Life on life’s terms, the Road, Family and the Song. Year 2013

 

 

This year was tough, no way of hiding that fact, not from myself, not form anyone else. The first year I didn’t tour Texas, cancelling the shows to be by Dad’s side, there was band members leaving, birth of my second son, and then my father collapsed, and deteriorated over the year, finally passing in December. I kept playing, not as much as I would have liked, but as much as I could of under the circumstances. This is how it played out.

When I was thinking about this year it feels like it started in Brisbane just before New Year’s Eve, we  played there with Mike Errol Jnr and Corn Liquor and headed to Sydney excited for a NYE show at Matraville with Corn Liquor. We had Tex Austin sitting in on drums, and he is one of music’s great gentlemen, a hell of a lot of fun to play with, just sits in that pocket all night.  NYE was ok, but for one of the biggest shows of the year we walked out of there without a cent. That’s another story. That’s Rock and Roll.

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Then there was Tamworth, we had a strong first half of the week gigs wise then a real break till the inaugural Outlaws show at the Courthouse, and a final Alberts Hotel show. Quickly the week turned tough. The Outlaws show was a lot better than I thought it would be, and we used to drummers, Al Fisk and Mark Fairhurst. Two different stick men couldn’t be found, but both made the Wagon their own. Fisk is an uncompromising, live hard, drum harder sort of guy, man we had some fun at Wanita’s on an all-nighter after playing at Shot by Jakes, with Dave Major as well, we nuded up for a pre-dawn swim, it was a hoot. Mark is a more calculated player, worked real hard, and the Outlaws show was a success musically due to him coming up early and doing the work. Thanks man.

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It was the first time I ever ventured into the Crabpot, and Jake and I hit it off, and one night I played a three and half hour set , straight!, into a Tamworth dawn. He did a photo shoot with me. He one of Australia great larrikins, and the Crabpot will always be that weird sort of Star Wars Bar in my heart.

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The vibe went downhill over the week in the band, split loyalties and differences of opinion lead to John Wardle and Dave Turner, The Roadie, resigning. It happens. John was already playing with Benn Gunn at Tamworth, and stayed with him, so be it. He is a great player, and I wish him every success. There’s a lot more to say here, but it stays with me. Something’s are best kept unsaid. It was fun to meet long time hero Jim Lauderdale at the CMC After party!

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Luckily for me the sting of Tamworth was washed away immediately by the birth of my second son Maverick on the 6.2. 12. He was healthy and happy and as I write this he is a beautiful bouncing boy, starting to play with Little Marshal and they have become fast friends, Brothers. He is a bad sleeper though, and man I cannot remember being more tired in my whole life. Never getting a chance to catch up, he ends up in with us most mornings, and it’s pretty cool waking up with him. My mum calls him smiley, and it’s a good nick name. Kids change everything, with two boys now, and providing for them and there mum, and the band being so hard to keep together, I took a serious job, to help with bills, especially for debts I owe from film clips and albums etc. It kills me not having as much time to focus on the band, but after Maverick coming along, and then my Dad getting ill, I just had to bite the bullet.

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Had a Sydney show booked, then some shows booked down the south coast, and we needed a guitar player, and Jeff Mercer stepped in. It was amazing playing with such a talented man, he is all feel, had such an amazing touch, and yet is the coolest guy on earth. The shows where fun. We had a new drummer to, Henry. A friend of Harding’s. He wanted the job, I needed a drummer. It all worked in nicely. However it was on this trip that after setting up in Tilba at the Dromaderry Hotel. It was my mother, my father had collapsed. He had not been well for a while, but this seemed more serious. I took a risk and finished the shows, I have never wanted to cancel shows. As it was , when I got back to Sydney it was his heart and me and mum started our first night together in a waiting room, waiting while he had open heart surgery for the third time. It would not be the last time we shared a space, in over 7 hospitals in the coming 9 months. Each time he took a step forward he seemed to take two steps back. It did seem that the surgery at the time was a success, and he headed to rehab. His balance and memory were effected, eventually leading to a stroke. He recovered from the stroke, but balance and memory were worse, and he would forget he could not walk properly, and he would fall, injuring himself. Eventually he broke his hip, and kept falling, and then the wound split, he got Golden Staff, and never recovered from that. So I slept a lot at mums in the end, especially when we knew he was dying, albeit slowly, and many a night sitting in a hospital, most of the time in the dark, just holding his hand, cause I got there late, as I would come home, help out with the baby, then head off when they were asleep. With Maverick keeping us awake in the early hours and this schedule, I was always exhausted, as I had to keep working. Gigs became a nice distraction, but because we were not rehearsing or playing enough, gigs always were rough. Don’t get me wrong, there were always moments, where we were really on it, but nothing feels as good as a well-oiled working band.

 

 

After the fall out at Tamworth, mate and Troubadour Den Hanrahan said he would sit in on guitar and help me out. He was an angel for me this year. A brother I needed in a time of need. It was always going to be a different sound, but man, I had some fun, and then we started doing solo gigs, and Den started sitting in, and that was something I ended up doing more solo and duo shows this year, and I liked it a lot. He knows the struggle of the road, and bands, and his love for music is the same as mine. I look forward to this year’s Tamworth with Den up there with me. For the sake of a song.

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I even dusted off the slide guitar and did a few shows three piece, one show out at Orange and we played Johnny Winters version of Highway 61, Clapton’s Telephone song, Rollin and Tumblin, it was fun.

Also a highlight was going to the Independent Music Awards for Miss Texas Tonight for country song, and I Played Country for best Video. We didn’t win, but it was a nice change of scenery, and our first night out together since having a baby. Felt a bit human again.

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Just after Dad died, Deadwood 76 called me, Jeff Pope couldn’t make the show, so at four hours’ notice, I filled in. It was a really rough show, but I played some solo stuff, and it was the first time I dedicated Family Man to my father. It was the second single off I Play Country, I released it in September, and planned to get a film clip together for the CMC, but I simply ran out of extra cash, and Dad was really unwell at this time, and that’s when I had to cancel Texas/ Colorado Tour. I was bummed, but I didn’t want to be there worrying whether Dad did while I was away. I was worried about my mother to, as they had been married 60 years this year. How was she going to cope when he went, it was unthinkable.Image

For Dad’s eulogy, I went through a lot of old photos, and I dug this one out. He helped me build a guitar case for a huge Hollow Body I had, I glad I will have it for ever. Its built like a brick shit house!

 

 

So, here I sit, New Year’s Eve, three weeks out from Tamworth. Just a few shows this year, I look enviously at the posters of other bands doing 15 shows in 9 days, As much as it is gruelling as hell, it’s awesome to just take Tamworth on like that. This year, I’m playing the first weekend at the Albert then Im getting the hell out of there. My spirit this year has taken a battering. I need some time to get my head right, get the passion back, revision the dream, at the moment, it’s all lost in some sort of fog. I need to find my mojo, and just battling away on stage isn’t doing it. Den and I talked about doing a record, starting something new, and it’s exciting, and this coming year I am reforming my first ever band for some anniversary shows, so more three piece, and I am excited about that. As for the Wagon, well, it’s likely to go in the barn for a bit. I’m sure it will hit the road again, but until then….

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So thank you to all who came out to the shows, and choose to get some live music Chucks Wagon style. Thank you to all who bought the new album, my heart and soul is in that thing. Thank you to all the D.J’s that played I Play Country and Family Man. I will hopefully get a film clip together in the New Year.

Thank you to Heath Blows and Graham Walsh from Fender Australia. You guys have kept my amp humming. I can’t tell you how much I appreciate the support. Thank you to Mark Fairhurst, Al Fisk, Dave Major and Henry for sitting in on Drums. Thank you to Jeff Mercer for the Guitar licks, it’s a memory I will keep for ever. Thanks to the Mighty Den Hanrahan, who stepped into a place I needed filled by someone who believed in the music, and to Dodge Dave the Hitman Harding, for holding down the bottom end. Sorry to my USA fans for having to cancel this year. I know I will be back, be great to see you then.

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Last but not least. Thank you to my lovely wife, who knows I need to play, and sees me off with a smile, knowing she has two boys to deal with as soon as I round the bend. Thank you to all the folks that support through my father’s illness and passing. Mark Andrews, my Warning bass player helped carry the coffin. I look forward to getting Warning back on stage mate. Also to Gary Poulton, who grabbed a handle on one of the most important days of my life.

 

I’m sure I have forgotten something in all this, but to be honest I’m amazed I actually got it down at all.

See you on the road somewhere….

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In Memory of Alan Stokes. My Father

ImageOde to my Father, Alan Stokes.

My Father was a decent man. A quiet achiever. He was in his family for the long haul. One of the miracles this year was after all the ill health, heart surgery, a stroke, continuous falling, he was able to make it home the day before his 60th  Wedding Anniversary. This was truly a gift, especially for mum, for him to have a home cooked meal at the table I have sat at all my life, in the house they built together to raise  a family in. It wasn’t for long enough, he fell again, broke his hip, and didn’t really recover. It was his long goodbye.

My father was born in England, he spoke about this at times. He went for Chelsea FC, as he grew up near there.  Nana and Pa were serving in the 2nd world war. Pa in the Airforce and Nana in the WACS.  He was billeted out for this time. When the war was over, he said that he started having this things like chocolate, jam and other treats and it dawned on him that the families that billeted him kept these things for themselves. It was just a story, he somehow understood.

Dad from a young age walked on his toes, and his mother always thought he should be a ballerina, and sent him to Ballet school, he didn’t stay long. Dad was studios, and got a scholarship to a Gramma School as a result. Dad was bullied at school, my mother told me this story. He didn’t do anything about it for some time, but eventually he had enough, and one day turned around and popped this fellow right on his nose, and he hit the dirt. He never bothered my father again. My Grandfather, another quiet man, saw this and came over and gave dad a penny, he was proud he stuck up on himself.

At 15, with my Grandfather and Dad headed on a ship to Australia, stopping in at Bombay on the way. He loved that journey. My Grandfather was a quiet, decent family man as well. My Grandmother was loud. I imagine there was a lot of space when those two men travelled on that ship together, space that they enjoyed, and could breathe in. My Grandfather Samuel Stokes liked cricket, he kept a fantastic vege garden, and he brewed his own beer. He also looked after and provided for his family.  My dad did all these things as well, they gave him peace.

Every morning, my Grandfather would get up first and make a cup of tea for Nana about 6am, and serve it to her in bed. She then got up and cooked them both breakfast. I imagine my father saw this, and as a husband I saw my father always show his love to mum through thoughtful gifts and actions. Birthdays and Christmas there was always a special gift for mum, and for us, both mum and dad always got that special thing we were dying to have. . I saw that sort of teamwork all my life. Dad worked , mum raised the kids till we were at school, and then she got a job at the school, so she could be there. Her choice, it was great as kids to have that level of care. Same with Christmas dinner. The same meal, at the same house, all my life. Pudding hanging for 6 weeks made from a 100 year old recipe. I’ve told people this, and they thought I was complaining. It has been magic, a gift that has grown in value over the years. The comfort of familiarity, of family.

On arriving in Australia, they moved to a property in Binaway. He learnt to Jackaroo, and he told these stories regularly. He loved the bush, it never left him. He loved riding his horse and breaking horses. My Grandmother and his brother David arrived about 6 mths latter, and they worked there until eventually moving to Heathcote. It was from here my father joined the air force, and he also met my mother. After 6 years in the Airforce, dad started at Qantas, where he worked all his adult life.  Dad always worked hard, and worked his whole life. A great lesson he taught me was to do a day’s work for a day’s pay. It’s saved me in my apprenticeship, as they hired two, and kept me because the other guy skived off. These days I work passionately, and seeing how important it is when people are ill in hospital, where I work, it has taught me to treat patients as I wished my Dad was treated, with love and care.

 

 

When I have memories of Dad, we lived at Cabramatta West, and I am sitting in that house as I write this, and I’m 50 next January, so I’ve been living or visiting here for a long time. When we were young, mum and dad showed dogs. Australian Terriers and then Poodles. Mum loved this, and dad learnt to be a steward. We would go for weekends and they were always an adventure.

When I got old enough, I started playing soccer, and it was like the dog show period finished, and the soccer period started. Our whole family got involved. Dad coached, Mum managed or worked in the canteen, and Debbie played for the girl’s team. I would stalk dad when he got home from work, always wanting him to kick a ball to me when it was soccer session, or bowl one when it was cricket. Nine out of ten times he did it. Now as a father, when I get home from work tired from the day to my two little boys, all full of beans, I’m impressed that he had the energy. When we got older he built a 3 ft pool for us, and then when we got bigger a 4 ft, Debbie and I were always in it with our friends. These were the simple acts of a family man that changed our daily lives.

As dad worked for Qantas, we got to travel. For a working class family from the Western suburbs, this seemed exotic when I look back. First we went to Fiji, then Hawaii, which mum and dad fell in love with, and we went there several times. This sparked a love of travel and the USA, and being at an airport, taking off on a plane, being in other countries, the adventure, will always remind me of my Dad, and mum. They travelled often after we left home, Hawaii again, toured through Europe, and then the Railways of Australia.

When Debbie and I left home Dad discovered metal detecting, and whether he and mum were scanning Bondi Beach for tourist lost coins or searching for gold in the bush, there was always some treasure to show and stories to tell.

Dad was a good father, and a great Grand Father, and then literally a Great Grand Father. But it was Mellissa and Jason he Grand Fathered first, and he loved and adored those two wonderful children. I was grateful that before dad went he got to see me finally start a family. He loved Marshal and Maverick. I took them to see him just before he past, he really wasn’t with it, but as soon as he saw them two boys he lit up like a Christmas tree.

It is impossible to think of Dad and not think of Mum. They have spent their lives together, and worked as a team through thick or thin. You could never work on one of them, they always made you check it out with the other. Like every family that makes it through life, there have been ups and downs. What I learnt from Alan Stokes, was that you keep walking forward, turning up, doing what it is that you said you would do. My mother was ill for a while when we were young. I asked him about this time when I was older. He said at the time he had a nervous breakdown himself due to the stress, and went on medication, but kept going to work, as he knew mum was sick, and that he had to look after us. He told me this as though it was nothing. I know now it was huge.

My dad was a quiet man, and I am loud. I spent a lot of my adult life chasing rock and roll dreams, where he was always so responsible. This never ever stopped him helping me and my family whenever he could. I am grateful for that. When dad attended the first show I ever did with my Rock and Roll band, his first observation was that he actually felt his rib cage rattling.

I have a clear memory when I was about ten, of being bullied by the local hoods who were older than me. I came home with my bike they had wrecked. He insisted we went straight back up to the corner shops. I was terrified these guys would beat him up. I had never seen my father like this, he confronted then, they were young men, and chased them off, I remember walking home with this new admiration, I looked up to him with pride. He was mighty.

My family now will never be the same. I cannot not even begin to imagine what my mother will go through . It has been a lifetime together. I will miss him, he was my Dad, always there, reliable, dependable. I am glad I got to care for him to the end. I know that it is a gift for a middle aged man to support his father through his death. Many do not have active fathers, and some that do lose them way to soon. I’m glad we watched the first test and the Aussie’s won. He might have been born in England, but he was Aussie through and through.

 

Thank you all for attending today, and supporting my mother and our Family. Life is too short, losing the gift of life is always a disaster. I told my Dad the last time I saw him I will look after mum, and that we will all be OK. I meant it, and I know I can do it. He taught me how, not by what he said, but by the life he allowed me to watch him live.

Dear Lord. Please receive my father. A decent, loving, Family man. Hold his heart gently in your hands, as well as my mothers, until they can be together again.

Amen

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pi9Gz4tz5Q8

Last night Texas came to Town.

ImageThis year feels less and less about music, I pulled my guitar out in the lounge room last night, got the beginnings of a song, recorded it, as they are few and far between these days. Family has taken the focus.

This week I went with my mother and picked the plots where my father will be buried, and her when the time is right. It was a lawn cemetery that I have known all my life, she looked at the view of  lake, and thought Dad would like it. It had been an amazing journey watching her have to confront the loss of the love of her live, 60 years of marriage, a lifetime together through thick and thin, unimaginable in this day and age. There has been tears along the way. We thought we had lost him on Friday, they stopped all interventions and he kicked on, amazing.

We even snuck him a beer on Saturday, VB, his face lite up as he tasted  it, simple pleasures that have been removed from his life, he has not eaten properly for months, and recently, none at all, well maybe a table spoon of food a day. His body is gone, he was a falls risk for ages, that’s what got him in all this bother, it is  not a bother any more, he can’t walk, no desire, no ability.

I see people walk in and ask “how are you?”, I don’t like it. I know how he is, He knows how it is. He is dying. I taught myself to say. Hi Dad, “It’s good to see you”, cause it is, and it puts no pressure on him to socially respond.

Last night Texas came to town. Dale Watson and his Lone Stars played, it was great, what a tight outfit, road worn and not weary. Seeing I had to cancel Texas this year due to my Dads health, this was a gift it coming to me. It was the last show of the tour, lots of requests, and then back at the after party he even donned an Evil Kneviel outfit, was a real needed good time.ImageDale even help Tim the sound man out with a new hairstyle!  Got to catch up with Kinnon Holt, the guy still makes me laugh, awesome bloke, Outlaw Guitar man.

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Happy 60th birthday to Johnny Green, and Happy 50th to Karl. Both men are true believers in the power of real Rock and Roll, real roots based music, this aint no Australian Idol, X Factor shit her. The real deal, one man that has made a life entertaining folks all over the place and the other who backs it and brings folks like Dale to the land downunder. Thank God . Spent some time with Ezra Lee and Hank Green. They are talking of moving to Melbourne and having a crack. These guys are our future, the real future, not some corporate we take all your royalties therefore we promote the shite out of your for five minutes to earn what we can before the next series starts. Go for it boys. The gloriousness of young men on a mission.

This year is not over in so many ways, my father is hanging on, there is a Christmas party next Friday where my Dads at, I hope or my mums sake he makes it, she needs it, it’s in God’s hands now.

Its Sunday, and my wife wants me to go swimming with the boys, I want to hide in a cave, let it be dark for a while. That aint gonna happen, life my friends goes on, it’s as simple as that….