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Ian Moss from Cold Chisel to solo career

Presenter: Sharon Kennedy

Ian Moss on stage
Ian Moss on stage at Bridgetown Blues

Guitarist Ian Moss is best known for his stint in Cold Chisel, one of Australia's best and most popular rock bands of the 70s and 80s. He talks about the roll of jazz and blues in his musical education and the journey from fame in a rock band to satisfaction in a solo career.

Ian Moss is one of Australia's genuine guitar heroes. Yet listening to songs like Tucker's Daughter, a track from his first solo record Matchbook, you get the sense that Ian is a fine vocalist as well. Yet he doesn't agree. Most people don't like hearing their own voices back and he's no exception, he says. "Like a typical rock blues singer, doesn't matter how high you can sing, you always want to be able sing that little higher or sound like another person.

Back in the 60s and 70s, it was important to sing and play well, Ian feels but that changed in the mid to late 70s and bands focussed on song writing or simply having a unique sound. Of the singers who impressed Ian, Paul Rogers stands out for him as a guy with a dark, almost black sounding tone. Of his own singing, he will allow that he has a good R&B feel. "I think that the soul is there."

Ian first heard those soul sounds when he was young. Somewhere between 6 and 9 years old, he thinks. A neighbour had Odetta Live at Carnegie Hall. Great gospel singing, acoustic, percussive. "That particularly struck a chord with me." Growing up in Alice Springs, the ABC was the only radio station to listen to. The music wasn't just your average Top 40 and Ian was exposed to the vocal prowess of Ray Charles and Sam Cooke.

Ian wasn't exactly impressed by the like of Buddy Guy or other Chicago bluesmen when he first heard them however. Like most teenagers of that time, he listened to Cream and Led Zeppelin, and as Clapton and Page talked about their heroes, he was curious to find out more. Those earlier American blues sounds were different to the heavy British rock blues, of "amps driving louder and more distorted." Ian wasn't sure. "But as I matured, I realised how laden and soaked in feel and simplicity that playing was and began to appreciate that."

Sack the keyboard player

Ian started guitar lessons when he was eleven. Before he'd played piano. Schoolwork suffered as music took hold until the parents put their foot down. Like many kids from isolated regions, Ian went away to school, down to Adelaide in South Australia. There was a brief period of forming a band, getting some songs together, someone leaves, band falls apart. Then six months after leaving school, Ian met Don Walker. By the time he was 19, Cold Chisel was formed.

Don was the driving force of Chisel, says Ian. He was the one who first learned to knuckle down and get serious about the direction of the band, who first realised the need to stop doing covers and write original material. Walker's song writing was what was most satisfying for Ian about Chisel. "The way he was so particular about them. He wouldn't let a syllable go by if it didn't fit right, if it didn't tell the story properly." There was always a thread, a connection to the blues in Don's work. Energy and power were important to the band as a whole.

As successful as Chisel was and is, there was a down side, that of having to say goodbye to "other directions and other styles". Ian recalls that he and drummer Steve Prestwich would often jam at sound checks, trying out all sorts of different feels. But he realised that he'd only get to indulge his liking for fusion and jazz funk and the like by forming his own band. One day.

More natural, more organic, more heartfelt

That day happened in 1983. So what was the driving force for the solo career? Ian laughs. " I'm still figuring that out." While still in Chisel, he dreamed of funky fusion allied to strong melodic pop songs anchored by a great black rhythm section. The sort of thing Sting did in Dream of the Blue Turtles. He searched for the players but couldn't find what he wanted.

With a Mushroom records deal in his pocket, Ian began work on Matchbook which would give him the hit singles Tucker's Daughter and Telephone Booth. But despite the success of the album, Ian wasn't happy with it. The process was slick, too mechanical. "What I liked about the Petrolhead album, the whole band in the studio playing the songs at once. It was more natural, more organic, more heartfelt."

That statement sums up Ian's approach to his performing today as well. He's much more into feel and simplicity. "How much feeling you could put into one note and not how many notes you can put into one bar." Anyone who improvises is constantly trying to get lost in the music, he says. You try to get to that place where the music comes out almost subconsciously. When you listen back, you can't picture how you played. Most times, he adds, you're only too aware. "I'm still finding ways to play from the heart."

In recent years, Ian Moss has undergone something of a seachange. About two years ago, he started playing solo with the acoustic guitar. Interestingly, he's never cared much about acoustics and freely admits he wouldn't pick one up if he didn't have to. Ian sees the challenge of performing solo as creating the vibe, the feeling, that there's still a band there, playing in such a way that the drums and the other instruments are taken care of.

What's next? Ian is chipping away at songs. Because he's relied so heavily on other songwriters in the past, he feels he hasn't really expressed himself yet. "Will the real Ian Moss please stand up?" Musically he'd like to produce an album that combines the rough rawness of Petrol Head with the melodic feel of Matchbook


Audio for this story is not available

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Last Updated: 22/11/2004 12:45:43 PM AWST

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