Double Exposure – Exposed and Exposing – my music experience. By Kaz Johnson

Warning: This post contains emotion and passion

I have been exposed to music – lots of types – for all of my life. I can’t remember a time when music wasn’t playing or someone wasn’t singing around me. My Mum always had the radio on for us to wake up to. She took us to musicals and movie musicals and when the radio wasn’t on, she was spinning musicals and classical music on the record player, which was more like a treasured piece of furniture than a high tech sound machine. Dad was on shift work a lot as a baker and a farmer and would come home and relax and fall asleep to old country music albums. Of a night we would watch all of the great variety shows of the day – Barry Crocker’s Sound of Music, Bobby Limb Show, Bandstand, Reg Lindsay etc. We were in the choirs at school and had piano lessons. We went to Sunday School for most of our childhood and sang songs. My aunties, Margie and Kim introduced me to The Beatles and Elvis very early on and Dean Martin. My first record was The Seekers and my sister had Peter, Paul and Mary. I was a folkie pretty early.  Dad played the record player most, but we all loved it. We had singalongs in the car even when we didn’t have one with a radio in it.  As exposed as I was to variety programmes on tv and my love of music, I had my own “concerts” on our verandahs and Kaz Johnson Musical Specials to my imaginary friends.  My aunty, Jannie, used to sing with us too and we played folk and musicals together on her little record player. I danced around my grandmother’s dining table with a duster around my neck singing Shirley Bassey’s Hey Big Spender and  crooning Dean Martin’s Shutters and Boards and Petula Clark’s Downtown.

My favourite NYEs were memories of Mum at the pianola (Frankie Ifield once played it), and we all sang around it…..very badly. My grandmother, Florence, was about the only person, besides my sister, who could sing in our family and she used to sing us to sleep with old classics like Daisy and After the Ball is over and my favourite Granny song, When I grow too old to dream. I started writing my own little songs before I could actually write. I think that I was about four when I “wrote” my first one. I am a hopeless singer and I can’t really play any instrument, though I have had a few goes.

Dad joked that one of the reasons that we moved from Taree to Tamworth was so that he could get better reception of Mr Hoedown.  Dad has loved nothing better than to lay down in front of the stereo and listen to his country favourites. He used to put about 10 records on the stacker (as you could in those days) and listen to them.

He took us to my first real concert at Wingham when I was about 9 or 10. It was the Buddy Williams Travelling Show and it had Rick and Thel and Johnny Ashcroft and others on the show. 2RE woke us up of a morning as 2GO had for years at Gosford.  My sister was the piano player, being able to hear something on the radio then going to our old pianola and being able to play it after a bit of fiddling.

Dad got his wish when we moved to the farm in Tamworth, and Mr Hoedown was on every night. The old record player still played and my sister and I had transistor radios which we listened to under the covers.

Our music taste was moving more into the bands of the day and I still played my Seekers and Elvis records. We listened to American Top 40 and still watched musicals and variety shows on TV. Don Lane and all at the time. Dad loved Travelling out West, of course, but I was never a huge fan, though I did love the brother and sister on there.  And of course, there was Countdown.

At Somerton School in 1974, I was Mabel (by default) in a Gilbert and Sullivan tribute and “conducted”  the choir with a hammer handle in Christmas songs. We performed in an area schools concert at Tamworth Town Hall with lots of other schools. I was to “sing” there with Tamworth High on many occasions too, sometimes with my sister playing the piano. She could hear something on the radio and then go and play it, still can.  I always loved singer/songwriters, rather than people singing other people’s songs. I was getting more into other types of music, but being Tamworth, we had a share of country music on the radio. At the time, Slim Newton’s Redback on the Toilet Seat, Don Williams and others were making the regular charts. The radio was on our school bus from Somerton to Tamworth and back again.

Olivia and Kris Kristofferson were my “country faves” then, though many considered them not to be country at the time.

We eventually moved closer to town and moved next door to a family who played country music. During festival time, Buddy Williams stayed there, parking his lot outside of their house. Dad would go in and have a sing-a-long while I would stay in my room, write my bad poetry and listen to Billy Joel, James Taylor and Fleetwood Mac…..and The Beatles, of course. My sister and I loved the Monkees too, and we managed some record playing time in between Dad’s goes. 2TM or 2MO were often on. Mr Hoedown lived a few houses up from us and I went to school with his son, Jim. They had another son, Lawrie, who went on to be a pretty fine musician. We joked that my Dad was a stalker. Pat Ware lived down the road too, and I went to school with his daughter, Jenny. Eric Scott had his studio down the road and I went to school with his daughter, Andrea.  Rick and Thel stayed near my aunty’s place in Crown Street. Ironically, years before, Thel had been one of my aunty’s teachers at school.

When I wasn’t spending lunchtimes in the choir practice, I was volunteering at the library. We had a change of teachers – and the teacher insisted that people in the choir had to actually be able to sing, rather than just having a love and enthusiasm for music. So I was out. I spent more time in the library with Mrs Manyfeathers and we had a literary bond.

Music was my first love, then books and writing and I loved sport but I was as hopeless at the latter as I was at singing and playing an instrument. I remember going to see some kids’ musical act at Attunga with the school and they asked if anyone could play the guitar. Naturally, I put my hand up, thinking that I would hold the guitar in my arms and I would be able to play…..magically. Of course, I embarrassed myself but the people were very kind and showed me a chord or two. I was eleven.

My sister went on to play one of the leads in the school musical (Guys and Dolls) and sang a duet at an awards night. I continued to write a lot of stuff but of course, nothing ever became of it. I was in the chorus of the PJ game and had a blast.

I spent a lot of time in my room listening to music and writing. It was my escape. My musical taste was still varied and I loved it all.

I loved the Eagles and David Gates and Doris Day and Barbra and lots of others. James was probably my favourite, always will be and I was learning about Bob Dylan. Years earlier at Gosford, Dad used to take me out to a commune and deliver stale bread for the hippies’ animals. Sometimes, they would stick flowers in my hair and we’d sing songs. Dad would have left me there but he thought Mum would miss me.

Status Quo and The Bee Gees and other musical influences were there too. Elton, Rod, Anne Murray and others were there too. It was the seventies, there was so much music around.

I actually didn’t think much of the country music festival at Tamworth in those days. Even living 4 miles out of town and living in Hillbilly Row, we were exposed to it. It was different then. Slim didn’t have much competition. I liked it when a gal called Ms Morrison won.  We listened to the awards each year on 2TM and Dad would take us in for a walk around Tamworth and down Peel Street. It was only a long weekend back then, not 10 days. The music was different back then and there were only two venues and the buskers. I saw a young Keith Urban busk and there was a bloke called Allan Caswell who I thought was pretty good.

It was the same weekend as my sister’s and my birthdays and we didn’t really get too involved in anything else.  My taste was mainly rock and folk back then.  I moved to Sydney for work, which I had to do as I couldn’t get any work in Tamworth and I was restless. It is funny that when you are a kid you can’t wait to get away from somewhere and as an adult, you just want to go back home.

Sydney exposed me to lots of music, international and local stuff. I went to free concerts in the park with all of the best bands of the day. I saw Dr Hook, Kevin Johnson, Dire Straits, James Taylor, Simon and Garfunkel, Bob Dylan, Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers, America, Genesis, Elton John, Billy Joel, and any gig that I could afford. In those days, the most that I paid was 24 dollars. The average price was about 18. I read lots of books, went to movies and plays and musicals and spent all of my spare money on records and cassettes and listened to Tim Webster and Grant Goldman on 2Day-Fm. When I was nineteen, I did a radio course with Tim and Grant and others and it was wonderful. It did lots for my confidence and it improved my speech. It was a dream to be a dj and in the Summer I went and tried my luck back at 2TM but I was too raw.

Dancing (badly) most Friday nights after work with friends in my early 20’s and going to obscure gigs kept my music love going.

My love affair with music has carried on and I often went back to Tamworth to visit my friends and started to really enjoy the festival. I travelled, studied and became a librarian, first by volunteering and then securing some casual and part time work. I got my foot in the door and then worked my way through. I started from the bottom and I have gone as far as I wanted to go now. I still write, I still love my music and I have been blessed to become a part of the country music family by luck, chance and default. I have also been able to see some of my folk heroes, The Seekers, Judy Collins, Carole King and heaps of others. We were given tickets by my parents’ employers to go to the Opera House to see musicals and ballets. Of course, in latter years, I have seen Reba and Brooks and Dunn, The Dixie Chicks, my female country music faves Mary Chapin Carpenter, Iris DeMent, Emmylou Harris and lots of wonderful Aussie artists. (see part 2)

I started writing reviews on Facebook and two lovely ladies of country suggested that I start a blog. So in its three forms: Fifty Shades of Country Music, A Country Hattitude and Country As, here are she be. I wanted to give back to the people who have given me so much in some small way. It is exposure, the word that some cringe at, and sometimes with good reason. I think that after I have exposed myself here, musically, I will explain my idea of exposure for the artists themselves.

 

Part 2 – Exposing others.

Exposure is becoming a dirty word with artists these days, and I understand their problem with it, which is why I am writing this article.

With Itunes, Youtube and all of the downloading and streaming these days from the Internet, and the pitiful percentage that they get from sales, I can understand perfectly. Sure, the best job for all of us is the job which we love doing, something that we have a passion for but we can’t pay the electricity bill or the rent with passion. I suppose we can, but that is in a profession that I don’t know much about. I wanted to be a Children’s Librarian from the time that I was four, and at about 7 I said to my grandfather that I was going to work in Gosford Library one day as we watched the new one being built. It took a lot of detours, education, growing up and sorting out for me to get there, and I did end up working there at the age of 34, after working at other jobs and at two other libraries.

The point being, I paid my dues, I worked for free and I went above and beyond the call of duty to get the “right job”. I did it the hard way and I probably appreciate what I have achieved more than some who walk straight from Uni into a cushy job

That being said, I know many musicians who have never been paid. They spend all the money that they have in making albums and filling petrol tanks to get from one gig to another, sleeping in their cars…..often for EXPOSURE.

I know how hard they work. For my part, I prefer to buy hard copy. I like the credits, artwork, lyrics, etc. I try to buy them at festivals, so even if the gig is free, I am helping out and I can get it signed and I get to talk to the artist. It also helps when I am writing my reviews. I have thousands of cds and cassettes and a few hundred records. Yes, I have some Itunes stuff, mainly because I couldn’t buy the albums in the city or as a pre- purchase from buying the real thing.

I travel by public transport and I work full time, so it is not always easy for me to get to gigs, but I try to get to as many as possible. I have actually delayed paying the rent or a bill in order for me to get to a gig or to buy a cd….on more than one occasion.

I don’t know the technicalities of venues not paying their artists, or saying that the artists can do it for exposure. I know of Indie artists who could run rings around International acts and never get a cent. That doesn’t seem fair. For talented folks who play their own instruments, write their own songs, sing like angels, produce their own albums, foot the bills for their musicians and their transport costs, there should be some sort of a reward.

One of the main reasons that I started the blog was to help promote the country music artists…to give them some er, exposure.  I also write about legends and International artists. However, my chief reason is to help the ones that don’t get the credit that they deserve.

If I go to a free gig, I buy a cd, a hat, a t-shirt or a stubby holder. I write about their gigs, my way of paying them back. If I won the Lotto, one of the first things that I would do would be to buy a place in Tamworth where all of the Indies could stay for free and have house concerts, jam sessions and be able to stay for the whole festival so that they could pick up some gigs – paying ones as well as free ones. I try to help in small ways now, try to fund those that I can, try to be there to support them when I can, but it takes more than a handful of fans to do this.

I know of a lot of fans who do more than me on less than I earn. I am proud to be part of a team of fans who give a stuff. We all try and do our bit. Community Radio has been great. Some commercial radio folks like Grant Goldman and Ray Hadley have helped promote artists. ABC’s Saturday night Country is fantastic. Country Music in Australia is not given much respect from people outside the country music family. The 79 types of country music in Australia are stronger than they have ever been. We have such a wonderful array of artists of all ages and all genres of Country Music. It is much better quality than what is going on in America.

I have a party trick that I do. I play some country music softly in the background when I have my friends around. They tell me to turn it up because it sounds good. I say, but you don’t like that stuff, it’s country music. Sometimes, actions speak louder than words. People get an idea in their heads about country music and they don’t budge until they hear all the great sounds that are out there.

Country music folks in this country are the most generous and kind people that I have ever met. Apart from a couple of exceptions, they are incredibly amazing folks. I am very proud to be included in their circle….and really, I am just a fan who happens to write about what I love.

We have a lot to be proud of. Go out and support them, buy their stuff, play their stuff. Please.

 

 

Just a reminder….

Hey musos, don’t forget that if you have any gigs for Tamworth (or anywhere else), appearances or promotions, please let me know and I will advertise them here for you. Every little bit helps. I have lots of stuff to write about in the next few weeks and in the lead up to Tamworth.

 

Totally Biased Fan Review: The Long and Short of It – The Night of our Life

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A few years ago, I finally got to see and hear a duo that some of my muso friends had recommended to me. That duo was The Long and Short of It. They are unconventional in many ways. Unique would probably be an even better word. Their music is top notch, their albums have polish and variety and they are one of the most respected duos/bands in Australian Country Music. They recently took out the award for that category at Mildura. It was a well deserved reward for producing such top quality music.

I don’t think that you have to be a country music fan to appreciate their musicianship or their lyrics. However, their music is unmistakeably country.

This album differs in many ways from the last one. They are an interesting duo in that they do not focus so much on harmonies like other duos and groups do, they work well individually and back each other up and their thought process seems to be the same. This does not mean to say that they “don’t play well together”, because they do. I think that their individual strengths allow them to complement each other.

You can’t really slot this duo into one kind of country music. They tend to vary their songs and their subject matter. They are not afraid of touching on subjects that some steer away from.

What I have always found with these two, when they are performing, is their obvious enjoyment of performing their songs. There is a lot of passion in their music. That passion transfers to their albums.

Songs:

Kangaroo Rodeo: A very Aussie country song and a great way to open an album. Good for a sing a long or a clap along. (Tempted to type Hopalong!)

Jesus Money: This has been released as a single and it is a great choice. Being a ballad and sad song fan, this one does it for me.

The Night of our Life: The title song and as the name suggests, it is was bound to be an upbeat song. A song about making people happy through singing to a crowd….obviously autobiographical.

Gypsy Whitemoon: Probably my favourite song on the album. Some nice strings and some fine lyrics.

Kiss me better: Do not listen to this song if you are an icecream lover on a diet. I had to go and have a bowl of salted caramel after I heard this for the first time. A definite shower song nomination. Beccy Cole mentioned in a song recently that she loved (Libby) better than icecream, it is trending. A very catchy song.

Don’t Bait My Hook: I think that David is channelling Garth Brooks on this song. Clever words and catchy tune. Ramping up the twang on this one.

Just give it all you got: Possibly another shower song nomination. A song about dreams and dreamers….and how those dreams can come true. Toe tapping and thoughtful.

Foolin’ Around: The title explains the song, but a great song for the road, toe tapping and hand clapping.

One of the Boys: A rocky country song with a bit more substance than the title suggests. Some cool guitar licks. This is bound to be a crowd pleaser.

Old School: Old fashion sentiments in a rocky song. Some mean fiddle and bluesy vocals.

When I’m Gone: Lovely way to round out a spirited album. One of my faves on the album. A beautiful song.

I am sure that they will hit Tamworth by storm in January and that is the long and short of it.