Idiosyncrasies in Australian Guitar Culture: An examination of
developments within the paradigm of popular music
University of Tasmania
University of Tasmania
University of Tasmania
Paper presented Sep 3, 2018, at Crosstown Traffic Conference. A joint conference arranged by four
• International Association for the Study of Popular Music UK & Ireland Branch (IASPM UK&I)
• Association for the Study of the Art of Record Production (ASARP)
• Dancecult: Electronic Dance Music Culture Research Network
• International Society for Metal Music Studies (ISMMS)
University of Huddersfield, Sep 3-5, 2018, Queensgate, Huddersfield, UK, HD1 3DH
This paper discusses the findings of a qualitative study, conducted in Australia, which
embarked on the task of detecting and defining aspects of Australian guitar culture.
This was undertaken by identifying and locating musically notate-able,
quintessentially Australian guitar performance styles through an analytical look at the
music of historically significant Australian artists. With a focus on popular music styles
and historical developments, idiosyncratic features were identified and investigated
regarding their foundation influences, their development, and recurring further
influence on the following generations of Australian guitarists. The educational value
and relevance of each feature within a contemporary guitar curriculum is discussed
alongside the historical narrative and aesthetic evaluation. The study was conducted
as part of a PhD research project using Inductive Thematic Analysis as the
methodology and collected data from online surveys, interviews, industry documents
and artefacts. Findings of the study include the blending of American and British styles
with Australian culture to create a vibrant local sub-genre and historical referencing
of subsequent generations of musicians.
Keywords: Australian Music, Guitar, Australian Guitar Culture.
Australia has produced some world class guitar players in the Classical and Jazz
genres. John Williams (b.1941) is one of the most influential Classical guitarists of all time,
having brought the instrument to a wider audience through his collaborative efforts with
other genres (Starling, 2012). German born Karin Schaupp (b.1972), an alumnus of the
University of Queensland, is widely recognized on the international scene. Slava Grigoryan
(b.1976), an alumnus of the Victorian College of the Arts, is also highly regarded within the
international guitar community, as is his younger brother Leonard (b,1985). Australian Jazz
guitarist James Muller (b. 1974) has been described by U.S. Jazz legend John Scofield (b.
1951) as ‘the most exciting guitar player I’ve heard in years’ (Jazz Guitar Socitey, n.d., para.
However, within the realms of Contemporary Popular Music it has been shown that
Australian guitarists rarely rank among the top guitarists worldwide (Lee, 2015). It was also
shown that Australian CPM guitar style is a blend of British and American styles (Lee, 2015).
Analysing lists of the best guitar players in world, formulated by both industry personnel
and guitar community members there is one Australian guitarist that stands out. Angus
Young (b. 1955), the lead guitarist, and only remaining member of the original line up of the
Australian Rock band AC/DC, is the top ranking Australian among industry and guitar
community discourse. Further analyses of the Australian industry and guitar community
discourse of the best Australian guitar players highlights three guitar players; Angus Young,
Ian Moss (b.1955) and Chris Cheney (b. 1975). Ian Moss is the lead guitarist from the band
Cold Chisel and Chris Cheney is the guitarist, singer and front-man for the band The Living
This paper addresses the questions; What is Australian guitar culture? What aspects
of Australian guitar playing are uniquely Australian? This chapter will examine the
development of the uniquely Australian aspects of guitar culture by scrutinizing the
performance styles of artisans of Australian guitar culture.
Allan Moore states: ‘One of the things that we have to realize about popular song…,
is that it is a fundamentally hybrid form…, every example of popular song that we can find is
already heir to more than one tradition’. (Moore, 2016, 9:44-9:54) All three of these
guitarists support the supposition that Australian guitar culture is a blending of American
and British cultures. Young is of Scottish birth and was heavily influenced by his older
brothers, George (b. 1946) and Malcolm (b. 1953). George was a guitarist for Australian
band The Easybeats, who were Australia’s first internationally successful Rock and Roll
group (Milliken, 2010, p. 136) and the first Australian band to record exclusively original
material (Tait in Vanda & Young, 2014). They were influenced by the Merseybeat sound
which developed through an amalgamation of Popular Song, Skiffle and Jazz in and around
Liverpool in the late 1950’s (Leigh, 2015). Young also cites American bluesmen Elmore James
and Chuck Berry as other influences on his personal development (Eliscu, 2001). He also
noted that the culture in Sydney at the time of his youth was a multicultural blend with
influence from both sides of the Atlantic; ‘Australia’s got a mix of Americana and a bit, you
know, the old world English’ (Young in Rosenthal, 2009, 1:35-1:42). In an interview
discussing his musical influences Cheney states he wanted to emulate American artist Buddy
Holly and British band Led Zeppelin equally (G. Phillips, 2007). He describes his musical
development as a ‘schizophrenic thing… just trying to play a little of everything. Jack of all
trades but master of none’ (para 5). Moss on describing his musical development while
growing up in Alice Springs also lists both American and British influences:
When I was a kid growing up in Alice Springs there wasn’t a whole lot to do and I’d
listen to music on the radio station there, ABC, and they’d play a lot of soul. But I’d
also get into the Beatles and Elvis and it wasn’t until later I started to hear other
bands like Zeppelin and Hendrix. (Moss in Grzelka, 2016)
Here Moss intermingles artists from both sides of the Atlantic with no distinction
between the two as separate influential sources. These three most significant voices in
Australian CPM guitar seem to all assert to the supposition that the uniquely Australian
guitar sound is the blend of influences from England and America. An example of the unique
blend is AC/DC’s song It’s a long way to the top if you want to Rock and Roll. This song ranks
in the top ten best Australian songs as voted by a panel of 100 industry experts (APRA,
2001b) and Triple M radio ranks it at number three in their list of Ultimate Rock songs
(Triple M, n.d.). Solidifying the song’s place in Australian culture it was inducted into the
National Film and Sound Archive in 2012 where it is described as an ‘anthem of this genre of
music’ (NFSA, n.d.). The guitar playing in this song is typical of Blues derived CPM, yet a
notable feature of the song is the use of Bagpipes. Figure 1 shows the call and response
section between Angus Young’s guitar and the bagpipes.
Figure 1 – It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll), Instrumental call and
Figure 1. It’s a Long Way to the Top (If You Wanna Rock and Roll), Instrumental section
(1:55-2:23), transcribed by Author, (Scott, Young & Young, 1975).
The term Contemporary Popular Music encompasses many sub-genres. One sub-
genre that Australia is recognized for globally is the local flavor of Pub-Rock, commonly
referred to as Oz-Rock. Research into the development of this sub-genre within Australian
guitar culture highlights one particular ensemble as being of significant influence. Formed in
1964 by five teenage boys that were all living in the Villawood Migrant Hostel, west of
Sydney (Nichols & Graney, 2016), The Easybeats consisted of Scottish immigrants George
Young as the rhythm guitarist, and drummer Gordon Fleet (b.1945), English born singer
Stevie Wright (1947-2015), and from the Netherlands, the bassist Dick Diamonde (b. 1947,
Dingeman van der Sluijs) and lead guitarist Harry Vanda (b. 1946, Johannes Vandenberg).
The Easybeats have been described as Australia’s ‘first international superstars’ (Neeson,
In his article on guitar pedagogy Schwartz (1993) describes the typical guitar
community as a place where guitarists would show off their skills, creating a competitive
environment where they would informally learn from each other by sharing knowledge and
working together to figure things out. The migrants in Villawood hostel jammed together
creating a localised music community. George Young describing his days in the hostel makes
reference to an emerging guitar community: ‘To pass the time the kids would go the
recreation hall, play table tennis, strum guitars and so on…and that’s basically where the
Easybeats started’ (Young in Neeson, 2009, 6:05-6:22). After progressing to electric guitars
they found themselves moving to the hostel’s laundromat where they could access mains
power (Kosanovic in Neeson, 2009). Life in the migrant hostel was difficult, with strong
cultural tensions. There were many cliques and gangs and the Scottish migrants brought a
clan mentality to the environment often resulting in fights. The musical community was an
outlet for the hostel’s youth; ‘Music was the language of the ghetto, and if you could keep
up you could join in’ (Neeson, 2009, 7:08-7:12). Vanda was already musically accomplished
having been in a band in Holland before immigrating to Australia. He brought with him his
talent and technical proficiency which attracted the attention of George Young. We observe
in the musicians of Villawood Migrant Hostel the three elements of Wenger’s (1998)
Communities of Practice (CoP): Domain, Community and Practice. The domain in this case is
the use of music to bring the individuals together. Wenger states that members of
communities of practice engage in activities and discussions together, and assist each other
by sharing information and building relationships, which is evident in the Villawood
musicians. To be a CoP the members must also be active practitioners, and in this case, we
see clear evidence of this with the formation of profession musical ensembles during the
period in question.
One element that set The Easybeats apart, and gives them credential as pioneers of
Australian guitar culture, was the desire to write their own material rather than cover
American and British popular tunes (Vanda in Neeson, 2009). A second factor is their
tendency to perform instrumentals as part of their live act (Wright in Neeson, 2009).
Supporting the British and American dual influence supposition, George Young states
that the song Friday on my Mind included inspiration from the American acapella Jazz
ensemble The Swingle Singers (Clarke, 2015; Neeson, 2009). Ben Lee describes Friday on My
Mind as an Australian classic: ‘It’s not at national anthem level but it’s pretty ingrained into
the culture’ (Lee in Neeson, 2009, 1:27-1:31). Australian music industry personality Molly
Meldrum rates Friday on my Mind as the best Australian recorded track (Meldrum in
Neeson, 2009) and the Australasian Performing Rights Association (APRA) ranked it in the
number one position in their list of the top 30 Australian Songs (APRA, 2001b). In
completion of a full circle of influence Friday on My Mind has been covered by artists from
both sides of the Atlantic including British singer David Bowie (1947-2016) and American
Bruce Springsteen (b.1949). An analytical examination of Friday on My Mind reveals a
technically challenging opening guitar riff. Figure 2 shows the riff comprises repeating
patterns of alternating intervals.
Figure 2 – Friday on My Mind, guitar introduction and verse.
Figure 2. Friday on my Mind, measures 3-22, transcribed by author, (Young & Vanden,
This musical device can also be found in many other subsequent Australian CPM
guitar compositions. For example, it is evident in Angus Young’s riff found in the opening of
the AC/DC song Thunderstruck, as demonstrated in figure 3. Angus’ interpretation of the
concept shows a development of his personal style over that of his older contemporaries’.
Angus’ riff is twice as fast, containing constant semiquavers whereas the Friday on My Mind
riff is all quavers. However, Angus’ riff is conceptually simpler with less harmonic
development and is typically performed all on one string of the guitar, whereas the Friday
on My Mind riff requires a lot more movement around the instrument and builds toward a
climactic harmonic development.
Figure 3 – Thunderstruck, guitar riff in introduction.
Figure 3 – Thunderstruck, measures 1-4, transcribed by Author, (Young & Young, 1990).
As well as details of specific guitar playing techniques, another factor of the
Australian guitar culture can be found in the frenetic stage performance antics of many
Australian guitar players. This element also has roots in the same foundation. Easybeats’
front-man Stevie Wright exhibited an extraordinarily gymnastic stage act. The Easybeats’
lead guitarist Harry Vanda cites Stevie Wright’s stage act as inspiration for more and more
experimental and outrageous lead guitar playing: ‘When I used to watch Stevie go into his
performance mode…that’s when you start to think hang on a minute…I’d better try a bit
harder myself’ (Vanda in Neeson, 2009, 20:12 - 20:26). Angus Young similarly includes
exaggerated on-stage antics in his live performances (Fink, 2013).
Further analysis of the guitar playing in compositions by the Easybeats reveals three
musical devices that appear frequently in other Australian CPM compositions. These devices
are: 1) Major/Minor superimposition; the use of major triads built from each step of the
Minor Pentatonic Scale. 2) The percussive strum. 3) Guitar interjections between vocal lines.
Following is a series of analytical comparisons of compositions by the Easybeats that use
these three devices and compositions by other subsequent Australian composers within the
The Easybeats’ influence on Australian guitar performance styles
The composition Sorry by George Young and Stevie Wright is built around a harmonic
palette constructed from five major triads. Composed in the key of F# Major, the five major
triads used are F#, A, B, C# and E. The root notes of these five chords comprise the F# minor
pentatonic scale. This superimposition of major harmonic structures based on minor scale
intervals is an identifying feature of Blues-based music. In his explanation of rock song
structure Daniels (1986) describes these five chords as ‘…the RAW ELEMENTS OF ROCK
STRUCTURE’ (p.48, emphasis his). A second characteristic feature of the guitar playing in the
Easybeats’ composition Sorry is the use of the percussive strum. In this technique the
fretting hand mutes the strings instead of pushing them down onto the frets creating a
pitch-less ‘chunk’. This technique can be seen replicated in many Australian rock songs
including AC/DC’s T.N.T. from 1976 and The Living End’s Prisoner of Society from 1998.
Figure 4 Shows the Easybeats’ composition Sorry demonstrating the five major triads and
the use of percussive strumming.
Figure 4 – Sorry, measures 9-20
Figure 4. Sorry, measures 9-20, transcribed by author, (Young & Wright, 1966).
Figure 5 shows the percussive strumming technique also being used in the chorus of
AC/DC’s song T.N.T. from ten years later.
Figure 5 – T.N.T. Chorus section
Figure 5. T.N.T., measures 30-34, transcribed by author, (Scott, Young & Young, 1976).
Figure 6 demonstrates a similar use of percussive strumming from the Living End’s
1998 composition Prisoner of Society as well as a similar harmonic palette of major triads
built from degrees of the Minor Pentatonic scale.
Figure 6 – Prisoner of Society, Guitar part in verse sections
Figure 6 – Prisoner of Society, measures 17-24, transcribed by Author (Cheney, 1998).
An Australian composition that includes the percussive strum and mixes it with other
CPM composition clichés including a blues scale riff and a 16 Bar blues form is Turn Up Your
Radio by Australian Rock and Roll group the Master’s Apprentices. Figure 7 shows these
three features in the verse sections.
Figure 7 - Turn Up your Radio verse sections
Figure 7 – Turn Up Your Radio, measures 29-45, transcribed by author, (Ford & Keays, 1970).
Another common feature of songs composed by the Easybeats is the use of guitar
interjections between the vocal stanzas. This feature can also be found in songs composed
by AC/DC and other Australian composers. Figure 8 shows the guitar performing a short
motif in the spaces between the vocal line in The Easybeats’ 1965 Composition She’s so fine.
A similar riff is used in the introduction to the title track from Daddy Cool’s 1971 album
Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, shown in Figure 9. This same compositional tool can also be found
in AC/DC’s 1979 composition Highway to Hell as shown in Figure 10.
Figure 8 – She’s so Fine, Guitar riff in verses
Figure 8 – She’s so Fine, measures 1-8, transcribed by Author (Wright & Young, 1965).
Figure 9 – Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, guitar riff in verses
Figure 9 – Daddy Who?, Daddy Cool, measures 1-9, transcribed by Author (Hannaford, 1971)
Figure 10 – Highway to Hell, guitar riff in verses
Figure 10 – Highway to Hell, measures 1-8 transcribed by Author (Scott, Young & Young,
Another tune composed by members of the Easybeats that uses the guitar tacet is
the 1968 composition Good Times, also released for international markets as Gonna Have a
Good Time. Figure 11 demonstrates the use of space in the verse sections.
Figure 11 – Good Times, Introduction and verse measures 1-16
Figure 11 – Good Times, measures 1-16 transcribed by Author, (Vanda & Young, 1968)
The guitar riff in the introduction to Good Times is similar to the introduction found in the
Living End’s 1998 single Prisoner of Society composed by front-man Chris Cheney, as seen in
Figure 12 – Prisoner of Society, Introduction
Figure 12 – Prisoner of Society, measures 1-4, transcribed by author (Cheney, 1998)
The similarity is two-fold, with the use of a lower ostinato and a moving upper line following
the pattern of a tresillo style rhythm.
Sometimes referred to as the Spanish triplet, the tresillo rhythm pattern is a
simplification of the Afro-Cuban Habanera and found its way, partly, into Australian CPM
through the influence of the Rockabilly movement with artists including Bill Haley and Elvis
Presley using it prominently (Brewer, 1999). Figure 13 shows two forms of the tresillo
rhythm as typically found in CPM guitar performance styles.
Figure 13 – The tresillo rhythm
Figure 13 – The tresillo rhythm
In early adoptions of the tresillo in New Orleans Blues and Jump Blues, precursors to
Rhythm and Blues, the rhythmic pattern was typically played by the horn sections. However,
as the Rhythm and Blues movement evolved into Rock and Roll, with a more prominent use
of the electric guitar, the tresillo began to be adopted by guitar players. The origin of the
tresillo and a detailed description of its adoption into popular musics cannot be precisely
documented as the rhythmic figure is ubiquitous in music cultures from all over the world
including Africa, the Middle East, and the Americas. It is prominently featured in French
composer Bizet’s 1875 opera Carmen. In his discussion on the geometry of rhythm Toussaint
(2004) describes it as a universal rhythm. However, an undoubtable facet of the story is the
cultural piggybacking of West African musics with the slave trade into the new Americas
which also contributed inexorably to the development of the Blues, and consequently
Rhythm and Blues, and Rock and Roll. The presence of the tresillo in Australian CPM is
therefore not a surprise. If the reverse were true, that is if the tresillo were absent from
Australian CPM, that would present a case for a quintessentially Australian musical
characteristic. This would suggest that guitar curricula within Australian music education
programs should contain adequate content featuring the tresillo, its development and uses.
A development of the tresillo into a two-bar long sequence can be found in AC/DC’s
1981 composition For Those About to Rock (We Salute You).
Figure 14 – For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), guitar introduction
Figure 14 – For Those About to Rock (We Salute You), measures 1-4, transcribed by author
(Young, Young & Johnson, 1981)
This pattern, referred to as the double tresillo, is common in Jazz and Rock
(Biamonte, 2014). It can be found in early ragtime piano (Cohn, 2016) and is the basis for
the melody of Glenn Miller’s 1941 composition A String of Pearls. Australian guitarist Greg
Gardner composes music for the Australian film industry and participates in the Australian
guitar community via his YouTube channel. His composition Bundjalung features an
indigenous didgeridoo player, Kavi, performing a double tresillo ostinato. Cheney’s
introduction to Prisoner Of Society, as shown previously in figure 12, demonstrates a
combination of the double tresillo rhythmic sequence with an ostinato similar to that found
in The Easybeats’ Good Times. Cheney uses the double tresillo pattern again during the
guitar solo of Prisoner of Society, as exemplified in measures 86 and 87 in figure 15.
Figure 15 – Prisoner of Society, Guitar solo transition section
Figure 15 – Prisoner of Society, measures 85-87, transcribed by author (Cheney, 1998)
The Cat Empire are a Melbourne based ensemble with a diverse range of influences
including Ska, funk and Jazz. In 2006 they performed during the opening ceremony of the
Commonwealth games, delivering an hour long set of Australian compositions. The rhythm
guitar part in the verse sections of Boogaloo, the second track on their 2006 album Cities,
features a development of the tresillo rhythm as shown in figure 16. The rhythm can be
described as a reverse tresillo, or as a displaced tresillo with the standard rhythm pattern
beginning on the second beat of the bar.
Figure 16 – Boogaloo, rhythm guitar timing in verses.
Figure 16 – Boogaloo, measures 5-9, (Riebl & Irwin, 2006), transcribed by Author.
A common compositional tool in CPM is building progressions using major triads
built on each step of the minor pentatonic scale. An example from the compositions of the
Easybeats which demonstrates the use of this practice is the 1966 composition I’ll Make You
Happy. Figure 17 shows this harmonic device used in the construction of the chorus.
Figure 17 – I’ll Make You Happy, guitar part in chorus
Figure 17 – I’ll Make You Happy, measures 25-33, transcribed by author, (Wright & Young,
The influence of this harmonic device can also be seen in the Living End song Prisoner of
Society which uses the same grouping of chords, albiet in a different key, in the second half
of the introduction.
Figure 18 – Prisoner of Society, Introduction, part b
Figure 18 – Prisoner of Society measures 17-20, transcribed by author, (Cheney, 1998)
There has been presented a few examples of similarities between compositions of
Australian guitarists. These isolated examples would help support the argument for
community inspiration and development of a unique Australian guitar culture if they could
be shown to only exist in Australian compositions. However, they do not. Each of these
examples can be found in the music of CPM guitarists from both sides of the Atlantic.
However, it is the grouping together of these elements, and how these are combined, that
gives the Australian guitar culture its identity.
George Young describes Harry Vanda’s songwriting style as perhaps too clever for
the rock and roll scene at the time: ‘With Stevie the writing was aimed more at the Rock,
Pop side… With Harry it was a much more musical approach, still with the same philosophy
but trying to bring in more musical ideas, trying a bit clever, too clever.’(Young in Neeson,
2009, 37:31 - 37:54) A compositional litmus that George applied to his guitar riffs was that
they had to be able to be played on the piano and be memorably simple (Clarke, 2015).
After the break-up of The Easybeats, Harry Vanda and George Young worked
together as writers and producers. Vanda and Young noticed that recorded sounds of
popular artists were notably different from the live sounds when the artists performed in
the local pub scene. Words used to describe the guitar sound they were trying to capture
include primal, raw, big, fat, robust and dirty. ‘It was like George’s guitar from the Easybeats
but harder, tougher, it now had a primal urgency’ (Clarke, 2015, 25:13-25:20). The act of
deliberately capturing this live music element in studio recordings contributed to the
development of the ‘pub sound’ predominant in Australian Hard Rock of the 1970’s.
Another important factor of the pub sound was volume. Gary (a.k.a Angry) Anderson
(b.1947), lead singer of Australian band Rose Tattoo, describes the scenario:
‘We used to think that our volume was sonic exploration actually. We were
communicating with the gods, we were trying to create a conduit that took people,
dare I say, transcendentally into another place. And it is the intensity that we tried to
capture on tape.’ (Anderson in Clarke, 2015, 43:29 - 43:56)
Radio presenter Pam Swain describes the influence of Vanda and Young as producers saying
they ‘…set a standard for the way Australians approach Rock and Roll’ (Swain in Clarke,
2015, 45:29 - 45:36).
Significant Guitar Community contributors
It is beyond the scope of this paper to present an exhaustive analysis of guitar
performance styles from every influential guitarist within Australian CPM. However, to
provide a snapshot of the Australian guitar culture and therefore a base for further
discussion, following is a brief analysis of iconic outputs of some other significant members
of the Australian CPM industry and guitar community.
Johhny O’Keefe (1935-1978) is regarded as Australia’s first Rock and Roll star
(Australian Musician, 2007). His music was inspired by the foundation Rock and Roll artists
from the United States, most prominently Bill Haley and the Comets. The guitar parts on
O’Keefe’s recordings were mostly played by Indonesian Lou Casch (b. 1924) and features
similar, or in some cases, identical riffs to those found in Bill Haley’s and Elvis Presley’s
offerings. Figure 18 demonstrates the similarity between O’Keefe’s hit song Wild One from
1958, Haley’s Shake, Rattle and Roll released in 1955 and the Lieber and Stoller composition
Jailhouse Rock made popular by Elvis Presley in 1957. Although they were originally
recorded in three different keys, for the sake of comparison all three tunes have been
presented in the same key. The riff in the first four bars of Wild One is similar to Haley’s
Shake Rattle and Roll and the riff in the latter section is identical to Presley’s Jailhouse Rock.
Figure 19 – Wild One comparison to Shake, Rattle & Roll and Jailhouse Rock.
Figure 19 - Wild One, measures 5-16, transcribed by author, (Greenan, O’Keefe, Owens &
Withers)., Shake Rattle and Roll, measures 3-4, transcribed by author, (Calhoun)., Jailhouse
Rock, measures 9-20, transcribed by author, (Lieber & Stoller)
These riffs have their roots in the Kansas City Jazz movement. Figure 20 shows a few
examples of what is colloquially known as The Kansas City Riff. Example 1 shows it in its
simplest form, as it is often used for a walking bass line. Example 2 shows it in another
common form as repeated pairs of quavers. This allows for the same riff to be used in either
a straight feel, with evenly spaced quavers, or as a shuffle feel with the first of each pair of
quavers held longer than the second quaver. It is in this form that Arthur Smith (1921-2014)
used it in his 1945 composition Guitar Boogie which has been covered by numerous
guitarists from the United States, England and Australia. Australian guitarist Tommy
Emmanuel frequently includes it in his live performances. Chris Cheney from The Living End
adapted the riff for his re-interpretation titled E Boogie, which he also frequently performs
at live concerts, and is demonstrated in figure 21. The final two examples in figure 20 show
variations of the Kansas City Riff performed by Count Basie. There is also a development of
the motif found in Basie’s John’s Idea in measure 27 of Cheney’s E Boogie.
Figure 20 – The Kansas City Riff examples.
Figure 20 – Kansas City riff examples, Red Bank Boogie, measures 1-2, transcribed by author
(Basie & Clayton)., John’s Idea, measures 1-2, transcribed by author, (Basie).
Figure 21 – E Boogie, Guitar riff
Figure 21 – E Boogie, measures 17-32, transcribed by author, (Cheney, 2004)
The Kansas City Riff is common place among the early Rock and Roll guitar performance
styles and has been used, varied and copied countless times by guitarists all over the world.
Australia’s first Pop group to achieve international success were The Seekers
(Kimball, 2002). Although it is often claimed that The Easybeats were the first Australian
band to achieve international success, The Seekers’ I’ll Never Find Another You reached
number one in the U.K in February 1965, 20 months before The Easybeats’ first
international hit Friday on my Mind was released. Stylistically, The Easybeats and The
Seekers are very different. It might be true to claim that The Easybeats were the first
Australian Rock and Roll group to achieve international success. Rock and Roll historians
could easily overlook The Seekers as their music was a blend of Folk and Pop influences.
However, their position in Australian music culture should not be overlooked as their
popularity, and therefore influence was enormous. When examining their influence on the
sub-cultural sector of Australian guitar culture we find their influence is comparatively
smaller. A characteristic feature of their sound was the blend of six-string and twelve-string
acoustic guitars. The lead guitar parts were most often performed by Keith Potger (b. 1941)
on the twelve-string guitar, creating a unique sound palette that has not been often copied
by other Australian acts or inexorably woven into the Australian guitar psyche.
Daddy Cool were a Melbourne based 4-piece ensemble with un-ashamed Southern-
Blues influences. Their debut album Daddy Who? Daddy Cool was the first Australian album
to achieve more than 100,000 sales (Blackman, 2005). The title track has already been
mentioned with its use of the same opening riff as the Easybeat’s song She’s So Fine. The
rest of the song uses a Kansas City style riff similar to those typically found in the early Rock
and Roll, over an eight-bar Blues derived harmonic structure.
Figure 22 – Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, Guitar riff in choruses
Figure 22 – Daddy Who? Daddy Cool, measures 12-19, transcribed by author, (Hannaford,
One of the most prominent ensembles in Australian CPM that was not formed in
either Sydney or Melbourne is Cold Chisel. Stratton (2004) argues that quintessentially
Australian popular music, especially Oz-Rock, a localised colloquial development of Pub-
Rock, is inexorably linked to the bush-ballad tradition brought to Australia by English and
Irish pioneer settlers. He describes Cold Chisel as the most popular of Oz-Rock bands and
claims they ‘worked most closely within the ballad tradition’ (p. 4). This is clearly evident in
the detailed narrative lyrical content of their compositions exemplified by Khe Sanh, Star
Hotel and Flame Trees, to name just a few. Khe Sanh is piano-driven and has a country-rock
flavor. The guitar only performs the role of rhythmic accompaniment with the typical lead
guitar role replaced by harmonica fills and an extended keyboard solo. However, Star Hotel
features guitarist Ian Moss (b. 1955) in a more prominent role interacting with the organ
melody with a slowly developed crescendo of chord stabs, after performing an extended
instrumental melodic introduction. The chord stabs continue throughout the verse with lead
guitar interjections filling spaces left by the vocals. After the chorus, which is driven by
guitar chords, the lead guitar repeats the motif from the introduction and develops it into
an extended solo. This presents a more sensitive and thoughtfully developed approach to
guitar performance styles than had been seen previously in the Oz-Rock scene. Sensitivity
and thoughtful development are signatures of Ian Moss’s personal guitar performance style
and can be found demonstrated in his extended guitar solo during Cold Chisel’s rendition of
the Hoagy Carmichael composition Georgia on my Mind released on their 1984 Album
Barking Spiders Live. Ian Moss’s performance style is not however devoid of American
influence. The 1978 single Goodbye Astrid is a high energy Blues-Rock composition and
features Chuck Berry-esque performance styles in both the rhythm guitar parts and the lead
solo. A prime example of Ian Moss’s performance style can be found in the song Standing on
the Outside from the 1980 album East. Whereas a typical approach by rhythm guitarists is to
adopt a strumming pattern and apply it across the tune’s harmonic structure here we see
Moss approaching each chord independently. He selects individual notes, pairs or groups of
notes from within the chord, building an eight-bar phrase which accompanies the vocal line,
and becomes an integral part of the tune, rather than simply providing a harmonic
backdrop. There is also a displaced tresillo evident in measures seven and eight.
Figure 23 – Standing on the Outside, measures 1-8
Figure 23 – Standing on the Outside, measures 1-8, transcribed by author, (Walker, 1980)
If there was a linear scale of ‘Australian-ness’ in CPM sub genres Cold Chisel might
appear about halfway with their blend of blues-based Pub-Rock and balladeer narratives.
The band Redgum, who originated in Adelaide in 1975, however, must appear further along
the spectrum. Figure 24 shows a linear scale depicting sub genres and exemplar iconic bands
along a hypothetical scale of ‘Australian-ness’.
Figure 24 – ‘Australian-ness’ linear scale
In reality, a linear representation is not entirely accurate or complete as there are
other tangential influences in Australian guitar performance styles. For example, toward the
Folk end of the spectrum there is an increasingly strong influence from Country music, and
notable personalities Slim Dusty (1927-2003) and John Williamson (b. 1945). Australian
Country-Rock band Redgum’s most iconic song I was Only 19 reached number one in the
Australian singles charts in 1983 (McFarlane, 2017). It is included in the Australian
Performing Rights Association’s (APRA) list of the top 30 Australian songs of all time (APRA,
2001a) and in 2015 was included in the National Film and Sound Archive’s (NFSA) Sounds of
Australia registry (Pianegonda, 2015). Featuring an instrumental line-up not dissimilar to
The Seekers, there are two acoustic guitars on the track. The most prominent guitar
performs arpeggio patterns of constant quavers while a twelve-string guitar fingerpicks the
chords a little lower in the mix. Figure 25 shows the picking pattern and the chords.
Figure 25 – I Was Only 19, measures 1-4
Figure 25 – I Was Only 19, measures 1-4, transcribed by author, (Schumann, 1983)
This arpeggiated picking style is not atypical of the Country Rock genre and is similar to
performance styles adopted by American artists Willie Nelson (b. 1933) and more recently
Taylor Swift (b. 1989). Figure 26 shows Swift’s composition Love Story which features a
similar quaver arpeggio pattern performed on a banjo while a guitar strums the chords
lower in the mix.
Figure 26 – Love Story, Banjo arpeggios in introduction
Figure 26 – Love Story, measures 1-8, transcribed by author, (Swift, 2008)
A guitar curriculum of Australian guitar performance styles should include this technique
while acknowledging the American influence.
Midnight Oil are a five-piece ensemble who rose to public notoriety amidst the New-
Wave development in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s. Arguably their greatest legacy on the
Australian popular music culture is not of musical nature but is their political activism. A
typical feature of the New-Wave guitar playing was the abandonment of bottom-heavy
distorted guitar riffs, found in Hard-Rock, in favour of clean brighter riffs on the higher
strings. The opening measures to Midnight Oil’s Blue Sky Mine and Forgotten Years are
examples of this trend and are demonstrated in figures 27 and 28.
Figure 27 – Blue Sky Mine measures 1-4
Figure 27 – Blue Sky Mine, measures 1-4, transcribed by author, (Garrett, Hillman, Hirst,
Moginie, & Rotsey, 1990)
Figure 28 – Forgotten Years, measures 1-4
Figure 28 – Forgotten Years, measures 1-4, transcribed by author, (Hirst & Moginie, 1990)
Melbourne based band Men at Work are the only Australian act to simultaneously
have the number 1 single in the U.S and the U.K. with their song Downunder (Australian
Musician, 2007). An analysis of the guitar parts on this recording reveals a range of
international inspiration. The verses feature a reggae inspired strumming pattern over a
harmonic structure similar to Bob Dylan’s All along the Watchtower. The chorus uses one of
the most common chord progressions in popular music globally; the I VI IV V pattern
parodied by the Axis of Awesome in their song The 4 Chord Song. There are multiple layered
guitar parts with some muted picking but nothing that stands out as being quintessentially
Australian Glam-Rock band Skyhooks had a significant impact on youth culture in
Australia during the mid to late 1970’s (McFarlane, 2017). Their songs addressed previously
taboo issues including sexuality and illicit drugs. The band made a career out of shock tactics
especially with their use of explicit language and gregarious and daring costumes and props
during their live and television performances. The line-up typically included two electric
guitars. One of their most iconic songs, Living in the Seventies, features a guitar part that
uses the call-and-response guitar interjection feature discussed earlier and found in the
Easybeat’s She so fine.
Figure 29 - Living in the Seventies, Guitar riff in verses
Figure 29 - Living in the Seventies, measures 19-34, transcribed by author, (Macainsh, 1974)
Newcastle based Grunge band Silverchair are the only Australian band to have
reached number one on the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) charts with
every album they have released (Australian Musician, 2007). Demonstrating influences from
both sides of the Atlantic, the riff used in their song Isreal’s Son is similar to the riff found in
the Beatles song Come Together while the chordal structure is typical of the style developed
by Californian Heavy Metal band Metallica.
Figure 30 – Isreal’s Son, Opening guitar riff
Figure 30 – Isreal’s Son, measures 1-4, transcribed by author, (Johns, 1995)
Figure 31 – Come Together, Opening Bass riff
Figure 31 – Come Together, measures 1-4, transcribed by author, (Lennon & McCartney,
Figure 32 – Freak, Guitar chords in Chorus
Figure 32 – Freak, measures 15-18, transcribed by author, (Johns, 1995)
At first listening, the music of INXS may come across as softer, more Pop inspired,
than other stereotypical Hard-Rock Australian ensembles. The prominent use of
synthesizers and crystal-clear guitar sounds blend to create an ‘80s New Wave flavor that
brought them massive international success. However, Kirk Pengilly, the ensemble’s rhythm
guitarist and saxophonist recalls; ‘…we never forgot were we came from – the Aussie pub
circuit where we learned to play’ (Pengilly in,Bozza, 2010). Lead guitarist Tim Ferris cites the
major influences for the INXS sound as progressive rock bands Yes, King Crimson and Gentle
Giant, all of which are English based ensembles (Ferris, 2017). However, he continues
stating: ‘my heart was always more into RnB, Soul, Curtis Mayfield, … Motown, that kind of
thing.’ (5:04 – 5:17). This created an Anglo-American blend in their overall performance
style. INXS worked with American producer Nile Rogers who is well known for his work with
British artists Bryan Ferry, David Bowie, the Thomson Twins, and Duran Duran as well as
American artists including Diana Ross, Sister Sledge, and Madonna. Ferris cites Rogers as an
influence on his personal playing style by incorporating downstroke strums into a reggae
rhythm in place of the more typical upstrokes:
I said to him ‘that sound you get on those Michael Jackson records and Diana Ross
Upside Down that funky sort of out-of-phase sound it’s very unique to you’, and I
noticed when I watched him play that a lot of it is all downstrokes, there’s very little
upstrokes. (8:32 – 8:56)
A close examination of INXS performance videos shows Ferriss incorporating downstroke
syncopated accents in his performance style. One example is the chord strumming in the
verse to the INXS 1984 composition Original Sin.
Figure 33 – Original Sin, measures 7 - 10
Figure 33 - Original Sin, measures 7-10, transcribed by Author, (Hutchence and Farris, 1984)
Another example of the Motown influence on INXS can be found in their 1987 composition
Never Tear Us Apart with its 12/8 rhythm and guitar riff.
In the late 1970’s and early 1980’s there was a surge of CPM ensembles formed by
people of Australian indigenous descent. Coloured Stone formed in 1977, No Fixed Address
in 1979, The Warumpi Band in 1980, and Ilkari Maru in 1982. These were followed by the
most internationally successful indigenous ensemble, Yothu Yindi in 1986. An analysis of the
performance styles of guitarists in Australian indigenous ensembles reveals a common
thread. There is a strong reggae influence in the rhythm guitar styles. Figure 34
demonstrates the reggae inspired strumming technique used for the rhythm guitar part in
Yothu Yindi’s My Kind of Life and figure 35 demonstrates a similar use of typical reggae
strumming in the No Fixed Address song We Have Survived.
Figure 34 – My Kind of Life, Reggae style guitar strumming
Figure 34 – My Kind of Life, measures 1-4, transcribed by author, (Yunupingu, 1991)
Figure 35 – We Have Survived, Reggae style guitar strumming
Figure 35 – We Have Survived, measures 1-8, transcribed by author, (Willoughby, 1981)
The use of reggae influences by Australian Indigenous musicians was often a
conscious choice to deliberately associate their music with other oppressed people groups
world-wide and to connect with other music forms which draw upon African roots and have
become popular among disenfranchised cultural populations (Dunbar-Hall & Gibson, 2004;
Another Oz-Rock band to emerge in the late 1970s from Sydney was the Choirboys.
In an interview with Mark Gable (b. 1950), founding member and front-man, he claims them
to be ‘the last remaining pub-rock band in its entirety’ (Gable, 2016, 2:31-2:35). In 2007 The
Choirboys recorded an acoustic tribute album of compositions by the Easybeats. Discussing
the musical influence of the Easybeats, Gables states; ‘AC/DC wouldn’t have happened if it
hadn’t have been for the Easybeats… I’m amazed more bands haven’t stolen from them’
(Gable, 2016, 9:41-9:43). As a guitarist Gable was self-taught and describes his style as
intrinsic and ‘…based on laziness which I[he] wouldn’t have developed had I[he] gotten
lessons’ (17:18-17:28). The Choirboy’s most iconic song, and biggest selling single
(MacGregor, 2017), Run to Paradise comprises blending of a number of influences already
discussed. The opening riff is in the style of the New-Wave genre featuring non-overdriven
intervals and prominent use of the percussive strum, as depicted in figure 36. There are long
tacets between the heavily distorted second guitar interjections in the verses and the last
two bars of the interlude leading into the chorus features the tresillo rhythmic pulse as
found in the Easybeats’ Good Times. The entire harmonic structure of the song uses just the
three primary triads in the Key of A major.
Figure 36 – Run to Paradise, Guitar introduction
Figure 36 – Run to Paradise, measures 1-8, transcribed by author, (Carr & Gable, 1987)
Figure 37 – Run to Paradise, Tresillo rhythm in final measures of interlude
Figure 37 – Run to Paradise, measures 61-62, transcribed by author, (Carr & Gable, 1987)
Run to Paradise is entirely composed of Australian CPM guitar clichés. Inclusion of
this tune in a CPM guitar curriculum would give students experience of typical Australian
guitar performance styles. Alternatively, inclusion of the techniques would give students the
foundations necessary to be able to perform this song, and others similar, without very
much extra learning. It is not known whether the song was written to deliberately target an
audience familiar with the guitar performance styles employed or if the composition of the
song emerged from the artist’s immersion in the culture. Inclusion of this song, and/or the
concepts found within it, in a guitar curriculum would instill in the students the knowledge
or familiarity to replicate the concepts in their own compositions either deliberately or sub-
Jet are a Melbourne based quartet who have had commercial success in both the
U.K. and the U.S.A. Figure 38 shows the riff in their 2003 composition Are You Gonna be my
Girl and reveals a close similarity to American artist Iggy Pop’s (b.1947) Lust for Life co-
written in 1977 by him and British singer/songwriter David Bowie (1947 -2016).
Figure 38 – Lust for Life, and Are You Gonna Be My Girl, main riffs comparison.
Figure 38 – Lust for Life, measures 1-2, transcribed by author, (Bowie & Osterberg)., Are You
Gonna Be My Girl, measures 1-2, transcribed by author, (Cester & Muncey)
There has been presented in this paper a number of examples of guitar performance
styles from Australian guitarists. Comparisons were included with the implication of
influence. However, it is acknowledged that the influence may not be as simple and direct as
implied. A more likely explanation is common source influence. The underlying argument of
cultural influence from both the United States of America and the United Kingdom remains
valid particularly in the light of acknowledgments by the artists themselves in interviews.
Other evidence includes the inclusion of cover versions of influential artists’ songs in the
next generation’s play lists.
Other Cultural Contributions
Another factor to consider in the guitar community is also the influence on choice of
equipment. Guitarists often use brands and/or models of guitars similar to the ones used by
their idols in order to sound like them. This phenomenon is well known by the guitar
manufacturing industry and is clearly demonstrated by the production totals of Californian
guitar manufacturing company Rickenbacker. Figure 39 shows the Rickenbacker guitar
company’s production figures for 1962 to 1966. The figures increase dramatically after the
Beatles were seen using Rickenbacker guitars on the Ed Sullivan show in February 1964.
Beatles guitarist George Harrison used a Rickenbacker twelve string hollow bodied electric
guitar on the Ed Sullivan show and by 1966 this style of guitar accounted for nearly half of
the company’s total production and out sold their entire 1962 production by over 500%.
Figure 39 – Rickenbacker guitar production figures 1962-1966
(R. R. Smith, 1987)
Photographic and video footage of The Easybeats depicts George Young playing
Rickenbacker guitars on many occasions and Harry Vander almost exclusively playing hollow
1962 1963 1964 1965 1966
Total Production 12 String guitars Hollowbody guitars
bodied electric guitars. Rickenbacker guitars were also favoured by guitarists in the British
Pub-Rock, Hard-Rock and Punk sub genres of the late 1960s and 1970s including Pete
Townsend (b. 1945) of The Who and Paul Weller (b. 1958) of The Jam. Australian guitarists
who echoed these genre’s performance styles have also been known to choose
Rickenbacker guitars including Jim Moginie (b. 1956) from Midnight Oil, Tim Rogers (b.
1969) from You am I, and Daniel Johns (1979) from Silverchair.
This point could be further demonstrated by a discussion on guitars produced by the
Hofner and Gretsch companies and also the influence of Angus Young’s choice of using
Gibson SG model guitars almost exclusively for over 40 years. However, the argument being
presented here is a secondary point to back-up the evidence of influence and further details
are beyond the scope of this paper.
An entire list with an analysis of performance styles of every guitarist in iconic
Australian CPM ensembles would comprise an extremely large presentation which is not
needed for demonstration of Australian guitar culture within the scope of this study. A list of
other bands worthy of mention include Little River Band, The Angels, Savage Garden, The
Screaming Jets and Velvet Underground, to name just a few, all of which have made
individual and significant contributions to the guitar culture of Australian CPM.
Producers and promoters including Lee Gordon, Mark Opitz, and Alberts Productions
have also certainly had an influence on the Australian music culture. However, this
specialized report with a focus on guitar culture can do little more than acknowledge them
without a detailed analysis.
One facet of Australian culture that is also worthy of mention is the Australian
public’s addiction to sport. Sporting culture permeates every aspect of Australian lifestyle
including the arts and therefore music and popular song. Music is an integral part of popular
culture and where sport and music mix we find two significant recordings; the 1979 song by
Mike Brady Up There Cazaly and the 1978 jingle C’mon Aussie C’mon recorded to promote
the World Series Cricket on the Channel Nine television network. Both of these songs have
gained iconic status in Australian popular culture. The verse sections of Up There Cazaly
features a piano driven arpeggio backed by acoustic guitar strums, similar to the example
given in Redgum’s I was only 19. The choruses are at a slower tempo with a strong backbeat
provided by the acoustic guitar strumming heavily on beats 2 and 4. Both tunes exhibit the
Australian Country-Rock flavor with a strong balladeer narrative to the composition style.
C’mon Aussie C’mon begins with a spoken word stanza and the chord structure in the verses
exhibit a major/minor superimposition with both the C major and B major triads being used
in the key of D major.
Figure 40 – C’mon Aussie C’mon, Guitar chords in verses
Figure 40 – C’mon Aussie C’mon, measures 5-12, transcribed by author, (Johnson & Morris,
A common argument against teaching CPM at tertiary level is the lack of complexity in the
music does not necessitate high levels of training. The typical defense for this argument
uses the instrumental rock of artists Yngwie Malmsteen (b. 1963), Joe Satriani (b. 1956),
Alan Holdsworth (1946 - 2017) and their contemporaries as examples of advanced music
concepts present in contemporary rock guitar derived musical genres. The field of
instrumental Jazz-Rock fusion is represented by Australians Frank Gambale (b. 1958) and
Brett Garsed (b. 1963).
Brett Garsed is well known in the broader Australian music community for his work
with singer John Farnham (b. 1949). Within the guitar community he is also well respected
as a virtuosic player within the Jazz-Rock fusion genre. Garsed has toured extensively for
long periods in the United States and worked with a number of American artists. In an
interview with an Australian guitar infotainment YouTube channel host Troy Male, Garsed
states his initial influence was British guitarist Ritchie Blackmore (b. 1945) (Garsed in Male,
2016). Garsed describes his development as being part of a local guitar community in his
home town of Castlemaine in rural Victoria: ‘The way we existed in these parts… there was
no exposure to any really advanced musicians. Around here we all sort of learned off each
other’ (1:47 – 1:59). He continues to list further influences from both the U.K. and U.S.A.
including the Allman Brothers and Alan Holdsworth. Further demonstration of influence
from both sides of the Atlantic can be found in Garsed’s composition Burgers in Bed which is
shown in figure 41. Aesthetically, the tune sits firmly in the Jazz/Fusion genre which has its
roots in the United States. However, a comparison to the piano and guitar riff in the song
Hey Bulldog composed by Lennon and McCartney and released on the Yellow Submarine
soundtrack in 1969 shows the riffs to be almost identical, although in different keys.
Figure 41 – Comparison of riffs from Burgers in Bed and Hey Bulldog
Figure 41 – Burgers in Bed, measures 1-2, transcribed by author (Garsed, unpublished)., Hey
Bulldog, measures 3-4, transcribed by author, (Lennon & McCartney, 1968)
Frank Gambale has released sixteen albums as a solo artist and is featured on almost
thirty other albums as a guest artist or sideman, including seven albums with Jazz
keyboardist Chick Corea’s (b, 1941) Elektrik Band. He has released five instructional videos
and written four instructional books. Born in Canberra into a musical family he studied at
the Guitar Institute of Technology (G.I.T.) in Los Angeles and has since become a mainstay in
the global Jazz Fusion community. To accurately gauge his personal influence on the guitar
community would require a separate study, as would an analytical examination of his
compositions and performance style. Suffice to say that he is widely recognized as one of
the pioneers of right hand techniques now considered de rigueur for fusion guitar playing:
‘Gambale is the undisputed genius who originated the sweep picking technique and
elevated it to a precise art form now standard in the guitar lexicon’ (frankgambale.com,
2017). Together with the Chick Corea Elektrik Band, Gambale has won a Grammy award and
been nominated for two more. His 1988 live album was nominated for Best Contemporary
Jazz album and he has twice been named best fusion guitarist by the Guitar Player Magazine
reader’s poll. Although he was born in Australia and his fourth solo album was titled
Thunder from Downunder his music and performance style is firmly rooted in American
styles and it is difficult to see his music as anything but a derivative of American music
culture. On his web-site he lists his top 34 favorite and influential albums. There are no
Australian artists listed (frankgambale.com, 2017).
No discussion on Australian guitar culture would be complete without the inclusion
of Tommy Emmanuel (b. 1955). Emmanuel is one of only four guitarists to be endowed with
the title Certified Guitar Player (C.G.P.) by Chet Atkins and in 2010 he has been appointed as
Member of the Order of Australia. He has won numerous Australian and International
awards including a Grammy and has twice been named best acoustic guitarist in the Guitar
Player Magazine’s reader’s poll. His global footprint in the guitar culture is possibly the
largest of any Australian as his performance style encompasses Rock, Blues, Country and in
recent years Jazz. His global exposure includes a performance at the closing ceremony of the
Olympic Games in Sydney 2000 with a potential audience of 3.7 billion viewers across 220
countries (R. Phillips, 2000). He has toured, performed and recorded with a large number of
iconic Australian artists including, John Farnham, Dragon, The Bushwackers, Darryl
Braithwaite, Human Nature and Glenn Shorrock (McFarlane, 2017). From a cultural
influence perspective Emmanuel’s music leans heavily toward the American end of the
spectrum with a strong Country Western flavor mixed with some elements of Blues, and
Folk. This observation is confirmed in a 2003 interview when Emmanuel was asked to list
some of his influences. He responded with a list of 20 artists, 17 of which were American
and two British (Dalka, 2003). It is interesting to note he does not cite any Australian
influences. Emmanuel has, in turn, inspired countless Australian and international guitarists
including Swedish born Gabriella Quevedo (b. 1997) and South Korean Sungha Jung (b.
1996) who’s YouTube channel is the most subscribed guitar channel and features three
videos of Emmanuel’s arrangement of the Australian Classic Waltzing Matilda with over
This paper has embarked on the task of characterizing Australian guitar culture by
identifying and locating musically notate-able, quintessentially Australian guitar
performance styles through an analytical look at the music of significant Australian artists
with a focus on identifying influences. A comprehensive list and analysis of every significant
Australian CPM ensemble and their guitar performance styles would be a vast undertaking,
produce an equally vast artefact, and is well beyond the scope of this study. The examples
given are only cursory glimpses of the overall picture and on their own do not provide proof
of influence. However, they are exemplars of a much larger picture and offer support to the
notions of Anglo-American influence and of common influence. The common influence
concept being presented is that Australian guitarists, in the formation years of Australian
CPM, have blended performance styles from both English and American influences and
subsequent generations have emulated their style by continuing to do so, as well as directly
copying them. As well as other genre influences including the Australian folk tradition, there
are other non-musical factors adding to the development of Australian music culture and
therefore the guitar sub-culture. These include legislation regarding noise levels after hours,
the introduction of drinking and drink-driving laws, regulations regarding opening hours of
venues and the introduction of poker machines. All of these factors blend and mix in various
ways across the range of geographic, sociological, and chronological locales within Australia
and have produced a mixed melting pot of influences on the guitar sub-cultures throughout
the country. The addition of the internet into this mix in the last couple of decades has only
added more complication.
As with any sociological study there are many complex and overlapping factors at
play within the global, and Australian, guitar cultures creating an extremely multifaceted
state of affairs. However, as a brief summary of the major CPM guitar cultures the British
scene which grew out of its infancy with The Beatles developed into the angst driven punk-
rock by the mid-1970s exemplified by The Who and The Jam. Across the Atlantic the
American guitar culture had a more spangled puberty with a mixture of cultures grounded
in various sub-genres including Heavy Metal, Glam and Pop. An anti-establishment
movement, spearheaded by Kurt Cobain and his Grunge ensemble Nirvana, has given the
guitar focused sub-culture within American Rock and Roll a new, more united voice, which
has remained fundamentally influential ever since. Meanwhile in Australia the general
approach was more relaxed and care-free. Although some artists made deliberate efforts to
create and include cultural flavours, the come-what-may attitude has been the primary
driving force. The Oxford companion to Australian Music sums it up neatly in this statement:
‘Australians assimilate rather than imitate when embracing ideas and styles from elsewhere’
(Bebbington, 1997, p. 306). This assimilation may be as much sub-conscious, through a
process of musical osmosis, as it is a conscious effort by Australian guitarists to include
influential factors in their performance, and compositional styles.
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Top Australian guitarists as ranked by industry media
The following table is a compilation of lists of the top Australian guitarists published in industry
Rowland S. Howard
Sources for the table are as follows
1: Australian Guitar Magazine. Top 50 Australian Guitarists of all time. This list was compiled by a
panel of three contributors with some help from the magazine editorial team and published on the
magazine’s website on 15 May 2012. (Australian Guitar Magazine, 2012)
2: News Corp. Who is Australia’s best guitarist? Published in April 2015, the article offers no explicit
explanation as to how the list was generated other than the statement ‘according to our musicians’.
The text includes numerous citations from Australian guitarists giving the impression that it was
generated by a panel of industry personalities. (McCabe, 2014)
3: The Top Tens website. This list is generated by the public via this online voting forum. The voting is
ongoing and therefore is subject to change. The site was accessed 18 May 2017. (Walker, 2017)
Among world-wide industry and community rankings of guitarists, Australian guitar players
appear rarely. The Top Ten web-site’s list of the World’s greatest guitarists (The Top Ten, 2017) has
AC/DC guitarist Angus Young ranking as the highest Australian at number 9. Ranker.com a public
forum voting web-site ranks Angus Young as the 12th greatest guitarist of all time (Ranker, 2017). The
next Australian on the list is Malcolm Young at number 81, followed by Tommy Emmanuel at 189
and Classical guitarist and composer John Williams at 191. The list is not genre specific and includes
Country, Jazz, Classical and Blues players along with the plethora of Rock guitarists. The data was
collected on 19/5/17 and as this list is derived from public voting and is ongoing it is subject to
change. Rolling Stone Magazine published a list of the 100 greatest guitarists on Dec 18, 2015. The
list was derived by a panel of ‘top guitarists and other experts’. The only Australian guitarist to
appear on this list is Angus Young at number 24 (Browne et al., 2015). In 2012 Guitar World
magazine conducted a tournament-style reader’s poll to find the 100 greatest guitarists of all time.
The readers were only able to vote for guitarists already chosen by the Guitar World staff. The only
two Australians on the list are Angus young who ranked at 21 and his brother Malcolm at 84 (Guitar
World Staff, 2012). In 2010 Gibson.com conducted a month-long reader’s poll asking people to vote
for the top guitarists of all time. Angus Young is the only Australian to appear on the list at number
25 (Gibson.com, 2010). Votes for the Gibson.com ranking were from a panel of 14 industry
personalities and the reader’s poll. Australian Musician, the online publication of the Australian
Music Association, ran a poll for the best Australian singer/guitarist in 2014. The poll was won by Ian
Moss (Australian Musician, 2014).
It is clear from these findings that Angus Young, and his band AC/DC, have the largest
Australian presence in the global guitar community and industry discourse. However, Angus Young is
Scottish by birth. He immigrated to Australia in 1963 at the age of 8 (S. R. Smith, 2009). Although he
may be Scottish, Young’s cultural roots are typical 1960’s Australian and his inclusion in the
Australian guitar community is not questioned. Young’s older brother George Young was the
guitarist for the Rock and Roll band The Easybeats.