2016 CD REVIEW
THINGS I CARRY AROUND (Liberation Music )
GUESS WHAT - TROY HAD A JOINT WITH WILLIE AND MERLE
“I hit the road with the Highwaymen one day/ I showed old Willie how a didgeridoo was played/ the room was filling up with smoke blue as the sky/ I walked out on a natural high” - Smoked With Willie And Merle - Troy Cassar-Daley.
It's a long way from the banks of the Clarence River at Grafton to the stages of the Myer Music Bowl and diverse capital city arenas but Troy Cassar-Daley did it all with a little help from Octogenarian Willie Nelson and the late Merle Haggard.
At 46 the celebrated singer-songwriter is well qualified to reveal how he had joints with the legendary duo on their down under sojourns.
Sure Troy, father of two, inhaled like many peers but few others could boast of exhaling by teaching the Red Headed Stanger how to play didgeridoo.
It all happened on those tours where Troy shared stages with The Highwaymen and his childhood mentor Merle, who died on his 79th birthday - April 6.
Troy has long indulged his passion for trains like those his mum Irene worked during his youth and the famed Overland trip with Merle in 1996 when promoter Wally Bishop hired a smoker's carriage for the Melbourne to Adelaide leg.
The singer recalled his travels and travails in Smoked With Willie And Merle - one of 18 tracks on his 10 th album Things I Carry Around that turns over many pages in his joyous journey that he produced at Starstruck Studios in Nashville.
Troy has also written his accompanying autobiography of the same title with Tom Gilling whose CV includes explosive crime books with former NSW Police assistant commissioner crime buster Clive Small.
“It was a time when I never liked change much but embraced it every time it came along for some reason. Moving from home at Halfway Creek to Tamworth then onto Maryborough were huge changes for me, but I loved the new feeling of a fresh start and that's what kept me going. I left each place with memories and a few bruised and broken hearts but that was just the beginning of the adventure, the dreams kept coming and so did the many roads to travel. I still don't take to change well but always look back and appreciate it.”
The singer deepens his entrée with memories of human voices at the telephone exchange, maybe even small town tales on the party line.
Equally evocative is Halfway Creek, Timber Cutting Man where the narrator recalls rural blood and sweat that turned bush boys into men.
“I loved my time cutting fence posts with Tony Wall, it was hard work but Tony made it bearable because he was great company,” Troy recalled.
“We could talk about anything and we did, I think I solved a lot yarning with Tony without even knowing. I'm glad he kept me off the chainsaw as I was always pretty shitty with it around home and I still have all my fingers! Halfway Creek is a very special place to me and a lot of people, parts of me still swim the Orara on the back road, fish for elated catfish and hunt for wallaby. Halfway Creek will always be a part of me.”
They're the perfect segue into the title track where he draws bridges between his grandfather, parents and wife Laurel to their own children with the death of adolescent romance and pet dog as he navigated his journey.
“We all hold on to certain things I guess, and I for one am a memory hoarder,” Troy explained.
“But it's these memories that have shaped who I turned out to be. I have an old coin my Uncle Buddy gave me years ago in his birth year 1957 that has been through many of my wallets and travelled all over the world with me. Pictures of Laurel, Clay and Jem always do the miles, and pics of Mum and Dad and my Grandparents are there for the times when I'm in need something to remind me of where I'm from and help me remember where I'm headed. We all carry this stuff with us so don't be afraid every now and then to share it again with loved ones, it brings us closer together.”
PATERNAL PLECTRUMS IN THE BIG SMOKE
“When Daddy played his old guitar/ I'd watch his fingers dance across that fret board/ like I'd never seen before / so loud and clear it caught my ear/ and every song he played left me wanting more/ yeah I just couldn't believe the sound it made/ when my daddy played.” - When My Daddy Played - Troy Cassar-Daley.
Troy begins his guitar double shot with escapist mortality tale Brighter Day , penned with Paul Kelly.
“When I wrote this song with Paul Kelly I had one person in mind, My Uncle Hoppy, I was very young when he died but his memory that lives in all his surviving siblings remains a source of inspiration and mystery for me,” Troy explained.
It's the perfect sibling of When My Daddy Played inspired by childhood visits from Grafton to inner Sydney suburb Surry Hills where this diarist hung his hat for five years on the long defunct Sydney Daily Mirror.
My Surry Hills sojourn was definitely not as musically formative as Troy's but inspired Dead Livers 1981 hit I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie - perhaps an ancestor of Troy's Smoked With Willie And Merle .
Yes, the Surry Hills journalists' watering hole The Evening Star Hotel earned a verse in my version.
“My Dad, Tony Cassar, is an amazing dad to me and grandfather to my kids,” Troy recalled.
“My childhood visits to Sydney always started with tears because I missed my Grafton Mob, but Dad didn't make a fuss, he simply got out his old guitar and harmonica and made up little songs for me until I went to sleep. I will never forget the sound that came out of it, soft, low and sweet like a gentle voice and that voice speaks to me still every time I hold a guitar close to me and play it. Thanks Dad for making me feel like I belonged anywhere you took me. The music you played me started something that I believe was very special in me as a child, now I simply can't walk past a guitar without giving it a strum thanks to you.”
COUNTRY MUSIC IN BUSH TOWNS
“Youngy and Slim used to come through here/ playing that pick and strum sound/ the local kids had a day off school/ cause country music's coming to town.” - Country Music's Coming To Town - Troy Cassar-Daley.
And, for good measure, the family patriarch and World War 11 captain, ensured an Army tank ride accompanied the music long before Normie Rowe and Johnny O'Keefe came to town.
“My first country music show was Rick and Thel Carey at the school of arts hall South Grafton with My Mum, Nan and lots of cousins,” Troy recalled.
“I never forgot the feeling of our little town's excitement at the prospect of having country entertainment that was coming our way. When I ended up on the Brian Young show for that 9 month tour I got to see this excitement from the entertainer's point of view. I knew then we had stepped into something that was a beautiful Australian tradition, we were travelling showmen, thanks to Slim Dusty, Joy McKean, Brian Young and all of their generation for clearing the track that we walk on today.”
Salient sequencing is another of Troy's aces - his show song segues into troubadour tale On My Way Back Around , also written with Don Walker.
“My early days of touring with Little Eagle and the Blue Healer band got me addicted to the road,” the singer added.
“I couldn't wait to get in the car and head to the next destination with a coffee and guitar in hand, sometimes waking up in some strange girl's house I'd met the night before or just another motel. One morning I found myself hitch hiking from Woolgoolga back to Grafton after my band got sick of waiting for me. Touring is still a big part of what I do but I'm glad I now have a family to come home to, it makes the journey worth ever mile.”
DREAMING OF RAILWAYS AND RIVERS
“Go south of the river/ to my grandmother's land/ she met and married a railway man/ lived in tents at Coffs Harbour/ till they settled down/ in a goori commission home just out of town.” - My Gumbaynggirr Skies - Troy Cassar-Daley.
It's no surprise the singer has fond memories of the influence of his grandparents on his childhood - an era accentuated in country towns with no tyranny of distance.
So Troy punctuates his spiritual springs of My Gumbaynggirr Skies and Down The Road with his Willie and Merle herb superb saga.
“Some of my earliest childhood memories are held in a place called Cangai in NSW,” Troy revealed.
“I remember camping up there with all our family fishing, laughing, making spears and hearing stories around the camp fire. We had no cameras so the only still shots we have are our memories. My mum and her whole family shaped a lot of things about me I carry within no matter where I go or live. This song sends love to all my Gumbaynggirr people south of the Clarence River.”
Diverse religious influences drove former convict and Oklahoma dust bowl refugee family descendant Haggard and Texan Willie who exudes the Zen mystique of a hillbilly Dali Lama.
But it's a different home grown spirituality that adorns Troy's ancestry in gospel fuelled Down The Road, also penned with Walker.
“This song takes me to the town of Tabula, Northern NSW with family in a car heading up to a Christian Rally where Pastor Frank Roberts would speak and amazing music would play,” Troy explained.
“Uncle Freddy, Aunty Caroline, Carmen, Melissa and me would head up when these gatherings happened. I was mesmerised by the songs and the people and always came away happy. We will meet again one day in a place where the roses never fade.'
But it's the reality of the road that inspired another Troy-Walker collaboration If My Heart Was A Town .
“Think of your first heavily broken heart and times it by ten,” Troy quipped.
“That was me at 17 thinking my world was going to end and that I was the only person that had ever felt this way. Well I was wrong, we have all felt this pain and first love is such a mine field of emotion and happens to us all. Thanks Mum for the yarns and cuddles while I was finding my way.”
TRUCKS AND RAILWAYS
“Well I work out in the heat all day/ on the line just out of Glenreagh/ we'll work through to Grafton/ out to Koolkhan, I'm a certified railway man.” - Certified Railway Man -Troy Cassar-Daley-Colin Buchanan.
The singer uses diverse forms of transportation to drive on the home stretch of his album.
It begins with the innocence of the adolescent Running , escape from ruptured romance in First Night Alone to fierce pride of bluegrass fuelled Certified Railway Man to the regret tinged highway horror of poetic finale Blue Light .
Running is almost self-explanatory.
“Cars were a huge source of escapism in my teens,” Troy recalled.
“If you had one everyone helped you with it and you might as well have had a rocket to the moon it was that exciting. We wanted big wheels, big engines and shiny paint. That was our escape from the everyday in a small town, petrol, rubber, steel and girls, that's what our dreams were made of.”
But the singer teamed with Nashville hit writer Angela Kaset, with whom he has often written, to flesh out My First Night Alone .
“My Dad explained his first night alone to me while we were on a cruise once, he talked about how he and Mum had separated and Mum took me as a baby back to Grafton,” Troy revealed.
“He said all he felt was devastation. I wrote this song years ago not thinking that the emotions of the tune were similar to what Dad went through and I know he still has trouble yarning about it, but talking to my Dad man to man has taught me so much about life and I'm thankful to have had the chance to do it.”
And he returned to Buchanan to embellish Certified Railway Man .
“Growing up in South Grafton we were railway people, part of a big blue collar family that stuck by each other and helped out where ever we could,” Troy added.
“Trains have been a huge part of my life thanks to Mum, Pop Daley and Gerry Daley and all our friends we've met through the trains. This song is a tribute to all that worked on them or just simply love them!”
The singer turned finale Blue Lights , also written with Walker, into a poem.
“I've never done a poem on an album before, but this is a song Don Walker and I had been working on for my Uncle Hoppy (Ronald Daley) whose story is one of tragedy and sadness,” Troy revealed.
“I tried singing it a few times and then decided it had more meaning simply as spoken word, finally I felt the rain on my face and the chill in the air as the blue lights were approaching off in the distance.”
So that's the plot.
What about the music?
Well, Troy hired the best acoustic session players in Music City including fiddler Stuart Duncan, steel guitarists Paul Franklin and Dan Dugmore, bassist Michael Rhodes, Bryan Sutton on banjo, guitarists Brent Mason and Biff Watson, drummers Greg Morrow and Eddie Bayers, keyboard players Tim Lauer and Steve Nathan and homegrown guitarist Mark Punch.
And, of course, he played harmonica, banjo, acoustic and electric guitar and clap sticks and employed singing spouse Laurel Edwards and daughter Jem on background vocals.
So that means Troy massaged his messages and homespun homilies with delicious dexterity.