4 Decades of Country Music Journalism

Frank Talk (1983)
Click on the image to enlarge.
Author's Note (2004):
This interview was conducted after my first meeting with FRANK IFIELD in 1982. It was the beginning an association that would continue to this day. In subsequent years I would tour the world as Frank's Musical Director and currently I am the Webmaster of his Web site.


J.A.M.M. (Journal of Australian Music and Musicians) JUNE 83: International singing star FRANK IFIELD was one of the first Australian performers to find success overseas with a unique blend of country and popular music. During his 1982 visit here I spoke to Frank after a performance at the Aberdeen Chateau in Geelong, and he expressed his opinions on the current state of Country Music and gave some interesting insights into the early part of his career.

"In my experience of Country Music there is so little in the way of production and so little in the way of variety. It seems to me that most of the time, most people just get up there and stick a whole string of songs together and half the time they haven't even worked that out. The Americans fall under the same criticism in this respect as a lot of the British and Australian CM acts. They seem to feel that they're just going to walk up there and change things as they go along, and although sometimes that can go well, often it falls flat on its face; you know, three or four numbers in the key of C in a very similar tempo. I think it's very important that people do sit back and try to work out a format, finding the right place for the right songs. Once they've found a format, then they can change the songs, provided they change to a similar type, and once you've got your format going at least you know you've got your ups and downs.

"That's one of the things I was pleased to see tonight. I didn't expect to see quite such professionalism as your band (Donna Fisk and The Hot Diggity Band) has got in such a short while of working together. You've probably worked with a lot of artists and thought, 'This is the direction I want to go,' and you've probably worked with artists and thought, 'This is the direction I don't want to go.' You are on the right path, and I wish a lot more country singers were on that same path. They should look at other performers, not to 'nick' what they're doing but to appreciate the work that goes into things.

"This is meant as constructive criticism, but I find that CM here has not developed in the way that it has in Britain or America. It has been established here longer than it has, for instance, in Europe where it has only become established in the last 10-12 years. We have a history of CM here that dates back to the year dot. Long before Slim Dusty you can go back to Tex Morton, Smoky Dawson and people like that. We held it back there and didn't allow it to expand. I don't mean to say we should throw it all out. One of the things I admire about Australia is that we've found our own CM whereas a lot of other countries haven't, but I feel we haven't allowed it to develop. Giving an example, some of my favourites of what I would call country artists are people like Kevin Johnson or Doug Ashdown. That doesn't mean to say I don't appreciate the 'Slim Dusty's' and all those, but I can also appreciate the other end of the scale as well, yet they would be the last to be regarded as CM.

"Frank talk"

"When I first came out from England I was thirteen, and one of the performers I admired back in those days was Tim McNamara. I worked on a lot of his shows and in watching that guy I learned something about showbiz, how to get across to an audience. He was a very good country artist who had an idea of how to sell himself, how to package his show, and how to do his own thing and he did it very well. Next I worked with Chief Little Wolf who was one of the most colourful characters I've ever worked with. He taught me a lot about the 'show' side, the more flamboyant side of the business. When I got embarrassed by some of the outlandish things he asked me to do he would say, 'If you weren't prepared to make an idiot of yourself you shouldn't have entered into this business'. That sort of advice has stuck in my mind all through my career. I did a lot of bush ballad singing then with just a guitar, but when I had the opportunity to tour I tried to experiment with the calypso thing, and when rock and roll came out I developed a style of that, nevertheless with a strain of country throughout whatever I was doing.

"I went to Britain instead of America because at that time to me America was records and Britain was the stage and I felt there was something more I could learn about stagecraft. As luck would have it Britain was becoming the hub of the industry as far as recording was concerned too (I959). Skiffle was big then, and Lonnie Donegan was making his name. He had a world-wide hit with 'Rock Island Line' and was the only one out of Britain to make a mark in America. Then came 'l Remember You' which was a jazz song but I adapted it to my style that had the thread of CM and that proved to be the second major hit in America by a British performer. When I was singing a country song I would make sure I didn't sound too country or I wouldn't get across to the people who didn't like that kind of thing and if I was singing a standard song I would make it more country so that the people who liked CM could appreciate it. In those days it worked very well. The main problem I had in Britain was in those days there were no musicians with any affinity to CM.

"At my sessions I was working with (Columbia Producer) Norrie Paramor, and you'd ask for a steel guitar and you'd get a Hawaiian guitar; you'd ask for a banjo and you'd get a trad jazz player; you'd ask for a fiddle and you'd get a violinist and it didn't have the feel that I wanted. You'd ask for a mouth harp player and you'd get a harmonica player which is not the same thing. Nevertheless, out of that came something slightly different anyway, so I can't really criticise it because what Norrie was doing for me was accepted on a wider scale.

"Things weren't packaged as much in Britain then. It's not a good thing to 'pigeonhole' things, as that implies that the artist is no better or no worse than the music itself. I can hold artists back. It's better that the artist establishes what it is he's doing for himself and then let people decide whether it is country or jazz or rock. The business will always find a pigeonhole but the artist can't really be held down to it. An artist has to be creative enough to produce what he want, to produce.

"I was in Nashville recently and we were talking at the CMA (Country Music Association) and someone rightfully said America can no longer claim CM as being their own because it is not only accepted it so many other parts of the world many artists all over the world are proving that their own type of CM can be accepted on a world-wide level. It was also stated that "the world is ready for CM, but is CM ready for the world?". Although some artists are ready, I think that overall the answer is 'no', which is a shame because the world is poised to take it at the moment

"Above all, try and find yourself It's so easy to copy someone else; easiest thing in the world. All you've got to do is listen to a record and take it down and go out and ever sing like them. They've had to do all the hard work and it's easy for you to mimic it. It's no good for the world market though, because if you're doing a Don Gibson or Eddy Arnold thing, whoever your favourite performer is, and you go over to the States, nobody is going to pay a peanut to see you do it where they can see the original. So you're holding your own talent back by doing that. There is nothing more original than being yourself, and originality is what the world is waiting for".


Close this Window