14 December 2019

The Promised Band – Mike and Peter Hayes

Pete Hayes

 From “Our Kinda Country Magazine” – June 1974

The following article from a magazine article “Our Kinda Country – June 1974, was provided by Doug Wallace of Melbourne.

The Promised Band is a group of four very talented musicians whom you will be seeing and hearing much more of during the coming months. The four members of the group are Peter Hayes, Harold Firth, Bernie O’Brien and Doug Wallace, all of whom have a vast amount of experience in Country Music as well as most other facets of music.

The leader of the group, Peter Hayes was born in England at Henley-on-Thames, and has crammed a wealth of experience into his 28 years. Peter, of an Irish father and French-Dutch-Ceylonese mother, arrived in Australia in his third birthday. Seven years later, whilst living in Bacchus Marsh, Peter’s mother gave him a button accordian. A couple of years later, Peter met Ricky Diamond, who taught him a couple of chords on the guitar. Peter then went on to the Victorian Banjo Club and studien guitar for a short while.

Following this, Peter and his brother Mike joined a Concert Party with John Johns known as “The Semi rocks” – after a while Peter and Mike worked as a duo.

They met Kevin Emmerson, who suggested they form a Bluegrass (band) as Peter had started teaching himself to play the five string banjo. The boys took the suggestion up and the Hayes Brothers & The BLuegrass Ramblers” emerged and their first big appearance was 3UZ’s Hootenany in 1963 with Johnny Chester, The Seekers and many others. This was (then) followed with regular appearances on the Adelaide television series “The Roger Cardwell Show”. which later became “The Reg Lindsay Show”. The group recorded two albums, an EP and a single with W & G Records, and backed folk singer Doug Owen on record.

During this time, Peter made numerous appearances on 3DB’s Country & Western Show and whilst in Adelaide met the DeKroo Brothers. When Leo (DeKroo) married Judy Stone, Peter teamed up with Doug (DeKroo) and for some time was a DeKroo Brother.

During the time of the Bluegrass Ramblers, when there wasn’t a great deal of work for this type of group, Peter took to wandering around the country. He spent several months in Brisbane, where he played a number of clubs and recorded for Ray Rumble’s Sunset Label. He later went to Sydney and looked up Reg Lindsey, whom he had known by working on his Adelaide TV series. At this stage, everyone in Sydney was preparing to record prior to setting out on the road and Peter did session work with Reg Lindsay, Shad Morgan Eddie Tapp, RIck and Thel and many others. This led Peter to touring with “The Rick and Thel Show”.  He left the show in Townsville where he stayed for a while doing gigs with Charlie Bellert’s brother, Fred.

In late 1969, The Bluegrass Ramblers disbanded and Mike went to Darwin where he joined the ABC. Peter didn’t do anything of much significance for quite a while until local Loinal Rose called him and asked him to go on tour as his bass player. The tour was with Ashton’s Circus and with

Peter Somerville

Peter was born in Melbourne, Victoria where he still lives. He was a comparatively late starter as a musician, taking up guitar at 20 years old. It was not long before he heard the bluegrass records, Old and in the Way and Bill Monroe Live at Bean Blossom Festival and got hooked on learning the banjo. Peter spent many hours slowing records down to work out what notes were being played.

A few months later Peter had formed his first  bluegrass band with some friends and they called themselves, Highly Strung. In the early 1980’s had also joined the Blue Mountain String Band which was based in Geelong and they played many pubs and private functions. They also played a variety of music from bluegrass and country to pop songs, as well as a bush band repertoire for dances.

Peter started teaching banjo after only a couple of years playing. While playing on his veranda one day a passer-by and asked if he gave lessons; he has been busy teaching ever since.

In 1985 Peter met an American who sang and played guitar and was living in Australia. His name was Gary Forrester and they discovered they shared a love of The Stanley Brothers and formed the band The Rank Strangers. Gary soon started penning high-quality original material and the band released three recordings: Dust on the Bible in 1987, Uluru in 1988, and Kamara in 1989. They played some festivals around the country, including Port Fairy and Tamworth, and in September 1989 did a five-week tour in the US performing at many festivals, including the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) convention in Kentucky.

Peter continued to play in various bands during the 1990’s and did some session work for TV commercials as well as playing in other bands. In the late 1990’s he became a founding member of Uncle Bill, which released three CDs, Special Treatment, One day at Adelphia and Heartbreak Train. In 2000 Uncle Bill recorded the acclaimed Smoke album with one of Australia’s most noted songwriters Paul Kelly. After Uncle Bill, Peter formed his own band The Somervilles who released one CD, Love, Loss and Murder.

In 2007 Peter was offered a 3 month gig in Japan. He gleefully resigned from his part-time job as a disability carer and has been a full-time musician ever since. The band he formed for Japan was called The Dixie Hicks, a trio with Paul Gadsby and Tracey Miller. They played 3 or 4 spots a day on a paddle steamer on Lake Biwa as part of a slightly surreal Old South-themed cabaret-style entertainment show. Between shows Peter spent much time pursuing his new passion, clawhammer banjo. Despite the surreal elements, The Dixie Hicks returned to Japan in 2008 for another 3-month stint on the steamer.

Rank Strangers 1987

Rank Strangers 1987

Since the Japan trips, Peter has continued to play regularly in several bands: The Pheasant Pluckers, Oh Sister, and his own band, Tarnation, plus filling in with other bands here and there. At this point in his career he’s played on some forty to fifty recordings. He’s also busy teaching privately and at banjo camps and festivals. Peter also plays Dobro, guitar and fiddle but banjo remains his number one passion.

Last year Peter compiled a book of his own arrangements, with CD: Celtic and Australian tunes for Five String Banjo. His current weapon of choice is a Deering Maple Blossom arch top.

Peter Somerville’s blog can be found here.

Jim Fisher

Jim Fisher was born in Perth, Western Australia. As a child he had lived on different continents, traveling to and from the UK by ship twice by the time I was 12. His second stay in England was in the time of the Beatles, 63 – 66, and the whole music scene of the time became his life. He returned to Australia and at the age of 13 began teaching himself guitar. He has been playing in bands since he was 15 years old. He is widely regarded as the founder of the bluegrass scene in Western Australia, he has influenced many fine musicians who have gone on to their own success.

While he has performed ably as a sideman for top acts, it is as a front man that he shines, known for his quick wit and the enthusiasm he shares with other musos and the audience.

Referred to often in Western Australian press as the living legend, Jim has defied industry trends and his own health problems to remain a commanding performer, a respected musician, singer, writer, instrumentalist and ultimately as an entertainer. Those outside the Western Australian scene would be more familiar with Jim’s work as Calamity Jim of the hugely successful comedy lineup, The Sensitive Newage Cowpersons.

Jim first heard contemporary, country music in 1974. This led him, step by step, to bluegrass music. The compilation album Will The Circle Be Unbroken by the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, opened his mind to fiddle, mandolin and Dobro all of which he now plays, as well as guitar.

Jim says he was more excited by Ralph Stanley of the famous Stanley Brothers sounds than most other he had heard and came to love bluegrass singing and harmonies.

On stage, Jim plays a 1974 D28 Martin guitar. His mandolin is a locally made 1996 ‘Duff’ F5. His Dobro was made in 1937. Jim says his fiddle is nothing flash but sounds just great. He also plays electric guitar, though not very often these days along with a Fender Telecaster which he bought nearly 35 years ago.

Doug Wallace

Doug Wallace at the National Folk Fest - 1998

Doug Wallace

My interest in music, in general, stems from my childhood, surrounded by family who had been involved in the music and entertainment industry for several generations.  Scottish folk and country dance music was played by both sides of our family and my mother’s parents were top billing performers  in the golden days of the Music Halls (early 1900’s).  They toured extensively overseas and my mother’s training stems from them and her grandfather’s influence.  This has been passed down to me and my sister and our children.  We, of course, were influenced by popular and classic music including Jazz and subsequently Rock and Roll in the 50‘s.

My family emigrated to Australia in March 1958.  I was 15 years old and started learning guitar from a young Dutch cleric who was a neighbour.  My first guitar was a Pacific complete with palm tree and hula girl on the front.  It cost me 5 pounds and a lot of sore fingers.  I learned enough chords to start performing some of my ‘Lonnie Donnegan’ repertoire.  So, started my first band.  I played guitar and sang.  I supplied a snare drum, dustbin lid, plus things to hit with and built a Tea chest bass.  Then had to teach the two ‘unfortunates’ what to do with them.  Before long I’d conned a spot during the supper break at the local country dance.  It was a start.

When the folk music revival began sweeping the world in the early ’60’s I became involved in Folk, Jazz and Country music and started hearing some familiar traditional tunes from USA based groups like the New Lost City Ramblers who toured here and via record collectors that I knew who had collections of 78’s going back: Jimmy Rogers, A.P. Carter, Delmore Bros, Louvin Bros, Monroe Bros.  Then early records of Flatt & Scruggs, Stanley’s, Jimmy Martin and Bill Monroe etc. This was fairly exciting stuff and my banjo playing friends were ‘knocked out’ by the sound and so began the conversion to 3 finger style from frailing of many banjo players here.  The interest in Bluegrass in Australia during the mid 60’s almost parallelled what was happening in North America.

Doug Wallace's 1st Bluegrass Band

1st Bluegrass Band

Bands like the Country Gentleman, Lilley Brothers, Don Reno and Red Smiley and the Osborne Bros were appearing on compilation albums recorded at festivals by John Cohen and Mike Seeger and released on Folkways records.  I picked up on Doc Watson from a couple of Mike Seeger produced festival albums and sought out his first solo LP which I devoured.  That started me on the road to solo flat-picking. Until then, I’d mainly played back-up rhythm.  There were few tracks that featured guitar breaks on earlier Bluegrass albums.  Charlie Waller (Country Gentlemen), George Shuffler (Stanley Bros), John Herald (Greenbriar Boys) were some of the few who got the odd solo.  Earl Scruggs, of course, was well known for his great finger-style guitar solo’s on Gospel tunes.  Then came Clarence White and The Kentucky Colonels.  Another learning curve for me as a flat-picker.

Doc Watson started me off with his clinically clean and fairly rigid style but Clarence White had something else. His rhythmic syncopated Country, Rock, Jazz, Blues influenced style, I could easily relate to.  And the combination of these two players influences became the basis of my acoustic guitar style.  It’s been influenced in later years by many other picker, of course, including the Rice Bros, Russ Barenberg, David Grier and Charles Sawtell, to name but a few.  I also developed an interest in finger-style playing via Merle Travis, Doc Watson and Earl Scruggs.  The combination of both styles, I find, brings more variety to performances, both instrumental and vocal.

I was drawn into the recording studios in Melbourne via my association with folk performer and broadcaster, Dennis Gibbons who introduced me to Alan and Russ Hawking.  So began another era.  Alan used to hold Sunday afternoon sessions at his home and here’s where I met so many great players from all genres of music, who gathered to pick acoustic string band music including Bluegrass and Old Time Country.  My association and friendship with Trevor Warner began at that time and as my sister lived in Adelaide I often visited and got to pick with Trev, Rick and Dennis.  I appeared with them on Roger Cardwell’s Country Hour on TV on more than one occasion.  Trev and I still see each other and pick at festivals.

In the late Sixties I was asked to join the Hayes Bros band.  They were one of the top working Bluegrass bands in Australia at that time and had one LP record released on W&G.  By that time, I knew Mike Hayes quite well and found we shared similar humour having worked on several recording projects and live shows together backing other artists. The Hayes Bros band was great fun. The full band line-up comprised Mike Hayes, (Mandolin and lead vocal), Peter Hayes (five string banjo and high harmony), Roy Taylor (fiddle and bass harmony), Doug Wallace (guitar and baritone harmony) and Alan Pope (bass). This line-up performed regularly at folk concerts, Frank Traynor’s Folk and Jazz Club in Melbourne and television variety shows like IMT on GTV 9 Melbourne.

We recorded the second album ‘Hello City Limits’ on W&G in 1968 and from that a 45 rpm e.p. record was issued.  It was the first stereo e.p. released in Australia.  Most performances though, were done in trio form with Mike, Pete and myself.  The gigs were diverse.  We even did one most terrifying gig at the Saturday night Rock Dance ‘Q Club’ at St Kilda Town Hall, Melb. supporting John Farrer’s legendary band ‘The Strangers’. The core group was very busy.  I reckon the reason for this was our ability to play our instruments fairly competently on any given task.  We were multi-instrumentalists.  This seems to be common among Bluegrass musicians.  Nearly everyone plays more than one instrument.  We covered the lot between us.  Banjo, Mandolin, Fiddle, Dobro, Guitar and Bass, plus we all sang harmony. (Both Hayes brothers sadly, are now deceased).

Around ’68, ’69 Mike Seeger came over to do a couple of solo tours.  We got to meet him several times and supported him on one of his shows.  He was a great guy and is sadly missed.  Tut Taylor also made a short visit and we got to pick with him too.

Disappointingly, around 1970 -71 Mike Hayes was transferred by his employer, the ABC, interstate and so began the next phase.  Peter Hayes and I maintained contact and like so many young musicians world wide in the early 70’s, started playing electric instruments, working for some time in different bands as freelance sidemen.

Then Pete asked me to join a band he’d formed called ‘The Promised Band’.  I was available at that time and said ok.  An interesting combination.  Two Bluegrass players and two Rock players.  It turned out to be a very successful band commercially.  Peter was on Bass Guitar, Lead Vocal and Banjo.  I was on Rhythm Guitar, Dobro and Fiddle.  We had Bernie O’Brien (ex Rondells) Lead Guitar.  He was one of the best Telecaster exponents I’ve worked with.  Harold Frith (ex Thunderbirds) was the Drummer.  We did very well on the Pub circuit and concerts and were regulars on top-rating TV shows and toured with U.S. Country Rock legend Dobie Gray.  An amazing experience.

Peter and I worked with John Chester for a short time touring all over the country.  Meantime Peter and I were doing quite well as a studio team.  The Ad Agency boys had just discovered the Bluegrass sound but didn’t know how to achieve it. We went in, read their charts and just played what we play and they said ‘that’s what we want’.  We did ads for everything from beer and soft drink to cheese plus tracks for films including ‘The Man from Snowy River’ with Bruce Rowlands.  We even appeared live in several film commercials.  In winter we used to work as a three piece electric band with a drummer in the snowfields and at some stage there was always a power black-out.  So, out would come the fiddle, banjo and acoustic guitar.  That was always a winner.

We then joined a band called ‘Homestead’, a busy working Country Rock Band headed by drummer Jazzer Smith (now deceased).  We did an enormous amount of work with that band, mostly pubs, private functions and country music festivals including Tamworth.  After a short stint of recording and some memorable live shows with Bob Bright in the mid ’80’s, Peter and I went our separate ways, he heading to northern NSW.  I continued to do sessions and some duo work with songwriter and artist Ian McCausland with Gary Newton   (ex Hawking Bros) Bass player.  I also did some solo work playing acoustic guitar and singing the old songs.  Terrifying!  In the early ’90’s I met Peter Sweatman who seemed to know my Bluegrass history and encouraged me to attend the monthly ‘Picking at the Piggery’ session in Melbourne.  I had just finished a stint with a full-on  Chicago-style electric blues band and was ready for a change.  Back to acoustic music. So out came the trusty D28 Martin I’d played since 1967.  It was great to be able to play some of the old tunes and songs I’d learned back then, with like-minded folk.  So, I re-joined the Bluegrass family guys I hadn’t seen for years, such as John Boothroyd and Rob Lewis.

I met Jim Golding at that time and we started picking together, playing as a duo for some time, using any bass player we could find at festivals etc.  Then in 1994 we formed ‘Coolgrass’ with Peter Hisco on bass and vocals.  I was already working with Peter who was frontman for the fabulous ‘Blue Grass Souls’, formed at the Yarra Junction Fiddler’s Convention a year or two earlier.  I hooked up with them after seeing them play at Harrietville around ’92.  I just had to pick with those lunatics. They were right up my alley and I’m still playing with them.  We’ve played everywhere.  Some extraordinary gigs from Tasmania to South Australia, the Nationals, Melbourne Cup Corporate tents, Toorak parties, Riverboat parties on the Yarra and the Murray Rivers, Wineries, Grand Final gigs at Crown Casino and Tamworth.  The list is endless.

Doug Wallace in Coolgrass

Doug Wallace

Back to ‘Coolgrass’.  The development of ‘Coolgrass’ has taken quite a few years with the assistance of a few people including our friend and compatriot, Kevin Parsell, Peter Hisco who is still a great support to us and Michael Oakley (now deceased) who played bass with us for a couple of years and with whom I played for some years in a small Jazz group called the Marketeers which did more for my rhythm playing and time-keeping than I realised at the time.  We needed a bass player who not only could sit in the groove of this Bluegrass based music we were trying to create.  We also needed a really good singer and he was right there, Jim’s son Angus.  Angus had filled in for Mike Oakley a few times and the feel and the groove was there and he’s a great singer.  I get on really well with Angus, we have a similar sense of humour and he gradually became enthused about what we were doing so that he now plays a major role in the whole of our presentation. We have a heap of fun together both on and off stage.I have found this band to be really challenging in that we are always learning something new.  Our repertoire is extremely varied, from almost traditional to down-right outrageous.  We are, however, fortunate to have well-known and highly respected Mandolin, Bass player and vocalist, Bruce Packard.  He is a major driving force for the band.  He creates lyrics for most of the parodies that we have in our repertoire.  He also does a huge job organising all our tours and major gigs here and in New Zealand.  ‘Coolgrass’ now have a well booked schedule both in Australia and New Zealand, appearing at most major Folk and Bluegrass festivals and clubs.

I am also privileged to be a member of a group known as ‘The Four Jimmy’s’ which convene annually at the Harrietville Convention.  It first performed about 10 years ago at the same event known as ‘The Three Jimmy’s’, Nigel Lever, Jimmy Rush and myself.  Then our Bass player Quentin Fraser, himself an amazing Guitar and Dobro player decided he wanted to be the fourth ‘Jimmy’.  I love this combo, it’s so much fun and we usually perform on one of the mainstage shows at Harrietville whenever we are all available.

My love for the music and the people involved and those who support it, keep my enthusiasm bubbling.  I’m always looking forward to the next gig however large or small it may be.

Now before heading to the practice room I’d like to give thanks not only to my family and all the friends that I have made throughout Australia and New Zealand including  overseas artists that have visited over the years.  I’d also like to thank the people who built and maintain my guitar collection namely Merv and Jim Cargill for setting up instruments and repairing the damage over the last 40 years.  Guitar builders, Bryan De Gruchy, Joe Gallacher, C. F. Martin and Dobro for the amazing instruments that I am still learning to play.

Finally, to all Bluegrass enthusiasts.  Those interested in the full story of the development of Bluegrass music, you must read the book from Internationally acclaimed music historian, Neil V. Rosenberg, ‘BLUEGRASS  a History’    From http://www.press.uillinois.edu. ISBN 0-252-06304-X.

Flying Emus

Flying EmusThe Flying Emus were one of Australia’s leading bluegrass bands from the late 1980’s. Several on the band members played in the Slim Dusty band and the Emus were formed during a six-year period when Slim Dusty had stopped touring.

Their popularity led them to a range of radio and television appearances and by 1988 the group had picked up a prized ARIA Music Award for Best Country Album for their album This Town.

The Flying Emus also won CMAA Country Music Awards in 1986 (Instrumental of the Year and Vocal Group or Duo of the Year), 1987 (Instrumental of the Year and Vocal Group or Duo of the Year), 1988 (Instrumental of the Year) and 1991 (Instrumental of the Year).

The Emus mainstay consisted of Mike Kerin on fiddle, Ian Simpson on banjo and guitar, John Kane on guitar and mandolin, Genni Kane lead vocals and guitar. Other members of the band included Hanuman Dass on percussion , Michael Vidale on bass. The band line up also included Malcolm Wakeford on percussion and Graham Thompson on bass.

Discography

  • Look Out Below (1985) – Larrikin
  • This Town (1987) – Flying Emu Productions / Festival
  • Postcards From Paradise (1989) – Infinity/Festival
  • Thank you and goodnight (1990) – Infinity/Festival


The Hayes Brothers

While many groups and individuals will feature in this site in years to come, we cannot go on without acknowledging the foundational contributions made by the Hayes Brothers in the early 1960′s.

There is little documented on the Hayes Brothers, but we have turned up the following information:

Mike and Pete Hayes were born in Henley-on-Thames in England in the early 1940′s. They moved to Australia in the late 40′s, and lived in Melbourne. By the 1960′s the brothers were performing together as The Bluegrass Ramblers.  Shortly after that the couple

Hayes Bros Album Cover

Hayes Bros Album Notes

expanded the band to become the Hayes Brothers, a bluegrass band which performed together for many years. They released 2 albums and are widely recognised as the first bluegrass band to perform in Australia.

Another family band at the time, The Hawking Brothers featured Russ and Alan Hawking. Pete Hayes also sang with the Hawking Brothers band for around two years, after the death of Russ Hawking in 1976.

Pete Hayes settled in Melbourne in 1978 and he and his brother were inducted into the Country Music Hands of Fame.

Pete Hayes continued to record with a range of local and international artists including, The Hawking Brothers, The Howie Brothers, Saltbush, Lee Conway, Lionel Rose, Johnny Chester and Charlie Pride. Mike Hayes was also an ABC journalist.

Mike Hayes passed away on the 10th of February 2003 and that same year his brother Pete passed away on the 1st of December.

Trev Warner

Trev Warner hails from South Australia and like others in Australia has made some major contributions to the ongoing development of Bluegrass music in Australia.
Having grown up in South Australia’s Riverland, he was listening to country music as far back he can remember. Those days featured artists included Hank Williams, Jimmy Rogers, The Carter Family, Slim Dusty and there were many others.
Around 1955, Trev’s family moved to South Australia’s capital city Adelaide, and it was there that he first discovered Bluegrass Music after hearing Flatt and Scruggs and The Stanley Brothers on some 78 recordings that he purchased one Saturday morning while in a record shop. Listening to this music was a life changing experience for him he recalls. He was already playing guitar but immediately went off in search of his first 5-string banjo which he found and learned to play from the now famous Pete Seegar book How To Play The Five String Banjo. This book had a small section on Scruggs style bluegrass picking. It was also about this time that Trev saw the Hayes Brothers perform on the television show The Country and Western Hour which screened weekly on Channel 9.

Trev credits The Hayes Brothers – who are sadly no longer with us – as the being the first musicians to play bluegrass music in Australia. By watching them Trev was inspired to form his own bluegrass band which along with himself, consisted of Rick Adams and Dennis Siddall. They performed as Trev, Rick and Dennis, and had regular appearances on The Country and Western Hour as well as Channel 7’s Country Style.
During the mid 1960’s Trev began to correspond with Tut Taylor, a flat picking Dobro player from Nashville in the USA. Tut came out to Australia and spent two weeks with Trev in Adelaide. They played lots of music together and during this time Trev learned a great deal about bluegrass music. Later on in 1970, Trev and his wife traveled to the USA for the first time and enjoyed Tut Taylor and his family’s hospitality in Nashville. This was the beginning of Trev’s great bluegrass adventure. Tut Introduced him to Bill Monroe, Don Reno, Jimmy Martin, Norman Blake, JD Crowe and many other Bluegrass greats all of whom he was fortunate enough to see and enjoy them perform live.

Being exposed to the real thing was such an exciting and valuable experience for hem as ha had made so many friends both musicians and bluegrass fans many of whom he is still in touch with. Tut Taylor opened so many doors for Trev which he is grateful for even to this day.

In 1984 Trev and his son Kym attended Camp Bluegrass at South Plains College in Texas where they met and got to study and learn from Alan Munde, Joe Carr and Lynn Morris. Later in the camp they also got to perform with them and Trev recalls that being along side such great bluegrass players was most beneficial, enjoyable and very memorable for both he and his son Kym.

Trev has been a major part of the great Australian Bluegrass scene, having worked and recorded with Karen Lynne, The BLuegrass Allstars featuring Rod and Jeff McCormak and Mick Albeck, The Davidson Brothers. More recently Trev was honoured to perform on Paul Kelly’s Foggy Highway bluegrass album.

In 2000, together with Kym, he recorded a bluegrass album entitled High Rollin’ Bluegrass. This is an album both Trev and Kym are extremely proud of. It was nominated for Best Instrumental at the Tamworth Golden Guitar Awards. As well as winning two Golden Guitar Awards for Best Instrumental at the Tamworth Country Music Awards, Trev was also awarded three National Bluegrass Banjo Championship titles in 1980,  1996 and  1997.

Trev’s son Kym, together with his wife has Carol Young has moved on to form their own band The Greencards who are enjoying great success in the USA. Based in Nashville they perform at all major festivals across the USA and had recorded five albums. They have received two Grammy nominations their album The Brick Album features guest tracks with Vince Gill and Sam Bush.

It is amazing to think that Bluegrass music was created on such a small stringed instrument like the mandolin of which Bill Monroe was the architect. He created the music out of his family heritage, particularly from listening to his uncle Pendelton Vandiver, who was a competent old-time traditional fiddle player after whom he named the famous bluegrass song ‘Uncle Pen’.

Just as important to the creation of that bluegrass sound was the genius of Earl Scruggs’s banjo playing. Although the music has evolved over the years, one can still hear all the original idiosyncrasies put in place by Monroe and Scruggs.

Also important and influential were The Stanley Brothers with their own individual style of mountain music also referred to later as Bluegrass – Trev Warner.

Trev has as much enthusiasm for Bluegrass music today as he did when he started playing music. Along with his current band Bluegrass Junction featuring Nick Cawthorne on guitar, John Bridgeland on mandolin, Geoff Bridgeland on banjo and Trev of Fiddle and Dobro, he is still very active in the Australian Bluegrass scene.

Chris Duffy

 Chris Duffy – aka “Duffles”, or “Digits” Dufaye – has played the banjo for about forty years, with a few episodes of respite along the way, to keep his sanity, and that of others.
He is one of the first generation of Bluegrass banjo players in Australia, along with people like Trevor Warner and the late Peter Hayes. He has spent about half his working life as a full-time musician, and put in a few thousand hours on the road, and in studio work.
After launching his early career as a backing musician for Australia’s best known country musicians, he toured in his own right on the Arts Council,folk festival and club circuits.
Chris was Australia’s first National Banjo Champion. He also had several years performing in professional musical theatre as a pit musician and stage performer, most notably in the two-year run in Australia of the musical hit “Big River”, as banjoist and guitarist. He has played on many movie sound tracks and written for TV shows. He had five albums released on the Larrikin label under his own name.
In the 1980’s and 90’s he shook up the acoustic music fraternity by bringing artists to Australia and touring them. These artists include Dan Crary, Byron Berline, Vince Gill, Bill Keith and Mark O’ Connor, as well as Blues supremos John Hammond and Charlie Musselwhite.
He loves to play arrangements of fiddle tunes and ragtime pieces. He also cooks up 5 string banjo interpretations of Latin and Classical themes, and has recorded Bach and Mozart pieces. Having said that, Scruggs style is the real McCoy and is at the heart of the playing.

He was forced to relinquish the music career in the mid 1990’s after a serious motorcycle smash – which tells you that he is a petrol-head as well. He now confines himself to 4 wheelers – owning and restoring classic Alfa Romeos. His recovery included intensive study of the Jazz guitar – swing and hard bop ; and has a project transcribing the works of Grant Green now under way. He is developing a new spin on his banjo skills to incorporate modern jazz concepts.
He is releasing a new CD in September 2011, which is intended as a reflection on a long and successful career, as well as coming up with a new take on a few old warhorses. It is intended as a statement of his musical values and his unique brand of offbeat humour.

Chris has developed a one man show that reflects all these interests and incorporates a musical tribute to some of the banjo vaudevillians of the 1930’s and 1950’s. He is engaging with some old friends and associates, including the great Paul Wookey, to play and present quality acoustic music to Australian audiences.

Chris says he owes everything to the fine musicians who have spent time with him and shared their knowledge. In return, he teaches and conducts workshops, and will acts as mentor to younger players on the up and up.

His plans are to just keep on doing more of the same. And he aims to perfect his Italian cooking and barista skills. In his other life as a psychiatric clinical educator he is planning a volunteer capacity-building project in a developing country in collaboration with colleagues.

Chris plays a Crafters of Tennessee Maple Classic 5 banjo. His archtop guitars are a Benedetto Bravo de Luxe and a 1964 Guild X500 through Jazzkat and Tomkat amps. He also plays a 2002 model Martin HD28 Vintage series with forward shifted braces.

Ian Simpson

Ian SimpsonIan (Simmo) Simpson was born in Fremantle in Western Australia. He started playing classical piano at 8 years of age, being taught by his grandmother who was a piano teacher.  At about the age of 13 Ian heard The Wreck of the Old 97 and the banjo solo by then famous folk ensemble The Seekers. This was the defining musical moment in his life, he became obsessed with learning to play the banjo, and started teaching himself to play from listening to records slowed down to 16 rpm and learning out of the very few books that were available at the time.

A couple of years on, at the age of 15, Ian met Western Australia’s seasoned bluegrass musician Jim Fisher, and before long he was playing evenings and weekends in bands such as the Outlaws and the Bluegrass Kangaroos in Perth pubs, folk clubs and taverns while he was still at school.

Ian moved to Sydney at age 21 to tour with Slim Dusty. This was his first touring experience as a professional musician. This was another defining period in Ian’s musical career. Ian’s musical relationship with Slim Dusty was significant, it gave him a great deal of experience in the recording, arranging and production of music. Ian played on more than 20 of Slim’s albums and went on to appear in many DVDs and the famed Slim Dusty Movie.

In 1984, Ian was instrumental in forming what was to become one of Australia’s most commercial and popular bluegrass bands, The Flying Emus with John Kane, Genni Kane and Mike Kerin. This band took their version of bluegrass music to the masses winning 6 Gold Guitars at Tamworth, and also achieved an Aria award.Ian Simpson Banjo

As Ian’s talents were continuing to develop, his musical career extended into the recording and touring scene. He played support to many high-profile Australian Country Music names such as Paul Kelly, Keith Urban, Anne Kirkpatrick, Graeme Connors, and ABC’s nationally recognised Ian ‘Macca’ McNamara from Australia All Over. He was also a member of the famous comedy/bluegrass band Sensitive New Age Cowpersons for most of its ten-year existence. More recently Ian toured and recorded with Paul Kelly’s bluegrass band The Stormwater Boys.

Ian Simpson is best known as one of Australia’s most accomplished banjo players. He won the Australian National Banjo Championships at Tamworth no less than 3 times in 1983, 1986 and 1987. He was also a member of Western Australia’s famed Bluegrass Parkway for 10 years.

Among Ian’s achievements he has also produced recordings for artists such as Tony McKenna and Jane Germain.

Ian now resides back in Western Australia where he performs regularly with Jane Germain. They have won the Best Group or Duo Award at the WA Country Music Awards for 3 years running and in 2010 he and Jane had the honour of performing in the Australia Pavilion at the World Expo in Shanghai China which he found to be an amazing experience.

Ian and ex Flying Emu John Kane recently recorded an all instrumental CD for the ABC called The Banjo. One of the tracks from this album, Dixie Breakdown, won them a Golden Guitar at the 2011 Tamworth Country Music Festival for Instrumental of the Year.

Ian plays a variety of instruments including the guitar, Dobro, pedal steel and double bass, but admits the banjo is still his passion. Ian has five banjos, but mostly performs with a Gibson RB3 from the early 1990s and uses his Australian made White Swallow Deluxe for most of his recording work. He cites Bobby Thompson, Clarence White, Earl Scruggs, JD Crowe, Sonny Osborne, Django Reinhardt as some of his favourite musicians and those who have influenced his own music.

Paul Duff

Paul Duff started playing in 1979.  Soon after that he walked into a hotel in Fremantle Western Australia and discovered a bluegrass band playing. That band included Ian Simpson. Paul left the hotel determined to learn to play that music.

Today, Paul cites Bill Monroe as been the overriding influence on his music but in the early days he was very intrigued with Sam Bush and David Grisman. However Paul has spent some time learning and playing with Mike Compton who has had a marked impact upon his own playing. Compton has taken Monroe’s style and developed it even further to the point where it is markedly different.

started the West Australian bluegrass band Bluegrass Parkway with his wife Maria (a native of Lexington Kentucky) in 1987 when he returned to Australia after living in the US.  Paul named the band after the famous parkway that runs from Lexington down to I65. It was a toll road in those days, and Paul had spent so much time on it traveling to and from Nashville to watch bluegrass bands that he figured it owed him something. So he took the name for his band.

Incidently, Bluegrass Parkway will celebrate its 25th anniversary in January 2012, and has toured widely throughout Australia, New Zealand and the US.

Paul’s first band was made up of high school friends and called The Bandicoots. They started to perform around Perth and Fremantle in 1979. From those beginnings he formed a band known as Groundspeed.

In 1984 Paul left Perth to reside and work in the US in 1984. He made a decision to live in the states to learn more about mandolin building and to see more bluegrass music. This move would have him living in the states for close to 2 years. In 1985, after a few months of working at Flatiron Mandolins in Bozeman, Montana, Paul returned to Lexington, Kentucky, and met Maria. Within a week they were performing together in a local bluegrass band. The pair returned to Australia in 1986 to stay.

Paul’s passion for building mandolins was born out of a chance encounter with the music that was to become such an important part of his life. The chances of walking into a venue and witnessing a bluegrass band perform in Western Australia, pretty much the opposite side of the planet to Kentucky, are reasonably remote. However, this is just what happened and it turned out to be a cathartic experience for Paul. Following that single encounter with bluegrass, he knew he had to learn to play the music and his focus was immediately drawn to the mandolin and fiddle. After hunting out a cheap fiddle and trying to find a teacher, his attention then turned to the mandolin. Is was soon evident that he had to find a better sounding mandolin than the cheap one he had initially bought, and this search is what led Paul into the world of Luthierie.

After building his first mandolin in 1982, Paul became fascinated with the array and diversity of skills, many of which are from a bygone era, that were required to successfully build a mandolin. In the almost three decades since, he has been focused on refining, developing and applying these skills to his one true passion; the mandolin family of instruments produced by Gibson in the 1920s.

Perhaps another thirty years at the bench and I’ll be well on the way to getting my head around it – Paul Duff.

Paul’s love of bluegrass music drew him automatically to the F5 mandolin of Bill Monroe, both musically and from a luthier’s perspective. The first mandolin he ever built was an F5 model just like Monroe’s, a difficult undertaking as any builder will tell you. His attention has since broadened to other instruments from this Golden Era, also known as the Loar Period. Paul now includes mandolas, mandocellos and archtop guitars in his inventory of models offered to customers.

The inspiration derived from the truly successful, spectacular instruments of this Loar Period is what drives Paul to spend each day ‘at the bench’. He is a hands-on kind of builder. He doesn’t use a CNC carving machine but does have a hand operated pantograph router. This allows him to save himself for the important hand carving of the top and back plate. Paul would rather master the art of the various skill sets rather than out source them. Consequently, his instruments are adorned with hand cut pearl and abalone inlays, coloured sunbursts are applied by hand and of course, they are french polished.

Paul believes the development of the eye and ear are crucial to honing his skills. It takes years to gain an understanding of how you feel the instrument should look and sound.

We posed some questions to Paul to learn a bit more about him:

ABB: Who is your favourite Australian Old Timey or Bluegrass musician and why?

My favourite Australian bluegrass musician would have to be Donal Baylor. This is not because he happens to be in our band either. Donal has such a devotion to making sure his playing faithfully represents the required feel or style of a particular piece we might be performing. If we need Kenny Baker in there, Donal’s got it covered in spades! If you need a bit of Paul Warren; he’s there too. I admire the obvious dedication and discipline Donal puts into researching his favourite fiddlers. His playing speaks for itself.

What does the future hold for Paul Duff?

I intend to keep Bluegrass Parkway’s performance schedule busy and stay very active in the Australian bluegrass scene. We all love performing in the band and it gives a great deal of enjoyment. We love working up new material and we’re exploring new aspects of the music all the time.

As far as my mandolin building goes, I’m very dedicated to continuing to develop my skills. I want to work more with Compton to further increase my profile in the US. I will also start to work more on developing those markets outside of the US, especially Europe.

What is your favourite performance arena, Concert, Recording or Jamming or other. Can you provide some explanation?

I’ve always much preferred the concert arena to anything else. Bluegrass Parkway’s act is really founded on that old style, intimate concert situation. In many ways it works best in the same smaller venues that Monroe and the Stanleys would have utilised. For us, the ability to talk to the audience and present a show offers the most rewarding musical experience.

Where do see the future of Bluegrass / Old Time heading in Australia?

Bluegrass and Old Time music are growing noticeably in Australia. When we first started touring around Australia there were only one or two dedicated Bluegrass/Old Time festivals. This number has definitely increased and there are many more venues out there now. I think it is a healthy future. We are always going to have concerns over whether there are enough young people playing etc but these things come and go.  If people are exposed to the music in a positive way then they will return to it regularly.

Do you have any advice to aspiring musicians?

I think the most important thing aspiring musicians can do is to listen. Listen very carefully and often. If you find someone who inspires you then take the time to listen. Play as much as possible and play with other people.

Do you have any advice for  us in terms of the responsibilities experienced players might have in shaping, leading or inspiring newer players?

I think it is very important for experienced players to take the time to respond to new players if they approach you with questions or asking for advice. We have to be free and, most importantly, honest with our advice. Being available to offer workshops is a great opportunity to help and is always a valuable experience for newer players.