... this was the question I recently rhetorically asked John Foy, after he’d asked me a while ago if I had a clipping of the profile of him I penned for the Edge magazine back in 1990. “Well, I just found it!” I said. He replied, “Ha ha, now that the book is printed – and out…” He had wanted a copy to maybe reproduce in SnapsCrackPop!, the book he’s just published about his lifetime odyssey through music and art – and wonder of wonders, the book survives without it! But still I’m chuffed to contribute a few bits and pieces to the book; meantime here's the offending piece just for the record now I've found it:
SnapsCrackPop! is, it says itself, neither a monograph nor memoir; it’s a bit like one of those testimonials crossed with an art book. It captures a slice, and quite a large slice, of life in Sydney music from the late 70s through to late 90s. Perhaps I’m biased because, as my appearance in a couple of happy snaps from famous Foy barbeques testifies, his world of Red Eye/Black Eye Records was one that formed a part of my life during that period too. I even lived for a short while in 1988 at the legendary big subdivided house in Queen St, Woollahara, where Foy lived too and ran the label out of the heritage-listed old stable down the end of the back yard. (Phantom Records’ Jules Normington lived in the other downstairs apartment opposite Foy, and I was dossing in the rambling top floor where at the time numerous members of Paul Kelly’s band the Coloured Girls were living.) Red Eye was a breath of fresh air on the Sydney and Australian scene in the late 80s, before it became a major force via the Cruel Sea via the label’s link-up PolyGram, and I wrote numerous stories for RAM and Rolling Stone about the Beasts of Bourbon, the Black Eye label ‘bands’, the Cruel Sea, and even the Edge profile of Foy himself, which was an indication of his coming up in the world. I even managed to con Rolling Stone into giving over a full-page on the Other Red Eye subsidiary label, Third Eye Records, and it was, well, let's just put it this way, it conspicuously fails to rate a mention in this otherwise fairly comprehensive tome - so make of that what you will! Foy had asked me for the 'Talk To...' item along with the story about Black Eye that I was able to find and has thus been reprinted in the book, across five full pages, because as he said, it nailed the whole thing in a way nothing else did.
You can read that Rolling Stone story in full in my own BACKPAGES section here, along with a major feature, again from Stone, on the Beasts of Bourbon, here, when they blasted back with Black Milk in 1990, plus read here my Juice review of the Cruel Sea’s breakthrough second album from 1992, The Honeymoon is Over, which basically concluded, you can put your glasses down folks because this band is going to be huge. (I actually remember having a bit of a disagreement with the Juice brains-trust over the item – they wanted some more detail on the songs, which I gave them, but only reluctantly because that’s what I said to them at the time: Why bother, because everybody’s going to hear it everywhere and buy it anyway! Got that one right – which is by no means usual! As if it was hard though in the case of the Cruel Sea! They remain one of the world’s best bar bands ever, next to Los Lobos.) But as I know it always somewhat irked Foy, he never quite got the due he deserved as a poster designer, and that aspect of his career is what makes this book really sing. Designed by long-time Red Eye art director Jim Paton, who designed a couple of my own books (see, I told you this was all in the family), the book is a glorious compendium of John Foy’s rock art that (now) puts him shoulder-to-shoulder alongside all the San Francisco stuff and punk stuff – which in a way it was a fusion of, along with pop art. I loved it – most of it, anyway, even when it was projecting music I wasn’t so crazy about (and Red Eye, I have to say, did do a bit of dud stuff I didn’t like, but what record company doesn't?) – and I’m pleased to see its celebration here.
And then everything changed. I moved out of Queen St and then out of the eastern suburbs and so very largely out of the Life. Red Eye went through the mill and then Foy got out too. He went on to work for a while for the late, great art dealer Ray Hughes, and so I continued to see a bit of him because I knew Ray and tended to like his painters and often went to openings at the gallery. But then Foy left that too and I seldom saw him as he commenced a new peripatetic life as a ‘citizen of the world’. I’m just glad he got down this inside account of things before, as they do, the memories and evidence drifted off to be forgotten… I’m also flattered, vindicated – especially in the wake of Highway to Hell’s recent similar acknowledgement as the post directly below describes – that when SnapsCrackPop! lists only seven books among its recommended reading, two of them are mine (Inner City Sound and Stranded) and their assessments unequivocal… how could I not like this book after it concludes like that!? To buy a copy of SnapsCrackPop! go here, I think.
Nearly a quarter-century after my biography of Bon Scott, Highway to Hell, came out – nearly forty years since the man himself died – I am still constantly amazed at the way he’s still so alive. A silly book published recently spent more than half its length convolutedly trying to show that there was some sort of foul play in Bon’s death – and all it amounted to was nothing but speculation, conjecture and hearsay, not to mention unreadability. You couldn’t kill Bon Scott that easily! On the other hand I felt flattered recently, maybe more vindicated, when Paul Elliott's megatome AC/DC: For those About to Rock came out and its acknowledgements listed only two of the score of AC/DC-related books, Highway to Hell and Murray Engleheart's AC/DC: Maximum Rock&Roll. That's all you need. So it was no surprise when Richard Syrett asked me to appear as a talking head on his popular podcast Rock’n’Roll Twilight Zone – or was it? Because as the show’s name might suggest, it’s not unaccustomed to entertaining the odd musical conspiracy theory. And yet even then it comes down to much the same conclusions I do regarding Bon’s death and its aftermath. Which are, as I say in the show, that of the two big conspiracy theories, I subscribe to one and not the other. As my book and all my public utterances assert, I do not believe there was any foul play surrounding Bon’s death except maybe neglect, and I do believe there were more than many traces of his contributions on Back in Black but that these went uncredited. You can listen to much talk around these questions and more, from writer Susan Masino and Bon’s good friend Mary Renshaw as well as myself, across two hour-long episodes:
Spencer P. Jones once paid me what it took me a while to appreciate was as good a compliment as there could be. "In music," he said, "there's two types of people - wannabes and lifers - and you're a lifer." And so now that Spencer has gone, his lifer-sentence run out, I wanted to just make note: I loved the guy. Like so many did. He just had that thing, he was impossible to dislike, he was hilariously dryly funny, and he was generous and kind - and he was a great, great rock'n'roll guitar player, songwriter and singer. Click through here or the photo below (a great too-seldom-seen shot that I recall convincing Spence to take his shirt off to allow Simon Obarzanek to take it) to read what was doubtless the most major magazine feature that Spencer ever got all to himself, which I wrote for Rolling Stone in 1994 on the occasion of the release of his belated, first solo album Rumour of Death. Sadly the rumour now is all too true. Seeya in the big bar in the sky Spence, where we'll crack a cocktail and have a laugh at the follies of our temporal lives...
Hello Darwin Rock City! declared Backtrackers' pedal-steel player Jason Walker as his DC3 descended towards the resurrected runway of the old Parap Airport. The Buried Country mob flew into Darwin last week and, with not a lot of the qualities of the average FIFO worker, came and went and left a real good feeling. Last Thursday, Buried Country: Live in Concert opened the Darwin Festival for this year with a mega free performance at the Amphitheatre, and then on Saturday night Roger Knox backed up at the same venue to receive his induction into the NIMA Hall of Fame. Congratulations to Baker Boy, the late Dr. G Yunupingu and all the night's other winners. “My message is simple,” said Roger. “Love one another, love yourself, and if you’re going to get anything, get understanding.”
Extra rehearsal required to work up songs with Darwin guest star, Eleanor Dixon
Two of our guests of honor in Darwin: (Left) One-year old Tom Jones, with mum Leah Flanagan and his first-ever lammi, and (above) 13-year old Eng Maraka, who as his T-shirt suggests came all the way from Cambodia
Now the fanstuff really kicks in: (Above) Warren H. Williams (who?) and Roger Knox (who??) with MICHAEL LONG!! and (right) Roger gets covered
One of the surest rules for the touring musician: Hurry up and wait!
Richard Watts wrote of the show in Performing ArtsHub: “As dusk gathers, the sinking sun gilds the treetops which ring the grassy slopes of Darwin Amphitheatre, painting them in vivid emerald shades against the darkening sky. Beneath their boughs hang giant paper lanterns, illuminating a festive crowd gathered on picnic blankets and folding chairs. The air is soft and warm… in the words of Larrakia singer Ali Mills, who takes to the stage with a ukulele to sing ‘Adelaide River’, the Darwin Festival’s free opening night concert is a rare moment where ‘you and me will meet’. “Some of the founders of Aboriginal country music are no longer with us, some having passed on since earlier iterations of the concert which is based on the book and documentary of the same name by Clinton Walker. Those who are still with us, such as L. J Hill, are frail and occasionally forgetful, but Hill is still capable of passion despite his weakening voice, as he clearly demonstrates on ‘Pretty Bird Tree’ – once he is reminded which song he is supposed to sing. “Instead, we hear from the children and grandchildren of those groundbreaking artists, and from other artists they have inspired, while video projections at the back of the stage give us glimpses of their original voices and songs. The performers are more than ably supported by the Backtrackers, a tight and accomplished backing band who drive the night forward with gusto and, when the occasion demands it, beautifully shaded intensity. “There’s pain and melancholy here, but also hope and resilience – and a whole new generation of singer-songwriters poised to carry the genre forward into the 21st Century.” (Read the review in full here.)
Local kids' choirs as opening act, photo by Steve Habibi Kelk, with thanks
Alex Collins wrote in themusic.com.au: "Many of the songs featured throughout the night were sparse in their original form, but were filled out by a killer house band in the Backtrackers. Buddy Knox's take on Black Allan Barker's ‘Run Dingo Run’ is a muscular brute of a blues number that bristles with attitude. The old cliche says that country music is nothing more than three chords and the truth, and there's plenty of truth when Leah Flanagan thanks Santos for sponsoring the opening night but adds that it won't buy her silence as she speaks out against opening the Territory up to fracking. “Even more eloquent is her performance of ‘Brown Skin Baby’, a plaintive bush ballad that chronicles the life of one member of the Stolen Generations. It's a haunting song and her voice soars as she performs it, a plaintive cry that too many people in the audience recognise. It's a performance of devastating beauty, and one that lingers in my mind long after the music has ended.”
... and finishing with a few more great shots by Steve Kelk: Local legend Ali Mills does the Welcome to Country...
... in front of a back projection of his nan, the late Auriel Andrew, Teangi Knox performs her great song 'Ghost Gums' in tribute...
Said Leah of the stand she took: “Yes I was nervous but I believe if you are given a platform to connect with people, it is important to do the right thing. After the loss of an important figure across this country who fought to keep coal seam gas mining off her country and out of the NT, I had to honor the legacy of the great Alice Eather and make my voice count. Fracking is poison and the NT government has no right to sell off more than half of our land mass to a foreign company for short term, short sighted 'profits'. Please, everyone, lets be noisy and get in their faces. They've lifted the ban but we can still stop them from taking things further. We just have to be dedicated and stop being complacent. No-one is going to do this for us. We have to do it for our land and for the future of our families. DON'T FRACK THE NT! The conversation is back in the spotlight. Let’s keep it there.”
... Leah Flanagan wasn't the only one to voice protest at festival sponsor Santos and its fracking business in the NT; note Luke Peacock's T-shirt...
... while guest star Eleanor Dixon stars...
On the Saturday night back at the Amphitheatre for the NIMAs, Warren H. Williams introduced Roger Knox to get his Lifetime gong. He said, "Tonight’s inductee to the NIMAs' Hall of Fame is country through and through. Our families have grown up and played music together over the decades, so it’s a proud moment for me tonight to stand here and talk about my friend. He grew up in the missions of outback New South Wales where Sunday school gospel was his first exposure to music and singing. His parents and grandparents participated in church choirs and the love of music, and that rubbed off onto his talent; he was a handsome teenager, he had a reputation for snappy dressing and big hair – whaddya reckon?! – fancy moves gave him the nickname the Black Elvis! Roger joined the legendary Brian Young show in the 80s and that gave him an excellent grounding in bush touring, developing his stagecraft and songwriting skills, leading to a lifetime of entertaining his adoring audience. "He and his family have been the backbone of country music in Tamworth for decades, encouraging young Aboriginal people. This man and his band of brothers have earned a huge reputation from campfires to the world stage. The original publication of the Buried Country book and compilation album in 2000 bought wider recognition of the featured artists, and Roger’s solo albums became in much demand, and in festivals all around Australia. His smooth, strong vocals and his songs proved popular outside traditional country music circles and got high rotation at CAAMA radio [which Warren should well know, since he was the DJ spinning ’em!]. So, rightly, Roger has been nominated and won many industry awards. I have shared the stage with this man many times and I am so proud to be handing him this lifetime achievement award tonight – give it up for Roger Knox…"
Roger on the dais flanked by Buddy Knox, Teangi Knox and Nicolette Dixon
After the customary acknowledgements and a greeting in his own Kamilaroi language, Roger said, “It’s a great privilege to be here tonight to receive this award. Someone said to me it’s been a long time comin’ but… we got a long way to go! I’d like to thank the organisers here tonight, the NIMA people, for such a deadly honor. When I look back over the years I’m so grateful to all the people who’ve helped me, there was so many people who have lifted me up, when times were hard – and they were really hard sometimes through them early years, especially comin’ from an area where I come from, it was really hard as a black musician to try and get things done and to move forward, to me I’m just a humble blackfella from a little mission called Toomelah… nearest town is a place called Goondiwindi, but I wouldn’t like to say too much about that… the media has recently portrayed Toomelah as a fourth-world community… [but] I’m here today, what I am, because of my mother and my father and my brothers and my sisters, and my children, and I’d like to thank their mother Vivien, may she rest in peace… and I’d like thank Buddy, who’s at my side here, I had to drag him out of school! coax him.. I’d like to acknowledge my earlier heroes, like Uncle Col Hardy, who got me up out of my sickbed… a great hero of mine Uncle Dougie Young… and Uncle Lyle Munro… and Uncle Charlie Duncan, who taught me or introduced me to music, he made me work towards bein’ somebody, because I amsomebody… they all encouraged me and helped me to realize and respect and continue the important cultural tradition of giving credit to other songlines, and sharing them across our country… many thanks to my late friend and a great man, Eric Allen… and thanks to a lady here who has been with me, she is my great friend, supported me and believed in me in the last few years, Nic… I’d also like to make mention of Enrec Studios in Tamworth because during those times we couldn’t get our songs out there, and it was the people from Enrec who give us this opportunity… I’d like to thank another great fried, Jon Langford, who helped me tour through Canada and the USA… and maybe some of you mob were here the other night for the Buried Country show, Buried Country tells the true story of our mob’s country music, so thank you, Mary… I’d like thank all my mob across country… you know sometimes you stumble, sometimes you fall, but I believe you never walk alone… my music has taken me from Toomelah to some of the great stages of the world, it hasn’t been an easy path, but I’ve played in many prisons, I know what life is like for some of my brothers and sisters, and my message is simple, love one another, love yourself, and if you're going to get anything, get understanding."
The Buried Country mob all started trickling in to Darwin today ahead of our show on Thursday night, August 9, to open this year’s festival there. Buried Country will appear, for free, at the Santos Opening Night Concert at the Darwin Amphitheatre, starting at 7pm. It is a special event for the festival and the week will be a special one for Buried Country too, with cast-member Roger Knox lined up to be inducted into the NIMA’s Hall of Fame at the Awards’ ceremony at the Amphitheatre on Saturday night, August 11.
For Buried Country’s Leah Flanagan, the gig is a homecoming, and she is relishing showing off her beautiful new baby boy Tuco to family and friends. Leah’s rendition of Bob Randall’s “Brown Skin Baby” is always one of the show’s highlights, and will have further resonance in Darwin where Randall first unveiled the song around sixty years ago in the late 1960s. In the absence of cast regular Franny Peters-Little, the Darwin show will also boasti a special guest, Eleanor Dixon. Elly likely needs little introduction especially to Territorians, with her esteemed work over the years with Rayella, her band with her father Ray Dixon, and her band Kardajala Kirri-Darra, who’ve lately set the Australian music scene on its ear. With Buried Country, Eleanor will put her own spin on one of the songs that Franny usually sings in the show, her father Jimmy Little’s “Blacktracker,” and she will sing one of her own songs, which – we hope! – the band is rehearsing as we speak.
For Roger Knox, to be inducted into the NIMA Hall of Fame, is only fitting if not overdue. But then the late Auriel Andrew still wants to be acknowledged in such a way too, and the ARIA Hall of Fame has a lot of catching up to do. Roger is a living legend and he has been a lynch-pin in the Buried Country stageshow since its inception a few years ago. Even for all the duress that such full-scale touring can impose on especially elders, his commitment and deep soul has never wavered. Roger will join other such Hall of Famers as Ali Mills, Jimmy Little, Seaman Dan, Archie Roach, Vic Simms and Kutcha Edwards, and on the night he will perform a few songs alongside other showcase performances by 2018 NIMA nominees like the Baker Boys, Busby Marou, Kasey Chambers with Alan Pigram, Alice Skye and others. He will then, later this year, be the subject of an exhibition at the new Australian Music Vault at the Arts Centre in Melbourne, which will display artefacts and show films from his 40-year long career. A national tour with Jon Langford is also in the offing. Meantime, if you’re in Darwin, we hope to see you at Thursday’s show, which will have local legend Ali Mills performing a welcome to country. Very excitingly too the new Buried Country vinyl LP edition will be on sale at the merch table! Mary or Ruby will look after you. From all the BC mob, we give Roger a big hug and just look forward to even more years of great music yet ahead of us…
When I first went to Cambodia a few years ago (drawn, I have to admit, by the music as much anything), I met a young man there who went by the handle of DJ Oro. Oro was deeply committed to the recovery, restoration and redistribution of the great lost Cambodian music that was horrifically literally killed off during the Pol Pot era. I said to him, O man, you’re like the Khmer ME! And we laughed in fraternity. It’s great meeting kindred spirits like that. It was much the same when I first encountered Eric Isaacson, who runs Mississippi Records, the label that’s just released the new vinyl LP version of Buried Country as just the latest in a long catalogue of amazing releases. Eric had been on the road in Australia with his friend Darren Hanlon, the fine young singer-songwriter from Queensland whose own label Flippin’ Yeah Records is a partner in this BC LP endeavour. I’d gone along to an evening they presented at the Golden Age cinema in Sydney. Eric spoke amusingly about his background, his mostly-musical obsessions and the rationale behind Mississippi, and he showed some of the amazing last films shot by Alan Lomax that he has in his archive. And I thought, again, another one! Mississippi has amassed a truly extraordinary catalogue of exhumed gems (gospel, blues, R&B, hillbilly, street singers, devotional music) that make Greil Marcus’s famous “old, weird America” tag seem totally inadequate. I had a brief chat with Eric at the end of the night, and left it at that. Until a little while later I got an email out of the blue from Darren who was with Eric at his home in Portland, Oregon: They wanted to know if I’d be interested in helping them put together this LP. I said to them, you mean an actual 12” 33.3rpm vinyl LP?! Are you kidding would I be interested?!? I had only one main qualification – that we take this unique opportunity to include some material from my collection that was always perhaps a bit too arcane, a bit too lo-fi, to include on either of the two major-label CD releases. With which they couldn’t have agreed more. And so we proceeded to get the album together, or more to the point, Darren did; it was mostly his baby and an odyssey as he trekked over the four corners of the country tracking down whatever traces of the music he could still find. I mean, who else was gonna do it? I gave Darren all the background, contacts, leads and hunches I could, and off he went and way beyond the call of duty… And it was really only the support and encouragement he got from community and family that made the LP possible. Darren went to the Kimberly to talk to Olive Knight, and to northern NSW to talk to the daughter of Black Allan Barker and the family of Maisie Kelly. In his clapped-out old van, he went and saw Wilga Williams in Canberra, and Bobby McLeod’s daughter Natalie in nearby Nowra. He went and saw ex-Warumpi Band guitarist Sammy Butcher in Papunya. He talked to people in Darwin and people in Tasmania. He secured the rights to use a portrait of painter/singer Jimmy Pompey by Vincent Namatjira on the front cover, and a painting by Pompey himself on the back cover, as you can see here:
These artworks are stunning, just as the album itself sounds as fresh and sparkling as the day the tracks were cut in the first place; just as Darren’s dedication is total, beyond ego (money doesn’t come into it) and even beyond love, into some form of spiritual quest… which just leaves me feeling humbled…
And so this album is not just yet another dimension to the seemingly unstoppable Buried Country juggernaut but, with the inclusion of rare tracks like the never-before re-released “Give the Coloured Lad a Chance” by Jimmy Little, and the never-ever released cassette demo of the Kooriers’ “Sick of Being Treated Like a Mangy Old Dog,” and complete with its accompanying 36-page booklet, it is a whole other entity in its own right. If you have been in the slightest moved by the previous Buried Country iterations of book/film/CD, or seen our travelling stageshow and enjoyed it, you must investigate this package – because I can safely predict it will take your breath away.
… to the Territory where so much music and some of our stars – Warren H. Williams and Leah Flanagan – come from, and so I’m delighted to be able to announce that Buried Country: Live in Concert will be playing opening night at the up-coming 2018 Darwin Festival in August.
The show, which is free (!), will be presented at the Darwin Amphitheatre on Thursday, August 9, at 7pm. For more details go here or click through the image above.
Possibly a statement is overdue from me regarding the criticisms of Deadly Woman Blues that started cropping up a couple of weeks back. Not until now have I felt equipped to do that though, because I wanted to have some sort of palpable idea or a path to suggest towards making reparation for the misinformation the book has propagated, and apologising for the hurt that this has caused. Now a course of action has been decided upon – the book will be withdrawn from sale and pulped, and NewSouth Publishing will post up corrections on its website. This post here then is just the start of my own personal processes to amend any online profile of the book that I’m responsible for. As public access as something like Spotify is, I’ve just removed the Deadly Woman Blues playlist I’d compiled there, and I have similarly deleted a similar playlist on YouTube. I’m working on amending other outlets like not least of all this website itself. To say that I have myself felt distress over these past few weeks would be churlish in the face of that suffered by those women who have been misrepresented by the book. But I am in a state of distress and since I just don’t think I could string a coherent sentence together for any interviews at the minute, I have prepared this statement to go out to media outlets meantime:
“I have been devastated to learn that my failure to consult with many of the women in my book Deadly Woman Blues has caused such distress and anguish to them and to their friends and families. The book started life in graphic form and grew into one hundred images across one hundred years. The accompanying text about the women’s lives and work contains factual errors and I take responsibility for these. My publisher is working with these women to correct these mistakes on their website – these will be uploaded next week. I will be personally approaching some of these women, whose music has meant so much to me over decades, to apologise over the coming weeks. I should have followed protocols and consulted and checked and am now reflecting on my processes as a writer so at odds with my hitherto good reputation. Given all this, withdrawing the book from sale is the right decision. I apologise unreservedly to the women for any hurt I have caused.”
NewSouth’s CEO Kathy Bail released a statement the other day announcing the withdrawal of the book, which reads as follows:
“NewSouth published Clinton Walker’s Deadly Woman Blues: Black Women and Australian Music in February 2018 and a small number of books have sold since then. We have been made aware that not all the women who appear in the book were consulted about current biographical details and that some entries contain errors of fact. We are deeply sorry for any hurt or distress this has caused the women concerned and apologise to them unreservedly. We will be publishing a list of corrections on the NewSouth Publishing website when confirmed by those parties involved.”
The news is out there now in the media and on the net and so as much as I'd thought, in the interests of balance, I could provide links to the some of the criticism, that’s what all the news is anyway, and it’s not hard to find, so just do a search, there’s plenty of it there. At some stage soon, as part of the process at hand, when I have come down a bit and calmed down and can reflect a little more clearly, I will post up a detailed account of myself and of the book.