August 07, 2012
Hear, hear … the Foreday Riders perform at the Empire Hotel, Annandale, last year. Ron King on harmonica is on the left, next to his guitarist brother Jeff.
For 45 years, the Foreday Riders have been Sydney's vanguard for the blues, writes John Shand.
The Rolling who? Oh, yes. The other band passing mossy milestones. But whereas the Stones had the entire planet to sustain them in reaching 50, the Foreday Riders are turning 45 having barely left town.
The King brothers - Ron (harmonica) and Jeff (guitar) - have been mainstays of Sydney's music scene since 1967, when they began playing on Saturday afternoons in a wine bar in the Rocks called John Huie's (where Rockpool now is).
The band's only interruption was when Ron went overseas in 1969, akin to the Stones' hiatus while Jagger tried a solo career.
They picked up the pieces in the early '70s, zeroing in on Chicago-style blues, with a dash of swing in the rhythms setting them apart from the blues-rock brigade. Their main home was French's wine bar in Darlinghurst, although they had national television and press exposure.
Given there was no blues scene when the Riders started and a flourishing one by the mid-'70s, it is fair to say they helped create the audience, aided by people's readiness to embrace live music in those days.
In 1972, the American harmonica legend Junior Wells sat in on a session with them at a Manly wine bar. ''He seemed a bit dumbstruck that this sort of straight-ahead blues was being played in Sydney,'' Ron recalls. Two years later they played support to BB King. ''That was a real charge for us,'' Ron says. ''To come out of the wine-bar scene straight on to the Hordern Pavilion stage.''
Soon afterwards, they recorded an LP for the ABC. ''We called it Live at French's,'' Jeff says, ''but it was actually done in the studio, with the French's audience. They just put on a big party.'' This began a chain of albums in the band's 1970s' heyday, several of which are about to be re-released.
''We were knocking back gigs right, left and centre,'' Ron says. Gradually the work migrated from wine bars to pubs. ''Our music seemed to make people drink'', is Jeff's blunt appraisal. ''As opposed to a jazz band, where they sip on wine and what-not, we seemed to attract the beer-drinking type.''
Balmain/Rozelle was the hub, with almost every corner pub hosting music, much of it blues. The Riders landed a twice-a-week residency at the Three Weeds, and enjoyed 10 years at the Cat and Fiddle, among several multi-year residencies.
By the '90s, Sydney's music scene had begun to dwindle, from the accumulated effects of breathalysers, noise complaints, poker machines, fire laws and home entertainment. Residencies, so crucial to a band's development, dried up.
Along the way the Riders became known as ''the university of the blues'', with a succession of blues luminaries passing through on their way to bands such as the Hippos and the Bondi Cigars. There have been more than 40 members and countless casuals.
In the present band, Rosscoe Clark (drums) has clocked up three decades and Stan Mobbs 22 years, while Tony Pedroza (vocals/guitar) is a returnee from 30 years ago.
Their 30th anniversary concert in 1997 was like a This Is Your Life for the brothers. ''We had about 26 people coming up on stage through the night,'' Jeff says. ''We went through till 3am, and Ron and I were knackered. We'd been on stage all night.''
As the 45th anniversary concert looms, a 50th may be on the cards. ''The story's not over yet,'' Jeff insists.
The Foreday Riders play at Notes on Saturday.