Enter At Your Own Risk: music and me

Music has been an incredibly powerful force in my life. Why? Well that’s just one of life’s little mysteries. But here is a bit of the how.

My mother played the piano so we always had one in the house. When my four sibs and I were young, she would often play at night and I have those fuzzy childhood memories of lying in bed letting the music wash over me till I was asleep . My dad had, and still has, a genuine love of music circa 1948. He loves to sing and can usually find a song for most situations. Something I had a genuine hate for as a teenager. As a young man he had played the Hawaiian/steel guitar and also the harmonica, but I’ve never seen him in action. So there was always a bit of music going on around the house.

There have been a few pivotal moments along the way that led to the casting of that magical musical spell which has dominated my life. The first would have been in 1970 when my older brother blew all his pocket money and brought home his first 45 – Let it Be/You Know My Name, Look Up the Number. We would sing our hearts out to the classic, but the B side – it connected, it spoke to me. It was crazy, with it’s weird beat and strange lyrics.

This was a new world. I was 10 and instantly, I knew there was more out there. Some of what was out there would make more sense to me than my current reality growing up in the steamy heat of far northern Australia.

The next 45 was Mungo Jerry with In the Summertime. Loved that shuffling, skiffle beat. Something had shifted in me and The Banana Splits, Lost in Space and Maxwell Smart, as fun as they were, started to fade as music drew me in.

My first performance had been singing ‘There’s a Kind of Hush’ by Herman’s Hermits at the kids summer camp on Magnetic Island a year or so earlier. Bold as brass.

Then, for the first time in my life, I asked my parents for a specific Christmas present – a transistor radio! The ultimate possession. It was a big investment, but they made it and my dreams came true on Christmas morning.  From then on I had that single ear piece crammed into an ear, or had the radio going under my pillow at night. I loved that tiny black box (the first of many). It gave me the world.

Fast forward a few years and I’m living in another country town, in the cold country of regional NSW. It’s 1974 and the whole singer/songwriter thing is going on. My brother (yes, same one and dammit – now I’m realising how much I owe him) is fooling around with guitars. So I decide I’m going to teach myself the guitar. And I do. First song I learn (forgive me) is Annie’s Song by John Denver. You know the one…you fill up my senses etc. etc. Yeah, I know, not very cool. It gets worse. It also gets better.

Here’s the worse bit. I became a dedicated fan of the group America. Bought every album, knew every song. Even now, when I hear one of those songs, it takes me straight back to those times. But I wasn’t a one group girl.

Here’s the better bit. I managed to convince my parents to sign up to the World Record Club – where they would send you an album every month whether you wanted one or not. You were sent a catalogue and could choose an album or they’d just send you one. Well, I would look through those catalogues with an eagle eye. There was a lot of classical music and compilations in there, but in amongst all that I managed to get a few gems including Paul Simon/There Goes Rhymin Simon and The Beach Boys/Pet Sounds.

I’d started spending my own money on albums once I’d got myself a job. The first album I bought was Van Morrison/Moondance, followed by numerous James Taylor, Steely Dan, Seals & Croft and of course, America. And this was how I learned to sing harmony, singing along with these guys.

Of course we had the obligatory Beatles, Pink Floyd, Deep Purple, etc. But I had moved on from the world of radio to the world of ‘yeah, I’m into music’.

Yes, it’s all a bit white and a bit mainstream, but I was living in a small country town, I had no music mentor saying – you gotta listen to THIS. I was just blindly finding my way. So it wasn’t until later that I started to delve into the rich history of blues and jazz and r&b, of soul and funk and gospel, ska and reggae and all that good stuff.

That white boy music saw me through all those angsty teenage years while I was waiting for my life to begin. But in the meantime, I went to my first live show, Australian band Ariel, at the local town hall. Years later I would end up working with one of the guys from this band and funnily enough, I would also put a few tours through that very venue. Live music! PA’s, electric guitars, amps – I wanted more of that thrill. Status: totally addicted.

More of this fascinating story in my next post.