singer-songwriter / guitarist Gus McKay continues making a
lot of blues-rock fans very happy with his 2017 CD called Talisman.
With a guitar-centric sound that is kind of similar in scope to
J.J. Cale, mixed in with some Peter Green meets ZZ Top inspired vocals,
Talisman is a fascinating spin start to finish. In some ways,
the lead off track Art Of Living perfectly captures Gus
sound. In his February 2018 mwe3.com interview, Gus says the track
is about Getting closer to the ideal, of getting through
this life with purpose and dignity and still be inspired. Songs
about purpose and dignity are at the core of Talisman, which
also has a deep connection to rural life in Australia. A sense of
sparseness permeates Talisman and the album is a very graphic
sonic postcard from Australia, which Gus describes in songs like Murchison
Sequel and GinGin Morning. Gus has perfectly tailored
the sound and vision of Talisman very much around his own ideas
of life and his lyrics are totally underscored by the excellent sound
that Gus receives from his band, which includes Ronan Charles (drums,
keyboards, and tenor sax) and Phil Waldron (bass, double bass, bozouki,
fiddle, trumpet, cello, banjo, pedal steel and tin whistle). The album
also features some intriguing album art to which Gus adds, I
found a particular design that caught my eye and created it from wood
and old tin, for the inside sleeve of the CD. Such attention
to detail is rare and doesnt go unnoticed, although the first
thing that grabs you about Talisman is the sonic depth of these
songs, which take some time to get into fully, but its very
much worth it. Guitar fans will be amazed at the sound that Gus coaxes
from his many fine instruments, which includes Teles and Stratsas
well as a 1940s Dobro and an Australian Galvo tricone
resonator made from 100 year old galvanized roof tin/iron. Fans of
Peter Green, J.J. Cale, Billy Gibbons, as well as other influences
from blues legends like Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters, will totally
dig where Gus McKay is coming from on Talisman. The art of
modern, electric blues is alive and in fine form on Gus McKays
presents an interview with
Can you tell the readers where youre from originally and where
you live now and what you like best about it? Most people forget Australia
is a continent and not a country, so its huge right? How would
you compare life in Australia to other places and have you been to
the US yet?
Gus McKay: Originally, Western Australia (WA), and still the
based in the Western Australian wheat belt
of the capital city Perth, approximately two and a half hours. Whats
best about it? I do like locations away from cities. I prefer a quiet
rural life. I am into nature and bush/scrub
Australian. I get inspiration from my surroundings. I have visited
the US, but not for a long time, in 1977 and 85. I like to remember
those times, as I know its no longer the same, so its
a nice faded memory of the condors flying around Paso Robles and riding
my Honda around a few states.
mwe3: Compared to your earlier albums, what kind of musical
statement did you set out to make on your latest album Talisman
and how did you come up with the album title?
Gus McKay: The finished product is the second studio attempt.
I ditched an earlier recording done a few months earlier. Just started
playing tenor sax and my repairer put me on to a guy doing his website
that had a studio.
So I sent my previous effort, number 4, and we hooked up and started
about this time two years ago. Sweltering heat
just like today!
I was sorta over the whole recording process, thinking oh well, here
we go again. But the guys were great
very professional and damn
hard workers, a nice change.
The title is something I use a lot and when I looked it up. I realized
what it was all about and I found a particular design that caught
my eye and created it from wood and old tin, for the inside sleeve
of the CD.
I didnt really have any concept for the album. In the past,
thats what I have loved about recording
its a total
usually. As to the finished product, the only thing
I was after was better
a much better production.
I can, I think mention Abbey Road here. Out of my five releases, this
is probably the only one to be mastered professionally. I cannot say
enough about these guys, just read their CVs and that is enough
to blow you away. I had all the tracks mastered there, and there are
four more that arent on this release, that I am toying with
releasing later this year
just an EP of five songs possibly.
mwe3: Who plays on Talisman and how did you put the
band together? Are all the musicians who play on Talisman from
Australia? Is the sound jazzier than your earlier albums?
Talisman does definitely have a jazz bent, due to Ronan Charles,
who plays drums, keyboard, and tenor sax
and Phil Waldron on
bass, double bass, bozouki, fiddle, trumpet, cello, banjo and pedal
steel, and not forgetting tin whistle! Phil is a symphony orchestra
bassist, arranger and composer and Ronan is the engineer and producer,
both very accomplished Australian musicians.
mwe3: Youre a self-proclaimed bluesman. When
and how did the blues become a big influence on you and who were some
of the blues musicians that influenced you? Is there an old blues
and a new blues and so is there a big difference between Eric Clapton
and Robert Johnson in your mind? Rock must have been a big influence
Gus McKay: Bluesman is just a handle really, but I guess
its a fair description of my musical driving force. But rock
is what I initially grew up with and the sounds of the 1970s. Quite
to start with
Cat Stevens, Moody Blues,
Doobie Brothers, Jethro Tull, early Elton John, Joe Cocker, Deep Purple
Then I heard London Revisited with Howling Wolf and Muddy Waters
Wow! Then I knew I was home. But from then on I discovered bands like
Steely Dan and Supertramp etc
I am still in love with good hooks
and solid song writing and creative arrangements. Funk, blues, jazz
and soul. You name it!
mwe3: The opening track on Talisman is very effective.
Does Art Of Living kind of sum up your whole approach?
Living on the edge, of a life, its not all sequins
and clowns. The lyric really mixes some intriguing wordplay.
Gus McKay: Art of living for me is, just that getting closer
to the ideal, of getting through this life with purpose and dignity
and still be inspired. Waking up to a new day and being happy. I shot
a video for this track but I let it go as it didnt reflect my
feelings. The producer had his own ideas.
Does Fallen Down contrast the wide space between the fortunate
and less off? Now that were all getting older how can we not
fall down anymore? Theres some interesting wordplay in Fallen
Down. Whats the key line in the song?
Gus McKay: I love it when a person gives me insight into their
own interpretation of one of my songs. I would mean, I guess , that
I have touched a chord somehow in them, and it's made the song meaningful
to them. The key line in the song is Dont should on
your soul coming from Dont should on yourself
when you find yourself saying I should do this or that
mwe3: Phil Waldrons trumpet sounds great on A Hundred
Acres. Does that track hark back to when
farmers ruled the world? Dad is locked in the tractor, Mom
is tied to the stove. Whats A Hundred Acres
message? What are you saying with the line Before it blows?
Gus McKay: A Hundred Acres
I thought about
somewhat, since writing and pre-recording, and came to the decision
that its not about plowing a field/paddock so much
about Life. When I was a wheat farmer for 20 odd years,
my first crop was literally blown away
cut down, in the days
when we did plow and cultivate, and leave the ground vulnerable to
a blow. So I am saying you should get that hundred acres
finished before it does blow
and Im also saying you have
to do, or get done what you need to get done, its no dress rehearsal.
And yes I love Phils trumpet, its just so out there!
mwe3: What can you tell us about your guitars and what guitars
did you play on Talisman? You play a wide range of guitars...
Gus McKay: I did use a few guitars
The solo on Art
Of Living" was on a pawn shop Mexican Tele, with a humbucker
a great cheap but effective axe. A 1940s Dobro,
an Australian Galvo tricone resonator made from 100 year
old galvanized roof tin/iron. And an 814 Taylor, a 1968 Fender Strat,
which has since been stolen. The main electric is a handmade in Arroyo
Grande in the US, a Koll guitar. Played them through a Fender Supersonic
(22watt) and in conjunction with an old 60s Kay amp.
mwe3: Piawaning Suit talks about a certain part
of Australia thats considered an agricultural area. Is that
about some suit taking advantage of rural folks and specifically
farmers? Negotiating wool, or talking to sheep.
Whats your connection to Piawaning?
Gus McKay: It could be, but its just a riddle really,
even to me, always will be. I was driving home
as it says in
the song, and I spotted this guy in a suit! No-one wears a suit without
a good reason. A funeral yes
or a business man, buying wool
selling sheep, etc.
So that is the premise of the song and the question, whats he
doing in town? Piawaning is just a little fly speck town, like many
many other small towns, has almost vanished due to farms getting bigger
and the families leaving the district.
What about The Man? Whats The Maj. Is
The Man another rural kind of statement? Who would you
say is The Man and why did they poison his horses?
Gus McKay: This song is a homage to a European Man who arrived
in WA at the turn of the last century. A builder and farmer, known
for his grande buildings and his equally grand visions
poisoned his horses because they were jealous of his success. At one
stage he was, reputably to be the biggest wheat grower in the world.
And the Maj is His Majestys Theatre in Perth. Built
mwe3: Is Muse as close as Talisman gets
to a love song? Do you prefer to write love songs even though most
of Talisman is filled with pretty sobering, insightful topics?
Theres an interesting cello and sax break in Muse,
which kind of divides it up a bit.
Gus McKay: Muse is a love song. I sort of just
write about whats going on for me. Not often do I write love
longs, and yes, the song's arrangement is like going on a stroll.
mwe3: Bohemian Life takes you to Melbourne. Whats
that city like? Is that another escapist love song kind of related
to Muse or is it just a fantasy? Is the Yarra near Melbourne?
Gus McKay: Melbourne is very imperial
the old buildings,
but also very modern, a cool city. Bohemian Life is a
love song also. And it had a job to do to get her back
but I did get a good song out of it! The Yarra is
Melbournes river, it goes right through the center. Yes, I like
the string section the lads put in
mwe3: Tell us about the Murchison Sequel. Theres
so many incredible places in Australia, so theres so much to
write about. Is that one of the more jazzy tracks on the album? Some
very jazzy horn work on that track. I saw theres also the Murchison
meteorite too. Got no town in this place
McKay: Got no town in this place refers to
the fact that the Shire of Murchison is the only Shire
(county) in Australia without a 'gazetted' town. My previous release
Salflat Blues had the original Murchison and a
young friend I gigged with suggested I write a sequel. The strange
thing is, that I was once writing about the place, now Im visiting
and working in the area.
mwe3: Is Gin Gin Morning about a real place? You
talk about drinking in that song
whats the fog like on
Gin Gin Road?
Gus McKay: This song is as it happened, it was 3 AM and Im
drinking a beer going past Gingin Road and the fog is rolling in.
I didnt have a lot more lyrics, so Ronan had an idea , so we
share the credits.
mwe3: Last Dance is pretty harrowing sounding.
What is the message in that song?
Gus McKay: This came about from my childhood memories of being
at a country dance, or a 'Stomp', with the family in the 1960s,
and in those old 'weather board' places, there was a distinct echo
or resonance, that I remember
not good for recording, (lol),
anyway, I was only kid , but I still remember the adult antics, or
What else do you have planned for 2018? It would be great to get the
word out about Talisman as it has such a worldwide universality
about it. How can you get the word out about Talisman and your
Gus McKay: Was asked to submit, for a festival in France last
year, but it was felt I needed more gigs to get the ball rolling,
so possibly this year. Am also working on new songs for an acoustic
album too. And the overflow from the Talisman sessions to release
as an EP maybe...