When legendary blues pioneer Robert Johnson took his infamous (and probably apocryphal) trip to the crossroads, he no idea that he was birthing an entirely new genre in music. And he certainly had no clue how far his influence would travel.
Getting raw Down Under
Australian blues guitarist Matty T Wall is proof of how far that influence would go. “I discovered Robert Johnson and he made the hair on the back of my neck stand up,” he recalls. “I got into the blues and have never gotten out of it.”
But getting into the blues was a complicated process for the young Australian.
With a father who listed Eric Clapton and Blues-influenced band Dire Straits as favorites, the young Matty needed no prodding to find an affection for the genre. Being armed with a Fender Stratocaster didn’t hurt either. Nonetheless, his first music crush was not on the blues, but on the flashy world of heavy metal. ACDC’s album “Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap” was an early favorite. He also found much to admire in such legendary headbangers as Led Zeppelin, Pantera and Metallica before returning to the music he’d listed to with his father, embracing a simplicity and emotional connection in the blues.
Not surprisingly, a big part of his return came with the realization of how much heavy metal had been built upon the emotional rawness and honesty of the blues.
The Blues in the Outback
Once his path to music enlightenment had become clear, it then became a matter for Wall to find a place for himself. But how does one find success in the Australian blues scene? The answer wasn’t as complicated as you may think.
Home to a strong and vibrant blues scene, Matty’s native country was already open to influence from the foreign genre. Wall cites the John Butler Trio as an example of how the land down under can combine straight ahead southern-fried blues with traditional Australian acoustic folk music. “Lots of people see that as blues.
That combustion of genres is gradually morphing into a more electric type of sound in later years.” He even jokes that his limitations on the acoustic guitar make him that much more grateful that the genre has taken off in his homeland as it has.
The Forecast calls for…
Wall’s introduction in the Blues world is a strong debut album called Blue Skies. While it may not have been his intention to hoodwink listeners about what they were hearing, one could easily mistake the work of this young master and his band as coming from a time-tested veteran and a band of colleagues he’s known and toured with for decades. In fact, the band had only been playing together for roughly a year and half before recording the album.
Perhaps the standout track on Matty’s stunning debut is a cover of a tune that many musical historians credit as sparking the birth of the blues, Hellbound on my Trail by Robert Johnson – the artist, remember, “who first made the hair on the back of [Wall’s] neck stand up.”
If his intention was to replicate the sense of sheer horror he first felt, Matty T Wall’s rendition of the classic must be deemed a breathtaking success. The album’s closer haunts the listener with tribal drums, subtle guitar voicing and vocals that creep along like an ongoing threat from the nighttime sky. The song and the album from it comes has taken its creator full circle. One can easily imagine a young blues devote being as inspired by the tune as young Matty was by the original. And wherever this youthful fan may reside – Australia, Chicago, Norway, Kenya or Cuba – the song will provide all the inspiration needed to pick up the guitar and play the blues.
How did Matty and his band build so much chemistry so quickly?
Simple. They clicked, as the bandleader says, “Very naturally.”
It seems another key component of the band’s success is the diversity of each band member’s tastes. According to Matty, drummer Jasper Miller, “has got that great sense of swing and he truly loves jazz.” Meanwhile Stephen Walker on bass is “A great fan of pop, funk and fusion, that kind of stuff.”
Like most great albums of its genre, Blue Skies comes very much from its bandleader individual voice. But it also comes from the collective voices in the background.