There have always been many streams of country music in Melbourne. Modern, Fitzroy, western swing, rockabilly, bluegrass, outlaw, you name it, they're all here. If you look closely, you'll find the best practitioners have at some time or other come to drink at the well of that great group, The Moonee Valley Drifters. Ever since Tom Forsell left the shores of Lake Michigan in 1974 to settle in Australia, musicians who love these styles of music have either come to watch or play with the Drifters. These links can be traced to all the Melbourne country groups and to most of the well-known musicians from the Tamworth and Sydney country scenes.
These days anyone can make a CD (and unfortunately they often do!) but well before the onslaught of digital technology, the Moonee Valley Drifters recorded three studio albums, a testament to Forsell's determination to take this music seriously.
Like many people, I am guilty of taking the Drifters for granted. What shocked me most when I was given a copy of this CD was the deep sense of history it contains. The success of "Oh Brother where art thou" has re-stimulated interest in these styles of music but here right under our noses the Drifters have been recording and playing their spirited version of this music for the last 16 years!
I know the Drifters studio albums as well as anyone, but here in their new CD is the story of the band, a longitudinal view that finally reveals things that we overlooked. Through the different line-ups, vocalists, styles, studios and songs, the spirit of the music can be seen laid bare. It is Tom Forsell's love for this music that glues the CD together. Don't get me wrong, this is definitely not a solo album. All the musicians contribute their sizeable and indispensable talents to the mix. But you'll find Tom Forsell on all the tracks, singing, playing accordion, mandolin, sock rhythm guitar, and writing songs. Rain on My Window remains one of my all time favourite songs.
But there's another constant in this picture: Paul Pyle, the legendary outlaw bassist. Always in demand, (he's even played with Slim Dusty!) Paul simply plays the right note with just the right length at just the right time with just the right sound! He's there on nearly every track. Check out Three Will Get You Six.
Since his days in The Autodrifters, Rick Dempster has also been a founding member of another great band The Dancehall Racketeers. Here on the Cajun classic Allons a Lafayette Rick shows us his all too rare lead vocals and Tamworth award winning harp. His magnificent honky tonk lap steel features on many tracks like Forsell's Well Here I Go Again and his ride on Herb Remington's Remington Ride.
Rob Grenville takes high energy hollerin' lead vocals on I'm Walking The Dog and blitzes his swing guitar on Three Will Get You Six. Whenever you hear a three part harmony you can be sure he's in there somewhere!
Everyone loved and admired the late Peter Linden. The ex-US Navy musician brought his distinctive pedal steel style to the band and inspired everyone he played with providing another direct link to the source of country music. We were all shocked when he died in a plane crash in 1996. Hear him workout on Lefty Frizell's If You've Got The Money.
Listen to I want to live and love and you'll hear Jerry Hale's smoking fiddle. These days Jerry is well known as the leader of Uncle Bill. He cut this track with the Drifters in 1988.
Look a little closer and you'll discover rockabilly legend (and Drifters co-founder) Warren Rough doing the best Travis picking you'll ever hear on tracks 3 and 11. Let's not overlook Graham Thomas either. The man who kept the gut string bass sound alive for years has been a big influence on the Drifters. He doesn't play on any tracks here, but he did produce and record three tracks at Preston Recordings, his shrine to the old ways of making records. Dig that MONO Graham!
Look hard again and you'll find a bunch of great drummers. Andrew "Pixie" Lindsay, the rockabilly king. High-hat specialist Ed Colbourne and the dancer's favourite, the late Jeremy Rasmussen. Guitarists Ashley Cluss (the jazz stylist) and melodic minimalist Brendan Shearson (he of the sweet tone, check 6 pack to go), bounce their way through three tracks each and somewhere you'll even find country legend Bernie O'Brien sneaking in a few bass notes. Me? I love to play piano with the Drifters. There is no greater pleasure than to sit in with the whole band rocking it up on Six Pack To Go watching a room full of whirling dancers go wild.
Some tracks on "From the Beginning" have never been released before. The Coodabeen Champions were big fans of the Drifters' spirit and the band became regular live guests on their national ABC radio show. Tracks 4, 15 and 16 were originally performed live on the ABC in the now demolished 1930's 3LO studio about 10:30pm on a Sunday night and went out across the airwaves into houses and truckers' car radios from Carnarvon to Cairns. This was perhaps the most perfect environment for the band and you can feel the energy jump out of the speakers on If You've Got The Time... and on Gene Autry's Back In The Saddle. Lets not forget the Drifters have always been a live band first and log over 80 gigs a year.
Well, I hope you enjoy this CD half as much as I did. Come out and see the Drifters at a bar or festival near you. Have a drink, a dance and experience the music right up close as it's meant to be. Thanks Tom and thanks to all the great musicians who have passed through and continue to create the living legacy of The Moonee Valley Drifters.
James Black September 2001