Feast at the Cosmic Cowboy Cafe with Eddie White
For the second time in this column, I’m taking you to Sydney, Australia, to learn about Eddie White — a veteran DJ who is the first person I’ve interviewed who’s to bring up “Ameripolitan” music, which is a little less “whatever that is” than the terms Americana or even No Depression!
Bill Frater: Where and when did you start in radio and where do you work now?
Eddie White: I was destined to eventually wind up on radio somehow. I was the kid with the transistor radio permanently glued to the side of his head. My childhood ambitions were to be either a disc jockey or sail with Gardner McKay around the Pacific on The Tiki (“Adventures In Paradise”).
Fast forward to being 42 years old and completing a radio training course at 2RRR in Sydney, Australia. 2RRR is a major community (public) radio station which had at that time, and still has, the best country music programming in Sydney. On graduating I was offered the 6:00 – 8:00 a.m. time slot on Sundays mornings. Despite having to get out of bed at 4:30 a.m. after Saturday night, I jumped at the opportunity. After more than 20 years, I am still on 2RRR, 88.5 FM. My show is called the Cosmic Cowboy Cafe, but now at the more civilized time of 5:00 – 7:00 p.m., Fridays.
How do you describe your show?
According to my website, [I play] Drinking songs and trucking songs. Songs about highways and honky tonks. Songs about loving and leaving, lying and cheating. More Austin, Texas, than Nashville, Tennessee.
How do you prepare for your shows?
When I first began in radio, every aspect of the show was planned like a military operation. Now 20 years on, the process is way more organic and the preparation varies depending on what new music I have discovered or how much time I’ve got to prepare. Generally I will have a rough idea of the direction of the show during the week, based on getting some new music I think will suit the format or some news about an artist — a new album, tour, death, etc. I take at least twice the amount of music I expect to play into the studio with me and as long as I have the first two tracks planned the rest just flows. Themes are an easy method of finding enough of the right music to fill up two hours.
Last Friday night’s theme was “Battle of the Bands,” where every track was [by a] group — check out the cool interactive playlist. If you ever hear me playing an artist “Live at the Cosmic Cowboy Cafe,” chances are I’ve had a very busy week at my “real” job and have had to resort to a live CD.
I like to have guest programmers when I can, from time to time. They join me for the whole show and I play and talk about their music and their musical influences. Two memorable guest programmers have been Dale Watson and the Road Mangler, Phil Kaufman.
How many new music releases do you play compared to older stuff?
There is no hard and fast ratio of new music. It depends on what I manage to get and if I like it and think it suitable, and [if I think] that my listeners will like it. In the good old days, DJs would receive unsolicited CDs. This was great because I could audition new music [while I was] driving around. These days, nearly all artists use digital dissemination to get their music out there. This is a huge imposition on community presenters, who then have to listen in front of a device and then download if they want to play the music. The ease of sending out emails with links to new music means that we are often inundated. If I do not recognize the artist, label, or the plugger, or if the “one page” is not utterly compelling, [then] chances are you’re wasting your — and my — time. There is a finite amount of music one can listen to and for every “unsuitable” album I have listen to, it’s one less “suitable” one I’ll ever get to hear.
What was the first artist or album that got you into roots music?
As that kid with transistor radio my first record purchases were “Don’t Go Near Then Indians” (Rex Allen); “A Dollar Down” (The Limelighters); “The Everglades” (The Kingston Trio) – and I still have those 45s! I loved songs like “Ring of Fire” and “Funny Way Of Laughing”. It amazes now that I had such good musical taste at such an early age. My love/interest then extended to 60s pop and the 70s singer songwriters. In 1978, I worked in a menswear store and used to buy all my music from the record store in the same mall. The owner, Doug Owen — who was also a songwriter, musician, and performer — became my musical mentor and dearest friend. We buried him in March of this year. Doug introduced me to the outlaw country scene — Waylon, Willie, David Allan Coe, and singer-songwriters such as John Stewart. From then on my musical interests became more like musical obsessions.
Who are your favorite artists from any genre and what artist define Americana music for you ?
To use a cliche, “How long is a piece of string?” [I’ll say] Dylan, Cohen, Waits, Zevon, Van, Jimmy Webb, etc. Willie, Waylon, DAC, George Jones, Merle Haggard, Johnny Bush, Dale Watson, etc. Tom Russell, Tom Pacheco, Guy Clark, Chris Wall, etc. Nina Simone, Shirley Bassey, etc. Tiny Tim and Richard Harris — yes! The “Macarthur Park” Richard Harris.
How do you define Americana music?
Not sure “who” defines Americana — maybe the likes of Dave Alvin? This is not an original take but obviously a big golf umbrella sheltering new music that draws on but does not slavishly imitate blues, folk, or bluegrass. I like Dale Watson’s term “Ameripolitan” music, which is a modern music being made with a respectable nod to the past: rockabilly, Western swing, honky-tonk, and outlaw influences.
These days, the Cosmic Cowboy Cafe has probably morphed into something you could describe as Ameropolitan. I was fortunate enough to have been nominated in the Best DJ category in the 2015 and 2016 Ameripolitan Music Awards held in Austin, Texas.
Where do you see Americana radio going in the future?
The future is bright. We are spoiled with such cheap and easy access to internet radio, steaming, and downloads. There has never been a better time for someone interested in any non-mainstream music.
What recent albums or artists are you excited about?
I’ve been to Austin for the last two years for the Ameripolitan Music Awards and have had the pleasure of seeing and spending time with young bands and artists who are devoting their lives to making and playing their music often for little reward other than audience appreciation. I am excited that Americana — whatever that means — and Ameripolitan music is in safe hands.
Do you have any other hobbies or interests, or anything else you wish to share?
I have just been appointed the Sydney agent for Akubra hats. Akubra is an iconic brand and the company is still owned by the same family who established it in 1912. That, along with music, doesn’t leave a lot of time for much else. I do enjoy food and wine!