Songwriter Musician and Storyteller

Jack Pledge

Writings & Ramblings

First Blog Bits
21/9/2010

What's happening as I write? I'm writing songs and working up some old ones to make a new album of songs with a very acoustic production. And aside from that, I've been building acoustic guitars under the skilled tutelage of Gerard Gilet at his workshop in Botany, NSW, and playing at Monte's Pizzeria in Blaxland, just around the corner from where I live in the Blue Mountains of New South Wales.

Just did a gig in a cave… Yeah, really; a beautiful spot off Bell’s Line of Road called Hatter’s Cave (which is just under Hatter’s Hill, oddly enough). Not a snaky, confining little cave but a big washed out hemisphere of stone hidden behind a grove of gums with the night sky peeking in at the top, sheltered from the wind and the weather but with all the mod-cons: gas barbeque, electric lights, toilets. And then there was the acoustics of the place: ideal for acoustic guitar and Mark’s homemade bush bass. Then everyone sitting around a campfire on the cave’s floor, swapping stories and songs, just like we’ve been doing for thousands of years. Gives this old picker pause for thought…

 

Rambling Bio
2009 and before

Here is where I'm supposed to dazzle you with a bunch of great stuff I've done and people I know and things like that. Well, here's the straight skinny.

I'm an American. My parents were both born in Texas and grew up in Houston. My father was an Air Force officer and I was born on an Army Air Corps Base in Illinois but I finished primary school, then attended high school and, before dropping out (several times) of university in Texas. I planned all through my childhood to follow in my father's footsteps and pursue a military career in spite of his misgivings. I wanted to fly and I didn't care who I had to kill to do it. This was not to be, however as first the US Air Force, then the Navy and finally the draft board rejected me for physical reasons.

I stumbled around for a bit doing various jobs until I scored a job working with adolescents in a mental hospital! Don't laugh: I felt I'd found my niche - if I couldn't kill people, I'd save them! It was during this time that I met the three most significant people in my young life: My first wife, my first professional mentor, Tom Culpepper, who taught me how to learn guitar. My boss, who became my mentor then friend, was a Canadian and couldn't adjust to South Texas , a circumstance I can relate to.

After a year, he packed it up and returned to Hamilton, Ontario and called to offer us both jobs. And so, several years later I found myself (with my new wife) living in Canada (for completely nonpolitical reasons) and working with emotionally disturbed children. It was the early 70's and the Canadian Coffee House Folk Club scene was just beginning to wane. But it was still healthy enough to support a small circuit of places like Smale's Pace in Windsor, Meat And Potatoes in Toronto, Le' Hebou in Ottawa, and The Yellow Door in Montreal. In addition to these more prestigious clubs, there were numerous, less established places to play.

I discovered all this after leaving my job and finding out that my wife (first wife) had found another place to play as well. Thus, I sort of fell into music accidentally. It was a pretty amazing time. The big acts of the day, CSNY, The Eagles, The Beatles were vocal bands; guitar bands with lots of voices, lots of melodies and harmonies. Back in Texas I'd been on stage a few times playing Where Have All The Flowers Gone, and Puff The Magic Dragon, but I'd never considered that I could actually make my way with music, and yet, after a couple of months with Tom Culpepper, there I was doing it.

Not that it was much of a living: everything was hand to mouth, travel was hitchhiking, sleeping was generally done on other people's living room floors, live was managed from a guitar case and a knapsack, and I was happy with ten bucks in my pocket at the end of a week. But I was free, absolutely free: When I was hungry, there was food, when I was tired, I lay down and slept, everyone I knew was a player and that was all we did all day and night was play. We would play songs we knew, or things people had just written, or sometimes make up songs on the spot. It didn't matter; we were playing all the time.

I started serious songwriting at this time. I was in places where it was expected that you play your own songs; it was what everyone was doing. The 60's had wrought a change in the music industry at its core. Before, for the most part, there were artists signed to record companies, songwriters signed to publishing companies, bands with their arrangers, soloists and band leaders, and producers who brought the whole cast together with an engineer in a studio to make a record. By the 70's, most of the big acts were singer/songwriter/musician/producer/engineers, self contained units that were writing, singing, playing, engineering and producing their own music with only hired on outside help. We thought, if they can do it, why can't we?

So there we were, in the back rooms of Toronto coffee houses and Montreal attics, sweating over the verses, writing the arrangements, trying out new licks and chords and working out the feels and the harmonies of all these new songs. It was wonderful and exciting, in retrospect. But I do remember that the starving artist routine was starting to get old. Around this time, a friend of mine knew some film makers who had a grant to do a documentary film about Christian missions in North Africa and my friend secured places on the crew for us. But this was not to be, either. The point of mentioning it is that on the way we got way laid in Spain where I met a beautiful woman who is now my wife.

After a few more adventures, I returned to Canada, bought an electric guitar, and joined a Rock and Roll band. I was on the road in Canada for more than nine months of the year: six or eight weeks out, a week at home, and away again; for about 10 years. After more bad bands than I care to remember, including a few of my own, I got hooked up with these guys, John Lacey, Bill Barnhart, and Paul Brittain to work for Jerry Palmer in his band, Lovin' Country. This was my first taste of show biz. Jerry was a bit of a star, but he was managed by the late legendary Don Grachie (who had discovered Loretta Lynn). It entailed moving from Hamilton to Thunder Bay on the north shore of Lake Superior up near Manitoba - the bloody frontier! - but it was a good band, and I did it for years.

As Lovin' Country, we worked. We backed lots of acts besides Jerry, including Carol Baker, Gary Buck, and the late Ray Smith. Jerry had a couple of hits, a lot of talent, a great manager, and he tried hard enough; recording in Nashville when that was an expensive option; but he never really connected with the general public. He flirted with success but never managed to do more than make a good living, the fate of most of us.

After Jerry Palmer, it was a few more years of road work with numerous show bands broken up by various short lived incarnations of my own band, and then Sundown, which was a great band. Again, four singers, lots of Alabama and Gatlin Bros, Steel and Guitar (Al Gain on Steel Guitar) so a bit of swing instrumental and all the country standards. Al and I went through numerous bass players and drummers (including the first Dangerous Dave, Dave Ruddy), a couple of PA's and three or four vehicles, several changes of outfit, and about a half a million miles of Canadian road but we had a reasonably successful Canadian Country Show Band. I stayed with Al for four years. By then, I needed a change.

Louise and I had a two year old, Samantha, by this time, and feeling I was finished with the Canadian experience, she convinced me to come to Oz. That was more than 20 years ago. Since then aside from many pub and club circuit bands, some successful, some not so, I've been privileged to work with a few wonderful Australian Country and Rock and Roll artists including Anne Kirkpatrick, Reg Lindsay, Lucky Starr and Lonnie Lee, Ian B McCloud, Billy Shakespeare, Greg Anderson, Lee Brittain, and the late Alan Hawking. I played more than a few times with Baz, Barry Thornton, and that was always a gas. I also did a year or more all up on the Great Barrier Reef. First it was South Molle Island with Ronnie Monks. Pledge, Reg, Veg, Wedge and Sledge. It was Christmas time and we drove back. We did Rockhampton or Bundaberg or someplace like that for New Year's Eve on the way. The next was a bit more up market: Hayman Island with Lucky Starr. Flew up and back from Hamilton Island and crossed on a super yacht (the walls of the wheel house were done in suede... ) to guest rooms on Hayman. Peter Head and Farmer John Hatton were on that job. But the next several, more extended stays, were on what I believe to be (have been?) the jewel of the north, Dunk Island, after Lord Montague Dunk, Cook's patron and First Lord of the Admiralty at the time. (Just as South Molle was named for one of Captain Jeffery's lieutenants when went to explore the Reef in the early eighteen hundreds.) It was during this time that I became friends with the late Bruce Arthur, the Weaver from my first album, Songs About Cowboys and Drugstores. (He was one of the cowboys.)

I've made three albums of my songs. I put a couple of covers on the second record, It Must Be Love, because after Cowboys and Drugstores, so many people told me that if I'd put this song or that one on it, they'd have bought it. It didn't work. But I do get a bit of radio play from those die-hard Australian Country radio presenters who value songwriting. Thanks, boys and girls. We appreciate it.

My songs have also been recorded by a few other artists including, Anne Conway , Ian B McCloud, Hank and Donna Koopman. Lee Brittain, Alan Hawking, and James Blundell. Two of them, Where You Gonna Sleep, and Jesus Loves Me And Jesus Loves You, won TSA awards.

In the early 90's, Louise and I made a speculative trip to the Mildura Country Music Festival where I managed to make myself noticed enough to get a job there the next year working with Olive Bice's band in the Mall (the mell as the Victorians say). It was where I met Anne Conway who invited me to join her band at Grace Bros in Tamworth for their festival. I did that job for ten years until Coles Myers closed the Grace Bros, the last seven or eight years with Peter Figures, Barry Kelly , and variously Matt Harrison, Vic Lanyon, Phil Lawson, Al Tomkins and others. It was a great job, as long as you liked to play. Peter, Barry and I have been keeping up the tradition at Mildura with Doug Rowe for a couple of years now, which is good since we lost the Grace Bros gig.

Recently, I've been going through some changes. I did a bit of solo work for a while, still do: A middle of the road act, everything from Elton John and Mark Knopfler to The Eagles, and Willy and Waylon, with a bit of Roy Orbison and Jimmy Buffet thrown in for balance, and for the dancers, a lot of Mavericks, Brooks and Dunn, Dwight Yokum, an eclectic collection of rock and soul from the 60's for the old hippies, and a bunch of my own songs for me.

I taught Music Industry Skills for a while at the Blacktown TAFE, until I had a small stroke. For the last three or four years I've been playing with a band called The Renegades on the 50's R & R dance circuit. It's been fun and I've been privileged to meet and play with a bunch of great people but with the new record, it's time to move on.....

 

 
CD's Available

CD - Going South

Going South
JACK PLEDGE

CD - Unsuccessful Outlaw

An Unsuccessful Outlaw
JACK PLEDGE