Induction to the inaugural Blues Music Victoria, Hall of Fame, Blues Legend.
By Kerri Simpson
Wednesday Oct 30 2019
Let’s raise our glasses to Chris Wilson.
It is hard to encapsulate everything that Chris did and was to the blues community in one speech. I think it would be safe to say that all the nominees, and all of us in the blues community, everyone wanted Chris to win. He truly deserves to be the first musician inducted into the Blues Music Victoria Hall of Fame. Of all of us musicians, Chris deserves this award because he played more and promoted blues music more in this country than any of us.
Chris Wilson was a giant of a man and he lived and breathed the blues. His commitment was always 100 percent; over the years, he played thousands of gigs. I’ve seen him exhausted, sick and worn out, laying on a couch backstage absolutely knackered, and then he would jump up on stage to blow everybody away, prowling, stomping and blowing his head off.
Like any working musician, he played and loved a diverse range of styles and wrote a significant body of original work. However, everything he played was always informed by the blues. Chris was a highly insightful and intelligent man; he read about and listened incessantly to all kinds of blues. He was a deeply spiritual man. He had an extraordinarily astute understanding of the human condition, which showed in his lyrics and in the way he delivered every note. He understood the importance of placement, of one note or one word, one bend or twist, or a multitude of notes and words and bends. Regardless of the genre he was playing, every note was underpinned by his massive command and inherent understanding of the blues.
Chris was one of the best songwriters of his generation; he could write songs that made you laugh and cry, he was astute, observant, he understood people, his songs touched you. We will never forget iconic Australian songs like “Shoot out at the 7/11”, a blues at its heart.
Always thinking of others, Chris constantly sought out new bands and players; he had an excellent ear for new talent. He was a massive supporter of other musicians, male and female, and he employed female musicians and roadies long before that was an accepted thing in this industry. It wasn’t important whether someone was well known or just starting out, Chris would chat, discuss and pass on his formidable knowledge to anyone who had a genuine interest. He would sit and play with beginners or experienced musos; he didn’t care, he just loved playing and never gave “fame” even a thought.
In fact, he hated the whole fame and celebrity thing. I will never forget one night at a club; I was stony broke, having just come back from New Orleans. I’d walked from St Kilda to Richmond to see Chris, Vika and a few other mates play. The club owner had told Chris that he didn’t want to give me a gig or let me sit in because I wasn’t famous enough. Chris did not appreciate that at all. That was not how Chris did things. Later that night, Bob Dylan’s band came in and sat with Chris’ band. I was side of stage, drinking Chris’s rider because I was too broke to buy a drink. Chris grabbed me one handed by the collar of my coat and suddenly I was hoisted onto stage. He plonked me down and said, “If anyone belongs on this stage, Simpson, it’s you … fucking sing ! ” He pushed me towards his vocal mic and sing I did. That was the mark of the man. I was certainly not the only person he would do that kind of thing for, I was definitely not the only broke or struggling musician he helped out.
One of the reasons Chris loved blues so much was because it’s music for the common man. The blues is the people’s music. Something everyone could feel, whether they were educated in music or not. Blues has a primal power that connects with people. Chris had that same power, both on-stage and off. Those of you here tonight who were fortunate enough to have seen Chris Wilson perform know that when he hit his straps the whole room went with him.
I have seen and heard thousands of musicians in my time. I have seen musicians from all around the world, but no one anywhere could equal Chris Wilson in his stride. His voice and harp playing resonated deeply inside each and every one of us, he took you to another part of the planet. This was a man who made you feel; feel good, feel hopeful, happy or connected. He made you reflect but, no matter what, he always made you feel. As a musician playing alongside of him the experience as Shannon Bourne said was transcendental.
The extent to which Chris had affected people throughout his career was witnessed by the music community’s reaction and support when he became ill. Chris loved community, he passionately loved music and always worked towards bringing people together and helping people out. Teaching primary school kids, secondary school kids, helping out oldies, looking out for mates, helping out addicts, teaching harp. He played more benefits than most of us have had hot dinners.
Over the years, I know so many people found Chris’s music helped them when they had been suffering or having a hard time. Chris’s music made them feel again. When he was ill, I had so many people asking me to pass messages on to him, and that message was always the same: Chris had changed their life. He had often more than changed their life; his music had helped people who were suicidal, going through divorces or deaths. The stories always followed a similar pattern; they were going through a major tough time, but went to a gig, and that was the turning point in their recovery. Chris Wilson’s music touched and changed people’s lives that is why he deserves this award.
The reality was that Chris never helped people for his own gain and he never sought attention. However, there was many a time when he would quietly slip me a fifty-dollar note and say, “Simo, see that person over there … give them this and tell them to get a guitar lesson with it.”
We had a mutual mate who was down on their luck. As always, Chris slipped me a fifty and said, “Simo, can you get them some groceries?”. When I was down on my luck, having come back from the US, having had all my money stolen, and been ripped off, he simply said to me, “Simo, consider it payment for an education in life”. And then he slipped me some money.
Just when his career was taking off nationally and internationally, Chris’s beloved mum, Betty, became ill with cancer. Chris dropped his music without a second thought, he dropped everything to look after his mum.
It was acts like these to many hundreds of people over the years that touched so many people that made such an impact. The deep respect and genuine love for Chris was evident in the way the entire country showed their support for him when he became ill.
It is shown tonight by this award. Chris’s induction as a Blues Legend into the Hall of Fame.
It was a blessing that Chris was able to understand before he died just how much of an impact he had made on other people’s lives. At the core, he was a humble man, and if he could only have been here with us tonight, he would have been all uncomfortable and saying the rest of us nominees deserved to win more than him.
All of us who were lucky enough to know Chris know that he would have been cracking endless jokes tonight about being inducted. He was a highly intelligent man and we will never forget his wickedly informed sense of humour. He would throw in lines and jokes at gigs that seemed so effortless, and he would have hundreds of people laughing.
He was fearless onstage and off, and he hated the bullshit side of the industry. One night, Pat Cash came in to that same club I was talking about earlier. Cash was pissed and asked Chris if he could get up and sing. Without skipping a beat, Chris told him to fuck off over the mic. “I don’t come down to the tennis centre and ask if I can hit a ball around with you … Don’t come in here and ask to sit in!”
Of course, no one manages to make a career like that without support, and Chris had his family. His beautiful mum, Betty, used to do all his bookings and management and we all knew, she was a darling. You used to have to call up Betty to book Chris. Later on he had the support of the love of his life, the incredible Sarah Carroll and their two sons, Fenn and George, and his legacy lives on through each of them. Chris was so proud of them, and would have been delighted that all three of them have albums coming out in the next few months.
If Chris were here, he would have been truly humbled and honoured to be inducted into the Hall of Fame. It would have meant so much more to him than the other awards he had won because this night and Blues Music Victoria has been set up by people who genuinely love and care about blues music and musicians. Like Chris did.
Thank you to those who nominated him and thank you to everyone who voted for Chris.
And to echo back almost the same words he once said to me “If anyone deserves to be a Blues Legend in this Blues Music Victoria Hall of Fame, it’s fucking you, Wilson”!