By Bob Gordon
Australian music icon Russell Morris has become a legend of the Blues at Bridgetown experience, with his appearance this weekend being his seventh year in a row at the festival.
Back in 2013, when Morris career renaissance kicked in with the release of the Sharkmouth album, Bridgetown was one of the first festivals to welcome his ascent into the blues.
“Bridgetown is very special because it was one of the first and they were really kind to me,” Morris recalls. “I loved it.
“We’ve always had a great experience although one time we were on really late at night and it was freezing. I reckon it must have been two degrees! I was looking at the crowd and god bless them they stayed to watch, they were standing there shivering. Other times we’ve played there it’s always been hot and it’s lovely.”
With a forecast high of 37 degrees this Saturday there’ll be no shivering when Morris performs. He’s touring on the back of his new album, Black And Blue Heart, his first release following a trilogy of blues albums.
“It’s been good touring the album because I really needed to make a change,” he says. “I don’t want to become predictable. I remember reading an article once about one of my heroes, Ray Charles, and the interviewer asked, ‘what bag is your music? We really loved What’d I Say, and now here you’ve got I Can’t Stop Loving You which is blues/soul, and you also do gospel and country? Where’s the musical bed on which you lay?’
“And he said, ‘I lay in any bed, musically, that sounds good to me. There’s only two types of music – good and bad. I try my hardest to only produce the good. It doesn’t matter what genre it is, as long as you love it’.
“I just wanted to have a change and a little bit of a hint of the ‘60s and ‘70s in that album. There’s songs like Ain’t No Angel which is a bit of a salute to Steppenwolf, who I really did love.”
Black And Blue Heart is also a step away from the historical orientation of the three blues albums (2012’s Sharkmouth, 2014’s Van Dieman’s Land and 2015’s Red Dirt – Red Heart) and back into more universal and ethereal themes. It makes quite the difference to Morris’ songwriting experience.
“It’s actually hard for me,” he qualifies. “It’s easier to write an historical song because you have a beginning, a middle and an end. And usually you have a title which derives from the synopsis of the story or the precis of it. Whereas when I write my other stuff I tend to write in an abstract way. So I’ll play some chords and have a melody and words will sort of insinuate themselves into the composition. And sometimes I’ll get a really good verse but can’t find a chorus, I can’t make it work.
“And that can be a real problem because sometimes you find yourself in blind alleys without a candle and you can’t find your way out. That’s the hard part.”
Even with a new album to play, fans from all eras of Morris’ musical career will find much to enjoy in his set in Bridgetown this weekend.
“It’s carved up into thirds,” he explains, “because people want to hear the blues stuff and I really love doing it and playing slide guitar. I have to play the hit because some people get really irate if I don’t! The new stuff I have to do because it’s my nature to try and do new songs and I have to hope that people will adapt and enjoy them.
“And they have been so far, it’s been a really great experience.”
Russell Morris performs at 7.55pm at Blue Owl’s Nest on Saturday, November 9.