Legendary Cold Chisel guitarist Ian Moss features at the 25th Anniversary Edition of Blues at Bridgetown happening Friday-Sunday, November 10-12. SHANE PINNEGAR took the opportunity to explore Mossy’s connection with The Blues.
“What does the blues mean to me?” Ian Moss muses. “I'm not a strictly a blues player, but I think my whole angle of the way I sing and play guitar is definitely blues-based. It means real music. I was five years-old when I heard - it wasn't strictly blues, it was actually a gospel album: Harry Belafonte Live At Carnegie Hall.
“I was five years-old when I heard that album. It was all gospel singers and just acoustic and vocal. I just absolutely fell in love with the band and then of course, then you start hearing all the Kings - BB King, Albert King, Freddie King, and Lead Belly, and Little Walter, and all that kind of stuff you used to hear on the radio a lot in Australia when I was a kid. It's all just stuff that you can never get sick of.”
Having cut his milk teeth on Harry Belafonte, Elvis and The Beatles growing up in Alice Springs, more soul and blues records started opening his eyes in wonder.
“In the mid to late ‘60s I started learning guitar, just as Hendrix and those kind of guys hit the scene,” Moss recalls. “And as far as vocals go, I've always loved the Motown guys – The Four Tops, and the whole swag of black R&B singers. Wilson Pickett for example, Little Richard, just to name a couple of greats.”
Cold Chisel tend to be thought of as more a rock band than anything else, but from the very start there was soul and blues in their songs.
“You have a listen to, say, Cold Chisel's first album, with songs like One Long Day, and Just How Many Times… sure there's a good variety of stuff on there, but songs like them are pure blues. It's definitely in our influences and in (primary songwriter) Don Walker's influences, as a songwriter: heavily blues-based and jazz-based, really.”
Blues is often about the notes you don’t play than those you do – and playing with feeling is what it’s all about. Is it hard to summon the necessary emotion when you're perhaps overtired, or in a cranky mood?
“You know, that's the best thing you can do if you're in a tired and cranky mood: pick up a guitar!” he enthuses. “Pretty soon all that negativity is gone. That's what I do – it’s one of the best forms of therapy you can get. They should make everyone in the whole world learning a musical instrument compulsory. I don't see how you can be angry, or hate somebody, or be sad when you're playing an instrument; it just lets it all out, soothes it, irons all that stuff out. If I'm not in the mood at the start of the song, or the start of a gig or whatever, it doesn't take long at all. Once the band kicks in then you start enjoying yourself, and if you are feeling blue, just expressing that, getting that out of yourself on the guitar, that's the best thing.”
That’s the ideal scenario for those of us standing in the audience as well, no doubt about that.
“That's the thing,” Moss continues passionately. “There's no greater joy than enjoying yourself and giving someone else some enjoyment. If they're enjoying it, then they give back to you and you give back to them, so it's a great, great, great cycle.”
Moss’s last few albums have seen him explore his relationship with the acoustic guitar, and on 2009’s Soul On West 53rd, his underrated abilities as a lead vocalist. West Australian fans will be lucky enough to catch some tracks from his imminent new, electric, album.
“Yeah, a new album with brand new songs - plenty of electric guitar, plenty of Ian Moss involved in writing – I had a major hand in writing every song on the album. It's been a while since I released an electric album, so this one, I’m just calling it Ian Moss. It's out early next year, March at the latest. The feedback I got so far was great so, yeah, we'll be continuing to trot out some new songs in Bridgetown.”
Being a three-hour drive south of Perth, Blues at Bridgetown boasts a casual, holiday feel to the festival, and it is unique in being a volunteer-staffed non-profit event. After 25 years, Moss agrees it’s an iconic institution.
“People are there because they love music, so that's going to inspire us to just get into it. It's fantastic, as more and more pub venues disappear it's just great to have one like this that's become an institution. And run by volunteers, a lot of it - I'm just ever so grateful to the people who give their time for nothing to keep this wonderful festival going.
“Depending on the timing, I'll be down there nice and early so where some of the other guys have got other jobs and commitments and stuff, they're kind of flying in and just rocking down just in time to get on stage. It's a lovely part of the world, so I'll be floating about, checking out other artists.”
It’s hard to believe that Moss is now in his 60s, but he says he still gets the same feeling from music that he did as a kid and as a young man.
“Absolutely. I'm always playing the guitar or listening to something, or - these days it's fantastic, if you think about any artist you've ever heard of, you're going to find a clip of them on YouTube. You never used to be able to do that in the old days!” he chuckles. “You just had to wait to hope that one day they'd come into the country and you could go and see them live. But yeah, music... I'm doing something with music every day.”
Being part of such an iconic band as Cold Chisel means ardent and obsessive fans, and Moss is always happy to play a few Chisel tracks in his solo shows – though he does so on his own terms.
“I wrote Bow River so I always do that, and I do a couple of other Chisel songs, like Choir Girl, for example, When The War Is Over, sometimes Flame Trees,” he explains, “while taking great care to come up with my own version of those songs, and not just trying to jukebox it out, copying Cold Chisel. And I think people appreciate that. People have got great ears, you know? They can see I've sort of reframed the painting in a new light, in a lot of ways, when I do my versions of Cold Chisel songs.”
Speaking of Chisel, on the morning of our interview they were announced to play a one-off Made In South Australia show in Adelaide in March. Does that herald a new wave of activity for the band?
“Not necessarily,” Moss admits. “But it does herald the fact that we're still keen, and still love playing. What our next move after that will be, we're not sure yet. The only thing we know for sure is that we will be doing something, but we like to put a little bit of time between these major tours. So maybe, it could be, late 2019 could be a good year - but there is nothing concrete and nothing planned. That's just my thoughts off the top of my head right now.”
Ian Moss’ Blues at Bridgetown’s appearance is on Saturday, November 11. He also performs at the Kickstart Summer concert at Ascot Raceway on Sunday, November 12.