In this series “Blues Radio, South Australia”. I will be profiling all of those Blues playing presenters who freely give of their own time to Community Radio stations around the state. Community Radio is the only avenue available to lovers of the genre to hear regular, in depth programs dealing with Roots and Blues, and with this series I wish to pay homage to these selfless presenters.
Tess Coleman, an English expatriate currently residing in Gawler South Australia, began her radio career at Triple B Barossa, based in Tanunda.
Sister T - Tell me what first captured you about Blues music?
It was so different to the popular music of the 60's and I guess that as a teenager I was open to new music experiences. It just seemed raw and exciting and of course I was very lucky that my early experience of live blues was in London where all the best blues acts from the UK and the US performed in the 60's. When still at school I was seeing bands like The Rolling Stones at our local ballroom. Our nearest venue in North London had blues every Friday night and that's where I saw John Lee Hooker, Howlin' Wolf, Sonny Boy Williamson and many more. I was really under age but went there with an older cousin. We were tall for our age and somehow passed for 18. Some of the music was more rhythm and blues but I loved it all. Then I often went to the 100 Club in London's West End on a Monday night or The Marquee. There were also some great festivals, but by about 1968 the scene was starting to fade.
During the 90's when I lived in the Barossa Valley a friend was presenting a blues program on the local station BBB FM. I used to enjoy the program as he played a lot of my old favourites. He told me that I could train and become a presenter too. I thought it might be fun to do the training but at that time there were 2 blues presenters, as well as a blues and rock program and they didn't really need another one, so at first I shared a show with another presenter on Sunday lunchtime. It was a `What's On' show and we covered lots of local arts and music events often doing interviews. After a year or 2 the blues presenters left and I got the opportunity to do a program. I had lots of old music on vinyl but not so much new music, so as well as spending a lot of money buying some on CD, I began to connect with artists and record companies online to obtain more new music and that was how I met my American partner.
On BBB FM I was a presenter on `True Blues', a program that went out on a Wednesday night 8-11pm. I shared this with a couple of other presenters and sometimes we would present shows together which was always good fun. There was also a blues and rock show on Saturday nights which I sometimes filled in on, and then for a while I had my own show `Blues and Rock at 5 O Clock' for one hour each Thursday. When I moved out of the Barossa Valley in 2005 I continued at BBB FM for a few years but began spending a lot more time in the city babysitting my grandchildren and playing music with friends, so decided to apply to Radio Adelaide as I was told that Terry Heazlewood was looking for someone to share the Saturday Blues program with, as Big Mike, who had been sharing the presenting duties, was out of town. I've been happy to be part of that program for several years now but when Big Mike returned I decided that I wanted more than a program every 3 weeks so applied for a spot on Three D Radio where I had a lot of friends. It took me a few years to get a one hour specialist show on Wednesday lunchtimes and as there is already a well-established blues program on Three D I decided to make mine a little different by sticking to the styles of electric blues that appeal most to me and adding some jazz into the mix, as I'm also a big jazz fan so that's how `Groovin' With Sister T' started.
I like most blues but especially contemporary electric blues, Texas blues, Soul blues, New Orleans and gospel and jazzy blues. Lately I've been into some Hill Country music too. I do get bored with hearing covers of songs that are played out unless the musicians are great and/or the song has been rearranged. It's hard to be original in blues these days but I do enjoy good original tunes. I'm generally not too much into slide guitar.
Sister T - What does the Blues mean to you personally?
As a white girl from England I never really knew why but this music speaks to me as it did to many others who first heard it when I did. Of course at that time I didn't know too much about the oppression of black people in the US but Iearned more about the development of the music as I listened to more of it, and of course artists like John Mayall had their own take on it which was based on their own life experiences. I love the emotion that you hear in a great blues song.
Blues has never had a big following in Australia. We were watching a quiz show recently and a contestant had never heard of Muddy Waters. Our comfortable lifestyle means that most people don't relate to the music really, but here and there musicians emerge who do have a passion for it and can develop their own style of Australian Blues, and if they are willing to do the hard work it is still possible to build a following. Dutch Tilders led the way and more recently Fiona Boyes has been a great role model for others.
Sister T - Where do you see the Blues Going in coming years?
I don't see audiences for blues increasing as it does not get much exposure in mainstream media. The music scene is much more fragmented than when I was growing up. The internet has resulted in bands all over the world putting out their music and competing for audiences but the reality is that unless you have something very special most bands find it hard to break out of their local area. Blues audiences are ageing and younger people expect everything for free so it's hard to make a living from blues or almost any music now. Buddy Guy is the last of the big names in blues who is still performing and he still has many fans, but the younger artists who are popular now like Joe Bonamassa and Gary Clark Jr are really more rock orientated but this seems to be what audiences like. Most blues festivals and blues jams are mainly attended by older white people, many of whom are rock fans and this blues/rock style also seems to appeal more to younger fans so it seems that this is the direction that blues is heading in. Maybe one day there will be a revival of real blues as music does seem to be cyclical. I hope that I can continue to promote the music that I enjoy and do my bit to sustain and hopefully increase the fan base of this great music.
Mike Hotz 20/8/16