Home' Rhythms Magazine : Rhythms May June 2019 Contents 14
Sometimes necessity creates the best
art. A low budget can produce the most
raw recording and the soul of the artist
is revealed in a way not possible in a
big production. Bill Chambers’ latest
solo album, 1952, is such a record and
reveals him to be one of Australia’s most
Chambers was in Nashville recently,
playing with his daughter Kasey. I saw the
show - Kasey Chambers & The Fireside
Disciples - at 3rd & Lindsley. It was a really
entertaining night and included old family
slides with Kasey delivering a kind of live
memoir of her life from earliest childhood
when the family lived in the outback. It was
lovely to see Alan Pigram of The Pigram
Brothers playing mandolin in the band.
Nothing looks new through a cracked
But I still miss your crazy ways
How can we mend these broken things
I don’t know.
We twist and bend till we meet again
On this highway through the snow.
~ Highway Through The Snow, 1952
Bill Chambers has driven many a long
highway in both Australia and America. In
fact, when I spoke to him he had just got
back to Nashville from some solo touring.
“We did a few shows in Texas, half a dozen
shows... Then we drove up to Atlanta then
Greenville then across to Nashville. It’s a
big run but we’re used to it. I like driving
and the roads in America are fantastic, you
can make some miles.”
That is some crazy routing with a lot of
kilometers (about 4,000) between shows.
The Chambers are known for their rather
nomadic, gypsy-like lifestyle and spent
many years living in the outback as a
family. When Kasey was three weeks old,
Bill took the family to the Nullarbor Plain,
so he could pursue a career as a fox hunter.
They lived without a roof over their heads
nor the four walls which would hold such a
“I’ve done a lot of camping in my life,”
Bill says. “As a matter of fact, when I was
younger, I lived in the outback of Australia
for about ten years, working. We did a lot
of sleeping under the stars on a bedroll.
Just lookin’ up at the stars. I woke up one
night and there was a dingo staring right
in my face, about 18 inches off my face.
Just looking, you know...? I guess he was
inquisitive. I didn’t feel like he wanted to
eat me but...You never know...” (Laughs).
“It was in the middle of the ‘70s when fox
furs were fashionable and worth money.
Foxes are more of a pest, they’re not native
to Australia. They were introduced by the
English years ago. So, they’ve become
a real plague and so back in the 70s you
could hunt foxes, dry the pelts, send them
to Europe, make a lot of money. I thought
it was a great idea ‘cause I come from a
hunting family and we headed out into the
bush. I convinced my wife we were just
going for four or five weeks and we stayed
for ten years. It was a good life and Kasey
and Nash, my kids, grew up just singin’
around a camp fire. They thought there
was only two types of music - country and
Chambers started playing music when he
was in high school. “I was in a rock ‘n’ roll
band, you know, very typical in that. Had a
bit of fun with that, never made any money
or much of an impact.
“After I had kids I decided to go bush. And
when we came back we started a family
band for a while called The Dead Ringer
Band. We had a little bit of success with
that. And we done a lot of travelling. Still
sleeping under the stars half the time. And
we come over here to Nashville in 1996,
actually. To find out what it’s all about and
then we went home and my wife and I split
up and Kasey went solo. So the rest is sort
Of course, Kasey Chambers went on to
have several hit records and is now an
internationally acclaimed artist. What’s it
like having such a famous daughter?
“She still gives me a job which is nice.” He
laughs. Between his own solo touring and
Kasey’s, Bill Chambers keeps very busy.
This new album is his seventh as a solo
You were still out on the road like Woody
Knowin’ you were nearly at the end...
~ Time, 1952
Anne McCue reports in from the home of country music.
His first recorded outing away from the
family was a duets album with Tasmanian
singer-songwriter Audrey Auld. Sadly,
Audrey passed away a few years ago.
“Audrey was a great friend of mine and we
did a lot of touring together in Australia,
years ago. When I was young, around six or
seven, my dad took me to a country music
concert in South Australia and it was Chad
Morgan, Rick & Thel and Kevin King and
he had a hit record at the time called ‘Rub-
a-dub’ and it was on the radio. Rick & Thel
were a husband and wife duo. So when
Audrey and I made the record we were
determined we had to make a record a
little bit similar to them. And the first track
on the album is ‘Lookin’ Back to See’ and
it’s one of their old songs.”
The album is the delightful Bill & Audrey.
“Recorded pretty much mostly live in a
very small studio on the Central Coast,”
Bill says. “In fact, the reason I made that
record - I was on tour with my daughter
and she got pregnant. Which was all cool.
Their son is 16 now so that’s a few years
back. Anyway, so while she was pregnant
of course she wasn’t doing the tour so I
decided to make a record.
“We started a jam session in Sydney called
the Hillbilly Jam, Audrey and I. It was only
gonna go for a few weeks and it went for 2
and a half years. Great days.”
Somebody said they saw me runnin’
I was always runnin’ out of town
The new album is inspired by Hank
Williams who died in 1952. Chambers was
driving through Alabama just over a year
ago and decided to visit the grave of one
his biggest heroes.
“When we got to Montgomery, Alabama,
I remembered that Hank Williams was
buried there... Hank was a huge influence
when I was a kid. I was seven years old and
my mum and dad thought I was asleep
and they’d be playing these Hank Williams
records late into the night. Tragic drinkin’
songs and cheatin’ songs. Hard core
country music - which is the real stuff. To
me, that’s the stuff that really counts. And
I’d be layin’ in bed listening to these songs
late into the night. So it had a huge impact.
“I believe Hank wrote the book on simple
song writing. Very straight to the point.
Anyway, I visited Hank’s grave and as I
stood there I thought about his life and
how he died in the back seat of a Cadillac
on New Year’s Eve of 1952. He was heading
for a show and passed away in the back
seat. It had a huge impression so when I
got back to Sydney I got a friend of mine
[James Van Cooper] to help me write the
song and that became the title track of
the new album... It’s always magic to me,
where a song can come from.”
Chambers recorded the new album himself
and says it was pretty much budget-free.
“The new album I’ve done totally solo.
Never done that before but I was broke
and I needed another album and I’d always
loved albums that were real stripped back.
In fact, my favourite Bob Dylan albums are
the real early ones where it’s just him and
a guitar. You know, it’s just powerful stuff.
Not that I want to compare myself to Dylan
but I always wanted to make an album
that’s just myself and a guitar. I did add a
little bit of dobro and a couple of electric
guitar licks but mostly it’s just acoustic and
vocal. Pretty rough.”
The result is honest and really impressive.
Chambers’ song writing is up there
with the so-called best of the genre as
is well-evidenced on this album. Solo
performance can be revealing - both on
record and in the live setting.
“It’s a struggle these days as a singing
songwriter to survive,” Bill says. You’ve
gotta just do what you can. Part of the
way we survive is selling albums out on
the road. And that’s still a big part of our
income, so I had to make a new album
and I thought, I’ve got no money so I sat
in front of a microphone - I’ve got a home
studio - and just did it. So it cost nothing.
“I still love to play with a band and I often
do at festivals... There’s nothing better
than gettin’ an electric guitar and rockin’
out with a band but it’s hard to survive
now. If you have a band you’ve got to
house them somewhere, somehow. You
need a bigger car. It’s getting harder.
And there’s something challenging about
walking on a stage with a guitar and a vocal
and just trying to keep the audience happy.
I enjoy that challenge.
“One of my favourite albums of all time
is ‘Living With Ghosts’ by Patty Griffin.
It’s so good. I think sometimes we rely on
production too much. It’s great to hear a
beautifully produced album and we all love
that. But sometimes... look at Johnny Cash
- s ome of the best stuff he ever done was
just him and his guitar.”
You can hear the person’s soul that way.
“That’s the real stuff. It sorts the men out
from the boys I think, if you can pull it off
on your own.”
1952 is available now at
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