Songs Half-Remembered: Clinton Walker Talks ‘Silver Roads’
News posted Monday, August 19 2013 at 01:00 PM.
Related: Boogie, Clinton Walker, Silver Roads.
A companion to last year’s ‘Boogie! Australian Blues, R&B and Heavy Rock from the ’70s’, the new 2CD set ‘Silver Roads’ turns its focus to country-rock and singer-songwriters of the same decade. It was compiled by Boogie! curator Dave Laing and author CLINTON WALKER, with art by Ian McCausland. Below, Walker discusses the unearthing and revisiting of songs that sum up a specific era in Australia.
How did you and Dave begin the curating process? Just with a long list of personal choices?
It was an arm wrestle to the death! I’ve known Dave for a long time and when he joined Warners we were talking about other ideas actually – and some of those we still hope to realise, like getting out my Buried Country set again. This was just an idea I’d been toying with for a little while, and it just seemed to take off quite quickly, I suppose because the time is right for it.
We were a good combination, I think, because I’ve got a bit of a background in this kind of material, and Dave was – I don’t think he’d deny – a bit of a neophyte but just very keen to delve into it, and so we were coming from two quite different sets of ears. And then of course it’s just all the usual things like getting masters and clearances and all that, and so it just becomes a balance of all the considerations.
Were you at all reluctant to include songs of the prominence of Cold Chisel’s ‘Khe Sanh’, because of them possibly overshadowing the lesser-known selections?
Not really. I mean, I think where that Chisel track sits [between The Dingoes’ ‘Boy on the Run’ and Stars’ ‘Land of Fortune’], it just sits in there with such continuity. You know, you hear can how there were these links there. And I think so many other tracks stand up to it so well [and] show where it came from.
Likewise, did you consider leaving off the Dylan and Byrds covers (Quinn’s ‘The Mighty Quinn’ and Anne Kirkpatrick’s ‘Feel a Whole Lot Better’), or do you see cover songs as an emblem of that era (as well as influences worn on sleeve)?
I think in any genre there’s always standards and it’s interesting to see how different acts deal with those sort of songs, how they were interpreted differently in this country, how that stacks up. I mean, I think it’d be just a bit xenophobic to not acknowledge these sort of influences.
What are some songs that didn’t make the cut, and why?
I’ll leap in and say Mississippi’s ‘Kings of the World’ is one track I’d love to have there but that, I think, was a licensing question; nothing malicious. I hope we do a second volume and tracks like that can be included. There’s lots of other tracks that with a bit more persistence you could pin down. I think that’s just an indication of the depth of the material; there’s another 2CD set just sitting there waiting to be done, I reckon.
Your liner notes are wonderfully comprehensive, but did you end up finding out the personal history behind certain songs that you didn’t have the space to share?
The story I like most of all is the one my wife has shared with me previously of an encounter she had with Brian Cadd, but I think for everybody’s sake that one’s best left untold. I’d say just generally that it’s been a great experience to listen just a lot more closely to a lot of this material and really hear the depths of it. There’s lot of roads! It’s fantastic.
Dave and both loved the title Silver Roads as soon as we cottoned on to it, but then only later it seemed so thematically linked to so many of the songs and also themes that have recurred in my work too, like my Golden Miles book. ‘Golden miles’ and ‘silver roads’: it all just sounds really magical, doesn’t it? I mean, I can just hear this stuff with my arm hanging out the window of a Monaro or a Charger, you know.
If it’s not too broad a question, what surprised you most about putting this together? Was it how easily the songs informed each other, or something else?
Probably for most young listeners the whole thing is going to come as a complete and pleasant surprise, just that this material even exists, because it hasn’t been valorised and canonised the way so much other – mostly hard – rock has. For the audience more around my age, I think it could be a case of a lot of songs half-remembered. I mean, I’ve been digging back into this stuff for years, the songs I half-remembered from being an avid AM-radio listener in the early ’70s. So I’d set myself that objective of tracking down a lot of this material.
So I think for many listeners it’ll be, “Oh, I remember that song. I used to love that song!” As far as putting it together, in terms of, say, sequencing, it was once again a balance of considerations, but certainly I’d always hoped [it would] and I think it does have a bit of a sort of a narrative arc that captures a particular period in time with a beginning, middle and end.
Can you think of any current Australian songwriters who are carrying on this tradition of road songs? Or has the internet maybe sapped some of the romance and desperation out of geographical distance and isolation?
I think the impact and influence of the innovations and breakthroughs of so much of the songwriting on this record were felt pretty much straightaway, and absorbed into even pub rock, as I do try to suggest in my liner notes. That’s why it’s possible for Cold Chisel to sit so well there.
So I think that quite quickly, then, it was taken for granted that local songwriters could write about not just local things but anything they chose. So whether it was Paul Kelly or Cold Chisel straightaway in the late ’70s, or even, say, The Go-Betweens – sort of post-punk bands like that that were a bit more singer-songwriterly – I know for a fact that Rob and Grant, being Brisbane boys, both had a particular love of, say, Johnny Chester’s ‘Glory, Glory’, or Dig Richards’ outlaw phase, which was very kind of Brisbane too.
And so I think that that influence was integrated as soon as that time and, among songwriters who actually know or care where they’re coming from, all this is just sort of taken for granted, which is the way it should be.
‘Boogie! Presents Silver Roads: Australian Country-Rock and Singer-Songwriters of the ‘70s’ is out now through Warner Music Australia. Full tracklisting below.
Country Radio – Gypsy Queen
Axiom – Arkansas Grass
Russell Morris – Lay In The Graveyard
Brian Cadd & Don Mudie – Show Me The Way
The Dingoes – Starting Today
Flying Circus – The Longest Day
Anne Kirkpatrick – Feel A Whole Lot Better
Third Union Band – Hyway Ryder
Richard Clapton – Down The Road
Home – Forget Me Not
John J Francis – Play Mumma, Sing Me A Song
Carrl & Janie Myriad – Back In The Wildwoods Again
Fotheringay (feat. Trevor Lucas) – The Ballad Of Ned Kelly
Quinn – The Mighty Quinn
Bluestone – Wind And Rain
Sundown – Outback Dan
Saltbush – Brown Bottle Blues
Uncle Bob’s Band – Mr Domestic
Digby Richards – People Call Me Country
Lee Conway – I Just Didn’t Hear
Johnny Chester – Midnight Bus
Daddy Cool – Just As Long As We’re Together
Gary Young’s Hot Dog – Rock-a-Billy Beatin’ Boogie Band
Autodrifters – The Birth of The Ute
Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs – Cigarettes & Whiskey
The Dingoes – Boy On The Run
Cold Chisel – Khe Sanh
Stars – Land Of Fortune
Fraternity (feat. Bon Scott) – Summerville
Chain – Show Me Home
Axiom – Ford’s Bridge
Broderick Smith – She’s Gone
Johnny Chester – Glory Glory (I’ll Be Back To See The Storey Bridge)
Laurie Allen Revue – Not Born To Follow
Gary Shearston – Faded Streets, Windy Weather
Margret RoadKnight – Girls In Our Town
Doug Ashdown – Winter In America
Ross Ryan – I Don’t Want To Know About It
Russell Morris – Alcohol Farm
Ray Brown/Moonstone – Call Me A Drifter
Flying Circus – Silvertown Girl
Tymepiece – Sweet Release
Autumn – Falling
Max Merritt & the Meteors – Slippin’ Away
Little River Band – It’s a Long Way There
Hot Knives (feat. Greg Quill) – Wintersong