I came to Melbourne from the west. In January 1988 I advertised in The Age for a guitarist to play blues with. I got James. We played a few blues songs one afternoon and at the end J said “I think there is something there”. I don’t think I had ever heard the phrase “country blues’ before, and I had never played with anyone as good as this guy. Over a few months we sat across the kitchen table in his Brunswick house, and I learned a lot about playing the harp and about the country blues. As “Gone Dead Train” we started playing little gigs around inner Melbourne – Fitzroy, Collingwood, Brunswick corner pubs. We played parties, we busked at Camberwell Market and in town. In 89 we made a demo on cassette at my house – the back of a shop in High St, Northcote. That was as close as we got to a formal recording. In 1990 we performed at the Port Fairy Folk Festival, and then I went to work overseas. On my return in 1991 we picked up the trail again – sometimes playing with Denis Matson on a two-string tea chest bass. We played Saturday arvos in Collingwood with writers and poets, The Rainbow… some other places. In 92’ I moved back to Fremantle and James went on to join Collard Greens and Gravy. I played with him a couple more times over the next twenty-something years. We talked a lot about him making his own record. But he never did.
Maybe other recordings will turn up, but so far as I know his voice is nowhere but on these old tapes. He wasn’t easy to record. He sang quietly at times. James learned his songs from scratchy old thirties recordings, so there is some irony hearing him sing through these low-fi tapes, lost for years in a hot dirty Fremantle shed. What these tapes show is James, aged thirty, was already a masterful interpreter of these old blues, a great singer and a superlative player. There is me at twenty-six, scouting for my own voice and finding my way on the harp, ragged in places and getting in the way at times… getting it right here and there. We are joined on one or two songs by Denis on bass. There are some nice moments, it is raw and as real as can be, and I think it has the feel. This is country blues in Melbourne circa 89’. There is a steel grey afternoon. A brass slide comes down on the strings of an old Dobro. The hair on my neck rises up and a door opens in my mind.