EXCLUSIVE: James Blundell on his career highs and lows
THERE'S no question about James Blundell's authenticity if this interview is any measuring stick of such claims.
Taking an early afternoon phone call was some respite from an other hot and dry dusty day up on the Granite Belt west of Stanthorpe. It's here Blundell works, rests and plays these days, running the family farm and making music.
"What's not blowing away at the moment is lovely," he jests. "Despite all the dry, it's good sheep country up here."
So you can only imagine how the working, singing farmer felt when he was virtually ordered to be at Tamworth over the Australia Day weekend.
"In absolutely typical form, I said 'no, I can't do it, I'm working'. I had shows in Brisbane on Australia Day and the next day so I wasn't planning to be there on the night of the awards so we had to pull out all stops to make sure I was back there in time."
The timing was to coincide with Blundell's entry into the very prestigious Roll of Renown, Tamworth's Hall of Fame for its country music legends.
"Unfortunately they had to tell me a few days beforehand, otherwise I was going to be a no-show."
He said despite that the accolade was a huge deal for him, particularly because he was surrounded by the people he cared about.
"Both my older children were there and Rebecca (Williams, daughter of Hamilton Island's Keith), my long lost girlfriend who I finally wound up with last March after 37 years of not seeing one another, surprised me by coming up from Sydney. It was all a bit overwhelming but it was a lovely night."
While Blundell said he couldn't remember a thing he said when accepting the award from his friend Lee Kernaghan, he did recall a funny thought.
"I remembered being in my mid-20s and watching someone get something like this and thinking 'what's that old fart ever done to get that award' and now I'm one of them. It was a bit of a Keith Richards moment, thinking 'ooooo I don't want to be part of the establishment'."
Blundell has never been one to try and appease the latter and has no regrets about doing so.
"I've made a particularly good job of alienating everybody all the way through, completely unintentionally though. I've always thought irrespective of the objective overview, it's always only ever been about music with me."
He said during the early stages of his career anything could have been regarded as a "rebellious attitude".
"Like the Nashville experiment (Blundell was supposed to be Australia's golden ticket to the place). I was like 'no I think I can make better music at home' and all of a sudden I was the bloke that hadn't helped Australia crack open the American market. I just didn't want to be over there singing things I didn't like."
Blundell is well aware what the ramifications of those choices have meant for him but is still happy with his lot in life.
"My career is littered with those moments of going 'well, that was probably a very, very bad commercial decision' but at least you can sleep well'."
You can use all the sleep you can get when you are wearing multiple Akubras that can take you from the back paddock to the stage on any given week.
Blundell's long career in the music industry is often cause for reflection but he is absolutely loving how he creates music now.
"Looking back over 30 years of career, I've been fortunate to record to vinyl, cassette, CD and now a (digital) file. Once recording music meant being in a studio in a capital city and being based there. I do most of my recording on the farm now. I've converted the shearers' quarters on the property into my dwelling and record in one of those rooms. I've got good Wi-Fi and a decent computer and a good microphone so I can do my bit pretty much from home. Then it goes off to producers and players. It's a full dance card (work-wise) but thankfully I can do a lot my creative work from home."
And while he's busy, he's not too busy to keep coming up with ideas both on the farm front and musical one.
"We've got two every exciting developments in the pipeline. One is the reintroduction of hemp. It used to be a huge fibre crop but now the medicinal aspect is now the lucrative part but compliance is onerous so we are a long time away before we get to that."
The other is something he's hoping to have up and running by the end of the year.
"We're aiming for a spring boutique music festival on the property, only very small, about 300 or 400 people."
And yes he's offering his musical services with the intention of roping a few of his country music mates into it.
"I have enough silly friends who think a weekend in the sticks mightn't be a bad idea."
In the meantime Blundell has Maclean set in his sights, a intimate concert planned for the Scottish town on the Clarence River on February 16.
"I'll be playing with my older son Briar. And while that can wreak of nepotism, he's actually my guitar player and drummer of choice nowadays. That relationship has come a long way. When he was about four he wanted to play guitar so I spent about a week trying to teach him how to play E. It just wasn't happening so I thought well, this one is challenged but he is now doing exceptionally well with his own band in Sydney (Supa Slims). I'm lucky because if his band keeps doing what it's doing I wont be able to afford him soon."
Blundell said working with his son has helped develop an really good repertoire for his shows.
"He's grown up on my music so he keeps dragging ones back out from way back. I'll think gee I haven't heard that for ages and he'll say well start playing it again, it's a good song."
While music can be timeless, vocals can be another matter and like any musician whose career transcends decades, keeping them in good shape is not a given. In Blundell's case, he would hesitate to say that "on a good night I am probably singing as well if not better than I've ever sung."
"I often comment that my original vocal training was yelling at sheep dogs and had nothing to do with music so from a pretty early age they (vocals) became iron clad. I'm really enjoying singing more now than ever before. That's not something you know is going to happen, but I just love it."
Blundell's work-work balance, as he calls it, isn't too onerous because he loves both jobs. "I hoped to release an album last year but I was on the road a lot and pretty much devoted to feeding stock and drought management. That year was a difficult one so I'm hoping this year isn't the same."
With a new bunch of songs already written Blundell said it's only a matter of reining them in.
"They're very much like weaners of any livestock. You get to the stage where they stop being cute and become unruly so they need to be coralled. I'll be playing a couple of those in Maclean and going back as far as Kimberley Moon in the first album. I've got 30 plus years to draw on so I'm never going to run out of music or stories."
- Don't miss James Blundell live in concert at the Maclean Bowling Club on February 16. Tickets on sale now.