Almanac Music: A musical journey (in praise of Fred Eaglesmith)


Because my childhood was immersed in the fabulous music of the 1920s to the 1950s, I have always considered myself as truly blessed. Our family might have been regarded as working poor, but the HMV radiogram in the living room of our rented inner-Melbourne cottage was an altar. And from it, we heard the genius of Louis Armstrong, Hank Williams, Nat “King” Cole, Frank Sinatra, Ray Charles, Patsy Cline, Slim Dusty and so many others.


Hank, Patsy and Slim were Mum and Dad’s idols. During the rock’n’roll revolution of the fifties, they sometimes agreed that Elvis, Chuck, Jerry Lee and Fats Domino really were fun to dance to, but they only brought those records out when friends came over and there were drinks on the table.


When Bob Dylan exploded onto the world stage in 1962, I was in my early teens, and part of a disparate group that met weekly to appreciate and discuss his songs. In turn, Dylan led me to his contemporaries and predecessors; Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Bill Monroe, and the Blues masters Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. This was the dawn of the Beatles/Rolling Stones era, but even then I realised that most of all, I loved the troubadours – the story-tellers who used words and melody the way impressionist painters used shape, colour and light.


Dylan ruled my record collection until the early 1970s, when Jim Croce deposed him. Jim released three acclaimed solo albums, then was tragically killed in a plane crash, aged just 30. He left behind a young family, and three of the most popular songs ever recorded; “Bad, Bad Leroy Brown”, “Time In a Bottle” and “Operator”. Had he lived for a decade or two longer, I have no doubt that Jim Croce would now be as respected (and certainly more loved) than Dylan himself.


To fill the void of Jim’s passing, I turned to a host of others, including Cat Stevens, Johnny Cash, Gillian Welch, Neil Young, Tom Waits, Paul Kelly and Graeme Connors. But it wasn’t until I strolled into a liquor store on a balmy Gold Coast evening about 25 years ago, that fate introduced me to the extraordinary Fred Eaglesmith.


There were no other customers that night, only a new manager behind the counter. We greeted each other, just as he clicked a cassette into the store’s tape player. I headed for the red wine aisle, but about halfway along, a song about driving a truck with water in the fuel stopped me in my tracks. “Please, who is THIS?” I asked in wonder, and the manager broke into a knowing smile.


Fred Eaglesmith (born Frederick John Elgersma in Southern Ontario, Canada in July, 1957) is one of nine children raised in a poor rural community. He began playing guitar aged 12, and left home in his teens by hopping a freight train, already equipped with a couple of original songs and a burning self-belief.


Over the following decade, Fred honed his craft by relentlessly performing whenever and wherever he could, throughout Canada and the USA. He formed a country/bluegrass co-operative with a floating line-up of musicians that performed under various names like the The Flying Squirrels and the Flathead Noodlers, and in 1980 released his first album.


Since then, there have been more than 20 others, liberally endowed with tales of life on the road or on the land, steam trains, cars, motorcycles, loves lost and found, farm machinery, horses, cattle, country towns, and ordinary, everyday people. All sung with absolute authority, honesty and a wicked sense of humour.


Fred has toured much of the world, and often visited Australia. Kasey Chambers and her father Bill (who have both recorded his songs) are regular guests at his annual charity picnic in rural Ontario. In 2014, Fred married his long-time collaborator Tiffani Ginn, a gifted vocalist and multi-instrumentalist in her own right. Since 2016 they have continued to tour as a duo.


So here, for your entertainment and/or enlightenment dear reader, is a list of 10 of my personal Fred Eaglesmith favourites, available on all the digital music platforms. If you haven’t yet made his acquaintance, get comfortable and have a listen.


Be careful, though. They can become addictive.



“She wanted him crazy, but not that crazy. Wild, but not that wild.”



“I could afford one, if I did a little less drinkin’”



“Hey, that’s the saddest train I ever heard”



“And the roads just get rougher, out in West Texas”



“I’ve got a left front tyre throwing tread, by tomorrow morning I could be dead”



“She was fightin’ with the band, and it was her or it was them”



“I guess the White Rose fillin’ station’s just a memory now”



“She’s been in love a couple of times before, but never quite like this”



“And the soda machine at Charlotte and Queen is as empty as my heart”



“Northern boys and southern cars and one-pump stations”



(Tweten’s Photography)



To read more from Warren, click HERE



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Conscription into the army ended Warren's dreams of becoming either a league footballer or a professional musician, but military service did at least teach him how to handle firearms, and to work behind a bar.


  1. Maybe it’s high time I made the acquaintance of Mr Fred Eaglesmith. And his music. Thank you, Warren, for the primer.

  2. Warren Tapner says

    Thanks for reading my scribbles, Vin. I’d be interested in your reaction.

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