Nearly half a century after releasing one of the biggest rock songs in Australian history, Russell Morris is setting his sights on America once again.
Morris was barely 21 years old when he recorded “The Real Thing”, a psychedelic rock single that climbed its way to the top of the Australian charts in 1969. It became the continent’s biggest song that year, earning airplay in foreign markets like Chicago and New York along the way. More hits followed, and Morris — who’d grown up listening to American blues artists like John Lee Hooker, Howlin’ Wolf and Muddy Waters, taking inspiration from music that had been made halfway across the globe — moved to Los Angeles in the 1970s, looking to continue his success on U.S. soil.
Things didn’t go as planned, and despite his success at home, Morris was unable to gain a foothold in the American market. He eventually headed back to Melbourne and took an extended break from the public eye. During this time, other Australian bands like Rick Springfield, AC/DC and INXS began to gain a foothold in markets across the world, and people’s opinions of the Australian music scene began to change. Years later, when Morris began writing honest, hard-hitting music that explored his bluesy roots, those people were waiting for him.
“I went Sydney on a trip and was reading a supplement in the paper,” he remembers, “and a photograph of Thomas ‘Shark Jaws’ Archer jumped out. It was his arrest photo from 1921, and it just drew me in. It almost communicated to me from a hundred years ago, saying, ‘Write a song about me. Tell people that Ilivedand I walked this earth and scared people to death.'”
That photo was a launching pad for Morris, who began writing songs inspired by the gangsters, gamblers andbackstreetdwellers of Depression-era Australia. These were songs that told a uniquely Australian story, and they formed the basis of Sharkmouth, a blues album that shone a light on Morris’ gravelly voice, sharpsongwritingand, most importantly, his roots. It became a breakaway success, and was the highest-selling Australian record in 2013, surpassing platinum sales and earning an ARIA Award for Best Blues & Roots Album that year. More than 40 years after “The Real Thing” first hit the airwaves, Morris was once again at the fore of the Australian music landscape. Two more albums – Van Diemen’s Land and Red Dirt-Red Heart – followed, continuing on the historical blues-driven theme and rounding out Morris’ Australian trilogy.
With Sharkmouth receiving a U.S.releasein 2016, Morris is placing his feet on American soil once again. He’s never sounded more proud to be an Australian — which, ironically enough, makes him the most compelling he’s ever been to a worldwide audience.
“My version of the blues is different than American blues,” he admits. “My favorite artists all play Delta blues — the sort of music where Ma and Pa play a banjo on the back porch, singing a song about Uncle Ned while chewing tobacco — but my music doesn’t sound like that. I don’t want to ape those guys. I want to be me. These are my roots. This is my blues.”