COUN­TRY MU­SIC’S UTIL­ITY MAN

Multi- tal­ented mu­sic man Pete De­nahy con­tin­ues to charm au­di­ences around the world with his mix of quirky com­edy and con­sum­mate mu­si­cian­ship, but he still calls Yackandandah home.

North East Living Magazine - - Contents -

Multi- tal­ented Pete De­nahy con­tin­ues to charm au­di­ences around the world with his mix of quirky com­edy and con­sum­mate mu­si­cian­ship, but he still calls Yackandandah home.

THE first time I saw Pete De­nahy per­form live, it was to a packed house at the Moyhu Sol­diers Memo­rial Hall in the small town­ship south of Wan­garatta.

The hall was rum­bling with friendly con­ver­sa­tion as neighbours shook hands over their BYO beers and the plas­tic wrap was peeled back from plates of sup­per to share.

But when Pete climbed up on stage, picked up his fid­dle and started to play, it went so quiet you could have heard a pin drop.

It was a dif­fer­ent story again when he be­gan to sing; songs that had the crowd roar­ing with laugh­ter - and it was the first time for a long time I laughed un­til I cried.

That was years be­fore the co­me­dian, blue­grass mu­si­cian and singer song­writer had be­come a five time Tam­worth Golden Gui­tar win­ner.

To­day we’re meet­ing in a cof­fee shop in Pete’s home town of Yackandandah and our con­ver­sa­tion is reg­u­larly in­ter­rupted by peo­ple walk­ing past and stop­ping to say g’day.

He says that’s just the way it is when you live in a small town like Yack, and it would be the same if he worked in the bank.

Pete tells me he grew up in Har­court in cen­tral Vic­to­ria, the old­est of four chil­dren who were home schooled by their teacher father.

When he was 15 the fam­ily moved to a big­ger prop­erty in Whit­lands in the King Val­ley where they en­joyed the ru­ral life­style and were happy to spend weeks with­out com­ing down to Wang.

“We grew up with­out tele­vi­sion so I guess we made our own amuse­ments,” he said.

“It was a re­ally great few years up there – I learnt to plait stock whips as well as write a lot of songs and prac­tise my in­stru­ments – and we’d travel to mu­sic fes­ti­vals.”

But his ear­li­est mem­o­ries are ac­tu­ally of Ja­pan, where his mother was born, and where his par­ents took him as a baby to live for a cou­ple of years.

He says he re­mem­bers the sights, sounds, smells and tastes, and it’s a coun­try he’s re­mained con­nected to and vis­ited many times.

What has also stayed with him and per­haps in­flu­enced the en­tire course of his life, is watch­ing “The Man From Snowy River” and “Phar Lap” at the age of nine or ten.

He said those cap­ti­vat­ing films of the eight­ies had a big ef­fect on him, driv­ing him to want to get a horse, spurring an in­ter­est in camp draft­ing and in­tro­duc­ing him into the world of coun­try mu­sic.

Hav­ing started learn­ing piano at the age of six and vi­olin when he was nine, Pete said he was “plod­ding along” with them un­til dis­cov­er­ing the mu­si­cal genre.

Then he started lis­ten­ing to Slim Dusty, writ­ing his own songs and dreaming about mak­ing it a ca­reer, not re­ally ex­pect­ing to one day be do­ing just that.

It was a grad­ual pro­gres­sion which started when the fam­ily went to Tam­worth to per­form in fam­ily shows, and at the age of 18 he per­formed his first com­edy song to a rous­ing re­cep­tion.

“Prob­a­bly since then, out of ev­ery­thing I do mu­si­cally, it’s the com­edy songs which get the most at­ten­tion,” he said.

“I don’t think they’re my best writ­ing or any­thing – but it’s what peo­ple al­ways ask for.”

A “stupid and ridicu­lous” two minute song about a blowfly in a car havs sold him more CDS than any­thing else, and the laughs be­gan the mo­ment he slipped a goofy, an­tenna head­band onto his head.

“I’ve got all these other songs I’m much hap­pier with as far as the song writ­ing goes, but it’s still my most re­quested song, even by adults,” he said. >>

Pete’s early mu­si­cal tal­ent was nur­tured by his first mu­sic teacher, a nun from Bendigo called “Sis­ter Rose”, who died just a few years ago at the age of 102.

He said look­ing back she was prob­a­bly pretty soft on the kids - “spoil­ing them rot­ten” - but more than any­thing she taught them to en­joy mu­sic.

“She was a re­mark­able woman and one of my biggest in­spi­ra­tions,” he said.

Another of his in­spi­ra­tions is 93-year-old mu­si­cian and song­writer, Ge­off Mack, who penned the leg­endary song “I’ve Been Ev­ery­where” and has been his men­tor and friend since 1991.

Pete ac­tu­ally be­gan learn­ing vi­olin by ac­ci­dent, when at the age of eight he found the body of an old vi­olin in a shed and took it to Sis­ter Rose who had it stringed.

He said he doesn’t re­mem­ber say­ing he wanted to learn, but vi­olin lessons fol­lowed.

“I never re­ally prac­tised it – like a lot of kids that learn an in­stru­ment I was play­ing be­cause I liked the idea of it, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do with it, and I wasn’t re­ally lis­ten­ing to vi­olin mu­sic at the time,” he said.

“Then when I was 16 we went to see this band play and I saw Mike Kerin (Slim Dusty’s fid­dle player for more than 20 years) and I re­mem­ber think­ing, I didn’t know you could do all this sort of stuff.

“After that I just couldn’t put the vi­olin down - I was play­ing it all the time - I’d be walk­ing around on the back lawn after tea in the dark and play­ing any­thing that came into my head.”

In the nineties, he be­came fid­dle player with The Plough Boys, play­ing gigs in Ir­ish pubs around Mel­bourne, dur­ing the time when Lord of the Dance was big and peo­ple were “dis­cov­er­ing Celtic roots they never had”.

Be­ing a “handy” fid­dle player has got him a lot of jobs, es­pe­cially in the coun­try mu­sic scene, and one of those was with Slim Dusty.

He says it was “an in­cred­i­ble jour­ney” hook­ing up with Slim, which led him to see more of Aus­tralia than most peo­ple would in a life­time, and it only came to an end when Slim passed away.

Pete’s only job out­side show busi­ness was work­ing “at Con­roy Broth­ers feed­lot” in Mi­lawa, risk­ing life, limb and his mu­si­cal liveli­hood ev­ery time he en­tered the yards and had to “jump out of the road of some mad an­i­mal”.

“Ev­ery­thing you’re do­ing in the yards when you’re pro­cess­ing cat­tle is dan­ger­ous for your hands, be­cause they’re al­ways thrash­ing their heads around,” he said.

“When you’re drench­ing them, in­oc­u­lat­ing them - even if it’s for their own well­be­ing - ev­ery­thing you do is hurt­ing them.”

“My boss Mick would say ‘watch your hands’ and to this day I don’t know how I didn’t lose a fin­ger.”

After four years on the road with Slim, Pete em­barked on a short tour with Troy Cassar-da­ley and played a town near Mil­dura where he met Al­lie - the woman who would be­come his wife 18 months later.

They lived in Ouyen for a while be­fore mov­ing to Yackandandah about eight years ago, where Al­lie runs a vin­tage cloth­ing store. Pete says he feels at home in the town which is close to ev­ery­where he needs to be, and has be­come a great place for any­one do­ing any­thing “a bit arty”.

This year he’ll head over to Ja­pan once again to ex­plore the Blue­grass scene, but this time lead­ing a “grass roots” tour for in­trepid mu­sic lovers in­ter­ested in rid­ing the bul­let train, see­ing lo­cal bands and ex­pe­ri­enc­ing the coun­try.

He’s still writ­ing songs and has plans for a new com­edy al­bum, but he says de­spite be­ing able to make it sound easy, writ­ing com­edy is “the hard­est thing in the world”.

He’s also notch­ing up more awards, in­clud­ing Golden Gui­tars in 2016 for In­stru­men­tal of the Year (for “Cluck Old Hen” and Blue­grass Record­ing of the Year (for “Sin­gin’ Shoes”).

Pete said his men­tor Ge­off Mack would of­ten de­scribe him­self has the “util­ity man” - the one who puts the tent up, opens the show, per­forms in a com­edy sketch or plays on his gui­tar in the or­ches­tra pit. Hav­ing been called on re­cently to em­cee at a num­ber of fes­ti­vals and shows, in­clud­ing The Man From Snowy River re-en­act­ment in Cor­ry­ong, it’s a de­scrip­tion which seems to be a good fit for Pete too.

He ad­mits to feel­ing a lit­tle teary some­times at Cor­ry­ong, up there on horse­back and look­ing out across the crowd, es­pe­cially when The Man From Snowy River sound­track is played.

“Ge­off said to me ‘I think it’s be­cause I was never good enough in any par­tic­u­lar area to spe­cialise’ and I don’t spe­cialise ei­ther,” he said.

“I don’t know ei­ther if I’m good enough to be just one thing - to be just a stand-up comic or just a mu­si­cian - but whether or not that’s the case, I don’t mind be­cause I love do­ing the lot.”

When I sug­gest the prob­lem might be that he is in­cred­i­bly tal­ented at many dif­fer­ent things, he’s quick to dis­miss the no­tion.

“I’ve got a whole heap of things that I’m sort of half good at,” he said.

“But what I’m re­ally thank­ful for is be­ing able to do a show and make peo­ple feel good - I’m glad I’m able to do that.”

“... I’ve got a whole heap of things that i’m sort of half good at.” - Pet­e­de­nahy

words Anita Mcpher­son pho­tos Marc Bongers

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