Remembering Vale Broderick Smith, born 17 February 1948, died 30 April 2023

Broderick first came to attention in the late sixties, out front on harp and vocals with the Adderley Smith Blues Band, a popular Melbourne outfit

Remembering Vale Broderick Smith, born 17 February 1948, died 30 April 2023

“Way out west, where the rain don’t fall
Got a job with the company drilling for oil…”.  

The classic opening lines of a classic Australian song and my introduction to the great Australian singer, Broderick Smith, who has this week left us at the age of 75. They don’t make them like him anymore.
Broderick first came to attention in the late sixties, out front on harp and vocals with the Adderley Smith Blues Band, a popular Melbourne outfit who never got around to recording. That adventure skidded to a halt in 1968 when Broderick was drafted and packed off to Vietnam, an event that doubtless left its mark on the man, as it did on all those unfortunate enough to face that fate, but mercifully he came back with the muse intact. Back in civvy street at the start of the seventies, next stop was the outfit that made his name, the legendary Carson.
To anyone with ears, Carson were the premier Aussie blues and boogie band of the era. Maybe Chain got deeper into the blues, but nobody boogied like Carson. A large part of that was their near psychic musical interplay, fired by their magnificent guitarist, Greg “Sleepy” Lawrie (who by sad coincidence has also recently passed), but Broderick’s wailing harp and gritty, soulful vocals were a key part of the mix. Their 1972 LP “Blown” was a cornerstone of the Oz Rock revolution and the title of their hit single said all that needed to be said: “Boogie”! Still, it was onstage that they came alive and for all its flaws their 1973 live set “On The Radio” still shines – both albums are happily out again on CD through Aztec Music. But there was always more to Broderick than the blues.
There were a couple of solo 45s on the side during the Carson years – a version of Brian Cadd’s “Going On Down To The End Of The World” being particularly fine – but the move that truly established Broderick as the “singer’s singer” came when he formed legendary country-rock outfit, The Dingoes. They weren’t the first country rockers down under – both Axiom and The Flying Circus got there first – but they were probably the best, right from the get-go with that elegiac debut 45, “Way Out West”. It’s a great song (written by guitarist Kerryn Tolhurst, although composer credit goes to the whole band), beautifully and eloquently capturing a true Australian experience,  without descending into cork hats and coolabah trees – a truly modern Australian experience, if you like, and one that gains resonance with every passing year as the “fly-in, fly-out” lifestyle draws in more and more people. It’s a great tune and it’s wonderfully played but it’s Broderick’s aching, world weary yet contented vocal that makes it come alive and transforms it into something special. Strangely, it wasn’t that big hit at the time, battling into the mid-20s in 1973. (It took a big-selling 1992 cover by James Blundell and James Reyne to fully stamp the song on the public consciousness, but perhaps all they did was remind everyone: The Dingoes’ version was still well known and appreciated, with Broderick’s vocal putting down deep roots in the hearts of those who listened.) A 1974 self-titled LP followed, arguably the greatest country-rock album ever recorded in Australia. Live, the band were a sensation, their rock roots giving their country material a kick most of the competition could only envy and with fire and enthusiasm behind them, they headed abroad for a crack at the US market. It didn’t quite work out, and two enjoyable albums later they were back home and it was all over, leaving a set of great songs as their legacy: “Boy On The Run”, “Shine A Light”, “Smooth Sailing”, “Goin’ Down”, “Into The Night”, “Sydney Ladies”…
Broderick went solo, but joined forces with a host of local talent for a 1980 memorial concert for the recently-passed guitarist and songwriter Andrew Durant, wrapping his harp around “Last Of The Riverboats” and stealing the show with a heartfelt vocal on “Ocean Deep”, captured on the album of the show and to my mind the best recorded performance of his career. From there, he put together Broderick Smith’s Big Combo, landing a decent sized hit with the excellent “Faded Roses” and cutting a great, earthy, country-rock album (“Last Train From Mobiletown”, “My Father’s Hands”, “Ruby In The Snow”) that should have sold better than it did (check out the CD reissue on Aztec). A self-titled solo album in 1984 was equally strong (“Winds Of Change”, “Jungle Green”) but it’s hard to maintain a career in Australia and with radio play a rare occurrence, sales were hard to come by.
I lost touch with Broderick’s music in the 90s when I moved to Europe but when I reconnected in the post-internet age, I discovered that he had kept right on keeping on, turning in a string of excellent album releases – I count at least eight between 1992’s “Suitcase” and 2018’s superb “Man Out Of Time”, with 1995’s “Songster” a personal favourite. Ever reliable, ever honest, he never did become a big star but then, he never wanted to make the compromises that might have entailed. Instead, he stuck to what he knew and loved, and the world of music was a better place for it. This week, the fire that sustained him finally burned out – something of a shock to all but his nearest and dearest – but that flame will burn forever in the body of work he leaves behind.
“… Just to make some change
Living and a-working on the land…”.
Adios, Broderick, and thanks.

Watch The Dingoes performing “Way Out West”




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Gareth Jones

Gareth Jones is a music connoisseur and the author of the book "French Pop: from Music Hall to Yé-Yé"

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