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Interview: RUSSELL MORRIS

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He is one of the true legends of Australian music, performing and recording for over forty years and his back catalogue includes such classic titles as ‘The Real Thing’, ‘Sweet, Sweet Love’ and ‘Wings of an Eagle’ but now, Russell Morris is bringing his music to a whole new generation of fans and it is a very different genre from the pop hits that made him a household name in this country in the sixties and seventies. And, as part of the impressive line-up of of the Red Hot Summer Tour that kicks off in January 2014, the performer will be playing to regional audiences in NSW, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Tasmania and Russell is looking forward to the opportunity to play in those towns and to join the stage with some very talented people. “I think this tour will be exceptional,” he says, “because there’s some great acts on it. And people will really get their money’s worth. Every act on there is pretty good.” Well, with a line-up that also includes such names as The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll and the Queen of Rock herself, Suzi Quatro, The Red Hot Summer Tour is certainly set to sizzle.

Of course, he will be playing the old favourites in his set but he will also be performing songs from his current album, a blues and roots album called ‘Sharkmouth’ which has taken the country by storm. With Sharkmouth, Russell has come up with something that has captured the public’s imagination. “Yeah, I know,” he agrees. “It’s been a surprise to me as well. It’s just been phenomenal. It will be the biggest success I’ve had in my career actually, even over The Real Thing, which is incredible when you think about it. And if the next album does as much, it will blow the rest of the stuff into oblivion!” But, never one to rest on his laurels, Russell’s next album is already in the works. “The next album is due to come out in March,” he reveals. “I’ve written all the tracks for that. I’ll maybe write two more. We’ve got about seventeen. We start recording mid December.” Russell says that he always intended to create a trilogy with this collection. He adds, however, that will depend on what other stories captivate his imagination. “You’re just never sure how it’s going to go so hopefully it does end up that way. ”

The inspiration for Sharkmouth came when the singer saw a photo in a Sydney newspaper. “It was a photo of Thomas Archer, who is on the front cover (of the album). And it just transfixed me. I thought it was a wonderful photo. I came back to Melbourne and I thought ‘I’d like to use it as an album cover’ and then I thought ‘No, I should write a song about this guy.’ It was almost like he spoke to me and he said ‘Write a song about me and tell people I lived and breathed.’ As soon as I wrote that song, it was almost like he handed me a magic key and said ‘You’ve done what I asked; here’s your present. Write about Australian history and put it in a blues context.’”

Russell’s grandmother, who lived to the ripe old age of ninety three, used to regale him with stories of bygone years; stories about Squizzy Taylor and the Great Depression. “So those things came to the forefront,” he reveals. “I would sit and talk to her for ages and ages and she would tell me all about things when she was a young girl so a lot of those stories came out and I went to a really tough school. In fact, I was watching Crime Families the other night on TV and two of the guys I went to school with were in the great bookie robbery down here and they were both murdered in the end so I lived and breathed a lot of that so some of it was kind of personal. It was like growing up in the streets of Richmond where I grew up, watching SP bookies in lanes taking bets and things like that. It was about my roots. There’s no use me writing songs about Mississippi and New Orleans; they’re not my roots. I have to write about what I know because that’s what your roots are. There’s a subliminal thing in music; people hear somehow if it’s believable. It’s something in the way that our DNA is put together and our electrons work, bouncing around the atoms in our bodies. Something becomes sympathetic and people get it straight away. ”

The album won Russell a well deserved award for Best Blues and Roots Album at the recent ARIA Awards and fans were understandably infuriated when his acceptance speech was cut from the televised broadcast. The strong reaction and outpouring of support for the singer is proof of his undeniable popularity amongst true music lovers in this country, as if any such proof is actually necessary. He is, after all, in top echelon of respected musicians, singers and songwriters in Australian music history and Russell’s ARIA is not the only award that Sharkmouth has earned him. “We’ve also been nominated at the Golden Guitar Awards in Tamworth,” he informs me. “If you’re looking at Roots music, you’re looking at Australian music and this is Australian music. I guess some of the traditionalists would say ‘It’s not country!’ but with country music lately, they’re letting in all these rock ‘n’ roll bands which is a bit strange. I think it is probably just as much country roots as anything else. People keep asking me about a single but I tell them ‘There’s no single! It’s a blues album!’ I don’t care if there’s no single. This is it. This is what I wanted to do.”

While blues might not be the style that he has become known for, Russell points out that it is, after all, where it all began for him. “The same as Ross Wilson and Joe Camilleri,” he reminds me. “We all started off playing things like ‘Big Bossman’, ‘Who Do You Love?’, ‘I Got My Mojo Working’, ‘Smokestack Lightning’, ‘Walking the Dog’. That’s how we first started off when we played in our very first bands and I always had an idea that I wanted to go back and do what I started doing before I started doing pop singles so I figured now is the time to do it so I did and it just turned out to be perfect timing.”

Perfect timing, indeed! The singer puts it down to luck. “You never know which door is going to open for you,” he muses and he has a few sage words of advice for young players looking for a way to get ahead in the industry. “Well, you go down to the lake and there are hardly any spots around the lake and you’ve got to muscle your way in. You put a worm on your hook and you throw your rod in and most days, you’ll go away and catch nothing. But every now and then, for some reason, the fish bites on your line and there’s no rhyme or reason; there’s no level playing field. It’s not fair. I know some incredibly talented people who are doing nothing and they should be doing lots of things but things have not worked out their way. You know, it’s quite a sad industry in a way. It can break people’s hearts. There are no guarantees, even if you go down to the lake every day and try to put your line in, there’s no guarantee you’ll ever catch a fish but you’ll never know unless you go. You’ve got to be persistent and you’ve got to do it for the love of it. The thing is that a lot of younger people see their idols and they say ‘I want to be like them!’ and they mimic them and that’s why you get so many people singing so much like each other these days, because they’re copying somebody they’ve idolised but the problem is that person has already been. You can’t do that because then you’re following the pied piper and you’re dancing to a dance and you’re always behind the pied piper. Go out there and find a style that you want to do, even if it’s playing polkas. If you really love it, that’s what you do. You don’t do what you think is going to be successful. As soon as you fall down that trap of ‘I’m going to do that because I think I’m going to be successful’, that’s the danger.” Wise words, I agree. “It only took me sixty five years to learn it,” he laughs.

by Sharyn Hamey

 Copyright © 2013 Sharyn Hamey All Rights Reserved

THE RED HOT SUMMER TOUR

JANUARY 2014

Thursday 16th January 2014 | 3pm
Centenary Oval, Port Lincoln SA
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Civic Hall Box Office (08) 8683 5088 | www.civichall.com.au 
Suzi Quatro The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Saturday 18th January 2014 | 2pm
Mary Ann Reserve, Mannum SA
Sounds By The River
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Venuetix (08) 8225 8888 | www.venuetix.com.au 
Mannum Newsagency (08) 8569 1028
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, James Reyne, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Sunday 19th January 2014 | 2pm
Nowingi Place Soundshell, Mildura VIC [18+ show]
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Mildura Arts Centre (03) 5018 8330 | www.milduraartscentre.com.au 
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Saturday 25th January 2014 | 12pm
Mornington Racecourse, Mornington VIC 
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Sunday 26th January 2014 | 1pm
Mulwala Waterski Club, Mulwala NSW
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Mulwala Waterski Club (03) 5744 2777 | www.mulwalawaterski.com.au 
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

FEBRUARY 2014

Saturday 1st February 2014 | 2pm
Nth Gardens, Ballarat VIC
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Regent Cinemas Ballarat (03) 5330 5555 | www.regententertainment.com.au 
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Sunday 2nd February 2014 | 1pm
Country Club Lawns, Launceston TAS [18+ show]
*** SOLD OUT ***
Suzi Quatro, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Saturday 8th February 2014 | 1pm
Parklands Resort, Mudgee NSW
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au
Mudgee Visitor Information Centre (02) 6372 1020 | www.visitmudgeeregion.com.au 
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Sunday 9th February 2014 | 1pm
Harry Sawkin Park, Nowra NSW
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Shoalhaven Entertainment Centre 1300 788 503 | www.shoalhavenentertainment.com.au 
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

Saturday 15th February 2014 | 12pm
Harrigans Drift Inn, Jacobs Well QLD [18+ show]
Ticketmaster 136 100 | www.ticketmaster.com.au 
Suzi Quatro, The Angels, The Black Sorrows, Shannon Noll, Russell Morris

For more information on The Red Hot Summer tour visit www.redhotsu

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