Roots & All – Issue 84

By Kim Cheshire

2016 was certainly a tough year for music with the loss of so many enormous talents from Merle Haggard to David Bowie, Prince, Leonard Cohen, Guy Clark, Leon Russell and many more. Australia unfortunately lost a few of its rock legends too including Jon English, both Daddy Cool’s enigmatic guitarist Ross Hannaford and beloved bassist Wayne Duncan and more. Along with the many celebrities we’re all familiar with, there’s an equally compelling list of lesser known talents that rarely ever make the public forums who have also made their mortal exit during the last year. Many often overlooked musicians/producers/arrangers etc have made mammoth contributions to the world of music. A couple of examples from the last twelve months are two musicians from completely different backgrounds, from very different musical spectres yet both treasured by their respective musical communities.  

Much loved Melbourne born, Sydney based (for the majority of her musical life) bassist 

Bronwyn Stevens (14.4.51 – 22.1.2017) departed our earthly shores most recently in Jan 2017 having bravely battled liver cancer for the last few years. Bronwyn or “Bronny” to her buddies, was a stalwart of the Sydney inner city alternative country music scene for a couple of decades before being diagnosed and moving to the Northern Rivers region of NSW to contemplate her options. I first became acquainted with her back in the early ’80s playing Sydney’s inner city pub scene, when she was a member of all girl band and alt country pioneers Doris Dazed and I was singer for The Danglin’ Bros. We continued to run into each other throughout the eighties and nineties as we moved in similar circles, both of us playing alongside Keith Glass, The Flying Emus, The Happening Thang, Melbourne’s Slaughtermen, Dancehall Racketeers and The Baylor Bros, WA’s Dude Ranch and more… what were in fact the formative years of alternative country music in Australia.

Moving from Melbourne to Sydney in the late seventies with all girl band Sheila, she soon found herself holding down the grooves for another all girl country band, the aforementioned Doris Dazed and went on to play with a wide variety of bands including Scarlet Rose, Chain of Hearts, Mark Lucas’s The Parwills, Mary Heard’s Mid West Obsession, Ghost Ranch with Leonie Becker, Rob Lucky’s The Heldorados, Graham Griffith’s Out of Nowhere and Back in the Saddle with Cate McCarthy, Gary Brown and Dominic O’Donnell before moving up to the North Coast of NSW and joining Clelia Adam’s much loved River Valley Express. Bronny was also to be found anchoring the bottom end at occasional, folk and country gigs and singing in her beloved Lismore accapella choir. She was both a great source of knowledge of her favoured alt country musical approach, and someone who played a significant role in the development of Australia’s now burgeoning alternative country music scene. She was a sweet unassuming soul, loved by so many in our music community and was celebrated accordingly at her joyous musically infused wake!

“As a fellow country music artist Bronny was a loyal and dedicated musician, a talent just waiting to shine in the right environment, who also worked in film, acting, photography and teaching…a sincere friend who will be greatly missed in many walks of life.” Singer/songwriter Leslie Avril

“When I met Bronny we were both part of a new wave of singers and musicians arriving in Tamworth to find a place amongst the traditional Australian music of the time. Both her bass style and musical integrity were always consistent with her love of pure roots/country genres and it was my good fortune when she made her sea change to my home town… perfect bass player had arrived. I am privileged to have had her at the helm of my music and as a great friend, she made it so easy for me…vale dear friend, I miss you!” Singer/songwriter Clelia Adams

Ohio born, New Orleans raised Pianist/Arranger/Producer Larry Muhoberac (February 12, 1937 – December 4, 2016) was not only an in demand multi talented musician but considering the wealth of world class talent he worked with since the 1950’s he remained one of the most generous, humble and sweetest people I’ve have been fortunate to have encountered in the music business. Muhoberac started his professional musical career at 20 working with legendary jazz band leader Woody Herman before moving to Los Angeles in the early ‘60s to work as a studio musician. Here he worked for many years writing playing and arranging for Mike Post productions and others, creating music for TV shows “Hill St Blues,” “Magnum PI,”  “Law and Order” as well as “Rockford Files,” “Cheers” and more.

Thanks to an earlier serendipitous meeting in Memphis he was recruited by Elvis Presley’s people to work on his movie soundtracks for MGM, eventually becoming an integral member of the TCB band that saw him playing with Elvis for his legendary return to live performance at the Las Vegas International Hotel in 1969 before handing his job over to Glen D Hardin. The following year he returned to studio work with sessions for Neil Diamond, Ray Charles, The Carpenters, Tina Turner, Barbara Streisand, Nancy Sinatra, The Partridge Family, Seals and Crofts and many more.

Summoned  to Nashville by maverick LA producer Jimmy Bowen in 1980’s saw him commuting from LA to play sessions for Merle Haggard, Waylon Jennings, Jesse Colter, Dolly Parton, John Prine, Crystal Gayle, Tanya Tucker among others, eventually starting a production company with guitarist, singer, hit songwriter/producer Billy Joe Walker. 

Keen to leave LA and looking for adventure and new musical challenges found him moving to Australia (having fallen in love with the place on a previous vacation) in 1986 with his wife solo artist/session singer Andra Willis. Settling in Sydney he quickly became immersed in the local music scene and was soon an in demand session musician/arranger/conductor and producer across a wide variety of genres.

Initially working with Col Joye before spreading his wings in multiple musical directions from  producing/arranging chart topping album Stormy Weather for Grace Knight, to composing the soundtrack for Australian feature movie “Billy’s Holliday” starring Max Cullen, arranging and conducting orchestras for Silverchair albums Neon Ballroom  and Diorama and touring outback Australia as piano playing MD for Ian Macca McNamara. He played numerous sessions for some of Australia’s most successful country artists, Slim Dusty, Adam Harvey, Gina Jeffreys, Beccy Cole and Macca along with Bella, The Wheel and others. His contribution to Australian music in general was considerable and significant, and particularly to our home grown country music.

“Larry was a friend, the finest musician you could wish to play with or hear, and a musical mentor. He was a brilliant arranger and over the years he shared his talent on so many projects that we worked on together for artists like Gina, Macca, Adam Harvey, Beccy Cole, Bella and many more. It was always one of life’s pleasures to give Larry a song you had written, have him write an arrangement and then go into the studio and hear it come to life in the most magical way.

Larry spent so much time in studios all over the world and for many years at mine, sitting at the piano stool, making beautiful music. His genius still rings through these halls and jumps out of speakers all over the world. Thank you Larry.”  Producer, Musician, songwriter Rod McCormack

“Larry didn’t talk much about his past achievements, and I would have interviewed him about it but he didn’t seem to really want to do it, it was like extracting teeth with Larry, he would rather hide his lot under a bushel, if you know what I mean! You go through life and you’re lucky if you meet some wonderful people along the way and Larry was one of those people and Australian music benefitted greatly from him turning up here, we all learned a lot from Larry”. Musician songwriter and host of Australia All Over Ian “Macca” McNamara

Music like life, is rarely a solo endeavour, even when you’re a solo artist; it’s nearly always a team effort and it’s important to acknowledge those behind the scenes, behind so many of our favourite songs, albums and artists. As the old saying goes, “you’re only as strong as your weakest link” – you always knew you were on solid ground when these guys were on your team. Vale Bronny Stephens and Larry Muhoberac, you may be gone but your music will live on.