Sunday, January 1, 2012

Shirley Thoms

January, 2012: Athol Colemane has given me a glimpse into a network of country music collectors.  Because I tend to be a bit fuzzy (or fictional) when it comes to facts, these collectors have become mythical figures: such as the one who keeps 80,000 78s in several air-conditioned shipping containers.  And there's the one - I won't say in which country town -  who sells bootleg CDs of early Australian country 78s.  Athol's collection didn't include any Shirley Thoms, 'Australia's Yodelling Sweetheart', but he put me in touch with the bootlegger, whose did.  I put $25 in an envelope and promptly received a beautifully-recorded CD of early Shirley.  
Shirley Thoms has been on my list of music-I-should-hear since Archer of Daylesford, the protogĂ©e (posthumously) of Tex Morton, recommended her to me.  "Can you yodel?" asked Archer.  I will never be able to yodel like Shirley, but I can learn a thing or two by trying my best to imitate her.  She has a perfect voice.  It's almost inhuman in its sweetness and purity.  It has a smile in it, like Billie Holiday's.  I learnt HAPPY COWGIRL (not to be confused with Joan Ridgway's 'Yodelling Cowgirl' or June Holm's 'Happy Yodelling Cowgirl') partly because Andy had given me a difficult brief for song lyrics: "nothing sad please".  So I felt the need to research happy songs.  There aren't many of them.  HAPPY COWGIRL is a hard song, not because of the yodel, but because the words are plain, generic and repetitive, and it's easy to get them mixed around - "The air is full of light and the world is all right" in verse one, becomes "The world is all right 'cause your arms hold me tight" in verse four.  And the rising sun shines o'er the prairie, then it shines at noon o'er the prairie, then it sinks at last, then the stars sparkle bright o'er the prairie.  But it's fun to sing.  When I busked in Tamworth this year, I played for 25 minutes on Brisbane Street without earning a cent; then, on Peel Street, I found a bit of quiet that lasted long enough to sing HAPPY COWGIRL and half of 'Century Too Late'.  The lull ended when a yodeller equipped with a PA let rip on the opposite side of the road, and I had to close up shop.  I was counting my earnings when Sophie came out of the Post Office - in the time it had taken Sophie to buy a stamp, Shirley had earned me $9.

Listen to her here: