In Canada, Greg Quill is best-known as having been one of the country’s premier arts journalists. After writing for and editing Music Express and other music publications in the early ‘80s, he moved over to The Toronto Star, writing eloquently on music, TV and film for nearly three decades, prior to his passing in May 2013 at age 66.
In his native Australia, though, Greg Quill was best-known as a poetic singer/songwriter whose brand of country-rock enjoyed commercial success and had a major influence Down Under. That side of Quill’s multiple talents has now been vividly captured on a new tribute album, Some Lonesome Picker.
Released in Australia in May, it has been scoring very positive reviews. An article in The Toronto Star last week spread word of its existence here, so we decided to dig further.
The album features an elite grouping of Australian singer/songwriters and musicians who are admirers of Quill’s work. Such artists as Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri (The Black Sorrows) are known here, while the likes of Richard Clapton, Ross Wilson (Daddy Cool) and Russell Morris are major stars Down Under.
The project was brought to fruition by one of Quill’s closest musical comrades, Kerryn Tolhurst. He was a member of Quill’s seminal band Country Radio, prior to forming The Dingoes, another hugely popular roots-rock band in Australia. The Dingoes never quite broke through in North America (this scribe saw and interviewed them in Montreal in 1976), but became genuine legends at home.
Tolhurst was long based in New York City as a songwriter and producer (he wrote the Pat Benatar hit “All Fired Up”), and he was instrumental in encouraging Quill to return to making music, in 1999. The pair formed a duo, Quill-Tolhurst, and in 2003 they released an album, So Rudely Interrupted, on True North Records .
That would be the duo’s only record, but Quill continued to perform on the roots music circuit in Canada and Australia, both solo and in such bands as Ironbark.
In an e-mail interview with FYI yesterday, Tolhurst explained the genesis of the tribute album. “Shortly after Greg's passing I attended a memorial for him at his old Sydney haunt The Shack with a bunch of old friends and the idea of a tribute album grew from there. The idea was to preserve Greg's legacy and the influence he's had on other local singer/songwriters who have followed in his footsteps. After Chris Blanchflower [also an earlier member of Country Radio] came up with the funding I got on the phone to a wish list of artists I had in mind. Their response was overwhelming and they all were keen to perform the songs I assigned to them.”
Such a reaction came as no surprise to Quill’s wife Ellen Davidson [a highly-respected Canadian public relations professional). She told FYI that “with Kerryn and Chris involved, there’s no one in Oz who wouldn’t pick up the phone to either one. I’m familiar with every artist on the album and I’m thrilled by this. It’s like having our personal pride of lions. They are all heavyweights and all, without exception, revered.
“I loved all their work and I’m not singling out any particular one. Let’s just say, corny though it sounds, that it took me a loooong time to get through this album. It wasn’t just that they were Greg’s songs but it was the emotion, the interpretation each singer gave their particular song. I kept having to take lots of breaks.”
Tolhurst notes that “the word about the album is getting out, but this was a difficult project to get off the ground. After all major labels turned it down, I finally got a distribution deal with MGM which doesn't include promo. So that's my new job. But we are getting very positive reviews and wide media coverage is rolling out.”
He adds that “the album is available in Canada as a download on iTunes etc, but we're looking into the possibility of a Canadian deal...maybe depending on the response to the recent articles.”
Three of Quill’s ‘70s albums (solo and with Country Radio) were recently reissued via iTunes through Warner.
Tolhurst reflects on his collaborations with Quill with great affection. “That album we did, So Rudely Interrupted, was the last time we worked together and it was a great joy for Greg since he'd been away from performing and writing for such a long time and he was so excited to get back at it again.”
He also credits Quill with having a huge impact on his own work, dating back to Country Radio’s big Australian hit "Gypsy Queen." “We wrote that when I joined Country Radio in 1971, and it was the first song I ever had a hand in writing. After that we wrote ‘Wintersong’ together which also charted here. Then Greg went to Canada and I was in The Dingoes so we didn't get together again until So Rudely Interrrupted.
“The Dingoes would not have existed if it weren't for Greg. He gave me the confidence and showed me the tools I needed to become a songwriter myself. As a result I put together a bunch of songs that would become the bulk of the first Dingoes album, but I don't think I ever reached his level of lyrical poetry in my songs.”
Quill’s Aussie musical mates have indeed done him proud with Some Lonesome Picker. Ellen Davidson recalls that “I only saw Greg cry twice .. when his dad died and when our daughter, Kaya, was born. I have a feeling all this fuss would have constituted the third time.”