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Career Summary by Peter Summers

Paul Wookey was born on May 21st 1950. That's really all there is to it...  In essence, some musicians are born and some aren't very good.

Paul's early years were spent growing up in Healesville in the Dandenong Ranges north of Melbourne, followed by a longer term in Wonthaggi and environs as a disaffected teenager.

Around that time Paul stumbled upon the music of Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie, a little after he discovered sex 'n' beer 'n' rock 'n' roll (not necessarily in that order). It proved to be a pivotal moment when he got his first guitar and began impersonating his new heroes, not the show biz rock gods of the early Seventies but the authentic folk and blues artists of the previous fifty years.

By his early twenties Paul had absorbed enough folk, blues and country music influences to produce something that was uniquely Paul Wookey. His first Melbourne gig was at the formal dinner dance for an obscure car radiator manufucturing company but his second gig was at Frank Traynor's, the legendary birthplace of Australian folk music.

Fiercely independent, shy, mercurial and passionate about his music, Paul won over the hard core folk audiences and progressively built a solid reputation as a quality performer. He regularly played at the Outpost Inn (another seminal nightly Melbourne folk venue) and was one of the founding musicians of One-C-One, the highly regarded weekly folk club in Carlton that flourished until the early 1980's. 

Paul's voice has always been his gift : he can wring the emotion from a Jimmie Rodgers lyric and follow that with the sorrow and anger found in a Robert Johnson blues song. And his guitar work is always impeccable, be it finger picking, slide guitar, blues styles or country.

Eventually Paul came to the notice of EMI who signed him up to record an album with noted producer Steve Groves of 'Tin Tin' and 'Bushwackers' fame. The result was a crisp and well produced selection of mainly acoustic songs featuring the could-a-been hit single "Ghost Riders in the Sky" that received a lot of national and regional airplay.

The album also introduced Paul Wookey as a song writer - he contributed three songs, the nostalgic "Roll Along", the introspective "He Could Never Love You" and the clever instrumental "Alicia". "Roll Along" was a song with a future and a past. It has the sort of melody that you'd swear you'd heard on some greatest hits album by Hank Williams : it was that good. It would also turn up, albeit re-recorded, on Paul's next album nineteen years later.

The "Mountain Breakfast" album was released in 1981 to critical and popular acclaim after a launch at the Troubadour Music House Restaurant (as it was called at that time). Paul began touring nationally, appearing at festivals and in concert. The album secured Paul a 'Best New Artist' Award at the 1981 Tamworth Country Music Festival as well as various TV appearances and a trip to Nashville. 

Throughout the 1980's  Paul consolidated his career, performing regularly around the country both solo and with various respected musicians including a stint with Bob Sedergreen when he hosted a Blues based TV series on ABC TV called "Jazz AZ Now".

What Paul didn't do was follow up the recording success of his first album. Instead he became immersed in bluegrass music, followed by Irish fiddle music whilst exploring his song writing abilities. 

However Paul's recording drought ended in 2000 when he recorded 14 original songs for his "One Way Ticket" album released by Round Records. This album was quite unique in its combination of Australian tinged folk, country, Irish and blues music and contained at least one song that will become a classic over time, "The Last Coal Train".

"The Last Coal Train" is literally about that - the last coal train that left Wonthaggi some time in 1968 after the coal mines were finally closed down. It represents the passing of a period in Australian history - the generational move from the land to the city, the loss of country jobs, the dislocation of the pre-war generation. 

Again the album got excellent reviews, notably Glenn A. Baker saying that the album contained a collection of "powerful and important Australian songs". Radio National in particular liked the album and it received regular airplay. 

On the back of this interest, Paul has again begun playing at various festivals and in concert. He has been actively writing the material for his next album scheduled for release in early 2005. In the mean time Paul has returned to the country from whence he came, or more precisely Euroa in northern Victoria. From this base he travels to play throughout the Eastern states whilst conducting guitar and fiddle classes for local enthusiasts in the region.

Some artists take a long time to capitalise on their obvious talents and some come and go like a fireworks display. Well I've known this bloke, this Paul Wookey, for many years and I believe that his best work is yet to come. Stay tuned.

 

Peer Review by Mike McClellan

Paul Wookey may just be the best traditional blues country singer to emerge in Australia in many years. I don't think I have heard any who cover the range of material he does with such ease and conviction - from Dylan to Jimmie Rogers he has that rare ability to invest a song with a quality uniquely his own and there is no finer interpreter of a Hank Williams song around.

In addition, he's an outstanding guitar picker - try trading licks with him on fast fiddle tune - he'll leave you breathless.

 


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