Godfather of blues bound for Bellingen

Jeff Lang.
Jeff Lang. Alison Ferrier/

TOUTED as the 'godfather of the Australia-based back-to-basics blues movement', Jeff Lang is widely acknowledged as an extraordinarily gifted musician, paving the way for the likes of the John Butler Trio, Ash Grunwald and Xavier Rudd.

Entertainer writer Kat Mullard caught up with the fiercely original singer/songwriter ahead his performance at the 2008 Bellingen Jazz and Blues Festival.

KM: How did you start your career in music?

JL: I guess I just fell in love with music as a young lad and stumbled into a career by accident, though with hindsight it seemed inevitable that this was what I'd do with my time, as I never really pictured myself doing anything else since I started playing guitar some 25 years ago.

KM: Who are your musical influences?

JL: I love anyone with a powerful song to sing and the passion to deliver it well.

Bob Dylan is someone who I respect immensely – he has so many streams of music running through his body of work and he still is able to just knock me over with his songs.

Other people who have had a strong influence over the years are Skip James, David Lindley, Richard Thompson, Nina Simone, Ali Farka Toure, Rickie Lee Jones, Leo Kottke, AC/DC, Debashish Bhattacharya, the Rolling Stones, Bert Jansch, Neil Young and many more.

KM: You work without a set list. Can this become difficult at times?

JL: I actually find it more difficult trying to work out what songs to put in what order to best transport an audience before I've even met them, then just going with the flow, ya know?

Besides I couldn't find a pen...and my car had a flat...a-a-and my parrot got sick and my dog ate my homework...

KM: Your latest album, Half Seas Over, resonates with both story and song. Have you always been a natural story-teller?

JL: I am happy with Half Seas Over; I achieved what I set out to with the songs and the production.

I love the rich quality of traditional songs, ones that have been passed on like Chinese whispers from one mouth to the next ear, down through the centuries.

Those were the types of songs that I was swimming amongst when I wrote the songs on this album.

KM: You have played many different venues, from large festival stages to a small Irish club, to the Sydney Opera House. Do you prefer bigger venues or more intimate clubs?

JL: Each place has its own charm so I don't prefer one type to another. The audience brings so much to the gig anyway – two nights in the one venue can feel completely different and the crowd's vibe is a big factor in that I reckon.I've played at Bellingen before but not for a while so it'll be great to be back at the festival.

KM: What was it like growing up and learning your trade as a musician in Australia?

JL: I feel really lucky to have grown up here playing music, as there's such a tremendous scene with so many great artists of all genres to be inspired by.

To not only get to meet people like Phil Manning and The Backsliders but to be welcomed into the fold by them was humbling and gratifying.

KM: You are currently touring overseas, where you will play shows at the legendary Half Moon in Putney and the Maryport Blues Festival alongside acts like Chuck Berry and Jon Cleary. What have been some of your tour highlights so far?

JL: Heard some jokes that'd make your hair curl, but I can't rally share them in a G-rated publication.

KM: You are billed to perform at the exclusive Safiko Festival on Reunion Island where you have the honour of being the only Australian on the line-up. Was this an expected honour?

JL: I can't wait; in fact it should be a great experience. It was unexpected to be invited there, but I jumped at the chance, I must say.

KM: You are currently working with your wife and sister on a record. Tell me about this.

JL: Well it's not a collaborative project as such – I'm producing the debut by their band The Hallrunners. Sounding very good too.

They're both wonderful songwriters and the band has a great sound together.

I'm not playing on it apart from a few background parts here and there as they have a fabulous guitar player in the band already; it's more about me working with them on the song arrangements and performances.

My buddy Tim Hall and I have also been producing the debut album by a Melbourne songwriter named Jordie Lane. So that, in between touring, has kept me pretty damn busy.

KM: What do you like to do in your spare time?

JL: Sleep, or work in my shed on my wind powered percussion turbine.

KM: What can Bellingen audiences expect from your performance?

JL: I have two incredible musicians with me – Grant Cummerford on bass and Danny McKenna on drums  – and we'll be aiming to achieve lift off from within the body of each song.

Be sure to catch Jeff Lang at the Bellingen Jazz and Blues Festival, August 16 from 9pm at the Digger's Tavern. Bookings can be made at or by phoning 6655 9345.

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