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Stepping Outside His Comfort Zone

11 November 2015 | 8:07 pm | Staff Writer

"I thought I wasn't qualified to speak about indigenous matters."

Russell Morris's latest album, Red Dirt - Red Heart, is the final album in his blues trilogy, which began with Sharkmouth in 2013, reaching the number #6  spot in the ARIA charts, followed by 2014's Van Dieman's Land, which went to #4.

Morris says he was surprised by the first album's success as it received little radio play at the time and he'd had second thoughts about making a blues album.

There were doubts, too, in the lead up to recording Red Dirt - Red Heart. "I thought I wasn't qualified to speak about indigenous matters but I am Irish and they were treated badly by the English," he explains.

"I sent lyrics up to (Darwin-based indigenous label) Skinnyfish in Arnhem Land and they said it was fine and hadn't offended anybody."

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Morris says this latest album comes from his love of places such as Alice Springs, Katherine Gorge and the Kimberley, and he wanted to capture the essence of the outback. "I made sure I checked the facts about writing about indigenous heroes, like Bennelong.

"He was considered a turncoat by his own people, dressed in white man's clothes etc, but I think he was actually an incredibly smart man and he and Governor Phillip became great friends and he had the best intentions for the Aboriginal people.

"Bennelong tried to work the system from the inside and Phillip tried to work for the indigenous people but the tide of the time worked against him, unfortunately." 

The album was recorded quickly at Yarraville's Tonehub Studio, a move Morris says was intentional.

"It had to be simple - at most four instruments on one track with some tracks there is just bass - but we wanted it simple and open like the Nullarbor plain."

Morris is quick to acknowledge there is a some great talent emerging in this country but says being a professional musician is not easy at times. "What has kept me going is enthusiasm, no matter what you do if you are enthusiastic you have a good chance - you have to have the enjoyment and love for it. 

"The industry has changed drastically since I started; you could get a vinyl record made and knock on the door or the radio station and see the promotion manager and have a cup of tea and they could tell you that you are rubbish or it's good. Half the time these days you can't even get through the door!

"When I did Sharkmouth no one was interested and I thought it was really all over for me, and a couple of people said, 'Oh, you're doing blues and if you don't get played on commercial radio, you won't get a hit'. 

"Fortunately, community radio and the ABC made Sharkmouth the biggest selling blues record in the country."

Morris is one of the headline acts at the Blues At Bridgetown festival and says that apart from playing, there is one highlight he is looking forward to. "I am a big Diesel fan and I'm really looking forward to seeing him play. I have seen Ash Grunwald and I like him very much, and tonight, for instance I am going to see C.W. Stoneking in Melbourne. He is very unique, so there is a lot of great talent around.”

Originally published in X-Press Magazine