Box Full of Letters from Issue #39
A view from the homeland
As an Australian (and a strong supporter of Kasey Chambers and “Australiana” cum Australian folk/country), I read with great interest your lengthy cover story on her [ND #37, Jan.-Feb. 2002]. Some of your descriptions of the Australian music are, I think, pretty correct. As you know, Australia’s HQ of country music is a place called Tamworth — which is called sarcastically “Tamville” for obvious reasons.
Much as I dislike the good ol’ boys on the Australian scene and applaud the folk/country performers like Kasey Chambers, Eric Bogle, Rev. Gary Shearston, Pat Drummond etc., it must be said they are in a minority (growing steadily, but still a minority) alongside the Tamville mafia (the Australian equivalents of U.S.’s Tim McGraw, Twain, Hill ad nauseam).
That’s the marvel of Kasey Chambers. Virtually single-handed she (as you correctly documented) found herself #1 mainstream pop entertainer and #1 country performer too. Congrats on the article.
One point of clarification though is needed — Tex Morton died at least fifteen years ago, likewise Buddy Williams has been deceased for at least ten years, and Eric Bogle would hardly be termed merely an old-timer and a bush balladeer. Hell, I’m several years older than he is and I’m 58.
Eric Bogle was born in Scotland and spent his teenage years singing Scottish folk songs in various Scottish folk clubs. After migrating to Australia, he became a naturalized Australian citizen. “And The Band Played Waltzing Matilda” (in my admittedly subjective judgment, the best anti-war song ever written), his song about World War I, is perhaps familiar to you — thus I don’t think you can stereotype him as merely an aging “bush balladeer.”
This misplaced snippet aside, I thoroughly enjoyed your article.
— Peter Goodsell
Quakers Hill, New South Wales, Australia
More underground Down Under
The Jan.-Feb. 2002 issue was the first issue I’ve ever bought or even seen of ND and I was pretty pleased to find Kasey Chambers on the cover. But I was kind of disappointed to read the article and find references to Kasey and her family are the only ones like them in Australia.
And while Kasey herself cites some great people, one can tell that she’s never lived in Melbourne for any extended period of time. Because if she had have, she would have been able to cite people like Dan Warner, formerly of Overnight Jones & the Warner Brothers; and the T Bones; and Jeff Williams & the Spacemen formerly Acuffs Rose; Lisa Miller; the coolest band in the world Git (all girls!); the Shonkytonks who recently supported Kinky Friedman; the Moonee Valley Drifters; Dan Brodie & His Broken Arrows; Andrew McCubbin; Ice-Cream Hands, who supported Ryan Adams…there are many many more, country blues jazz punk rock ‘n’ roll and everything rolled and smacked into one…you name it, we do it.
— Rachel Lindsay
South Yarra, Victoria, Australia
Memories of a friend
Thank you to Craig Havighurst for his nice article on Gene Wooten [Farther Along, ND #37, Jan.-Feb. 2002]. Gene Wooten was a true musician’s musician. I first met Gene in the dorm at Appalachian State University when we were students there back in 1971. His room was packed with any and every kind of bluegrass instrument you could imagine and looked like a workshop rather than a dorm room. I remember when Gene installed his first “Scruggs Key Tuner” on his banjo. We must have played “Earl’s Breakdown” a hundred times that day!
Gene and I became friends and formed a duo together, performing for weekend off-campus square dances, clogging events, and at Beech Mountain. For years my right arm was stronger than my left, from all that rhythm guitar I played backing Gene as he would pick the fire out of any instrument he laid his hands on. Gene recognized my love for the old Carter Family style of picking and literally took me to school on the more challenging types of bluegrass music. He was the first person I knew who headed for Nashville. A year or two later in 1978 I followed, and Gene was already in the Opry spotlight doing what he loved. Gene always did exactly what he loved. It was always about the music to Gene.
— Byron Hill
Looking for a way in
“We’ve always felt it was important not to rag on the country music establishment,” the Derailers’ Brian Hofeldt is quoted as having said in ND #36 [Nov.-Dec. 2001]. “Lots of people in the alt-country scene hold up Garth Brooks, for instance, as the anti-Hank or the devil. Whereas to us, people like Garth Brooks, and the people who came along in his wake, widened and broadened and enriched and made bigger than ever the country music audience. So big, in fact, that it allowed for an alternative, it allowed for options to develop. That’s where we came in.”
If true, this last part is news to me. If Hofeldt wants to be an apologist for the hat acts and the schlock merchants who hype them, that’s fine, but I’ve yet to see any hard data that would support his argument. In my view, Garth Brooks was part of a disease process that made necessary the antidote of an alternative country music. That’s where the Derailers came in.
— Shawn Cote
Fort Fairfield, Maine
A tale of two concerts
Being a big fan of Ryan Adams and Whiskeytown’s music, I found myself reluctantly agreeing with some of Jef Leisgang’s thoughts in regard to Ryan’s lack of enthusiasm onstage in Madison, Wisconsin [Box Full Of Letters, ND #38, March-April 2002].
Although I did not get to see Whiskeytown live while they were still together, I have had a chance to catch Ryan as a solo act a couple of times here in Minneapolis. The first show I caught was last November at First Avenue. Like Jef, I was very excited to get to the show and finally see him perform the songs that I have listened to over and over again. Well, in addition to him playing an almost three-hour set that night with a swollen hand, he passed out smokes and bottles of Rolling Rock beers to those close enough to the stage to get in on them. Although he did speak to the crowd in between songs, he mentioned that he was reluctant to talk a lot because he figured we’d rather hear him play than talk. Yeah, he lit smokes, talked to his band and sipped beers in between songs. But that night, Ryan could not have been more in tune with his audience. It was for sure a show that I will never forget.
On the other hand, Ryan recently played an early March show here in Minneapolis at the Orpheum theater. I’m not sure whether it was the venue setup, the weak crowd (which was largely comprised of yuppies anxiously awaiting Ryan to play “New York, New York”), or just my mood that night, but the performance definitely lacked spark and enthusiasm. Unlike the show Jef wrote about, there were no derogatory remarks made to the audience that night, but the band and its lead vocalist were certainly somewhere else. They played sluggishly for an hour and half, then exited the stage without so much as a thank you, good night or kiss my ass. Pretty safe to say that night I felt the same way Jef did leaving his December Wisconsin show.
It’s a bummer that the Madison show wasn’t all that some people had hoped for, but the Chicago show the following night was a wonder to behold! Ryan opened for Lucinda Williams at the Riviera, in typical rock star fashion. Granted he and his band only played about an hour, but they ripped it up. He did stand with his back to the audience, for some of the show (as he did on the Jay Leno show also, you tell me, did he mean this as disrespect on national TV, I don’t think so!). Those of us who read his interviews know he’s somewhat uncomfortable performing most of the time. He seems to be, again according to other interviews, really enjoying playing with a band again. Maybe that Friday in Madison, they didn’t have their act together, but Saturday’s show was great! He was everything I had hoped for, having never seen him before, and very different than his two solo recordings presented, which I welcomed with interest. Anytime an artist comes to town and plays, and does not sound exactly like his disc, only proves he’s motivated to grow.
— Brian Schurrer
Port Washington, Wisconsin
Um, too late…
Thanks for another great record, Ryan. Even my wife likes the heck out of it, and she’s not easily impressed! No matter what folks say, just keep on writin’ and playin’ and listen, don’t get the Big Head.
— Stephen Mooney
Was made for you and me
My subscription to No Depression just started, so I didn’t see the editorial on patriotism [ND #36, Nov.-Dec. 2001], but I did read the two letters to the editor on the topic in ND #37. I would like to thank them, particularly Brigitte, and No Depression for printing them. Although I was born in San Francisco, my parents were born in India, and in my religion, Sikhism, men happen to wear turbans. Although we’re not Muslim, a Sikh man was shot to death in Arizona because the imbecile who shot him wanted to “support his American brothers and sisters” after September 11th.
I have loved America, as I understood it, with all my heart. I know where Brigitte is coming from, because not only is my CD collection full of Lauryn Hill, Hank Williams, and the life-giving Lucinda Williams, but also Bally Jagpal and the whole Immortal Bhangra collection (I urge anyone to check out Bhangra, which is pretty much farmer’s roots music from India; lots of talk of getting drunk and dancing with your best friends after the harvest). Lately, it’s been hard though, and I sometimes have wondered whether, and where in America I fit. So thanks to everyone who shares the big-hearted spirit of America and Americana, because I realize where I fit, and it is exactly the place Woody Guthrie laid out.
— Sanji Boparai