Home' Rhythms Magazine : November-December 2018 Contents By David Johnston
Even during the pre-Beatles folk boom,
guitar was king. Why did you choose
I couldn’t afford a guitar. I actually really
wanted to play organ – in the jazz/r&b
Jimmy Smith and later Georgie Fame and
Steve Winwood style – but I saved up and
got a harmonica.
You have nevertheless for some years played
guitar (and banjo).
I’m still learning both those. I’m not a
natural but I use them for songwriting
and I like the idea of the solo guy anyway.
Three chords and you’re on your way.
In your youth you imagined yourself as
a “hobo blues singer”. Were you ever
consciously influenced by any singers or did
your vocal style develop naturally?
My mother sang at home so it was around
me I guess. I was influenced by a host of
singers, both male and female. Too many
to mention but voices like Muddy Waters,
Sleepy John Estes, Ben E. King, Rudy
Lewis of the Drifters, early Chris Farlowe.
By the mid-’70s I was starting to develop
my own thing, slowly at first. We [the
Dingoes] had a vocal teacher for a while in
the States and he helped me a lot. Because
I’d had to sing higher parts over the years
I’d naturally developed a false‘head voice’
which artificially created extra range.
Back in the early to mid-1960s it was,
“Beatles or Stones?” Which for you?
Both, at different times. I would initially
like the Beatles and then I got sick of the
word“Love” so I gravitated to the Stones,
but then I’d drift off them too, (Satanic
Majesties, Between The Buttons, etc.)
Actually I liked the Animals more than the
Stones because they had a better singer.
Ian Meldrum wrote, of the Adderley Smith
Blues Band, “Here’s a band who don’t
want to reach the top 40.” All three of your
subsequent bands did in fact achieve this.
How do you feel about commercial success?
I didn’t take a great deal of notice to be
honest. There would have been a point in
my mid-twenties where my ego went a bit
nuts as that is what happens to most folks.
Because the scene is somewhat limited
here it’s a bit silly to pay much attention as
it’s all a bit small compared to the world.
You consider that Carson was taking “a
step backwards into the blues when I had
gone onto more song oriented thinking.”
The blues scene was something that I’d
loved from a young age but by the time I
was twenty I’d moved more towards the
singer songwriter stuff (Randy Newman,
etc.). Carson initially was influenced
heavily by Canned Heat but, of the white
blues acts I gravitated towards Paul
Butterfield. I felt that Canned Heat were
a ‘pop blues’ act, I guess because they’d
had chart success. I liked Al Wilson
though. Because I loved lyrics some blues
were great but a lot were pretty simple
in that regard. I did like the ‘Devil at the
“I vowed to do well at my [day] job and
only play music on the weekends so that
my art could not be tainted by monetary
needs.” Most young aspirant musicians
dream about playing music full time.
I still do other work now, I feel it also
grounds you. Being solely part of a music
community tends to make you a little
detached from reality in order to justify
your existence. Also, your audiences here
are so small it’s hard to stay true to what
you love and you have to make musical
concessions in order to exist. But if you
have a job you can keep your music more
pure in a way because it’s not your wage.
Kerryn Tolhurst had been a founding
member of Adderley Smith but when you
next joined him in Sundown, then the
Dingoes, you were “merging bush music
with R’n’B”. How did this transition occur?
Purely through the strength of songs.
And it was the Whitlam years so we were
searching for some sort of identity in the
music. Unfortunately glam, etc. came along
and you had to compete with that so the
main songwriters in the group gravitated a
bit that way later and we lost our direction
The Brill Building was an early influence –
was it on your overall appreciation of ‘pop’
music, or did it inspire you to begin writing
It was in the songwriting area as folks from
that place were among the only ones doing
anything decent prior to the UK explosion.
Rock was crushed in a way then and it
was all pretty bland, that’s for sure. ‘ Up On
The Roof ’ still sounds like an urban vague
‘protest song’ in a way. The Drifters’ version
that is, not the James Taylor version.
The Big Combo – your Big Combo – was
arguably the most successful musical
enterprise you’ve undertaken. Have you
ever considered ‘getting the band back
Never. There’s nothing worse than seeing
the Living Dead coming back and tottering
around the stage. You are what you are.
And now we are old. The Dingoes reunion
was, I felt, an obligation to an audience, but
not something I necessarily looked forward
Post-Big Combo, the album Broderick
Smith was a bravely experimental album of
which you make no mention in the book.
I was and still am quite proud of that
album. Cameron Allen did a great job
and it was a jazz-tinged work at some
points. Great players on it. When I played
it to execs in Germany they couldn’t
believe it was not released in Europe at
the time. Glenn Wheatley had a big act
in Germany called Real Life who were
a New Romantic-pop outfit and when I
mentioned them and their label the execs
instantly said, “ Wrong label”. It was over
the heads of a lot of folk and still is today.
It must be good!
Not included in the discography – possibly
because it wasn’t a disc! – the Broderick
Smith and Friends cassette from 1986
boasted a lineup of luminaries that included
Tommy Emmanuel – on drums! – and his
late-lamented brother Phil on guitar.
That came from friends at MES the old
music firm in South Melbourne having a
space where we could do some recording
for fun. Tom and Phil were in town so they
dropped in and played as well. It was a
delight to do and we liked what we’d done
so we sold a few cassettes of it. Tom’s also
not a bad singer either.
Most of the book is about the first 15 years
of your music career. But the next 25 – the
‘solo’ period – where you wrote with some
wonderful collaborators (Phil Hyde, Nick
Smith, Kevin Bennett, Matt Walker to
name just a few) – get little mention. Will
there be Volume 2?
I did love The Guild [from that time,
including many of the above-named
writer/musicians]. My best band I believe.
I could do Volume 2 but you need stories
to make it interesting and a lot of the solo
stuff years was like a slow train through
a bleak wilderness – travelling a lot,
rundown health, strange towns boarded
up, almost haunted pubs. We met folks
from the darker side of Australia. Perhaps
I could talk about madness that you see
from the stage rather than madness on it.
Do you anticipate renewed attention your
new book and album will bring to you and
I don’t anticipate anything. I just try to do
the best I can. I understand I’m way past
my user date but I seem to have stayed
fresh for some reason. There’s so much
to write about because the world is really
fucked up. As George Bush Jr. so accurately
said to his wife at Trump’s inauguration,
“This is some weird shit.”
Footnote: It seems to this interviewer
that the events of the “slow train through
a bleak wilderness” and “madness that you
see from a stage” would in fact seem to be
ideal material for a Volume 2...bring it on!
On the release
of his memoir,
Man Out Of Time
some further typically
into his life, his music
and the world at
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