Almanac Music: Dylan Cover Songs – Aussie Country Style

 

This is the 6th article in my Dylan Covers series – and on this occasion the focus will be on Aussie Country-style artists who have taken a shine to recording a Dylan cover.  The article will follow the artists in chronological order.

 

  1. Merv Benton

 

Merv was born and raised in Melbourne.

 

In early 1964, when Merv was 22, he signed with Melbourne’s W&G Records and became one of their most prolific artists, releasing seventeen singles between 1964 and 1967, and scoring an impressive run of fifteen Top 40 singles in his hometown.  Nationally, his most popular hit was ‘Baby Let’s Play House’, which peaked at 47 on the Australian charts.  Merv also released three studio albums between 1964 – 66.

 

For the 1966 Go-Set pop poll, Merv was listed third most popular male vocalist, behind Normie Rowe and Ronnie Burns but ahead of the likes of the emerging Billy Thorpe, Johnny Young, Tony Barber, Jeff St John and Ray Brown.  Unfortunately in 1967, at the height of his popularity, Merv was struck down by throat problems that ended his singing career.

 

Merv’s third album – Great Country Songs’ (1966) – marked a shift from rockabilly to country and included Dylan’s ‘Don’t Think Twice Its All Right’.

 

 

 

 

  1. Lee Conway

 

Lee was born in Poland in 1940 but by 1943 his family had settled in Fitzroy and then Aspendale, Victoria.

 

During his 20s, Lee dabbled in local bands but in 1968 he settled on truck driving to earn an income. In the confines of his truck during the long stretches between Melbourne and Adelaide, Lee came to love the country music he was hearing.  In 1969 he decided to do a demo tape at Adelaide’s Gamba recording studio – which was also used by his friend Doug Ashdown.

 

‘Wanted Man’ is a song written by Dylan in early 1969. Dylan gave the song to Johnny Cash who recorded it a week later during his February 24 1969  Johnny Cash At San Quentin live performance. That album was released in June 1969 and it is that version of ‘Wanted Man’ that Lee heard and loved.

 

So it came to be that In 1970, Lee released his second single – Side A: ‘Wanted Man’/Side B: ‘Yesterday’’.  Lee’s version of ‘Wanted Man’ was given heavy airplay by John Laws and become a minor chart hit.

 

‘Wanted Man’ (1970)

 

 

 

 

Lee went on tour internationally and to release fourteen albums between 1969 – 1999, including albums titled: Wanted Man 1972; Truck On Country 1975; Big Iron 1980,  and Cowboys and Engines 1981.

 

In 1982, Lee was inducted into the Tamworth ‘Hands Of Fame’.

 

The only recording of Dylan singing ‘Wanted Man’ is a 1969 duet with Johnny Cash, featuring Carl Perkins on guitar – a recording that was eventually released fifty years later on Dylan’s 2019 The Bootleg Series Vol.15: Travelin’ Thru, 1967-1969.

 

 

  1. Olivia Newton-John

 

I have previously written extensively on Olivia’s life and recording career – see Dylan Covers – Aussie Style – In Memoriam.  As such, the following focuses solely on Olivia’s only Dylan cover – one that successfully launched her career as an international recording artist.

 

In 1970, Olivia was signed to Festival Records in the UK and her first recording with the label was Dylan’s ‘If Not For You’ – although her version more closely resembles the George Harrison ‘interpretation’ of the song released on his November 1970 All Things Must Pass album. Olivia’s cover single, recorded in Abbey Road Studios, was released internationally in February 1971 and provided Olivia with considerable international success, peaking at no.1 in South Africa, no.7 in UK, no.8 in New Zealand, no.11 in Canada, no.14 in Australia, & no.25 in US (although it peaked at no.1 on the US ‘Easy Listening’ chart).

 

‘If Not For You’ (1971)

 

 

 

 

  1. Moonshine String & Jug Band

 

Formed in Adelaide in 1971, the Moonshine String and Jug Band included Doc Neeson along with brothers Rick and John Brewster. They released their first 4-track EP in 1973, with the lead song, an original by John Brewster, ‘Keep You On The Move’ making the top 5 on the Adelaide charts.

 

A follow up single was released in 1974, with an original song on side A: ‘That’s All Right With Me’ and a Dylan cover on side B: ‘She Belongs To

Me’.

 

 

 

 

During 1974 the nucleus of the band (Neeson and the Brewster brothers) would switch to electric instruments and changed the band’s name to The Keystone Angels.  By 1976, the band had a final transformation (or rather metamorphosis), releasing their debut single, ‘Am I Ever Gonna See Your Face Again’ as The Angels – and a bright new chapter in Australia rock music history begins.

 

 

  1. Anne Kirkpatrick

 

Anne was born in 1952 and is the daughter of Slim Dusty and Joy McKean.  She began her own solo career in 1974 and has released 11 studio albums.  Her 1991 Out Of The Blue album won the ARIA Award for Best Country Album.

 

In 1995, Anne recorded a ‘live’ album titled 21st Anniversary Concert.

 

Track 2, has Anne with Troy Cassar-Daley performing a ‘live’ version of Dylan’s  ‘You Ain’t Going Nowhere’

 

 

 

 

In 2010, Anne and in 2017, Troy Casser-Daley were added to the Australian Country Music Roll Of Renown.

 

 

  1. Cleila Adams

 

Cleila was born in Italy circa 1950 but shortly after her family moved to Orange, NSW.  Cliela’s first job was working on pop music magazine ‘Go-Set’.

 

By the mid 70s, Cleila was entrenched into the Tamworth music scene and was a member of girl trio group SKARLETT.  As a session singer at all the studios in Tamworth, Cleila can be heard (if not personally credited) on hundreds of country music albums recorded in Tamworth between 1975 to 2000.

 

Cleila’s solo career has resulted in five studio albums between 1983 – 2008.

 

On her second studio album Fine Company released in 1996, Cleila covers a deep felt version of Dylan’s ‘Forever Young’.

 

 

 

 

 

in 2010, Cleila was inducted into the Tamworth ‘Hands Of Fame’.

 

 

  1. James Blundell

 

James was born in Stanhope, Queensland 1964 and rose to prominence in the Australian country music scene after being named ‘best new talent’ at the 1987 Australian Country Music Awards.

 

James has released thirteen studio albums between 1989 – 2023, with his 1992 This Road’ album peaking at 4 on the Australian charts.

 

In 2001, James released a compilation album titled I Shall Be Released: The Best Of James Blundell,  and it is on this album that James covers Dylan’s ‘I Shall be Released’.

 

 

 

 

In 2019, James was added to the Australian Country Music Roll Of Renown.

 

 

  1. The Wilson Pickers

 

The Wilson Pickers are a country blues band formed in 2008 and made up of three Queenslanders (Ben Salter, Danny Widdicombe, Andrew Morris) and two  Victorians (Sime Nugent, John Bedggood).  They have released five albums between 2008 – 2018.

 

On their 2009 Jolene album, the band cover two Dylan songs – ‘You Ain’t Goin’ Nowhere’ and  ‘I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight’.

 

 

 

 

  1. The Stetson Family

 

The Stetson Family are a five-piece alt-country and bluegrass band out of Melbourne.  Long-time friends Nadine Budge, John Bartholomeusz and Colin Swan started playing music together in a synth-pop band during the mid 80s. They eventually swapped their synths for proper instruments and, in 2008, teamed up with Andy Carswell (My Friend the Chocolate Cake), and Luke Richardson.

 

Before Andy passed away in 2016, the band released three studio albums and it is on the third album, 2015’s True North that the band does a beautiful cover of Dylan’s ‘Billy 4’ – a song from the Pat Garrett & Billy The Kid movie soundtrack.

 

 

 

 

  1. Adam Harvey & Beccy Cole

 

Adam is a nine time Golden Guitar winner at the Country Music Awards and has released sixteen studio albums between 1994 – 2022.

 

Beccy is an eleven time Golden Guitar winner at The Country Music Awards and has released eleven studio albums between 1997 – 2022. In 2022, Beccy was added to the Australian Country Music Roll Of Renown.

 

In 2017, Adam & Beccy collaborated and released  The Great Country Song Book Vol II and it is on this album that they do a Johnny Cash/June Carter style cover of Dylan’s ‘It Ain’t Me Babe’.

 

 

 

 

 

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About Karl Dubravs

I was born in 1956 to Latvian parents who migrated to Australia in the late 1940's following WWII. My career was mostly in Human Resources within University and Public Service settings & allowed me to work & live in Sydney, Cabramurra (Australia's highest township), Townsville, Bathurst, Canberra & Shellharbour. I have now left paid employment & settled in the Blue Mountains. My true passion, ever since I was 16, has been songwriting - and my anthology is creeping towards 400 songs. In 2019, I unexpectedly crossed paths with a talented music producer & musician, who helped to produce my one & only album - 'Life & Love'.

Comments

  1. Kevin Densley says

    Great material, Karl – as encylopedic and well-researched as ever.

  2. Karl Dubravs says

    Thanks Kevin – your comments are always deeply appreciated.

  3. An interesting list, Karl.

    I’m enjoying the depth of research that has gone into this series.

  4. Karl Dubravs says

    Cheers Smokie – I’m enjoying the research and discovering new Aussie talent along the way!

  5. Rick Kane says

    This is fantastic Karl, some real deep dive finds. And, as an aside, what an embarrassingly small list (not from you, from 60 years of Aussie country artists opportunity to engage with Dylan’s songs). Considering greats of American country have engaged Dylan since the 60s, from Johnny Cash onwards, and Dylan’s own back and forth with country music through his history, you’d think our country music artists might have shown just a little more interest in his songs. Nice work!

  6. Karl Dubravs says

    Hi Rick
    Thanks for your comment and also your observation re the lack of deep engagement by Aussie country to Dylan’s anthology.
    As I was doing my research I was equally surprised. You have, however, inadvertently suggested a future article in this series – ‘Dylan Covers – US Country Style’. I’ll add it to my ‘to do’ list.

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