By Ian McFarlane
BOOGIE! Presents Silver Roads: Australian Country-Rock and Singer-Songwriters of the ‘70s (Festival/Warner Music)
Going back something like 12 years ago now, I co-compiled with Glenn A. Baker a compilation album that we planned to call West is the Way (Australian Country-Rock of the ‘70s). The proposed artist list included names such as Greg Quill and Country Radio, The Dingoes, Home, Axiom, Brian Cadd, Stars, Daddy Cool, Third Union Band, Flying Circus, Sundown, Quinn, Richard Clapton etc.
For a number of reasons the project was shelved and while I’m not about to make any claims for it being a completely original concept or even that someone else wasn’t ever gonna run with it, I’d still like to think that the basic premise had merit.
Now Warner Music and specifically co-compilers noted author Clinton Walker and Dave Laing (Warner’s creative A&R guy) have filled the gap and broadened the concept ten-fold. BOOGIE! Presents Silver Roads: Australian Country-Rock and Singer-Songwriters of the ‘70s is a companion piece to Warner’s successful 2012 double CD Boogie! Australian Blues, R&B and Heavy Rock from the ‘70s. And as much as I enjoyed that compilation immensely, Silver Roads really got me intrigued and excited even before I’d played the damn thing! The wealth of material contained on this splendid 46-track, double CD is simply astonishing. And Walker’s excellent liner notes are revelatory; you learn as much about him as you do the story of Aussie country-rock.
Even a cursory glance at the track selection will reveal that it’s all about the “song”. While most of the free-wheeling tracks on Boogie! Australian Blues, R&B and Heavy Rock from the ‘70s were often about the riff, the groove and the intent as much as the song, Silver Roads comes down to the basic question – is the song good enough? And because country-rock as a genre and the singer-songwriter consciousness wasn’t always about being introspective or introverted, many of the songs here are just gloriously uplifting. Not in a “Glory Hallelujah, praise the Lord” kinda way mind you; more in a “let’s get on down that highway and meet our destiny” way.
Many of the songs here are about the “journey” as much as about the “destination”: Country Radio’s ‘Gypsy Queen’, Brian Cadd & Don Mudie’s ‘Show Me the Way’, Flying Circus’ ‘The Longest Day’, Third Union Band’s ‘Hyway Rider’, Richard Clapton’s ‘Down the Road’, Johnny Chester’s ‘Glory Glory’, The Dingoes’ ‘Boy on the Run’, Chain’s ‘Show Me Home’, Doug Ashdown’s ‘Winter in America’, LRB’s ‘It’s a Long Way There’ etc. Dave Graney wrote a song in the early ‘90s called ‘You Wanna Be There but You don’t Wanna Travel’. It was a cautionary tale no doubt and while only Graney could have come up with such a cynical twist on the idea of “destination”, maybe during the ‘70s the likes of Greg Quill, Brian Cadd, Doug Ashdown, Chris Stockley, Richard Clapton or Graeham Goble had a less pragmatic approach to song writing.
Country Radio and The Dingoes were probably the most visible bands on the Australian musical landscape that played country-rock, although most people wouldn’t have known that at the time. With musicians such as Greg Quill, Chris Blanchflower, Kerryn Tolhurst, Broderick Smith, Chris Stockley and John Bois within the ranks of Country Radio and The Dingoes, there’s half-a-dozen of your key players right there. With the added elements of folk colourations and an R&B edge to their sound it was roots music through and through, a confluence of styles that has now come to be termed on the international stage as “Americana”. That’s a ridiculous label to try and pin on such an inherently Australian sound so maybe we’ll just go back to calling it Aussie country-rock.
So then how does one define such a thing as Aussie country-rock? It’s as much about the way Australian bands played, as to the feel and tone of the music, the basic tenets of the musical form, the building blocks that mix country, folk and rock. And not forgetting the various overseas influences – The Band, Bob Dylan, The Byrds, John Stewart, Gram Parsons, Tim Hardin, Fred Neil, a bit of folk-blues, a huge dash of British folk-rock (Fairport Convention, Bert Jansch) and on and on… a whole plethora of sounds.
That might not even get close to defining Aussie country-rock but the point is that it was not only bands like Country Radio and The Dingoes but also the likes of such unheralded names as Flying Circus, Sundown, Third Union Band or Quinn that provided some kind of alternative to the prevailing trends in Aussie music at the time – blues-rock ‘n’ boogie and, later on, Countdown-friendly glam-pop. Now don’t get me wrong here because I love all that stuff too, but our musical heritage is all the richer for the likes of ‘Gypsy Queen’ and ‘Boy on the Run’. And speaking of blues-rock you get decibel heroes Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs picking up acoustic guitars for their version of the traditional folk song ‘Cigarettes and Whiskey’, recorded live at their Sydney Opera House concert, November 1973.
Then add to the whole scenario such local singer-songwriters as Brian Cadd, Russell Morris, Richard Clapton, Johnny Chester, Doug Ashdown, John J. Francis, Margret RoadKnight and Ross Ryan and you realise that there was an incredibly vibrant scene happening in Australia during the 1970s.
It’s not practical to write something about every song here, but I’ll focus on several things: picking a selection of key tracks (and every reader will have their own favourites, so go to it!), nominating the little-known cuts that give the compilation greater depth and offering an opinion about which tracks I consider to have been overlooked (and once again, everyone will have an opinion about that but there’s no criticism intended here because you have to bear in mind the inevitable licensing issues, more of which later, or maybe the compilers are already working on a Volume 2).
The Key Songs
- Right off the bat we have Country Radio’s ‘Gypsy Queen’ (1972) – sounding as glorious as ever; mandolin, harp, acoustic guitar, harmonies to die for, the ultimate tale of longing, “Gotta find the Gypsy Queen”, does he find her in the end? I’d like to think so
- Axiom ‘Arkansas Grass’ (1969) – often unfairly criticised as being too American sounding, and it did place the song’s protagonist in the American War of Independence but it’s essentially a protest song as allegory for the Vietnam War
- Flying Circus ‘The Longest Day’ (1971) – such an under-appreciated band, such a touching tale of heartbreak
- The Dingoes ‘Boy on the Run’ (1974) – to my mind the most uniquely Australian country-rock song ever, capped off by a breathtaking coda that just rises and rises…
- Cold Chisel ‘Khe Sanh’ (1978) – at first I went wah!? But, yeah, it makes perfect sense
- Chain ‘Show Me Home’ (1969) – a band usually associated with the blues yet this is totally influenced by The Band: the guitar, the piano/organ interplay but in particular the multi-layered, three-step harmony on the song’s vocal hook, “so I can rest, I can rest, I can rest my mind” (a la ‘The Weight’)
- Margret RoadKnight ‘Girls in Our Town’ (1976) – written by Bob Hudson but totally owned by Margret, a poignant tale of small town life that’s spot on in its elegiac minutiae
- Little River Band ‘It’s a Long Way There’ (1975) – ah, the much maligned LRB, I don’t care, I still think this is a magnificent song and it’s just the 4-minute single edit here
- Hot Knives (Featuring Greg Quill) ‘Wintersong’ (1977) – bringing everything full circle, Quill’s Canadian re-recording of the Country Radio single (1972) with co-Aussie ex-pat guitarists Chris Stockley (ex-Dingoes) and Sam See (ex-Fraternity)
The Deep Cuts
- Russell Morris ‘Lay in the Graveyard’ (1971) – from his Bloodstone album, a meeting of country and gospel in a singer songwriter context
- Third Union Band ‘Hyway Ryder’ (1972) – A nice cruising rhythm with just the right touch of country via guitarist Red McKelvie’s clean picking and slide licks
- The Dingoes ‘Starting Today’ (1977) – the inclusion of this chiming folk rocker from the band’s first international album Five Times the Sun is like digging for gold – you know it’s there you just have to find it – and it works a treat
- Quinn ‘The Mighty Quinn’ (1970) – as well as The Band, naturally Bob Dylan looms large and here Ross Hannaford (in between his tenures with The Party Machine and Daddy Cool) gets to grips with this fun country-folk tune on a one-off single
- Fraternity ‘Sommerville’ (1971) – I’d nominate Fraternity as Australia’s version of The Band mixed with Traffic, rootsy but also esoteric and metaphysical. This spirit of place track is almost like small town life writ large
- Axiom ‘Ford’s Bridge’ (1970) – from the group’s album Fool’s Gold, a stark evocation of lust and murder in a small town, name checking characters like Mary-Anne Turnbull, Nathan Wilson’s boy and Septimus O’Reilly over a rousing string arrangement
- Tymepiece ‘Sweet Release’ (1971) – starting life as garage-punk outfit the Black Diamonds (of ‘I Want, Need, Love You’ fame), Tymepiece reinvented themselves on the Sweet Release album which mixed pounding progressive psych, R&B, folk and this brilliant country-rocker
- Ray Brown/Moonstone ‘Call Me a Drifter’ (1970) – another ‘60s musician who reinvented himself for the new decade, Ray Brown’s album Mad House is one of the down-right weirdest albums of the day, an eclectic mix of psych, folk, Eastern influences and this country tune replete with pedal steel
The Overlooked Gems (“Tracks we didn’t get to hear” or “Let’s hope they’re on Volume 2”)
- Pilgrimage ‘Walk in the Light’ (1971) – tremendous single, great Phil Manning tune with a driving country beat and Warren Morgan’s pumping honky tonk piano
- Daddy Cool ‘Come Back Again’ (1971) – they did it all, vintage rock ‘n’ roll, rockabilly, blues-rock, progressive rock, country-rock and this is just a brilliant country-rock song
- Brian Cadd ‘Spring Hill County Breakdown’ or even ‘Ginger Man’ (1972) – as this is as much about singer-songwriters as country-rock I think Caddie solo (and he was one of the most successful singer-songwriters of the day) could have been better represented
- Flying Circus ‘Gypsy Road’ (1973) – recorded in Canada and issued on their neglected 1973 album of the same name, this has it all – the harmonies, the guitars, the feel and once again it’s just a great country-rock song
- Megan Sue Hicks ‘Peter’s Song (And He’ll Probably Never Hear It)’ (1971) – little known singer-songwriter, originally from the US and resident in Australia for a brief period during the early ‘70s, she got to record an album, Maranatha, with backing by Flying Circus
- Red McKelvie ‘Another Country Town’ (1972) – ultra obscure solo single from the ex-Flying Circus and Third Union Band guitar picker (originally from New Zealand), you knew he always had the goods when he later framed Richard Clapton’s ‘Girls on the Avenue’ with those glorious guitar licks
- Terry Hannagan ‘You Took the Best (Why Not Take the Rest)’ (1971) – from Hannagan’s little-known album Tired from the Trip, folksy sound with spot-on country feel and more terrific McKelvie picking
- Western Flyer ‘Doublegee Queen’ (1977) – Matt Taylor song from the band’s First Flight album, also issued as single. Great country tune with the usual Taylor blues edge
All in all, my hopes have been confirmed – this is a brilliant compilation. I put a series of questions (separately) to the guys behind this project, Clinton Walker and Dave Laing.
BOOGIE! Presents Silver Roads: Australian Country-Rock and Singer-Songwriters of the ‘70s (Warner Music)
1. Country Radio – GYPSY QUEEN
2. Axiom – ARKANSAS GRASS
3. Russell Morris – LAY IN THE GRAVEYARD
4. Brian Cadd & Don Mudie – SHOW ME THE WAY
5. The Dingoes – STARTING TODAY
6. Flying Circus – THE LONGEST DAY
7. Anne Kirkpatrick – FEEL A WHOLE LOT BETTER
8. Third Union Band – HYWAY RYDER
9. Richard Clapton – DOWN THE ROAD
10. Home – FORGET ME NOT
11. John J Francis – PLAY MUMA, SING ME A SONG
12. Carrl & Janie Myriad – BACK IN THE WILDWOODS AGAIN
13. Fotheringay (featuring Trevor Lucas) – THE BALLAD OF NED KELLY
14. Quinn – THE MIGHTY QUINN
15. Bluestone – WIND AND RAIN
16. Sundown – OUTBACK DAN
17. Saltbush – BROWN BOTTLE BLUES
18. Uncle Bob’s Band – MR DOMESTIC
19. Digby Richards – PEOPLE CALL ME COUNTRY
20. Lee Conway – I JUST DIDN’T HEAR
21. Johnny Chester – MIDNIGHT BUS
22. Daddy Cool – JUST AS LONG AS WE’RE TOGETHER
23. Gary Young’s Hot Dog – ROCK-A-BILLY BEATIN’ BOOGIE BAND
24. Autodrifters – THE BIRTH OF THE UTE
1. Billy Thorpe & the Aztecs – CIGARETTES & WHISKEY
2. Stars – LAND OF FORTUNE
3. The Dingoes – BOY ON THE RUN
4. Cold Chisel – KHE SANH
5. Fraternity – SOMMERVILLE
6. Chain – SHOW ME HOME
8. Broderick Smith – SHE’S GONE
7. Axiom – FORD’S BRIDGE
9. Johnny Chester – GLORY GLORY (I’ll Be Back to see the Storey Bridge)
10. Laurie Allen Revue – NOT BORN TO FOLLOW
11. Gary Shearston – FADED STREETS, WINDY WEATHER
12. Margret RoadKnight – GIRLS IN OUR TOWN
13. Doug Ashdown – WINTER IN AMERICA
14. Ross Ryan – I DON’T WANT TO KNOW ABOUT IT
15. Russell Morris – ALCOHOL FARM
16. Ray Brown/Moonstone – CALL ME A DRIFTER
17. Flying Circus – SILVERTOWN GIRL
18. Tymepiece – SWEET RELEASE
19. Autumn – FALLING
20. Max Merritt & the Meteors – SLIPPIN’ AWAY
21. Little River Band – IT’S A LONG WAY THERE
22. Hot Knives (featuring Greg Quill) – WINTERSONG