Road Stories - The Blues Downunder

Australia and the Blues Down Under
by Sandi Sallings

It's been almost a year since Mark and I made the long and 'mostly comfortable flight' to Australia (it would have been more comfortable for me, and it was quite comfy for Mark who can sleep anywhere, especially when his feet are propped up on my lap for 14 hours as he snoozes away! A girl can only take so much though before she tosses his feet into the floor and he still doesn't budge! Ah those wonderful blue dreams he must have been having! But seriously Qantas is one of the best airlines I've ever been aboard and have enough liquor to keep everyone smiling!

We left Memphis with snow on the ground and arrived in Sydney to warm breezes, incredible summer weather, the perfect summer night to say the least. The airport was about to close (yes, they are not open all night) but our gracious hosts pulled up in their Mercedez wagon and took us to their beautiful home. A lovely place that they have pain stakingly restored, it should be on the cover of some magazine. Setting all that aside, Peter and his wife were down to earth and went out of their way to see to it that we had the best of everything and we did. (Peter I might add is one heck of a harp player himself!) They took us on a cruise in Sydney, fed us anything our hearts desired, showed us about and made us feel at home. We both fell in love with the country as do most people who take the time to go visit.

I guess I should explain how I came to love Aussie music. Over the past two years prior to our trip to Australia I had been communicating with Glenn Nelson of Highway 49 Blues. Glenn is a classic 'blues junkie' who has more knowledge of blues then anyone I've ever met. His passion and dedication run deep.. so deep I don't think many of us could comprehend it. Glenn had introduced me to Aussie Blues and I have become a die-hard fan who preaches the Aussie Blues Gospel. The level of musicianship and the talent is amazing! I had come to love many of the groups that I was finally going to see in person! What a dream come true. Mark performing for them and me getting to see some of my favourite blues bands! It was incredible. Just incredible!

The Mighty Reapers are on the top of my list of Aussie Blues Bands and they were featured at Thredbo Legend of Blues Festival in Thredbo on the mountain! It was so fantastic to see them in person! They were just as great live as they were on disc. I'll talk more of the Thredbo festival coming up in just a bit, I don't want to leave out the great music I heard in Sydney!

Bridy King and the Hippos (Allison Penny who plays keys in THREE bands.. yes, she manages to do that, don't ask me how!) were awesome, Ray Beadle (young guitarist, musical genius who now has a CD out.. and a great vocalist I might add) Michele VanDeMeer (who I hear is releasing a CD soon) was equally incredible! And though I didn't get to hear them perform I did meet Mitch Grainger from the band PAPA LIPS! This band is a must hear! Kara Grainger (I hope I am spelling all of these names right, forgive me if I do not) is one heck of a vocalist, one of the best I've heard in a long time, a kind of funk, jazz, blues, R&B feel all rolled into an easy on the ear mix!

I also had the pleasure of meeting Ian & Terry Dittman of The Bellhops, another great Aussie band sure to please, it has everyone who I have played their CD for! I heard so many people that I can't even begin to name it all.. it is a mecca of blues, great blues! I was such a 'fan'.. walking up and saying, "I know you, I have your CD and you are so GREAT!" I hope they believed me, and I think some folks were shocked that someone from the U.S. knew who they were. (Thanks Glenn for getting their music out there). There were a few legendary Aussie blues bands that I didn't get to see, but one day I will make a trip over there and go on a music trek and see the countryside to it's full extent. I think it will take more than one more trip over!

Anyway, back to Sydney
Mark played at the Basement in Sydney, the equivalent of BB Kings or Buddy Guys Legends! It is a fantastic place with great food and more amazing was the posters on the walls of all the U.S. greats who have played that stage and of course the Aussie bands as well. The acoustics and sound make it one of the finest sounding rooms I've ever been in (and I have been alot of places and heard alot of bands) ...it has a five star rating on the sound! The musicians that played with Mark; Harry Brus on bass, Roscoe Clark on drums and Ray Beadle featured on guitar were on the money. One rehearsal and a show that night and it was tight! A fantastic band hand picked by Peter.

Now back to Thredbo, it's one of the most amazing places I have ever been.It is a quaint little ski village that hosts musical events year round. Thredbo Legend of Blues being one of the biggest and best events of the year! Walking along the hills and hearing music ring out from all corners, up and down the mountain, well, lets just say it was awe inspiring! So relaxed and easy to enjoy, no worries, just great music and great people. Everyone you meet has a smile and a kind word and they buy you a drink around every turn! So many wonderful people that are now friends for a life time. That Mountain has a magic to it and if you can book a spot in one of the bungalows or hotels for that festival then do so.. every blues lover should experience the Mountain the music, the people, the food.. all of it! It's beyond words and it's a trip I will never forget!

Jeff Lang was a great highlight of the festival! He is AMAZING .. there is no two ways about it, he has a style all his own and one cannot explain or put into words the way he plays guitar-it is his own style and it's powerful.. and all I can say is you must see him live, he plays in the states some so try to check out one of his shows if you ever can) There were so many bands at Thredbo that I can't begin to name them all, but all were worth seeing. It's simply the perfect setting for a music festival. Walking from club to club.. all hours of the day and the night. Pool side, mountain side, surrounded by such beauty, families, friends, absolutely a must do festival.

My thanks go out to Glenn Nelson and of course Peter Ghossein for his hospitality, his kindness and his undying passion for the blues. Peter believes in the music, supports the music and is one of those people who's reward is watching it all come together. Glenn gives it his all thru his online newsletter and his radio show.

Americans all want to go over there and play the blues for them, but you know, maybe we should, no, I know we should stop and listen, buy a few Aussie CDs and bring more of their artists over here. They know their blues and they can play them and play them well.

I wanted to say thanks to everyone in Sydney, Melbourne and Thredbo and anywhere in between who reached out with such kindness and gave us some great music and the chance for Mark to give them some of the Delta Blues. It was a wonderful dance that I will always cherish. Try out some Aussie Blues it's sure to touch your soul!

Sandi Sallings

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