before boomeranging to country music, are prolific writers but
so far have no major covers by other artists.
"We're constantly trying to pitch songs and came close a few
times," McAlister said.
"We've got to keep on writing but it's like the Lotto over there
trying to get songs cut.
All Kinds Of Tough was on hold at one time for Rodney Carrington.
A lot of those songs are sleepers. They can be around for a long time
and one day they'll find a home."
The duo will add to its song stockpile on its latest Nashville trip.
of the sessions is with one of the guys from Blue County,' Drew said.
"Several of the writers have really cool credentials, lots of songs
cut. It's a very different way of writing. It's fast, very fast. We wrote
most songs for the first album at my place in Neutral Bay or Troy's home.
It's tricky now so we're writing a lot on the road and over skype. It's
like we're in the same room on a computer screen. Our next album will
be a little rockier. The thing I like about country is they're all core
values. We're two guys in our thirties with young families. There's a
whole bunch of people out there in the same boat and they're going to
relate to our songs. All Kinds Of Tough is the perfect example."
Although McAlister Kemp didn't pitch songs to Jackson or swap yarns with
him in post concert picking and grinning sessions they had a cool conduit.
"We only met him once as he's a very shy guy, a really nice guy,"
"He and his crew left a bottle of Jack Daniels in our dressing room
at the end of the tour. It was fantastic - we shared that with all of
the band. It was a great experience sharing our music and getting to that
many people. There were all these new fans on face book who had never
heard of us before. We were very lucky, thanks to Rob Potts (the tour
CLICK HERE for Tonkgirl's Gig Guide
for McAlister Kemp concerts.
/ back to diary