ONE HIT WONDERS – Country Radio

Gypsy Queen (G Quill/K Tolhurst) – Country Radio 1972

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The blending of country rock, folk and rhythm and blues music was a powerful creative force in the late sixties and early seventies, encapsulated in The Band’s seminal debut album entitled Music From Big Pink (1968) and Bob Dylan’s Nashville Skyline (1969), which reflected the masterly words and music of Dylan, Robbie Robertson and Levon Helm. In doing so they collectively defined the country rock genre for the rest of the decade, and blazed a trail for such US bands as Poco, The Flying Burrito Brothers, the New Riders of the Purple Sage, the Eagles, and the Byrds.

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In Australia local performers were picking up on the new country rock influences as they shifted away from pop/psychedelia to embrace the rootsier, more organic sounds of country rock – Greg Quill and Country Radio, Axiom, Dingoes, Mike McClellan, Kevin Johnson, Glenn Cardier, Ross Ryan, and Richard Clapton were several who spearheaded the movement, occasionally hitting the charts with songs like Way Out West, Arkansas Grass, I Am Pegasus, Bonnie Please Don’t Go, etc. Below L-R – Kerryn Tolhurst, Mike McClellan, Ross Ryan.

In the late 1960’s Greg Quill had become a well-known performer on the Sydney folk scene via his folk venue The Shack at Narrabeen, his debut album Fleetwood Plain was released in 1970 and the first incarnation of Country Radio was formed to promote the album, and the title track which had been released as a single.

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In 1971 Quill would begin a life-long creative association with Kerryn Tolhurst, who joined Country Radio in that year, Tolhurst had been a member of Melbourne’s Adderley Smith Blues Band in the late 60’s, followed by a stint with Keith Glass in Sundown. Tolhurst was a talented musician and songwriter who was passionate about merging folk and rhythm and blues within a country rock milieu, and he and Quill formed a successful writing partnership, co-writing Gypsy Queen and Wintersong for Country Radio, two songs that strongly influenced the future direction of Tolhurst’s next group, the Dingoes, as well as the evolution of the country rock genre in this country. Country Radio Below L-R -Blanchflower, Bolton, Bois, Quill, Tolhurst, Bird.

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The classic Country Radio lineup ultimately formed in 1972 and comprised Greg Quill (vocals/guitar), Kerryn Tolhurst (slide guitar/guitar/dobro/mandolin), John Bird (piano), John Bois (bass), Tony Bolton (drums), and Chris Blanchflower (harmonica). In April 1972 they went into the Armstrong recording studio in Melbourne to record their second single, the beautiful and evocative Quill/Tolhurst composition Gypsy Queen. In 1999 Greg Quill talked about the inspiration behind Gypsy Queen “a song about the excitement and loneliness you feel leaving behind all that’s safe and familiar, and setting out on an unknown adventure, presided over by this powerful female deity, the Gypsy Queen” ABC – Hit Scene.

The song intros with a distinctive, wistful mandolin refrain by Tolhurst, which is sustained throughout, Blanchflower’s bluesy harmonica flourishes added color and resonance to the mix, a string arrangement by session musician Peter Jones was exquisite, and John Bird’s piano riff at the outro rounded off a cleverly constructed and elegant slice of country rock. This song would echo a year later when the Dingoes released the Kerryn Tolhurst-composed classic Way Out West, but there the bluesy harmonica of Broderick Smith replaced Tolhurst’s lilting signature mandolin refrain from Gypsy Queen, the song was also reminiscent of Spectrum’s I’ll Be Gone and the US country blues of the Canned Heat.    

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Gypsy Queen was a #10 hit nationally and their Country Radio Live album charted #31 in Jan. 1973, the band played support on tours of Australia by Creedence Clearwater Revival and Santana, but before going their separate ways in 1973 the band released the album Outlaw’s Reply, which was critically praised but due to lack of promotion after the group disbanded, it failed to chart.

Kerryn Tolhurst would become the creative core of the Dingoes and write half of the songs on their album Five Times The Sun (including Way Out West), as well as All Fired Up for Pat Benatar, and Man on Your Mind for the Little River Band.

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Greg Quill had worked as a music journalist for Go-Set magazine in Australia early in his career, and he returned to rock journalism, but this time in Canada, where for fifteen years he was the music critic/features writer for the Toronto Star.

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Quill and Tolhurst would collaborate again in the new millennium when in 2002 they returned to Australia for a short tour, and in 2003 released the album So Rudely Interrupted. Greg Quill performed back in Canada with The Usual Suspects from 2004 but sadly passed away in Hamilton (Can) in 2013. In 2016 Kerryn Tolhurst joined with Ross Wilson, Joe Camilleri, Paul Kelly, Richard Clapton, Russel Morris, and others to record the album Some Lonesome Picker – A Greg Quill Tribute.

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