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Founding member of The Wiggles, Murray Cook has been a mainstay of the Australian music industry for well over 30 years. The ARIA Hall of Famer has become one of Australia’s most well-known and critically acclaimed guitarists, dubbed “the most influential guitarist in the world” due to his work with young children through The Wiggles – influencing generations worth of guitarists, including many of Australia’s most prominent names today, including the DZ Deathray boys who Murray joined on stage at Splendour in The Grass last year. However Murray’s focus for the last few years has been the rock ’n’ soul outfit THE SOUL MOVERS, fronted by the dynamic songwriter and vocalist Lizzie Mack. Australian Musician last spoke to Murray about The Soul Movers in late 2017 after the band had just released their second album Testify. This time Greg Phillips  phoned Murray up to chat about the band’s 3rd album Bona Fide, which was created via a pilgrimage to some of America’s most prestigious recording studios, where some of the world’s most acclaimed albums were recorded.

Murray was the Bona Fide project a bucket list tick, something you’d been thinking about for a long time?
Not really, it was something that never occurred to me … the thought that you could actually do it. We were in the states the year before for SXSW and had a bit of a road trip afterwards. We went to Memphis and I was really interested in the history and seeing Fame (studio) and had seen the documentary before. They have tours there but the tours were done for the day but they showed us around anyway which was pretty amazing. We thought well Muscle Shoals doesn’t sound too far away, so we headed over and they were just locking up but the woman there let us into the gift shop and we bought some t-shirts, that kind of stuff. We were hanging around afterwards and this guy came out. Lizzie struck up a chat with him as she does and longs tory short, it turned out to be Gene Chrisman, one of the Memphis session guys who played on Dusty in Memphis and Suspicious Minds by Elvis and Kentucky Rain. He had grandkids who knew The Wiggles, so he came over and had a chat with me and then he said come inside, I am recording with Dan Auerbach from the Black Keys. So we went in and met Dan and some of The Swampers (legendary Muscle Shoals session musicians) were there, David Hood was there and Spooner Oldham as well. We were just chatting away and it was Dan Auerbach who said, are you thinking of coming here to record? Lizzie and I looked at each other and said, well we weren’t but maybe we will. So Lizzie set about the next 18 months organising it all. Initially it was just going to be Muscle Shoals and then someone else said why don’t you record in Memphis too and it just grew. So it was 4 main studios, Fame, Muscle Shoals, Royal in Memphis, where Al Green recorded a lot of his 70s albums and then we recorded one evening at Sun Studios. So it was not really a bucket list but something that was amazing once we got to do it.

David C U MSSS

Recording in these historic studios, what effect did it have on your performances?
Initially it is a little overwhelming because you are so aware of the history, especially being a major music nerd like me. You think of the history and who has played there but once you get down to it, it’s really just work again. It does seep in though. I think a lot of it has to do with some of the instruments that were there. Mark, our keyboard player was playing on a keyboard that was used on Never Loved a Man by Aretha. They’ve all still got the Hammond Organs and Leslies, they are always there and you just get that feel that you are really there. It is always in the back of your mind that you are in this place where magic was made, some of the greatest records ever made that are such a part of your own DNA, records we grew up listening to. It was the same with Muscle Shoals, I think I was first aware of that studio through the Stones, with songs like Brown Sugar and Wild Horses. I’ve seen footage of them playing there. The icing on the cake was when we were playing three of our songs and had David Hood playing bass and Spooner Oldham playing keyboards, guys who have played on so many amazing records. So recording there is a mixture of being slightly overwhelmed to pinch me moments to just soaking it up. I’m certain it effected how we played and how the record turned out.

Recording in 7 different studios in total, did that cause any issues at all?
Not really, it probably took a lot longer than we thought, we were a bit optimistic about that. We did some overdubs and stuff in Nashville. Even though we were using the old studios and mainly old equipment, the concession to modernity was that we did it on Pro Tools. It was pretty easy to take the files with us, we just had a hard drive and files could be sent around. I did nearly all the guitar solos in one day in Nashville. I sometimes agonise over these things so it was actually really good for me to do that. I actually had to do them all on that day. It certainly wasn’t, oh that’s good enough. I think I pulled a few things out of the box that I probably wouldn’t have otherwise. The other thing that blew us away were these two women, Marie Lewey and Cindy Walker, who work out of Muscle Shoals mainly and they always do backing vocals together and they are stunning. One of the songs called “Loaded Dice” … we were struggling to get the feel right .. we got something down but then they came and did backing vocals on it, they work out their own parts. Our heads were spinning and we were dancing around in the studio, they just brought so much to it. These were two people I had never heard of but it’s kinda like how these places are, so many people you haven’t heard of that are so brilliant.

Cindy Walker and Marie Lewey Nutthouse

‘Deep in the South’ is another epic song on the album too, was that also Marie and Cindy doing backing vocals?
Yes, actually Cindy, one of the girls really loved that song and kept nagging us to do that one. They were so into it. That was the other thing we loved about it was that the musicians that we worked with were so enthusiastic about our music. I think it’s kind of a validation in a way when you are a bunch of white people from Australia playing an American style of music and go to the source and have people in the field validate that. Lizzie was talking to a couple of the black girls Sharisse Norman and Candise Rayborn-Marshall, who also did backing vocals for us and asked them if they learned to sing in the church, which they said they did. Lizzie said well I never had that and the girls turned around and said, well ya sound like ya did. That made Lizzie’s whole trip I think, saying that she sounded like she grew up singing in the church.

Spooner Oldham at work MSSS

Working with a guy like Spooner Oldham, what’s the one thing that stood out most about his playing or ideas?
They are kinda kooky with Spooner. He has a very idiosyncratic way of playing. On one of the organ parts of one of the songs, I think it was “Burnt Out” … we were saying, oh maybe you could do something like this? He pretty bluntly said, um I do it my way! He did explain it though, he said he looks for spaces in the frequencies that aren’t taken up and I find my place in those. Some of the organ parts were pretty kooky but amazing, I don’t think anyone else could do it. Just his touch too, on another song “If I Could Ever” … well, he played electric piano at the start of “Never Loved A Man”, which was Aretha’s first number one and it felt like that, it was the same sound, the same touch, it was really exciting.

Were all of the songs written and arranged before you hit the studio?
Yes we demoed them all because we knew that we had a limited amount of time when we were there. They were all written and demoed over an 8 month period. Lizzie is the main songwriter. She and I write most of them together but I always say I am the junior partner. Sometimes I might come up with a chord progression but she is quite amazing. I’ll come up with something and she’ll say what’s that? Then she’ll start singing over the top of it and record it to her phone and a lot of the time pretty much comes up with a song on the spot. Other times she’ll have ideas and we’ll get together and sort them out.

Was there one studio you enjoyed more than the others?
Royal in Memphis is probably the lesser known of the four main studios. It’s Willie Mitchell’s studio, of Hi Records and I don’t think they have done much to it ever. It’s kind of shabby chic, I think it’s an old cinema. Willie Mitchell passed away a few years ago and his son Boo now runs it and he engineered the session for us. He was really taken by Lizzie’s singing as well. He told us that he phoned Al Green to ask if Lizzie could use his microphone. They have Al Jackson Junior’s drum kit set up there too. Also Marco, our keyboard player is a huge Charles Hodge fan. Charles played on all those Al Green records, so Marco was so excited to be playing on the same organ that Charles Hodge played. We all turned into fan boys and girls. With Sun Studios, I was amazed just going their as a tourist but to be actually standing in the room and recording in it … I’m playing a Gretsch guitar through a 50s Fender Deluxe and you play a chord and think yep that sounds like Sun. The room has it’s own sound.

What other guitars did you use on the album?
I mainly just used the couple of mine that I took. The Gretsch that I used was a Country Gentleman from 1967 and that’s really nice. My main guitar though that I use on nearly everything is my ’64 Strat. Unfortunately I couldn’t take an arsenal, usually when I record I show up with about ten guitars but I could only take two. Also in at Muscle Shoals there was a Tele that I used on one of the songs too. Amps, I just used what was in the rooms. Mostly live I use a Vox AC15 but I was mainly using a Fender Vibrolux in the studio.

Do you have a favourite track off the album?
I think the song “If I Could Ever” is just a great classic soul song. I don’t know where Lizzie got that melody from … out of the ether .. but I just really love that song. It came up really well and it’s one of the songs with David and Spooner on it.

How do you top this? Do you now have to go back to historic studios like this in the states every time now?
I don’t know, we have thought about that a bit … whether we do something totally different next … Abbey Road, I don’t know. We have spoken about doing some collaborations with other people but yes, it’s going to be a tough one I think.

You’ve got some launch show coming up, are you planning on doing anything different for those?
Yeah we took a small documentary crew with us when we went away so we have edited up some footage, so at some of the shows we’ll be showing that, some short clips to give people an idea of what it was like.

You have just signed to the Chugg organisation. What does that mean for the band?
It means a lot more time for Lizzie and me to spend on the music rather than the business because we have been managing ourselves for four years. Organising the trip to record this album was pretty time consuming and stressful. Nick (Chugg) sees us as a festival band as much as anything so they’ll be looking at lots of festivals. We have quite a broad appeal. Even though we are older and playing an older style of music we have played a lot of gigs where there have been a lot of young people who really get into it. We did a thing at the Cherry Bar last year and it was a full house and they went crazy. We have a bit of crowd participation where I get to use my old Wiggles skills. I think the other thing they are looking at is doing a lot more regional shows which I’m excited about. I grew up in regional NSW and I know a lot of places are starved for live music. We did that with The Wiggles too where we got out to country towns, so that’s one of the plans.

The Soul Movers Bona Fide album is released on March 15

Fri March 8th – The Ellington Jazz Club – Perth WA (08) 9228 1088
Sat March 16th – Django Bar – Marrickville NSW (Bona Fide Album Launch Sydney) (02) 9550 3777
Fri March 29th Midday in store – Basements Discs – Melbourne VIC (03) 9654 1110
Fri March 29th – The Bridge Hotel – Castlemaine VIC (02) 9810 1260
Sat March 30th – The Evelyn Hotel – Fitzroy VIC (Bona Fide Album Launch Melbourne) (03) 9419 5500
Fri April 5th – Lefty’s Old Time Music Hall – Brisbane QLD (Bona Fide Album Launch Brisbane)
Sat April 6th – Yamba Shores Tavern – Yamba NSW (02) 6646 1888
Sat April 13th – Byron Bay Brewery – Byron Bay NSW (02) 6639 6100
Sun April 14th – The Milk Factory – Brisbane QLD (07) 3217 2061
Sat April 20th – Boogie Festival – VIC
Sun April 21st – The Old Bar – Fitzroy VIC (03) 9417 4155

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