Young Cat, Old Dogs, New Tricks
It was some time in the late 90s. It was maybe a Foreday Riders gig, but more likely a Whose Muddy Shoes Gig. It was definitely at the smelly old Oxford Tavern in Wollongong. Without a shadow of a doubt, it was Ray Beadle on guitar.
Me, I was a slightly cocky young guitar shredder hanging out at my favourite pub in the Illawarra, checking out as many bands as I could, sometimes 3-4 nights a week. On this night, a guy who was not too much older than me was sitting in with veterans, and tearing the blues a new backside on his beaten up black Paul Reed Smith.
On this night, I heard this Australian blues guitarist giving a steep nod of the hat to Stevie Ray Vaughan and other blues guitar legends. But there was a big difference between Ray Beadle and the million other SRV clones. There was a hint of Brian Setzer-ish rockabilly in the harmonic sensibility and a pool of influences I hadn’t even encountered yet. But above all, there was taste; Ray had buckets of ear-grabbing phrases and licks.
Oh, and he can really, really sing. And with much more deep soul influence than your average blues screamer.
The Big Bopper
Then, a few years later at the Australian Blues Music Festival in Goulburn NSW, I saw him again.
From vague memory, it was with his band The Vipers. From crystal clear memory: a moment in a hyper-exciting jump blues tune where the band dropped out, leaving nothing but a swinging hi-hat and Ray’s guitar. What followed was about three minutes of self-comped jazz blues changes outlined by juicy extended chords and snaky Parker-esque bop lines mixed with swaggering blues bends. There has never been anything ‘standard’ about his playing.
Ray is a rare electric blues guitar player in the sense that he has the ability to swing, and swing hard. The Goulburn show blew the crowd away, and it put me on the track to learning 'that sophisticated stuff', by hook or by crook.
Since these experiences, I’ve always considered Ray Beadle as Australia’s best and most exciting blues musician.
Ray’s star rose fast from the 90s to the 2000s, with a firm establishment in the hearts of blues fans far and wide. But we missed him for a while there. Around 2007, after a stint in the US—playing with BB King’s Club House Band in Memphis—he took a short break to drive trucks around the Australian east coast to support his family.
But Beadle returned to the music scene in 2010 with gusto. Since then, he has played all around Australia in his electric blues setting with some of Sydney’s most accomplished rhythm sections, or as a deft-handed Django Reinhardt-influenced acoustic blues guitarist and solo singer.
Beadle has an exhausting schedule of gigs these days, and that’s a blessing for blues fans, especially if you live in Sydney. If you live anywhere else in Australia, and you see a Ray Beadle gig advertised near you, do not hesitate. Go and see Ray Beadle play. If you’re out in the middle of nowhere, buy his albums (I recommend his live double CD). We have the internet after all.
As a reference, I’d like to acknowledge this great 2010 article from the ABC, which still has free audio of an interview recorded backstage at Byron Blues Fest outlining further details of Ray Beadle’s fascinating blues journey.
Check out this brilliant performance at Byron Blues Fest.