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billjacksonMelbourne-based, alt-country balladeer Bill Jackson has just released his 5th studio album The Wayside Ballads Volume 1. AM’s Greg Phillips sat down with Bill and album producer/guitarist Shannon Bourne to discuss how it all came together.

Wasted on the wayside
Wasted on the way
If I don’t go tomorrow
You know I’m gone today
Wayside/Back in Time – Gillian Welch

“I was looking for a good name for the record,” Bill Jackson explains about the title of his wonderful new alt-country album The Wayside Ballads, Vol 1. “I’d always liked that Gillian Welch song, Wayside that they do. I looked up the definition of wayside in the dictionary and it said, like the edge of the road. I figured that I have never been a pop star or anything. I’m kind of on the edge of the road and a little bit off centre. I put ballads in there because even though it is a fairly electric album, the stories are still an essential element to it.”

The Volume 1 part of the album’s title obviously hints that there will be more to come. Bill hopes that Volume 2 will be recorded in America later in the year and the third volume will be made up of other artists recording his songs. The plan is for Volume 3 to be available online only, with proceeds going to the asylum seekers resource centre.

As Bill said, the stories on this album are an essential ingredient to its allure. Between Bill and his lyric-writing brother Ross, the Jackson family have a penchant for spinning a good yarn. “They were all bullshit artists on my father’s side, they loved tellin’ yarns,” Bill says of his story telling origins. “I have always liked telling stories but to try to condense it down to three or four minutes in a song is always a challenge. I have always been a fan of John Prine … Guy Clarke, Townes Van Zandt stuff, people who make things a little bit larger than life and lend a bit of exaggeration. My brother is pretty prolific with lyrics and I reckon I have 300 songs of his I haven’t even looked at. He sends me stuff all the time.  Sometimes I will re-write 60% of it, sometimes I won’t touch it.”

I got lucky when I found her, she got lucky when I left
Lucky When I Left – Bill Jackson

On The Wayside Ballads Vol 1, Bill covers much lyrical territory, from love lost and found to politics and history. The Melbourne-based singer, songwriter believes it is important to convey a message in song and sometimes that can be in the form of a history lesson, as is the case with the track The Last Buccaneer. “It’s the old history repeats itself kind of thing,” Bill says of his reasons for delving into Australia’s past. “In that song, people would never have learned about Angus McMillan, who was pretty much the father of genocide in Gippsland with aboriginal people. I mean that kind of stuff is still going on now. It is not like it has stopped. Now it is probably more … you know, the old Woody Guthrie thing … some people rob you with a gun and some rob you with a fountain pen. There is lots of economic genocide going on at the moment, sanctioned genocide. I write most of the lyrics with my brother, Ross and he’s a war historian who has written a couple of books but I have always been interested in that kind of thing too.”

Drowning in lies, truth and surmise
It all comes down to dollars and cents
And the 99% who struggle for rent
They try, try, try, try, try.
Try-Bill Jackson


To help create his collection of rustic rhythms, Bill brought onboard a selection of Melbourne’s finest roots musicians, guys that were sympathetic to his artistic code. Shannon Bourne doubled as guitarist and producer, Roger Bergodaz  took on drum and engineering duties, while Pete Fidler added his fretted instrument textures and Dean Addison provided the bass lines. With such talent on hand, Bill could leave the instrumentation up to them, allowing him to concentrate purely on his vocals. “Because of the fact that I wasn’t playing, I could concentrate on what I was doing,  not tailing off notes at the end, not popping on the P’s,” he tells me. As a team, the five of them forged the album into shape.

“It was about the song but it was also about trying to find a feel for the song that wasn’t pedestrian,” Bill says of the recording process. “Probably my favourite song on the album is Silver Bullet. When we went in there, we had given the guys a demo of that song as a waltz and it ended up sounding like a Ry Cooder song. That was one of the really nice things about the recording, things like that just happened. I would never have thought of that and it wouldn’t have happened for the fact that we had a rhythm section who were really sympathetic to it. Shannon and Pete Fiddler would sit on the feel, they understood that genre.” Producer/ guitarist Shannon Bourne agrees. “That’s the thing. You get great players, musically sympathetic players who listen and don’t play too much.”

While Bill didn’t contribute to the instrumentation on this album, his main guitar, a 1978 Martin D28  still did. “Shannon played that on the album” Bill says. “We miked it with a ribbon mike but there was no DI-ing on the this album. I have heard that on a few albums recently but I think it sounds horrible. Why would you do it? The set up was basically … Pete Fiddler and I were in one room with a baffle. Dean Addison was in the hallway and couldn’t see anyone, then Shannon was in the control room with Roger on drums. It still sounded like everyone was in the same room, it has that feel about it.”

Then the springtime
Comes like an old friend
The warmth of the sunshine
And wattle on the wind
Wattle on the Wind-Bill Jackson

With The Wayside Ballads Vol 1 now released, Jackson’s thoughts turn to Volume 2. He hopes to record in Nashville, where he has established a good network of musician friends. “Pete Fiddler and I have done three trips to the United States in the last five years and recorded two albums over there. We have a good network in Nashville, Austin and places like that. There’s a song on my last album Jerilderie called Something in Blue that was recorded by an American guy named David Olney last year. David is a big songwriter who never really covers anyone. He wrote Deeper Well for Emmy Lou Harris, so that was a big feather in our cap and given us kudos, so we want to get back and capitalise on that.”

Before Bill can head off to Nashville however, there’s an album launch to be done for Volume 1. That will happen on August 7 at the Caravan Music Club in Oakleigh when he will be joined on stage by his album cohorts; Shannon Bourne, Pete Fidler, Dean Addison and Roger Bergodaz

Bill Jackson website

Bill Jackson Bandcamp to buy his music

The Wayside Ballads album launch details

Check out the lyric video for the single ‘Try’ The website for musicians

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