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Hey Gringo pic by Sten Thorborg

Australian Musician’s Greg Phillips caught up with Melbourne based multi-instrumentalist Daryl Roberts to chat about his band Hey Gringo’s brand new album Not The Same Planet.

Melbourne-based singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist Daryl Roberts is passionate about his music. He and his current crop of Hey Gringo band mates have just released their 7th album of quality blues-based, funk and R&B. It’s titled Not The Same Planet and features a swag of seasoned and celebrated local musician guests. After playing for decades in the local blues and roots music scene, Daryl has a totally realistic attitude toward his recordings. With the kind of music Hey Gringo play, Daryl knows that he doesn’t fulfil the criteria of any current mainstream radio format and he’s aware that he probably won’t sell albums in the ten of thousands but that doesn’t stop him doing it because; a) he loves it, b) it’s high quality music that he’s proud of and believes should be heard and c) you just never know what might happen. Additionally, there’s a significant, dedicated audience out there, particularly in Melbourne who continue to support high-calibre, blues and roots music.
“I think most people continue to record because it’s a catalogue or testament to songs you’ve written,” he tells me. “You want people to acknowledge your art and the way you interpret music. I feel I have something different to offer rather than trying to sound deliberately like somebody else. People say it’s a bit 70’s-ish but I don’t think there is anything wrong with that. I mean there are a lot of bands around that are trying to sound like 60s bands.”

Pic by Wendy Rowe

Roberts was first bitten by the blues bug as a teen after experiencing a mate’s big brother’s record collection, which featured local artists such as Chain, Billy Thorpe and The Aztecs, Max Merrit and The Meteors, as well as American acts like Chicago, Grand Funk Railroad and Janis Joplin. The first album he recalls owning was one by Canned Heat. His keyboard genes were passed down by his piano-playing father, while Mum was a yodelling cowgirl, who was taught to play guitar by Smokey Dawson. Initial musician influences were many.
“Earlier on it was piano players like Albert Ammons, Pete Johnson, Meade Lux Lewis, a lot of the boogie players, then Jerry Lee Lewis but more than that, I listened to a lot of guitarists. I love guitarists that you can listen to and know straight away who it is … Paul Kossoff, Duane Allman, Freddie King, BB King.”

However, Daryl is as much or even more enamoured by Australia’s legendary musicians as he is with the internationals and he pays tribute to many of them via their inclusion on the new Hey Gringo album. “The first concert I went to was BB King at Festival Hall and Sid Rumpo was support,” he recalls. “I got to see Mick Elliot in Sid Rumpo and 6 years later I was playing with him supporting Jimmy Witherspoon. On my album you hear that guitar and you know it’s Sid Rumpo’s Mick Elliot. Same with Mike Rudd, who plays on it. Paul Gildea from Icehouse played on the album too. He’s been a mate for a long time. We were born in the same hospital 5 days apart. He’s gone on to to play with Little River Band, James Reyne and Icehouse. He came along to the studio with his Sid Rumpo album and got Mick Elliot to sign it because we were big fans. Plus I’ve also got Glyn Mason, who has got a great voice and he’s on the album doing some vocals. I have Kerri Simpson. She has so much soul and feel in her voice. She came in and nailed it every time. Same with Nicky Bomba on drums … I wanted to get back to the first album feel that I had and Nick played on that. I got to know Nick from when I used to go and see the Ross Hannaford Trio. I didn’t see Nick in his earlier bands like Banana Oil but then I saw him in Bomba and was blown away. I went up to his studio near Bright and Robin May, the engineer from John Butler came up too. Nick didn’t want anything to do with the technical side, he just wanted to play … didn’t want to hear the songs before hand. Just like Kerri, Nicky came in and they were all first takes. When you work with great musicians, it’s very easy. It was a memorable thing to have all of those people play on the album.”

Hey Gringo has been a moveable feast of musicians over the years but for this album, the core players were Brian Strafford on guitar and bass, Aaron Searle on sax and Tony Martin on drums. “I had Brian on guitar … I wouldn’t say he’s underrated but those who know him in the industry, all think he’s amazing,” says Daryl. “He also played bass on the album, which I’d normally play left handed. Aaron Searle (Grand Wazoo) is usually in the band too on sax. He wrote out all the horn parts from my notes and he got a trumpet player and a trombone player in. He’s always in demand. Drummers … I get Tony Martin a bit and if I don’t get him, I get Peter Robinson from Spectrum.”

Pic by Sten Thorborg

Although Daryl possesses a variety of keyboards, there’s one workhorse which he has grown to rely on. “I’ve had a Roland A90 for the last 20 something years,” he states. “We did a winery gig earlier in the year at Minya winery. It was a great gig, sold out. It was a day where we had a lot of storms and but then it cleared. We played the first set and it was fine. We came back for the second set and it started to drizzle a bit, then it started raining. People hung in, they were great but then the wind came up and the rain became horizontal and was going all over the gear. I overlooked mopping it up after each song. The keyboard stopped and so the gig had to stop too. The rain had killed the keyboard I thought. I took it down to Logitronics to have a look at it and it suddenly came back to life, it just won’t die. I replaced all of the felt in it and it just sounds beautiful. It has a quite a reasonable Hammond sound in it. I use the Hammond sound on the title track, Not The Same Planet. I do have a Hammond SK2 that I use with the band Spectrum. I don’t use the Leslie Speaker because I play piano parts on it too and with the Leslie it would sound like a merry-go-round. If you use it stereo through a big PA it sounds tremendous. I also have a little Roland Juno keyboard that I take away if I’m doing smaller gigs interstate.”

The new 10 track album Not The Same Planet is named after a tune from the album. Daryl was searching for an album moniker and that song had quite a quirky tale to it that warranted it’s elevation to title track status. “It had a quirky story and it also gave me an idea for the front cover art,” he explains. “The song is about when the used to send capsules to outer space in the 50s and 60s with information about earth, including culture, technology etc. So this alien gets hold of it, takes it back to his planet and they make their whole world like earth was back then. Then he makes a trip to earth later and find it’s not the same planet he was told about. I’ve always liked the covers of Little Feat albums, like Live from Neon Park and the cover of The Grateful Dead’s Live from the Mars Hotel too. So I wanted something a little retro. I had a friend who had travelled along Route 66 and had lots of photos and we just added some extra moons so it didn’t look like earth.”

Hey Gringo launch Not The Same Planet on March 11 at the Pirates Tavern, 2 Ann Street, Williamstown from 2-5pm.

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