PART ONE: Troy Cassar-Daley speaks to DEX
TROY Cassar-Daley has just returned from Tamworth when we caught up with him ahead of his sold out Coutts Crossing show this weekend and his Yamba concert set for March 24.
He had just beat out some of Australia's country music legends, Kasey Chambers, Graeme Connors, John Williamson, Adam Harvey to claim his 37th Golden Guitar for Heritage Song of the Year.
The award-winning song, Shadows on the Hill, is one of Troy's most personal compositions to-date, a raw and personal offering that poured out of him on his way home to Brisbane after attending a family gathering here in the Clarence to rally around his unwell cousin.
He said the awards presentation was a very special night, one that still felt surreal as he sat chatting over the phone in the humble home office the winning track was crafted.
"For a song to make its way from around a fire at Buccarumbi to my house (in Brisbane), recorded in my little studio with a microphone and a computer and to have that translate into a nomination and then a Golden Guitar is something I never thought would be possible," Troy said.
The gathering that inspired the song was arranged to honour his cousin "who was very, very sick" at the time (and died later that year).
"We thought the best way of doing that was getting back to what we used to do as kids. To go out to our old camping ground chasing turtles and catfish and stuff like that. After that experience, all the way home I just had these lyrics that were flying around my head. I couldn't really stop and write them down. so I kept remembering them, verse by verse going over them in my head.
"By the time I got home I gave Laurel (Edwards, his wife) a cuddle and ran straight to the (studio) room and got a writing pad and wrote all these verses out. The way I remembered and rehearsed it in my head was exactly the way the song came out.
"It's just incredible to be able to share a bit of local history with everyone. The song's now become an Australian story rather than just a North Coast story. It's no longer just my family's story, it's the broader community's. That's the most amazing thing about music, that you have the ability to be able to do that."
The song is lyrically rich, telling the story of his people's (Gumbaynggirr) heritage as it happened, the Aboriginal massacres that occurred in this area, something he said was an important facet of their story and which needed to be told.
"I've always seen myself as being some form of glue to bring everyone together. I didn't want to make it protest song, I wanted to make an educational song and music is a beautiful tool to do that."
The Clarence Valley born and bred country music star is about to turn 50 in May and said he was "still quite hungry for lots of knowledge".
"Not just indigenous knowledge, also first arrival's knowledge. I think a lot of those stories is what makes us who we are. We're all a product of those stories and to be able to share them one by one, song by song is a privilege."
He said Heritage Song of the Year wasn't a category he wins very often but when he took home the coveted prize, people were quick to tell him exactly what that meant.
"Someone pulled me aside after I'd won and said 'you know you're only one Golden Guitar off Slim Dusty now' and that made me even more nervous. Anyone who knows me back home knows I'm not the bloke to be knocking Slim Dusty off any record shelf at all.
"If it means me not nominating for the next 10 years and letting someone else do it like Lee (Kernaghan is also one award off Slim's record) then so be it, but it's not going to be my gig. I'm not going touch that one."
While Troy was adamant about how that turn of events was going to pan out, he said people also understood his attitude about it.
"They know I admire and honour the man, but they also told me to appreciate what it meant, to look back at my own career and be proud of what I've done. I'm not taking anything away from that. I couldn't be more proud of where I'm from, what we've done and how it's all fallen. Like I've sung before, I wouldn't change any of it, but I still don't want to be that person that breaks Slim's record. No thanks."
Despite the hesitation, Troy said he was extremely proud of how Shadows on the Hill was created.
"Everything from the vocals, the little clap sticks, I did it all around one mike. It feels very liberating to know you recorded something very personal at your house and it has the ability to go on and get a Golden Guitar. It's one of the most meaningful ones I've ever won.
"The specialness of the song has resonated with all of us who around the campfire last year including my cousin Matthew. Once he heard it he wanted to keep playing it, he said he couldn't stop listening to it because he said it felt like he was back around the campfire at Buccarumbi."
"There is a deep heritage to this one, a family connection that will remain but I'm looking at the award sitting up there on the mantelpiece now, and I still can't believe it won."
Stay tuned: Troy revisits his adventurous start to music in the Clarence, reveals what he's planning for his 50th and talks about the legendary rocker who is recording a song he wrote expressly for them.
- Tickets to Troy Cassar-Daley's Yamba Bowling Club concert with special guest Jem Cassar-Daley on Sunday, March 24 are still on sale.