Troy Cassar-Daley is one of Australia’s bigggest Country Music stars, but despite his celebrity status, he is still one of the most genuine people you could hope to meet. We catch up with Troy in the lead up to his North Coast tour.
Where did your love of Country Music come from?
Growing up in Grafton, all of my relations were into Country Music, and it stemmed from that and my mum’s record collection. I had a chance to listen to some great Country Music growing up, and that was very infectious. As soon as I started playing guitar, it was one of the first things I wanted to play. It was a pretty natural progression from learning guitar to playing the songs that I wanted to play, which were predominantly Country.
Who taught you to play guitar?
The initial inspiration to go and learn guitar was to keep up with my cousins, because they were very good … and they were smarties! They’d come home and show me things that I wished I could play, so I thought I’d better get some guitar lessons. I decided to go to the same person that they went to. Her name was Leonie Hayes, and she still teaches in Grafton today. She only teaches a small handful of students now, because she reckons her patience isn’t what it used to be. She does a lot of adult teaching now, and she’s taught at the gaol for ages.
I reckon she was even more of a life coach as much as a guitar teacher, because she’d have a cup of tea ready when I’d get there in the afternoon, and she said it was amazing how much we’d sit there and yarn into my hour lesson. But it was more along the lines of giving me some confidence and talking about life stuff, and she was just adorable for that alone. The lessons that I got from her were really important for my guitar playing, and they are still things that I use today. I still think of Leonie’s lessons when I do finger picking and banjo, so it’s been a really good thing to look back on and appreciate what she gave me.
How do you think growing up on the North Coast has shaped your musical career?
Well, I often say to people that I was very lucky to grow up on the North Coast. I was born in Sydney and when Mum and Dad split up, I ended up in Grafton with all of Mum’s extended family. I saw it as more of a privilege growing up where I did and then the more I spread my wings as I got into my teenage years, I started playing in bands.
The North Coast is a great breeding ground for musicians. People came out and patronise gigs; you don’t get that everywhere, and I think it’s really important. We’d start at midnight sometimes with our gigs and we didn’t care what time we started – as long as we had a gig! I was working as an apprentice chef at Nautilus, and I couldn’t wait to put the knives in the little lunch box that I had and get over to the next show that we were doing on a Friday night, so it was obvious what my path was going to be. It definitely wasn’t going to be cooking!
I think you made the right decision with that career change!
(Laughs) I think I did. There’s a lot of happy people knowing that I’m not cooking out the back of a restaurant now! But I think it did shape me as a person, growing up on the North Coast. I got taught a lot of things. Culturally I got a lot from growing up in a beautiful, big extended Aboriginal family. But there are also the non-indigenous friends that I’ve had all the way through, like John Logan, who still books me to this day. There are people who have supported and really encouraged me since I was very young. It’s due to the support that gives you the confidence to go into the next stage of your career.
Who and what have been some of the influences behind the music you make?
A lot of people ask who influenced your singing, and I have to say the only real singing teacher that I had as a kid was the record player. I’d sit in front of the record player and play along with some of the artists that I liked. I really enjoyed listening to Slim Dusty as a kid; I loved the pick and strum that he did as a guitar player.
And I loved all the Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson and George Jones that we had in our collection. That was a lot of the influence.
When I started playing in bands, I realised that not everyone was as into Country Music as I was; a lot of my cousins were into Credence Clearwater Revival and The Eagles, and I loved all that music too. It was stuff that we enjoyed listening to even in the car, and it was stuff that we took on stage as a little covers band. We ranged from right up at the Tweed Heads Coast right down to Sydney with a lot of the covers bands that I played in. The main one, Little Eagle, that did a lot of miles around the North Coast – we were known for trying to avoid Top 40. We tried to be different and a little more focused on that West Coast American style harmony thing that we loved, and people did appreciate what we did for that, I guess.
How did you get your big break?
I thought that every stage in my career seemed like a small break going towards something positive. It started out by even getting a resident gig at the Couts Crossing Tavern one Sunday afternoon. At only 16 and 17, we thought that was a huge break! We joined the musicians union when I was in a band back in 1988. We had to join, because John Logan had got us these supports with the band America when they came out. Then there were supports with Ian Moss, Wendy Matthews and Kate Cebrano that came through on their North Coast legs. We were the ones to go and open up the show, and I saw that as being a huge break. But then my wife rang some people from Sony when I was actually doing all the lounges at Tamworth on a yearly basis, and she conned them enough to come and see me do a show. They were two people who were about to do a Country Music signing at Sony Music in Sydney. The showed up, and about two weeks later we talked about what they wanted to do and we had a contract on the table.
That was a real turning point. We were only boyfriend and girlfriend then, and she ended up being my wife. But that was great of her to see the foresight in what I was doing and that we needed to take it to the next level, instead of me just doing the covers gigs on a weekend.
So you’ve gone from the Couts Crossing Tavern to winning ARIAs and Golden Guitars. How does that feel?
That feels pretty amazing. That’s the reason I’ve put this actual tour together. It’s quite a nostalgic idea that I came up with, but I don’t think the North Coast really understands how much I appreciate it and how I appreciate the life that I had there as a kid. I really wanted to tailor make the tour to the North Coast and Mid-North Coast. My manager asked me what I had in mind, and I said Going Back Home for starters has been a song that I have always associated with the North Coast. You couldn’t do this tour anywhere else but the towns on either side of the Pacific Highway on the North Coast of NSW, so we decided to tailor make the stories that fit in around the well known songs. I think it’s going to be quite an interesting journey for myself, the band and the listeners that come along.
You’re based in QLD now, which has faced some pretty horrible natural disasters recently. How have you seen that affect the communities around you?
We’ve seen it affect everyone, and we were affected ourselves on our farm. You see what it brings out in people. There was a whole lot of devastation, but the human factor that came out of that was something that would make you very proud to be Australian. Even at our farm, it was very trashed underneath, but people were coming up the track from the army, from the local pie shop giving out food … it makes you realise that there are a lot of people around that really care and who want to help. All I wanted to do after we finished the repairs to our place was just thank a lot of our friends, because you just realise how many you’ve got when they all turn up in their droves to give you a hand. It’s an amazing community feeling.
You performed at a telethon to raise funds for flood victims in North QLD prior to this?
Yeah, how ironic is that? Here I am giving away $100,000 from Hyundai, who have been a sponsor of mine for years. I give away the money there for people in Rocky, Townsville and Bundaberg, and then we get hit the night after that! It’s quite bizarre how it all works.
What else can we look forward to from you this year?
There are a lot of things. I’d like to record a record this year; that’s part and parcel with a lot of time that I spent in Nashville. I want to write some more songs. I’ve probably got another 10 tunes to write before I’ve got a good selection of things to choose from. I took my time with the last record, and it really did pay dividends just to be able to really give people the best you can. I want to make sure that the 12 or 13 songs that are released on the next project are just as thought out and as loved and cherished.
Thank you Troy.
Troy will be playing at Sawtell RSL on Friday 8 April. Contact the Club on 6653 1577.