Making Aussie blues and roots the real thing


The past five years have been an incredible musical journey for Russell Morris, the man whose songwriting genius captured our imagination with The Real Thing in 1969.

Fast forward 40-plus years and to his current offering – a trilogy of albums that capture Australian history in perhaps our most authentic blues and roots to date.

Sharkmouth, Van Diemen’s Land and Red Dirt – Red Heart tell three very different stories of Australia.

‘It was sort of accidental,’ says Morris. ‘I decided to do a blues album because I wanted to play stuff that I started playing in the beginning.

‘Where I grew up I saw SP bookies in the back lanes, and gangsters. I went to a nasty school and I was a wimp; luckily I learnt how to be invisible.’

Sharkmouth sheds light on the shadowy urban stories of Australia. Much of Australian history and story lays undiscovered. ‘It’s in our persona. In the old days if all of a sudden someone said “wasn’t your grandfather a convict?” they would go No No! The stigma was appalling; it was really, really bad, so people in Australia generally didn’t talk about their pasts … but you have to look at the good, the bad and the ugly.’

Van Diemen’s Land was about the prison ships and the bigger pictures of the two world wars we were in, and Breaker Morant, the shearer’s strike, there is also a song about my father who was a prisoner of war in World War II – that was about the bigger picture of Australia that made us – the major stories that made us, such as the Eureka stockade.’

The trilogy would not be complete without the story of Indigenous Australia.

‘In Red Dirt – Red Heart it’s about the interior of Australia. If you go out at dusk and stand in the Nullarbor you feel timelessness, you see we are a small speck, you feel a part of the great universe. This was the sense of space and vastness that Mitch Cairns (producer) and I wanted to achieve in this album. I also included a song about Kadaicha man, the man who points the bone. There is a song about Alice Springs – it’s one of the most beautiful towns if you can see its beauty; in different lights it’s so pretty, it’s a magnificent place.’

For Morris, although the project was grand, the challenges were in keeping it simple.

‘The second album, Van Diemen’s Land, was a bigger album. It got a bit too big for me and we had to take it back to basic blues and roots music, that was the challenge. We spoke (Mitch) and said this is how we want it, earthy tones, and back to basics; we wanted it to feel rootsy.’

Recording these Australian blues and roots albums and finding a unique sound was a no-brainer for Morris.

‘I hadn’t had any chart success for 30 years. People asked why I was making a blues album if I haven’t you done a blues album before. I said, who cares if I jump off this cliff?’

Morris will be presenting his remarkable homage to Australian stories at this years Bluesfest.

‘There are the four of us,’ he says, ‘and we are a tight-knit unit. We try to keep it sparse onstage as well. I don’t really like too much clutter; the vocal needs a big space to sit, everything should go around it and not take up too much space. We try to keep it sparse and look for feel, to make it feel right. There is a lot of communication to the crowd; we want to talk about the music and get them involved in Australian history, we want them to get engaged in the story.’  For tickets and program info go to

Part of this year’s Bluesfest story involves Boomerang Festival, which will be contained within the mothership this year.

Boomerang Festival is in its final weeks of its crowdfunding campaign and needs as much community support as possible.

Mayor Simon Richardson has just joined the likes of Archie Roach, Paul Kelly, and Troy Brady in doing a video of support and raised his hand as one of the first friends of Boomerang in a gesture of solidarity.  View it here:

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