By David Dawson.
Port Henry road leads to a factory, my old man worked every day/ he always dreamed of playing football, Fate didn’t see it quite that way/ and he’d say ‘son make the most of every chance that comes and goes/ don’t be sitting on the side line when the final whistle blows. – ‘Do The Best You Can’ – Adam Harvey-Clint Crighton.
Adam Harvey’s dad Len was on the verge of a rugby career when disaster struck 50 years ago in Queensland.
Len, now 69 and currently battling serious illness, was badly injured in a motor bike accident.
But Geelong born Adam mined the family sire’s paternal pain into a powerful message in ‘Do The Best You Can’ – one of the highlights of this his ninth album Family Life.
Harvey, now 39 and father of two teenagers, heeded his dad’s words of wisdom – never lose your faith or give up on your dreams even if it all but kills you.
That philosophy enriched Adam’s family life and 20 year career with half a million album sales, gold and platinum albums and eight Golden Guitar Awards.
“Dad worked as a rigger at Alcoa for almost 40 years,” Harvey told Country Update on the eve of a national tour to promote Family Life, released late August.
“He hated the short drive every morning from Leopold to Moolap to the factory near Geelong. He spent almost his life in that aluminium factory at Alcoa and he hated every day of it.”
But, like his son who worked as a truckie to make ends meet in his youth, it was not Len’s career of choice.
“He played for Norths – the Red Devils – who are the feeder club for a lot of the NRL Clubs so it was Rugby League,” Adam revealed.
“He was doing really well and he got a contract to go and play for New Zealand. Before he left he and his mates had a big party to celebrate and he was on a motor bike and his mate ran over him on a street in Crib Island which is where Brisbane Airport is now. It cracked his knee cap in half and his leg was broken in a couple of places. So he took the job as a rigger at Alcoa and had trouble with his knee all his life. Despite the pain he hung in there and retired in his early sixties.”
Harvey credits his father’s faith, ethos and paternal advice as his career catalyst.
“He used to say to me when I started playing country guitar and going in talent quests ‘you follow this music thing and see how far it will take you,’” Harvey said.
“And he said “you don’t want to be like me and dread every morning when that alarm goes off at 5 o’clock and you’ve got to get up and do something you hate.’ It stuck in my head. I thought it would be good to include a little football speech in the song.”
Ironically, Adam’s song also proved to be timely therapy for his mentor.
“Dad has been very sick, we nearly lost him, he was in a coma for eight weeks,” Harvey explained.
“He has had a helluva lot of trouble with cancer. I sent a tape of the song down to my mum. It was lovely, she took the little stereo into the hospital and played it for him and he had a little cry.”
Family has long been a strong focus of the music of Harvey with his wife Kathy, daughter Leylah and son Conway all prominent, and never more than on his new album.
Harvey referenced his father’s radio in ‘My Home And Family’ with homage to iconic legend Tom T Hall and a syndicated DJ who helped spread the message.
“Every week we would listen to Nick Erby’s Country Countdown and Dad wouldn’t miss that for love or money,” Harvey recalled.
“We would sit and listen and I would have my acoustic guitar out strumming along. Dad had a great memory for artists and songs and would say he recorded that there, and started out on the Grand Ole Opry and he toured Australia in 1962. He had a real knowledge of artists – especially Tom T Hall who is in that song.”
Harvey and former producer Rod McCormack visited Hall and his song-writing spouse Dixie at their home on one of their visits to Nashville. Tom T gave Adam a souvenir rug after the visitor sang his version of Hall classic ‘Old Dogs, Children & Watermelon Wine’ at the family home.
But it was a young Wagga raised singer-songwriter Colin Crighton – not Hall – who rhymed jacaranda with veranda in the new song.
“Tom T Hall wrote ‘I’ll Be With You When The Jacaranda Blooms’ on one of his Australian tours but a mate of mine rhymed jacaranda with veranda on ‘My Home And Family’,” Harvey confessed.
“I was writing that song and didn’t have that line in there. There’s this young bloke called Colin Crighton who comes from Wagga. I have known him for years. He spent a lot of time in America. He said ‘I’m not really a country writer but I want to write with you.’ He’s a young guy and has these great ideas and angles and lines and we wrote a stack of songs together for this album. He’s a really talented young bloke and I really enjoyed it.”
Adam teamed with his daughter Leylah on ‘Daddy What If’ – a Bobby Bare hit penned by prolific late Playboy cartoonist, author, playwright and Shel Silverstein who also scored the soundtrack of the Tony Richardson directed 1969 Ned Kelly movie starring Mick Jagger.
“I have been lucky enough to sing a lot of duets with people I admire but that was my favourite,” Harvey confessed.
“It’s a beautiful memory I’ll never forget, to get in that studio and sing with her. She has piano lessons every week and singing. She really loves music. I was really hoping she and Conway would get a real job but they might both end up in the music industry. My wife Kathy heard that song on the local radio here and said ‘wouldn’t that be a great duet?’ I said ‘Yeah – with Leylah.’ I played it to Leylah and she said, ‘Yeah, sure-how much are you paying?’ She reckons I’m holding her back now.”
But it was son Conway, now 13 and named after the late Conway Twitty, who inspired ‘My Little Boy.’
“I was sitting here in the office and he was heading off on his first day of high school and he’s nearly six foot tall and nearly as tall as me,” Adam recalled.
“He just walked out the door to catch the bus and I thought where has that time gone? I got teary and started writing the song and finished it in 15 minutes. I sang it to my wife Kathy and she cried, and sang it to my producer Graham Thompson and he cried. I was in the studio recording while Duncan was filming a video and I could see behind his camera and he had tears pouring down his face.”
But don’t call Harvey’s hombres sooks – you might have to answer to Conway.
“He does gym a couple of days a week, boxing and basketball and loves his DJ work,” Harvey revealed.
“He loves electronic music.”
Harvey was so moved by the suffering of female family friends he revamped the 1999 Sammy Kershaw hit ‘She Don’t Know She’s Beautiful’ as a theme song for the McGrath Foundation.
“I’ve had a lot of songs over the years for blokes, the beer drinking songs, but I’ve got involved in the McGrath Foundation and a very dear friend of ours had a double mastectomy,” Harvey explained.
“It’s a terrible thing and happens to so many people. We have a whole lot of fund raising concerts and other things we’re going to do for the McGrath Foundation. I thought this would be a perfect song for that. Duncan Toombs did a beautiful job with the video clip. When you see the clip it puts extra dimension into the song and new meaning. It’s a very sensitive issue. We filmed it up here at the People’s Republic of Batteau Bay on the NSW Central Coast.”
Harvey lightened the mood of his album with the bluegrass fuelled domestic ditty ‘Mere Male’ – penned with Colin Buchanan – ‘Kids’ and his duet with McAlister Kemp on ‘One Full Bottle Of Rum.’
And he credits Kathy – his wife of 17 years – for his eternal humour and ‘Count On Me’ and ‘Sweet Sweet Love.’
“I thought I owed her a song,” Adam quipped. “She could have given up on me after 13 years and traded me in. She thought it might be easier to train a monkey, but she’s hanging in there.”
But his fitting finale was ‘You Are On My Mind’ – inspired by both parents.
“My mum used to always whinge and moan about my dad, and then when Dad was in that coma and it didn’t look like he was going to survive I went down there to Geelong to see them both,” Harvey recalled. “I realised that was all bluff and bravado. Talking to my mum I realised she really was at a loss and wondering what she was going to do without her life partner. It really began to dawn on her that she might be on her own and lost her soul-mate. I thought there’s a song in that.”
So it was a natural bookend for an even dozen songs kicked off by the title track entrée.
Family Life was released on August 22.