For starters, readers who may not know it should be aware that there is, in fact, a lively blues scene down under in Australia. They pretty much kept pace with musical developments in the English-speaking world since the inception of radio and their musical tastes and preferences fall right in line with North American and the British Isles. Whatever Americans listen to the Aussies do as well. It’s a smaller world than one imagines. The Aussies don’t just like it, they play it.
The living blues practitioners of today all learned in only two ways: Some were fortunate enough to be in the right place at the right time to have had the chance to learn at the feet of an authentic blues master; or, they learned from listening, to others and to records. Dom did some of both, having dedicated 30 years to the music. Anyone who listens to him will instantly know that this musician is the real deal, a guy who does the music justice, reveres the early practitioners and does his best to keep the traditional and acoustic blues as an important element of the scene.
After that, it’s just music. You learn by working hard and practicing, and by feeling the music deep down inside of you with a burning. That’s how you make it into the first violin seat in a philharmonic, even if you are a young girl from Korea; that’s how an African American masters European Opera and ends up on the biggest stages in the world; and that’s how some white guy way down under on the other side of the world ends up mastering the traditional blues. Dom Turner did just that, and today he sits with the best of the blues, like harmonica ace Phil Wiggins, as a friend and equal.
Secondly, Dom Turner is the frontman for the Australian blues-roots band the Backsliders, among other things. They were the first, but far out of sight, because others copped the brand name afterward. There are at least two other bands by that name, the country/rock/roots band the Backsliders from Georgia. Then there are the Backsliders in Texas, the rock blues band, and maybe more practicing in a garage somewhere. (Oh, what good a little trademark search could do. People! Get a lawyer before you start naming your band to save legal bills later in life. )
Phil Wiggins, for more than 30 years partner in the great Piedmont blues duo Cephas & Wiggins, a man who has played with them all, seen it all and done it all, and surely one of the best blues harmonica players in the world, said to thecountryblues.com, “I love playing with Dom. He’s great. He really understands the music deep down. When we play it is like we had been together a lot longer than we have because our intuitions match up. The groove is right there. He’s able to approach the music almost with a romanticized view, by being so far away, he sees all the beauty of it. It was really lots of fun, and we sounded so good together.” That validation is not given gratuitously.
In five music centered trips to the US, the Australian bard soaked up as much music as possible, playing, listening and joining with many of the Piedmont greats, like John Jackson, John Cephas and, ultimately, numerous tours with Phil Wiggins on the east cost of the US and in Australia. When he plays the 6 and 12 string guitars it becomes evident that he clearly has not just learned the many diverse tunings, picking and sliding styles of the 1920s and 30s, he is a string virtuoso whose sound, feel and deep roots are comparable to the best in the genre. Dom Turner is not just a superb fingerpicking and slide guitarist, he is also a critically acclaimed songwriter, having not just fronted numerous bands and ensembles in Australia where he also wrote some great songs. In 2004 Dom was voted ‘Blues Songwriter of the Year’ at the Australian Blues Awards.
Multi-instrumentalist, blues preservationist and an all around excellent player, he has a bag of tricks. He shared his instrument line-up with thecountryblues.com’s Australia correspondent Julie Fox “I play a number of stringed instruments live and on recordings with Backsliders, primarily 6 and 12 string guitars, both acoustic and electric. Resonator guitars, mandolin and a Vietnamese ‘Dan Thu’. The 6 and 12 string acoustics are all made by a local Sydney luthier, Gerard Gilet, and my main resonator guitar for the past 16 years has been a Beeton resonator, built by local luthier Greg Beeton. In live mode I generally travel with a mid 1960’s Teisco TG-64 electric guitar and the Beeton resonator guitar, both equipped with Hipshot Trilogy tailpieces, allowing me to switch between various guitar tunings. In recent years I’ve replaced the ‘Dan Thu’ in live performances with an electric Mandola that has the same scale length and is tuned closer to a ‘Dan Thu’ than a Mandola.”
To read the full interview see the Op-Ed section here.