From its early days to the present, Australian blues and roots music has carved out its own distinct identity while paying homage to its American roots.
In the early 1900’s Blues music was born in the deep south of the United States, by the 1950’s along with the workforce, it had migrated to Chicago, and electric blues was born. By the 1960’s, Australian artists began to embrace the genre, shaping it with their own styles, original song writing, and themes close to our land.
Original artists such as Carson, Chain, Dutch Tilders, Lobby Lloyd, Renee Geyer, Kevin Borich, The Elks (from WA, with The Zar Brothers & Dave Brewer), and Margret Roadknight, paved the way for the next generation of Australian Blues and Roots artists such as WA’s Dave Hole (first non-American to be signed to the biggest Blues record label, Alligator Records), Jimi Hocking, Collard Greens and Gravy, Fiona Boyes, Ash Grunwald, Geoff Atchison and the legendary NSW artists Foreday Riders.
The Australian Blues and Roots industry has evolved into a unique and vibrant scene.
Immerse yourself in the ultimate blues and roots experience and come on a journey with us through the early days of blues in Australia, discover the longest-running blues band, explore the various Australian blues festivals, and celebrate 30 years of soul-shaking beats on the Blues Train in Queenscliff.
Get ready for a rockin’ blues adventure down under!
The Early Days of Blues in Australia
It is argued that most Australian Blues Fans came to American Blues Artists through the “British Blues Explosion. Cyril Davis, Alexis Korner, Chris Barber & Long John Baldry were the founders, the first to make Blues popular in London, with Chris Barber, a well-known Skiffle player being the first to play adaptations of American Blues songs.
In 1962, various Clubs sprung up, the first was the Roundhouse, opened by Davis & Korner where they ran The Rhythm & Blues Barrelhouse Club and later that year, they opened The Rhythm & Blues Club, where The Stones, Bluesology & The Pretty Things first played in public.
Then came the most famous London Club, The Marquee, where The Stones played their first paid gig & John Mayall made his live album, before his famous Beano LP. So began the growth of British Blues, & the emergence of the Bands that took the music back to where it started.
Local artists and bands began to draw inspiration from these days, blending American blues with their own unique Australian flavour.
Australia’s blues history is a tale of passion, dedication, and a unique blend of cultural influences.
Pioneers include Mollie Byron who toured the country in the late ’40s, performing hits like Mississippi Roll on and River Stay Away from My Door. One of the first Australian Blues LPs in 1962 by Georgia Lee, Sings The Blues Down Under included haunting tunes and Australian themes, while Les Welch sounded so authentic that American singer Helen Humes gave him the nickname ‘Spade’.
Wendy June Saddington was an Australian blues, soul and jazz singer, and was in the bands Chain, Copperwine and the Wendy Saddington Band. Wendy Saddington’s musical influences included the likes of Bessie Smith, Etta James, Mahalia Jackson, Odetta, Aretha Franklin, Nina Simone, Janis Joplin, and the raw blues from the Mississippi delta. The 1960’s saw Wendy join the emerging blues-rock ensemble Beaten Tracks, which she named (The) Chain, after the song by one of her heroines, Aretha Franklin’s soul classic, “Chain Of Fools”. Wendy spent around 18 months touring with Chain, and it was during this time that her passionate, earth-mother Joplin/Franklin vocal style came to prominent notice among promoters and punters alike. Saddington had Top 30 chart success with her 1972 solo single “Looking Through a Window”, which was written and produced by Billy Thorpe and Warren Morgan of the Aztecs.
Legendary Australian (Strictly speaking, he was born in New Zealand, moving to Australia at age 23), blues singer Paul Marks, who formed one of the earliest blues bands in the country in the 1960s, played a significant role in shaping the Australian blues scene, drawing influence from American blues legends like Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Paul formed a friendship and group with The Melbourne New Orleans Jazz Band Rhythm section, and the Paul Marks Folk Singing Group was born. Paul Mark’s contribution to the genre is still remembered today, with many contemporary Australian blues artists acknowledging his impact on their music.
The Longest Running Australian Blues
When it comes to longevity in the Australian Blues and Roots scene, few artists can match the enduring legacy of the Foreday Riders, Dutch Tilders and Chain.
Formed in 1967, Foreday Riders are a NSW-based blues band and is one of the oldest and most respected blues acts in the country. Their dedication to the genre has made them a household name among blues enthusiasts.
Over the decades, the Foreday Riders have played alongside blues icons such as John Lee Hooker and Albert Collins. Often cited as Sydney’s “university of the blues,” the Foreday Riders celebrated 56 years as a working band in 2023, with two original members from 1967, the King Brothers, Ron and Jeff.
Their commitment to the blues and their electrifying live performances have solidified their place as Australian blues legends. Only venturing sporadically into the recording studios, the Riders have released 10 albums, the latest being ‘Herding Cats’, launched in 2016. In 1996 the Riders were awarded the inaugural Hall of Fame Award at the Lithgow Blues Festival.
Heralded as the Godfather of Australian Blues, Matthew “Dutch” Tilders’ first paid gig was at the Collingwood Town Hall, aged just 15! On the same bill were Joff Allen and Johnny O’Keefe. During the latter days of his life, he mainly performed as a solo artist and/or with his last band called The Legends Band, though he did enjoy getting together with Geoff Achison doing amazing duo chops. In his long career, Dutch won numerous awards (most notable for his performances with his band, ‘The Blues Club’) recognising his contribution to the Blues Music Scene.
Chain are an Australian blues band formed as The Chain in late 1968 with a line-up including guitarist and vocalist Phil Manning and lead vocalist Wendy Saddington. Since the late sixties and early seventies, Chain has been one of the most influential blues/rock bands in Australia. They have put an indelible stamp of an Australian style on blues music that no other act has done. Although they individually and collectively learnt the music of the American greats and were influenced by the British blues of the sixties, they interpreted blues in a way no-one had done before.
They are still as original as ever and are credited with establishing ‘Oz Blues’ as a bona-fide stylistic variation of its American father.
Different Festivals Running Throughout the Country
Australia’s blues and roots scene is alive and thriving, with numerous festivals dedicated to celebrating this soulful and electrifying genre. These festivals offer a platform for both established and emerging Australian contemporary blues and roots artists to showcase their talent.
Some of the notable Blues’ festivals include Australia’s longest running blues festival, Byron Bay Bluesfest, which attracts both international and local blues artists, seeing more than 70,000 people through the gates over the festival. The Echuca-Moama Winter Blues Festival is another must-visit event that transforms the twin towns on the banks of the Murray River into a soul-shaking blues party you’ll never forget.
Special mentions, although not strictly all Blues and Roots, include Port Fairy Music Festival, running in the coastal township of Port Fairy since the late 77’s paving the way for music festivals to come, and of course, our home grown Queenscliff Music Festival, a contemporary Australian Music Festival with humble beginnings in 1997, growing into one of Australia’s much loved music festivals.
These festivals not only provide a stage for artists but also create a sense of community among blues and roots enthusiasts who love to immerse themselves in the soul-stirring experience and get down and shake and shimmy to the blues.
For a list of other major Australian music festivals read: Our favourite Blues Festivals in Australia
Celebrating 30 Years Rocking the Rails for the Blues Train
A must-do experience in the world of Australian blues and roots, with over 300,000 people ticking it off their bucket list, is The Blues Train in Queenscliff. This heritage steam train experience offers a one-of-a-kind mini music festival on the move, where good vibes ignite your soul with four live performances by legendary contemporary blues and roots artists and has been rockin’ the rails for the past 30 years.
For 30 years the Blues Train has featured four carriages, each with its own live entertainment, allowing passengers to hop on and off at each platform to shake, rattle and roll to each act while travelling through the picturesque landscapes of the Bellarine Peninsula and Swan Bay.
This ultimate blues experience has attracted blues brothers and soul sisters from all over Australia and beyond, making it a must-visit for anyone looking to ride the rails blues style and surrender to its irresistible vibes.
Experience a Mini Blues Festival on a Heritage Rail
If you’re looking for a unique and memorable experience, the Blues Train in Queenscliff is the perfect event to get your groove on and ride the rails in style. Attracting tourists and music lovers from all over the country it’s Australia’s first – and best – progressive blues festival in one night, complete with a scrumptious southern-inspired meal, a fully licensed bar and the unmistakable sights and smells of a heritage steam train.
If you’ve always said, “I’ve always wanted to do that!” Book your tickets here!
The Blues Train is a testament to the enduring love for blues and roots music in Australia, offering an unforgettable experience that celebrates the country’s rich blues heritage.
So don’t miss this chance to shake, rattle and roll the night away.