(Part 1 of a series).
Shaun Bindley has been producing the blues radio program “Blues With a Feeling” for 27 years. Here he discusses how this came to be, why he supports community radio, some of the up, downs and what he looks for.
BB – Thanks Shakey Shaun for taking the time. Can I start with what motivates and drives you to be part of community radio?
SB – I love to make a connection with listeners and being part of such a ground breaking media organization like the Brisbane Indigenous Media Association is a real honour and privilege. And I never stop getting a thrill when I hear the blues sounding incredible via 989fm.
BB – And where, when and how did your interest in blues, as a music genre and artform come about?
SB – My very first memories of being affected by the blues as a style of music are from the late 60s. After serving two tours of Vietnam, my army officer father was seconded to the US Infantry and was transferred to the US. We lived at Fort Benning in Georgia for a cpl of years and this was the time that I started seeing singers like Nat King Cole and Ella Fitzgerald as guests on American tv talk shows. I was a blonde haired, sun tanned kid from Bondi living on a massive army base in the deep south and I often wonder what I can’t remember about my time there. Perhaps a chance encounter on the streets of Augusta while at kindergarten set me on the path.
What I do know for sure is, that I’d been seeking out black singers and musicians long before I became aware of the musical genre we know as the Blues, as a teenager in the mid 80’s, in Brisbane via the Rolling Stones and The Doors. A classic case of reading the names of artists like Willie Dixon and John Lee Hooker in record liner notes and automatically understanding that this was where the real thing was to be found.
It wasn’t easy finding blues records in Brisbane back then. I remember the release of the Charly Blues Masterworks series being a godsend and I bought every release and devoured everything I could find to read about these black American artists, with such wonderful names, that made their instruments sound like nothing I’d ever heard before, that had grown up in a country founded on slavery, who were so blatantly mistreated in that country, ripped off by record companies and had their songs stolen and yet who had been so inspirational to the worlds greatest and most popular singers and musicians.
At about the same time, I started going to see local blues artists and the occasional international artist that visited Brisbane like Robert Cray and Eric Clapton. And of course, John Lee Hooker’s The Healer hit the radio airwaves in 1989 and the sound of that song drew my attention like a pretty girl on a hot day. And then, I saw an ad for the first Bluesfest at Byron Bay. Those four days lead me to the firm conclusion that I was going to be involved with this music one way or another and that’s where my future lay.
I came home from Bluesfest with at least half a dozen ”If only I could do that” ambitions like singing with my own band, opening for The Paladins, the band that had just become my favourite after seeing them for four amazing days at the festival, having my own Blues radio show playing the music of the bands I heard at the festival, collecting a massive stack of blues records and owning a blond Guild archtop guitar.
I’m happy to report that, barring any more unrequited ambitions that might make themselves known, I’ve managed to achieve all that and more. And the 3 or 4 albums that I bought and brought home with me formed the bedrock for my own time shouting the blues around SE Qld from 1993 till about 2008, when spinal problems put an end to my time on stage.
BB – Tell us more about your blues radio program “Blues With A Feeling” on 98.9fm. How did your show come about when you started it back in 1993/4?
SB – It was a bit of a roundabout route that I took into radio. After retiring from first love rugby in the early 1990s, I’d drifted from job to job, but first considered getting into radio in 1988. I’d heard Mark Doherty’s show Nothing But The Blues on 4ZZZ and the idea that community radio would allow you to play the music you wished was enticing.
At the time, I’d enrolled in a radio course but opted instead for a physically demanding day job. It was about 2 years later that I shaved my head (I’d always understood that it would be a door opener for me! It worked for Peter Garrett and Angry Anderson) and the next day, started working as an extra on various Hollywood movies and locally produced television shows that were being made on the Gold Coast at the time.
Bitten by the acting bug, three months later I was sitting in the Stones Corner Commonwealth Employment Service office, desperately looking for a part time job option that didn’t involve going back to the grinding work I had been doing. Looking around a little desperately, on the wall I noticed a a sign that said Radio Production and Presentation course. I told my case manager “I wanna do that! In fact, I nearly did a radio course two years ago” and that was good enough for him. Started the course, which was the first one to be offered by BIMA, a week later.
At the time, I was in a relationship with the incredible Lil Fi, singer of that outstanding Australian blues band, the Delta Rhythms Kings and I was attending gigs 4-5 nights a week. Being surrounded by some amazing musicians like the great guitar player Blind Dog Donnie Burke and watching the DRKs open for virtually every touring blues band that visited Brisbane was an amazing opportunity and a constant source of inspiration.
So, about 3 months after completing the radio course and while pulling the occasional on air shift, I presented a proposal for the program “Blues With A Feeling” to management and they decided to give it a go. After a bit of toing and froing, it was decided that the show would be 7-midnight on Monday and I’d play music from what was becoming quite a tasty collection of blues albums.
Back then, the show was live and totally improvised, I’d take a bag of about 100 cds with me and present the show like I was entertaining you at my house on Saturday night. I didn’t miss a show in 23 years and I loved every moment. Every Monday night for 23 years. So many opportunities to be the soundtrack for others that I’d always wanted for myself. Back in 2017, with a desire to allow the show to be repeated and available as a podcast, It was decided to tighten the format up and it evolved into the tightly scripted, shorter show that you’ll hear these days, still on Monday night from 8pm and now on Saturday morning at 10. And available as a podcast every week.
BB – Considering blues is a broad church and a genre of music still popular these last over 100 years, what’s your reaction to people who profess to not like blues music?
SB – That’s a hard one, some people just don’t dig it. I’ve got mates in their 50s that listen to electronic dance music almost exclusively. And It wasn’t that long ago that I met a listener, a 17 yr old woman who excitedly told me of her love for Little Walter via the show. Different strokes for different strokes. 20 years ago, I’d have had an opinion. I’ve long left behind my gung ho attitude of the 90’s that meant if you didn’t dig the blues, you weren’t worth my time. Thankfully.
But the fact remains that the blues came into my life when I was at a very low ebb. At first, listening to Blues just made me feel better but over a year or so, it came to provide me with a passion that has influenced my entire life since, and I never stop encouraging people to listen to the Blues.
BB – You have a long list of guests you’ve interviewed over the last nearly three decades. Lets talk about some of them:
SB – It’s been an incredible opportunity to talk to the people I have.
Taj Mahal, Jimmie Vaughan, Robert Cray, Ruthie Foster, Matt Taylor, Keb Mo, Eric Bibb. Joe Bonamassa, Elvin Bishop, Kristina Olsen, Bert Jansch, Lee Roy Parnell, John Mayall, Luther Allison, Phil Manning, Tommy Castro, Roy Rogers, Hans Theesink, Tommy Shannon, Kim Wilson, Doug Macleod, Candye Kane, Dave Gonzales. Joe Camilleri, Chris Wilson. Lynwood Slim, Alex Schultz, Guy Davis are some that immediately come to mind.
Where would you like to start?
BB – Any favourite guests that were a pleasure to interview? That, perhaps, you’ve interviewed multiple times, or look forward to interviewing again, or regret they’re gone and you only have your memories and show recordings?
SB – I’m unabashedly still a fan so it takes a lot of preparation to ensure I don’t go full fanboy.
I’ve made a few anxiety induced technical errors over the years and had the odd equipment failure so there have been the occasions when I didn’t get to air a chat I’ve had.
Tommy Shannon stands out in that respect. We had a wonderful relaxed talk in support of a new release posthumous from Stevie Ray Vaughan & Double Trouble. At the time, we used mini disc recorders and the discs used to get handed around for use by multiple staff members. Nobody was aware of just how many times you could reuse one before it failed. Unfortunately, I was the one to find out. Played it back once and it refused to play again. You live and learn.
Getting time with Taj Mahal was wonderful and interviewing Keb Mo again after 25 yrs was great. And an opportunity to get something off my shelf to one of my favourite modern blues artists.
Interviewing the likes of Rick Estrin, Jimmy Vaughan, Robert Cray and Kim Wilson were particular highlights but my two part special with The Paladins Dave Gonzales stands out as my favourite.
BB – Any that were a really hard to interview, in a “Van Morrison” or “Bob Dylan” way?
SB – Apart from the occasional younger artists that weren’t terribly well prepared, every interview has been a privilege.
BB – Had any, like Molly Meldrum had back in the day on Countdown, off-the-wall “Ozzie Osborne” or “Iggy Pop” like train wrecks of interviews, and did you actually air them?
SB – When we moved into the 989fm studios in West End, I was the only announcer still using cds on air. I was set to chat with Alvin Youngblood Hart live one evening. I set it up like I always did by ringing him first and then playing a pair of songs by Alvin. As soon, as I put him to air, the phone line dropped out, causing much scrambling. Tried it three times before giving up. Turned out it was a configuration problem on the desk that only occurred while a cd was going to air so no other announcer had encountered it before. Talk about make you crazy at the time
BB – You cover more than just the music, yes? An episode you produced a couple of months ago was about Racism and The Blues.
SB – The Blues came about because of slavery and racism, that ep was inspired by what was going on in the US at the time and how oblivious so many white blues fans seemed to be of that fact. It seems like there is a whole subsection of Blues fans out there that aren’t interested in where it came from, let alone attempting to understand the challenges confronting African Americans on a daily basis in the US. Basically, with that show I was hoping to present to listeners just some of the many incredible songs that have been written and performed about racism over the past 100 years or so.
But I like to think anyone who’s been listening to Blues With A Feeling for any length of time would have a pretty fair understanding of what the Blues really is. I featured songs by Big Bill Broonzy, Jimi Hendrix, Billie Holiday, Syl Johnson, Shemekia Copeland, Mavis Staples, Buddy Guy and BB King and more all singing about racism and its many insidious forms in society.
BB – Apart from crafting a special feature on an artist, when you’re just wanna play music and mix it up, what are you looking for in selecting tracks for the show?
SB – After so many years of presenting my show on the fly, I’ve developed a pretty savage ear. I’m looking for songs that make a statement in the first 20 secs. An excellent vocal performance, I listen out for great and unusual grooves. Outstanding playing and well engineered, Songs that will stay with you and leave an impression. Songs that tell a real story. And no cliches.
BB – Do you take requests or suggestions for your show?
SB – Over 27 years, many many times but I’ve always got a couple of show themes working away in my mind so you need to get me early.
BB – you have a healthy number of your programs dedicated to Australian artists, whether famous like Joe Camerleri or the late Chris Wilson, or artists often seen in SEQld, like your show recently on Blues Arcadia’s new live album. How do you find out about new local talent and new releases?
SB – The internet has been a remarkable tool for finding out about new artists. I’m active on social media and I spend a lot of time looking out for upcoming talent. In fact, I’m constantly receiving albums for consideration for the show. The best way these days is to send me a download link. I’ve long ago run out of room for more cd’s.
BB – In your recent special with Elvin Bishop, he drew a connection between the blues artists he saw in their prime in the early 1960’s to the popularity of hip hop now. Who have you heard that have – like Miles Davis did with Jazz – moved blues into new directions that catches your ear or excites you, perhaps into uncharted territory?
SB – I’m a bit uncomfortable with the idea that Blues needs to be pushed into new and exciting territory. Or that it needs to be saved. Writing bios for bands is hard but a little effort in getting past the clichés is needed. I often think the need for fresh, new and uncharted is more about the need to excite young music writers as much as it is about actually creating a new sound.
But there are certainly many artists out there working hard to create their own sound while remaining true to the roots of the Blues. Shemekia Copeland, The Nick Moss Band, John Nemeth are three that immediately come to mind. And Brisbanes Blues Arcadia and The Walters are two that always sound like themselves while digging deep into traditional styles.
BB – 27 years of “Blues With a Feeling” (like a grand theft auto conviction) – that was back when a young Mojo Webb was playing in Buzz and The Blues Band, and local blues musicians like Mick Diggles started BASEQ. What have you seen change over these years in the “Moonlight State”?
SB – I was actually at that inaugural BASEQ meeting all those years ago and spent lots of time in my formative years at the BASEQ jam.
And I’ve been lucky to be around when the local music scene in Brisbane has been pumping in a couple of decades.
Back in the late 80s, it was possible to see the great Wiley Reed perform in Brisbane almost every night of the week and Phil Manning was also based in SE Qld so it was easy to see and hear some real quality. And there was a real interest in the Blues in the 90s, following Stevie Rays success so international blues artists like Albert Collins, Clarence Gatemouth Brown, Jeff Healey, John Mayall, Johnny Johnson all played local shows and gigs were popping up all over.
Consequently, there were some great young musicians beginning to emerge and the local scene really started to pump. Bands like Buzz & The Blues, Mick Hadley & The Shakers really paved the way for bands like Lil Fi & the Delta Rhythm Kings, who were developing into Australia’s favourite blues band at the time.
Long gone venues like the Bombshelter Bar, the Jazz & Blues bar, the Gabba Hotel, The Healer were massive in allowing bands the ability to play more than 1-2 nights a week and the quality really started to show with teen hotshots like Mojo Webb hitting Brisbanes stages. 20 odd years later and many of those veterans are no longer with us and most of those venues are gone too. But there are some wonderful artists around on the local and national stages and plenty of young talent strutting their stuff on a resurgent pre-COVID music scene around SE Qld.
BB – Thanks, Shakey Shaun, wishing you another 27 years of more blues with that feeling….
Shakey Shaun Bindly’s show “Blues With a Feeling” can be heard at 8pm on Monday nights on 98.9FM, and podcasts of previous shows found at https://989fm.com.au/category/listen/programs/blues-with-a-feeling/