Wednesday, May 02, 2012

Tomorrow we remember Jimmy Little

There will be a memorial service at the Opera House.

Followed by a celebration concert in the Concert Hall 8.00 pm Thursday.

Musicians are begging to be included. There is a limit of two tickets per person.

All of us who have been touched by Jimmy Little have been forever uplifted.

He is lifting the standards in heaven now, and it's our loss.

Brendah Gallagher created the album Messenger with him.

Here's how he described what happened:

"I met Jimmy Little by accident. I'd gone to an inner-city Sydney venue to see a friend's band and as I breasted the top of the stairs and looked through the front door I could see up on stage a good luoking, fifty-something Aboriginal man resplendent in a red shirt, with a guitar, singing a song. I was instantly drawn to a table in front of the stage by one of the most beautiful voices I had heard. I sat transfixed as Jimmy worked his way through a set of standards with such grace and style that I forgot to go to the bar and buy a drink, very unusual behaviour on my part.

I knew Jimmy's songs from when l was a small boy, particularly "The Royal Telephone" which has become part of the Australian cultural firmament. I'd lost track of him over the years and was pleasantly surprised to find him still performing. All I could think of was getting that voice on tape, so after the gig I introduced myself and solicited his phone number with a view to meeting up in the future. I was won over at once by his trademark gentle nature and courtesy.

In my address book, like most other penple, I write underneath the name and phone number a little note as to who they are e.g. plumber, accountant etc. Under Jimmy Little I wrote 'legend'.

For a long time I'd wanted to cover the Reel's 'Quasimodo's Dream’ as a kind of Texas waliz, very simple and intimate. With Jimmy I had found the perfect interpreter for the song. From that came the idea to revisit other seminal Australian compositions: some well known, others not so. Like Captain Kurtz in Apocalypse Now, it hit me like a diamond bullet. I was very nervous when I first rang Jimmy at home with my idea. It was iike a teenage phone call to your first girlfriend. Will I, won't I, will I ...? I did of course, and Jimmy was very cool about it.

The premiss of the exercise was always that this album should be the grand summit of a very special singer and some very special songs. My job was to be a kind of sonic mid-wife and make a bed for something unique but which was still true to the singer and the songwriters.

Together we began this project in June ‘95 and bit by bit, song by song, between my involvement with Karma County and Jimmy's gngoing touring commitments, we finished it in March '99.

Looking back over the last few years some moments stand out. I remember the day Jimmy recorded the vocal for Down Below at my home studio in Bondi. I asked him to freestyle over the outro, whatever came to mind and was comfortable. I sat back and watched Jimmy, eyes closed, silhouetted against the afternoon sun as he whispered his transcendent monologue, a hot norwester pouring through the open window behind him. If you listen closely you can just hear the fluttering curtains. 0r Jimmy raiding the kitchen cupboard for the honey jar just before a session.

Jimmy always wanted to know what was going on in the songs lyrically. Most of them were unfamiliar to him.

It was an experience muddling my way through explanations of the cynical commentator in Quasimodo's Dream, or the domestic carnage of The Way I Made You Feel, but it was integral to his performance. He ate and breathed these songs.

This is his testament. It is a shining moment in my music career."

Brendah Gallagher Sydney, March 1999.

Now listen:

And listen here live all day Thursday.

@JaneHolley48 ABC Digital Extra will broadcast a celebration concert.

@JaneHolley48‏ And Jimmy Little archival material all day as well. Some lovely interviews and and an Awaye! special.

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