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Australian Guitar x Bluesfest 2022: Ross Wilson

Ross Wilson
(Image credit: Press/Supplied)

It’s been a long and bumpy ride to the next edition of the Byron Bay Bluesfest – especially after its attempt in April got nixed a day out from opening, with the site and its stages already built – but lo and behold, Bluesfest is finally (finally!!!) making its return in 2022. 

Taking the form of an exclusive special edition, sporting an all‑Australian lineup, the four-day celebration of all things blues, roots, rock and beyond will take place at its established home of the Byron Events Farm (formerly Tyagarah Tea Tree Farm) across next year's Easter long weekend of Friday April 15th through Monday 18th. 

And although the usual suite of international icons are sitting this one out – y’know, travel bans and all that fun stuff – the lineup couldn’t be more enormous: headliners include Midnight Oil, Paul Kelly, Tash Sultana and Jimmy Barnes, with over 50 of Australia’s biggest and best names set to raise the barn over four epic days.

To get ourselves prepped for what is undoubtedly going to be the most exciting weekend of the year for any Aussie music fan, we’re catching up with handful of the acts we’re beyond keen to see. 

This week, we're going one-on-one with Ross Wilson!

THE CHEAT SHEET

Okay, so who’s this?
Ross Wilson is a rock ’n’ roll diehard from Melbourne who, since the sunny days of ’64, has slammed out hit after hit with acts like Daddy Cool, Mondo Rock and Mighty Kong, cutting his teeth in pop band The Pink Finks when he was still in school. He’s also lent his talents to the likes of the Skyhooks and The Wiggles – a versatile muso indeed!ussy Hicks is one part soulful, tent-filling vocal prowess (courtesy of the dazzlingly dynamic Leesa Gentz) and one part bold, bewitching guitar that gets heads turning faster than a siren on a city street (courtesy of the virtuosic Julz Parker, championed by Phil Emmanuel as “Australia’s top female guitar player”).

What would I know him from?
You’ll know Wilson as the voice behind one of the most iconic Aussie songs in history – one every true-blue larrikin worth their stubbie should know by heart – “Eagle Rock”. Which, we should add, celebrates its 50th anniversary in 2021. Wilson also delivered a few Top 10 gems with Mondo Rock throughout the ‘80s, and produced the Skyhooks’ landmark 1974 debut, Living In The 70’s.

Why should I see him?
Because with almost 60 years of nonstop rockin’ and rollin’ under
his belt, it’s without a doubt his Bluesfest ‘21 set will be stacked front‑to‑back with classics.

When is he playing?
Wilson will take to the stage with his newest band of musical misfits, The Peaceniks, on Saturday October 2nd.


So Ross, what are you looking forward to most at Bluesfest 2021? 
Well I’ve been to Bluesfest a couple of times, so I know how it work. Y’know, a great thing about it is that you can see a whole lot of people all in one place – usually from all around the world, but this year is going to be very special because it’s all-Aussie. There’s a mega lineup there, and luckily I’m a part of that! When it got called off earlier this year, we were actually up there already – we could see something [to do with COVID-19] developing, though, so we stayed out of the Byron shire. As soon as they made the formal announcement, we went home without having to do any quarantine, because we hadn’t actually made it there. 

But y’know, Peter Noble is doing a gargantuan task trying to keep the thing going, and luckily he’s got a bit of government support there. Let’s just hope that COVID dies down by October, because Bluesfest is a part of my “Eagle Rock” 50th anniversary tour – that’s one of the biggest dates I’ve got!

Is there anything in particular you and the band are excited to bust out onstage? 
Yeah! It’s not only the 50th anniversary of “Eagle Rock”, it’s also the 40th anniversary of [Mondo Rock’s] Chemistry album – which won Best Australian Album [at the Countdown Australian Music Awards] in 1981. So being me, what I’m going to do is play more Daddy Cool songs than I usually do. You’ll still hear things like “Cool World” and a few other songs from that album, and some solo things too. And some of those Daddy Cool songs might be ones you wouldn’t expect. 

I’m going to show where Daddy Cool came from; there’s a song we’re going to play that was in the Sons Of The Vegetal Mother repertoire… We might even do two from that band! There were things in the Daddy Cool repertoire that came from Sons Of The Vegetal Mother: for example, “Love In An F.J.” was a Sons Of The Vegetal Mother song, which we did again on the second Daddy Cool album. So there’s kind of a thread there that people mightn’t be aware of, that I’m hopefully going to make them aware of.

Of course, you’ll be taking to the Bluesfest stage with your latest band, The Peaceniks. From your perspective as the leading man, what’s the secret to the magic that happens when the five of you get up there? 
Well, there’s going to be six of us this time – I’m adding an extra guitar! A lot of the time I have a guy named James Ryan on guitar, and he’s a really great guitarist – in fact I’m wearing his t-shirt right now, his other band King Canyon – and so he’s terrific, but he’s not always available. So my other go-to guy is this young fellow named Aaron Schembri, who’s also got his own albums and music out there – y’know, you can see him on the net – and he was mentored in his teens by Ross Hanford from Daddy Cool. 

He said he sought out Ross – he likes all the old players and he seeks them out to make records with them – so he’s got that sound, that Ross Hanford sound. He’s got a very natural thing going there. So he’s going to be in it as well, and I’m going to have another guitarist up there with him. And that means I won’t have to play as much guitar myself [laughs]. But we’re gonna get that sound you get when you have two really good guitarists grooving away with each other. I don’t always have that luxury because I can’t afford to have six people on the road all the time – five is much easier to handle.

Do you find that playing with a different group of people gives the performance – or the music itself – a different vibe? 
Absolutely! You can play the same song twice and they’ll come out completely different each time. But because they’re all good musicians, both times sound great. And I’m quite experienced, y’know, so I tend to just go with that feeling. I’ll go, “Oh, that guy’s playing that a bit differently, that guy’s got a bit of a different feel,” and I’ll follow that lead. 

It’s especially different when you play with different drummers. I’ve got a couple of go-to drummers, and y’know, it does change. It can affect your performance, but not in a bad way. You can be like, “Ah, this is different – it’s refreshing!” Y’know, it doesn’t have to be exactly the same as it sounds on the record. There’s only one song that has to be the same live as it is on tape, and that’s “Eagle Rock”. If we change that one, it’s just not as good.

Is it still fun to play after thousands and thousands of shows? 
Yeah, it’s a real thrill! I still love it. I just love when it locks into the right groove and it just… It’s just got that thing, y’know? You’ve got those powerful rhythms going, and that kind of loose tension. It’s hard to describe, really. And people move! They all get up en masse and they rock around! And that means that my mission is accomplished, y’know? The song’s mission is accomplished. That’s the foundation of it all – I wouldn’t be here without “Eagle Rock”. That’s the foundation of the whole career I’ve built. 

There was one period, when I first started Mondo Rock – which wasn’t that long after Daddy Cool, in the mid to late ‘70s – where I wouldn’t play “Eagle Rock”. I took a vow against it. I said, “I’ll make everybody listen to Mondo Rock! Until we get a hit, I’m not playing ‘Eagle Rock’.” And we did that – we had a minor hit with “The Fugitive Kind” – so I started playing “Eagle Rock” again as an encore. And from then on, I’ve played it all the time. People get real snarky if I don’t play it [laughs]. But I like playing it, so it’s fine!

Who are you excited to catch at Bluesfest 2022? Take a peek at the lineup below, then start getting your schedules ready!

BYRON BAY BLUESFEST 2022 – LINEUP

  • Midnight Oil
  • Paul Kelly
  • Jimmy Barnes
  • Fat Freddy’s Drop
  • John Butler
  • Xavier Rudd
  • Pete Murray
  • Ian Moss
  • Kate Ceberano
  • Kasey Chambers
  • The Waifs
  • The Church
  • Jon Stevens
  • The Living End
  • Mark Seymour & The Undertow
  • The Angels
  • Russell Morris
  • Kate Miller-heidke
  • Vika & Linda
  • All Our Exes Live In Texas
  • Ross Wilson And The Peaceniks
  • John Williamson
  • Troy Cassar-daley
  • Briggs
  • Tex Perkins The Man In Black
  • Hiatus Kaiyote
  • Josh Teskey & Ash Grunwald
  • Weddings Parties Anything
  • The Black Sorrows
  • Cw Stoneking
  • The Bamboos
  • Chain
  • Backsliders
  • Ash Grunwald
  • Melbourne Ska Orchestra
  • Jeff Lang
  • Nathan Cavaleri
  • Kim Churchill
  • Henry Wagons
  • Jk-47
  • Garrett Kato
  • Mama Kin Spender
  • Dami Im
  • Pierce Brothers
  • Emily Wurramara
  • The Buckleys
  • Fiona Boyes & The Fortune Tellers
  • Ray Beadle
  • Pacey, King & Doley
  • Mick Thomas’ Roving Commission
  • Hussy Hicks
  • Roshani
  • Daniel Champagne
  • Little Georgia
  • Lambros.
  • Round Mountain Girls
  • The Regime
  • Electrik Lemonade
  • Palm Valley
  • Byron Busking Competition
  • Rockwiz Live

Tickets to the 2021 Byron Bay Bluesfest are on sale now – head to bluesfest.com.au for more info!