Spotlighting Roger Knox: A week’s worth of previews
All week we’ve been sharing a collection of songs performed by some of the finest artists at work in Americana music these days. The tunes in question have been plucked fresh from a new album with Roger Knox which will be released on 2/12 by the fine folks at Bloodshot Records.
According to Bloodshot: “Roger Knox, aka the Koori King of Country as he’s known in his homeland, is an Aboriginal Australian Country & Western singer with a honeyed bear hug of a voice. Bloodshot artist Jon Langford (Mekons, Waco Brothers) met Knox on a visit to Australia several years ago. When he heard of Roger and the potentially-soon-to-be-lost subculture of this utterly unique cultural collision, Langford knew he had to be involved. Stranger In My Land is a collection of songs originally written by Aborigine artists who were Knox’s peers and predecessors; some tunes previously recorded but difficult to find as well as several unrecorded, handed-down folk songs (which without this recording, could have been lost forever).
“Since Roger has such an inspiring life story and rich musical history, we wanted to have fellow musicians—the artistic contributors to his album—tell you about how Roger’s musical journey connected with each of them throughout the making of this album. Each day we will feature a different artist who contributed to Roger’s album, their testimonial, and an exclusive streaming track from the forthcoming album.”
The final stream in the set featured the inimitable Charlie Louvin.
Song Stream: “Ticket To Nowhere”
Jon Langford recalling the story of taking Charlie to his home studio to record his vocal part on the song:
Charlie Louvin was soundchecking at the Heartland Cafe for one of his last Chicago performances when I picked him up to take him over to my place to record some vocals on “Ticket To Nowhere.” Well into his eighties and still smoking a couple of packs a day, Charlie asked if it was OK if he lit one up in my car. The only trouble was there was a massive storm blowing through and the sky turned green as we headed west to Sauganash. The rain was coming in hard, heavy and parallel to the ground when Charlie rolled down the window to flick his ash. It was like someone threw a bucket of water over us and I had to shout at him to roll the window up. He didn’t seem to mind. Later in the evening he split a tuna sandwich with me.
Find out more about Charlie here: http://charlielouvin.net/
SONG STREAM: “Stranger In My Country”
Jon Langford recalling the story of getting Andre to sing on “Stranger In My Country”:
Every now and then I go and have a bit of lunch with my hero Andre Williams down at Roy’s on 71st Street. Recently we’d been working together in my basement on vocals for an album called Night & Day (that he and the Sadies were struggling to complete). When I got back from recording Roger’s vocals at Enrec in Tamworth I went to meet Andre and took some of the rough mixes along to see what he thought about maybe duetting with Roger. I tried to explain the notion of black Australians singing honky-tonk protest music out in the bush but he didn’t seem convinced. Over humungous plates of ham-hocks and collard greens Andre listened impassively on his headphones. After a while he looked up and me and repeated the lines “They say that black is beautiful, I’ve heard it far and wide man… Stranger in my country, stranger in my land…. oh yeah! I get it!”
Find out more about Andre here: http://bloodshotrecords.com/artist/andre-williams
The two tracks above, as we mentioned, cap off a week of streaming music from this new record. The week started with much-beloved-by-the-ND-Community chanteuse Kelly Hogan. (You folks counted her 2012 release, I Like to Keep Myself in Pain, among your Top 50 favorite recordings of last year.) She recorded a version of “Blue Gums Calling Me Back Home” with Knox for this album. Here’s her testimonial, followed by a stream of the song:
“When I think of Roger Knox, I think of those “Eternal Flame” memorials that you see in front of courthouses or city halls.
1. Because that flame represents not one, but a legion — the way Roger Knox has beautifully represented his Aborigine people and lovers of country music. Woo!
2. Because that flame refuses to die — no matter how hard others have tried to stomp it out. In your FACE, decades of racist oppression! Woo!
3. Because that flame is warm and it is a beacon. It burns stalwart through
the metaphorical dark night, guiding future generations — the way glowing neon leads you to the honky-tonk — to a place of brotherly love and understanding where we all speak the universal language of music.
4. Fire is sexy.
Carry on, Roger Knox!”
Next up is the great and talented Dave Alvin, who kicked a guitar solo into Knox’s tune “The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards.
WHAT DAVE SAYS ABOUT HIS PART ON THIS ALBUM:
“It sounds fucking great. You did a great production job on it. I’m very proud to be associated with the music in even a small way.”
Without further ado, we give you the stream of “The Land Where the Crow Flies Backwards”:
Here’s what Tawny had to say about working with Roger Knox:
“I am so pleased I finally got to sing with Roger. Since I was asked to be involved in this project in 2009, there has always been this question of being able to get him into the country to perform. I’d heard he encountered problems when it was somehow decided he ‘lacked essential, cultural uniqueness.’ I have never met an artist who’s such vibrant and fascinating uniqueness made me question my own. A lovely, lovely man. I could listen to his soft-spoken stories about Murrie and Koorie life for days and days.”
Here’s what Dallas Good had to say:
“Roger Knox is a really special person. He is probably one of the only people ever to survive two horrible plane crashes in one day.
Sure, he is a man who is known to have run terror-stricken from falling snow but it’s unlikely he fears much else. Through this record, his voice can tell the stories of his peoples’ oppression through country and western music, the most racist genre of popular music ever.”
LISTEN: Roger Knox with Tawny Newsome and Dallas Good, “Arafura Pearl”
Yesterday we shared tracks from Bill Anderson of the Meat Purveyors and Sally Timms of the Mekons. Below you’ll find those artists’ thoughts on the tracks they recorded with and for Roger.
First up, BILL ANDERSON (The Meat Purveyors):
“That song Ticket to Nowhere haunts me, coming into my head at random times. Jon gave me a demo of it so I could play the song with him at shows. I wrote a little solo for it and the song stuck in my head, for all time apparently. Then later he asked me to record my part for the record – I didn’t quite understand at first that not only Roger Knox but also Charlie Louvin would be singing on it. Now THAT is something pretty awesome. I can’t wait to hear the whole album. Once again, I owe Langford big time…”
Bill Anderson is a member of the Meat Purveyors and Austin Music Hall of Fame inductee.
LISTEN: Roger Knox featuring Bill Anderson, “Ticket To Nowhere”
SALLY TIMMS (member of Mekons, vocals on “Home In the Valley”):
“An Australian friend first introduced me to Jimmy Little’s music (probably the best known Aboriginal singer) back in 2001 when we toured there with the Wacos. I knew very little about how extensive the Aboriginal Country scene was at that point. It makes a lot of sense that Jon would be drawn to these musicians, after all, we are all strangers to country music in a way, none of us American, it’s not part of our heritage, I didn’t know too much of Roger’s background until I started preparing his petition for his US work visa, and what i read just blew me away, I found it to be an inspiration. I didn’t realize how much of an activist he was until that point, how extensively he worked with his community: he’s just a very righteous man. This was all borne out when I met him as he is a very gentle, kind and powerful personality. We cried when we saw him off at O’Hare after his visit and suffered “Roger Withdrawal” for weeks.
“Home in the Valley” was sung by Auntie Maisie Kelly as part of a documentary field recording. Roger was friends with Maisie and I think he was quite moved that this song ended up on the record. I love how it maps out the land, as if you are taking a journey with the singer along the Macleay river in New South Wales. I suppose I felt a connection to that as I grew up in a small village in North Yorkshire and sometimes track my way through those old country paths by memory in the same way that Maisie does in this song.”
(Learn more about Sally Timms.)
LISTEN: “Home In the Valley”
*Sponsored by Bloodshot Records