CW Stoneking

Delta blues guitarist C W Stoneking has swapped the outback and Shipwreck Coast for a new delta - the mouth of the Maribyrnong River in historic western Melbourne suburb Footscray.

Stoneking - son of an American musician who was recruited as a teacher here in the seventies - soaks up the environs of the many towns he has called home in his years living on the edge.

His country blues tunes are a cinema snapshot of the vast landscape he has traversed in his Kerouacesque travels in the unlucky radio country.

Stoneking wrote Handyman Blues about being a fix-it man at Cobden Primary School in the heart of the Shipwreck Coast roots music scene.

"I was living in a farmhouse at Naroghid with a cat and a dog and rode my bike about ten kilometres to work at the school," the son of expatriate Californian musician Billy Stoneking told Nu Country on the eve of performances at Queenscliff and Meredith Music festivals.

"I was pretty much a hermit. I used to work at the Cobden school as a handyman. The bike riding kept me fit, pretty hardcore. It's a mix of my life as handyman and bunch of handymen tunes from the twenties. I mixed it up."

Stoneking struts his stuff at the popular Queenscliff Music Festival at the mouth of Port Phillip Bay from November 26-28.

Among country artists with whom Stoneking shares the bill are multi award winning Sunraysia born and formed outback teacher Sara Storer, Shipwreck Coast singer-songwriter Marcia Howard, Hepburn Springs band The Sparnetts and city bands Git, Gatorbait and bluegrass group Hardrive.

Stoneking also performs the Meredith Music Festival from December 10-12 with one country artist - Jolie Holland who was born in Houston, Texas, and now lives in San Francisco.

Holland is touring to promote second album Esconida on Shock Records after writing for and singing on Canadian band Be Good Tanyas debut disc Blue Horse in 2001.


Stoneking was born at Katherine and raised at Papunyah - 350 kilometres north west of Alice Springs where his parents taught at the local settlement school.

His parents met at a Californian music festival and his musician sire Billy moved to Australia after graduating as a teacher.

At Papunyah Stoneking was exposed to Warumpi Band who featured Neil Murray - one of his dad's former students the western Victorian wheat belt.

"My dad's first teaching job was at Lake Bolac," Stoneking revealed.

"He taught Neil Murray, mainly English. Neil came to Papunyah with the Warumpi Band when we were there."

It was in inner Sydney suburb Balmain that C W learned guitar at 11, began in bands at 13 and soaked up the twenties blues of Blind Willie McTell and peers.

Although Stoneking played the blues from 18 he didn't discover Robert Johnson until he saw the Crossroads movie.


But in his Cobden era he played a different roots music genre with Woodford Cajun-Zydeco Hot Tamale Band fronted by the late Peter Lucas and accordion playing wife Su Mellersh Lucas.

That band featured Rob Beavan - latter day drummer for rockabilly band Slap N The Cats who featured heavily on the Nu Country FM and appeared on the TV show in a gig at the Port Fairy folk festival.

"I didn't know exactly what I would do down there, I made a few discoveries on the guitar and got all my repertoire together. I don't think I had a radio but I did gigs with Hot Tamale Baby in Warrnambool on electric guitar. I was also learning old stuff from the twenties."

Hot Tamale Baby, formed from the ashes of Emu Creek, Eureka, Rock Wallaby and Kaleidico, released its debut CD shortly after the death of co-founder and bassist Peter Lucas.

Lucas, 48 and suffering a genetic heart defect, died early on Sunday March 14, 1999, after a coronary at the Hawthorn flat of his two daughters - then university students.

The bassist, a benefactor of the Warrnambool music scene for three decades, died on the eve of a scheduled performance on country show High In The Saddle on PBS-FM. Peter and singing spouse Su Mellersh-Lucas wrote seven of the 10 songs for the indie CD recorded at Tony Peel's Warrnambool studio in 1998.

Lucas's widow Su won best female vocalist for her cut of their tune Blues For Tibet at the second annual Australian Roots Music Awards in Warrnambool.

Ironically, the win was the 21st wedding anniversary of the duo who renovated the old Woodford post office on the banks of the Merri River.

Peter, who was given six months to live by doctors in 1992, defied medical opinion and lived for another seven years by adopting eastern medicine and religion.

I was honoured to deliver one of the eulogies for media studies lecturer Lucas - a life long friend at his Buddhist funeral at the Warrnambool Surf Club.


But that was then and this is now.

CW, known as Chris to friends, left Naroghid for Melbourne where he recorded his
award winning debut disc of covers in 1998.

He also recorded a live to air concert at Carringbush AM radio station 3CR with his 1999-2000 band Blue Tits that has since won acclaim as a live bootleg.

But tragedy returned for Stoneking when Blue Tits mandolin player Charlie Bostock died suddenly at 27.

CW honoured his former band mate with Charlie Bostock's Blues for his new album to be recorded in November.

Other tunes penned for a disc produced by Greg Walker include Dodo Blues, inspired by a TV dodos docco and Way Out In The Wild - saga of Adam after he was banished from the Garden Of Eden.

Stoneking also recorded You Took My Thing and Put It In Your Place for PBS-FM compilation 25 Years To Life.

"It was a funny little tune that we wrote on the same day we recorded it," CW said, "We don't do it live often."


Stonehill's hectic work schedule suffers from a girl with a wooden leg who keeps him up late at night.

"I've got this tattoo on the inside of my forearm that gets itchy and swollen and keeps me awake," C W confided.

"It's a little girl holding onto a wooden leg from an old ad."

The painful condition, aggravated by his dynamic guitar playing, necessitates wearing a support on occasions.

But unlike the female character in Texan singing sculptor Terry Allen's famous tune, Peggy Leg, the injury may heal in the fullness of time.

Stoneking, living in the Maribyrnong delta in Footscray, performs Queenscliff Music Festival from November 26-28 and Meredith festival from December 10-12.

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