An Interview with Ron & Jeff King of Foreday Riders, longest playing Australia blues band since 1967

"Happiness is...12 bars, 3 chords and a full house of blues punters - that’s enough of a turn - on for us."

Foreday Riders: University Of The Blues

The Foreday Riders were formed in 1967 by a group of school friends who were all interested in the same music. Influenced by English bands such as The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and Manfred Mann, the young Foreday Riders were in turn led to seek the influences of their idols. This introduced them to Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, and many more from the golden age of Chicago blues. The band fairly quickly became a 7 piece outfit, and bagan playing a wide range of blues, ranging from from Memphis Minnie and Lightning Hopkins to Willie Dixon and Ray Charles. Throughout the band’s history, the King Brothers have been privileged to work with an imposing array of leading Australian blues performers, and hope to continue doing so, always aiming to see audiences have as good a time as the band.

After numerous line-up changes, the Riders settled into a 5 piece format with the two remaining original members, Ron (Harmonica) and Jeff (Guitar) King, as the core of the band. In late 1969, Jeff King left the Riders to form his own band, Backwater, and then a year later he and his brother formed Blue Spirit. In 1973, the brothers returned to their original name, and the Foreday Riders haven't looked back. Throughout their career, the Riders have supported many well-known international acts, such as B.B. King, Sonny Terry, Browny McGhee, Freddy King and Hound Dog Taylor. In addition, they have been chosen as backing bands for touring musicians such as Bo Diddley and Junior Wells. The Foreday Riders are well respected within the Australian music industry, and have played at many music festivals around the country. Band's latest album was the titled ‘Herding Cats’ (2015).

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues & who were your first idols?

We grew up listening to 50s rock’n’roll on the radio, followed by the skiffle and ‘trad jazz’ booms (late 50s, early 60s). By the mid 60s, we were inspired to try our hand at R & B by ‘blues revival’ bands like the Rolling Stones, Manfred Mann (U.K.) & Paul Butterfield, Canned Heat (U.S). These players led us back to the 50s Chicago blues greats such as Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, etc, who you could call our early idols.

How do you describe Foreday Riders songbook? What characterize ‘Herding Cats’ sound and philosophy?

A mixture of old school (traditional) Chicago-style blues and more contemporary funky material, with a good proportion of original tunes. ‘Herding Cats’: The King Bros wanted to establish a backlog of original numbers with the band, including revised versions of previously recorded tracks. A recording session seemed to be the best way to bring all the players together; the bulk of the tracks were played by the full band for the first time at the session. As always, the Riders played live in the studio to keep the feels as real as possible.

"Probably the most exciting period for the Riders was the late 60s to late 70s, when the band was getting started and then consolidating. Of course each new front man has brought something fresh and interesting to the band, charging us up again." (Photo: Ron & Jeff King)

What do you learn about yourself from the blues, what does the blues mean to you?

We see the blues as down-to-earth and unpretentious, no bluffing allowed. It’s simple music, but a very direct and powerful way to express your feelings, a great outlet for dealing with what life throws at you; as John Lee Hooker said in ‘Boogie Chillen’: ‘It’s in him, and it’s got to come out’. Good blues is heart- felt but without self pity or sentimentality. As for ourselves, the blues has taught us that ‘simple’ doesn’t always mean ‘easy’ – the longer we play the more there is to learn: Life in 12 bars and 3 chords! (no doubt the blues has led us to look at life in a more ironic way).

What were the reasons that made the Aussie musicians in 60s to start the Blues/Rock researches and experiments?

Speaking for ourselves, our ears pricked up when the British blues and R&B bands turned up on radio here in the early-mid 60s, and on discovering their influences, we went back to the Chicago sources and started to listen to styles of U.S. blues: initially we responded to the earthy rhythmic feel of this music after the bland pop music that was then on offer.

Tell me about the beginning of the Foreday Riders.  How did you choose the name and where did it start?

The Riders began as a group of school friends with a common interest in the early-mid 60s ‘blues boom’. We started learning our instruments in our mid to late teens, mostly by studying records and basic music instruction books, eventually writing some of our own songs. The band members all lived in Sydney’s Ryde area. We found the band name in a blues song book - a Jay McShann tune. The name had a sort of exotic, risqué appeal and was chosen in a tongue-in-cheek way. We followed the lead of other bands who took their names from blues song titles (i.e. Rolling Stones, Canned Heat, Pretty Things, etc).


Do you know why the sound of the Foreday Riders is connected to the blues & what characterised the sound of band?

From the start, the Riders had a typical Chicago blues line-up: 2 guitars, harmonica, bass, drums (and eventually piano), plus vocals. We’ve kept that sound over the years, occasionally adding tenor sax or organ for recording. One thing that gives the Riders a characteristic sound is the unison riffing and lines of the King Bros on guitar and harp in the mix, right from the start. The Riders also put a strong emphasis on the ‘swing’ element, which is not evident in all blues bands.

Which acquaintances have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?

Many of our feature players have been experienced professionals and we have had handy advice from all of them. An early acquaintance of the band, singer Bob Connery, gave us a tip that we have never forgotten – ‘always try to make it swing’.

Which was the best moment of your career and which was the worst?

The very few ‘bad moments’ for us have been the occasional gigs where the punters just don’t ‘get’ us, perhaps expecting something heavier (blues rock) or lighter (smooth jazz) than we put out: c’est la vie. Of the ‘best moments’ we’d have to mention our first ‘big’ show, as support for B.B. King on his first tour here in 1974 – it was straight from the wine bar to the concert hall for us! Happily, the audience was very responsive, as was B.B. himself. Another highlight was when Jr Wells jumped up and blew harp with us at a wine bar during his 1972 tour with Buddy Guy. Shooting the breeze with Gatemouth Brown backstage in 1988 also sticks in the mind. Our 30th anniversary show in 1997 was certainly another highlight (which, fortunately was recorded and is available on CD – ‘Blues Reform School’).

Are there any memories from B.B. King, Freddy King and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee which you’d like to share?

All memories of supporting international acts are special to us because we were suddenly thrust onto the big concert stage from a background of wine bars & pubs – a new world! B.B. in particular was very affable, and we were thrilled when he gave the Riders a favourable mention during his act. Another big moment for us was Junior Wells jumping up to play a few tunes with us in a wine bar in Sydney during his 1972 tour here.

"Although several blues artists have made political or social/radical statements in their songs (Billie Holiday, J.B. Lenoir etc.) the music to us is more individually or emotionally based – that’s our approach overall." (Photo: Foreday Riders & the late great bluesman BB King)

Are there any similarity between the blues today and the old days?  What do you miss most nowadays from the 60s-70s?

There are bands still playing ‘old school’ blues: Chicago, West Coast, Texas or New Orleans style. We fit roughly into this category, but we don’t pursue a ‘retro’ or ‘copycat’ sound, and we include some jazz-based and funky material along with the straight ahead blues. There are some stunning young players around now, who while versed in traditional blues styles, are moving into more progressive and cross-over directions; they are all confident, polished performers with technique to spare. What we miss most from the 70s is the music culture in Sydney then that saw blues venues packed every night: that’s what people did then, go and check out bands. Slim pickings now, comparatively, but there are signs things might be hotting up again.


Do any of the blues standards have any real personal feelings for you & what are some of your favourites?
The blues standards should have meaning for anybody who’s ever loved and lost, or been otherwise knocked about by life – and isn’t that just about everybody? We don’t know about ‘real personal feelings’ for any blues songs in particular, but some of our favourite song writers are: Mose Allison, Percy Mayfield, Jimmy Rogers, Willie Dixon/Muddy Waters, Sonny Boy Williamson II, & Tampa Red. Some blues standards that have stayed with us over the years are the good-time jump boogie ‘Caldonia’, Sonny Boy’s ‘Don’t Start Me Talking’ (our first ever song!), Tommy Johnson’s ‘Big Road Blues’ and Mose Allison’s ‘I Don’t Worry About A Thing’.

Which is the most interesting period in local (Aussie) blues scene? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

For us, the most exciting period was the 1970s when the blues really took off in the Sydney pub & wine bar circuit – a band in every venue!  The Riders also became a recording band in this era. These days, blues is a much more marginal music (like jazz) but there are some very inspirational and innovative young musicians coming up who show great promise for the Sydney blues scene.

"Today, with the internet etc, information and advice about blues is far more accessible, so young players now are generally a lot more clued up than we ever were. Technical proficiency is now also more taken for granted it seems, and the business side of blues is certainly more regulated and formal than it was in the 60s & 70s. It was pretty casual around the bars back then."

Which is the most interesting period in your life and why?

Probably the most exciting period for the Riders was the late 60s to late 70s, when the band was getting started and then consolidating. Of course each new front man has brought something fresh and interesting to the band, charging us up again. We still get a great kick out of playing, even though the gigs are scarcer these days. The King Bros get together every week to work up new and original songs and revive older material.

What has made you laugh from Gatemouth Brown and what touched (emotionally) you from Hound Dog Taylor?

Apart from Gatemouth’s wonderful showmanship, we found his pride in his (genuine) Sheriff’s Badge almost as amusing.

In a show featuring big blues names, Hound Dog Taylor took the honours with a raunchy set of down-to-earth flat-out Chicago boogie – the real deal!

What is the impact of Blues and Rock music to the racial, political and socio-cultural implications?

Although several blues artists have made political or social/radical statements in their songs (Billie Holiday, J.B. Lenoir etc.) the music to us is more individually or emotionally based – that’s our approach overall.

What experiences in your life make you a GOOD BLUESMAN?

We’re not sure what experiences in life you need to be a ‘good bluesman’, but we’re just a couple of average suburban battlers, brought up without any special advantages, and while we haven’t picked cotton or done time, we’ve had the same ups and downs in life as everybody else, and faced the challenge of making ends meet: even middle class white boys get the blues!


What’s been your experience from ‘studies’ with Junior Wells? What advice given you and which memory makes you smile?

Some friends in the music business brought Jr Wells and his rhythm section (during their 1972 tour) to a wine bar where the Riders were playing, and Jr joined us for a few tunes, bringing a touch of blues ‘showbiz’ to the Sydney suburbs. He said he was surprised to hear straight Chicago blues being played by a local band, but he especially dug us because we were no taller than him! (Photo: Ron King)

Are there any memories from Bo Diddley which you’d like to share with us?

Bo also seemed surprised to find himself surrounded by straight blues players. He was no doubt used to rock bands backing him, but being a good sport, he dug into his blues past and made a good fist of it.  We were amused by Bo’s ‘death ray’ glares at our bass player whenever he dared to vary the bass line during an extended ‘Diddley beat’ workout.


From whom have you learned the most secrets about blues music?

In the early days we had some guidance from friends in jazz, folk & rock, and since then we’ve picked up things from many players who have passed through the band, especially the front men who have gone on to develop successful bands of their own (i.e. Hippos, Bondi Cigars, Ray Beadle Band). But we’ve learnt most from studying the great 50s Chicago bands, and other icons from the West Coast and Texas, including modern masters like Joe Louis Walker, Duke Robillard, Ronnie Earl, etc.


Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us.  Why do you think that is? Give one wish for the BLUES.

The blues is always there in the background because the musical form is simple and in our opinion perfect, like some forms of poetry - it’s within reach of the average punter to understand, but can be taken to sublime heights by the true masters. Whenever there’s a lull in musical trends, the blues re-emerges because it’s a readymade and accessible vehicle for musical expression. As players, our ‘one wish’ for the blues is that the next ‘boom’ is just around the corner.


How has the music business changed over the years since you first started in music?

When the Riders started getting together in 1966, the only blues to be heard in Sydney was in the jazz, rock or folk scenes - there was no blues scene as such. So for bands like ours, it was strictly do-it-yourself, mainly by studying blues records (which were not easy to get - we imported LPs for years). Today, with the internet etc, information and advice about blues is far more accessible, so young players now are generally a lot more clued up than we ever were. Technical proficiency is now also more taken for granted it seems, and the business side of blues is certainly more regulated and formal than it was in the 60s & 70s. It was pretty casual around the bars back then. (Photo: Jeff King)


What advice would you give to aspiring musicians thinking of pursuing a career in the craft?

In Sydney at least, if you want to play blues, don’t give up your day job! Apart from that, try to catch the established bands around town, maybe get to talk to the players, and perhaps get along and enter yourself in the various ‘blues jam’ nights every week to meet and hear other young blues musicians. If you have a working band, you might compete in the Sydney Blues Society’s annual band competition to win a chance to play in Memphis. And of course, besides catching international greats on tour, listen to the blues masters on community radio shows, CDs and DVDs, as well as attending workshops at festivals and during tours. You can also find out plenty via the Internet.


What’s the best jam you ever played in?  What are some of the most memorable gigs you’ve had?

Don’t know that we could point to one favourite jam, but certainly the blows with Jr Wells and Chris Cain stand out. Memorable jams with local blues stars have been with Dutch Tilders (Melbourne), Broderick Smith (Melbourne), Kevin Borich, Matt Taylor & Phil Manning (Chain) and Renee Geyer. Jazz organist Col Nolan has thrown in great licks, and currently we’re doing some shows with keyboard queen Bridie King (no relation). We’ve already mentioned some memorable gigs, but probably the most talked about was our 30th anniversary at jazz club ‘The Basement’, where we re-assembled all the major line-ups from 1967 to 1997, definitely a ‘walk in, crawl out’ event - a very successful night.

"Impossible to pick out the ‘most admired’, but certainly B.B. King, Gatemouth Brown and Jr Wells had long been icons to us." (Photo: Ron & Jeff King on stage jammin' the Blues)

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory from support acts with the late GREATS Blues Legends?

Getting to meet and talk with all the artists mentioned was certainly mind-boggling for us: Gatemouth Brown’s delight in displaying his Sheriff’s badge, the real deal; an evening meal with Brownie McGhee at our then producer’s home; Hound Dog Taylor brought along with Bruce Iglauer of Alligator Records to a Rider’s gig; B.B. King extremely affable and encouraging, but surprising everyone by passing out with heat fatigue near the end of his show; enjoying a BBQ with Chris Cain, and happily chatting with the likes of John Hammond, the UKs ‘Blues Band’, Joe Louis Walker, Billy Boy Arnold and Duke Robillard.


Are there any memories from “THE ROAD FOR THE BLUES”, which you’d like to share with us?

The Riders have never been a ‘touring band’ as such, very much a Sydney entity, but we’ve had the usual misadventures at Blues & Jazz festivals in the eastern states, such as having to evacuate from the Thredbo Blues Festival because of bush fire, just before the festival began. We also recall one amusing incident after a night show at the Alice Springs (Northern Territory) Blues Festival, 1986, when the harmonica case of Chain’s Matt Taylor fell out on to the outback highway when the van’s back door flew open. A rare sight, half a dozen players hunting for battered harps back along the dark road – our very own ‘big road blues’.

Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day..?

The King Bros would like to spend a day (actually night) watching and hearing the Muddy Waters Band in a Chicago club, circa 1954.

"We grew up listening to 50s rock’n’roll on the radio, followed by the skiffle and ‘trad jazz’ booms (late 50s, early 60s). By the mid 60s, we were inspired to try our hand at R&B by ‘blues revival’ bands like the Stones, Manfred Mann, Paul Butterfield, Canned Heat. These players led us back to the 50s Chicago blues greats such as Muddy , Little Walter, Jimmy Reed, Jimmy Rogers, etc, who you could call our early idols."

Tell me a few things about the local blues scene?

The players now tend to be quite slick and business-minded, it’s more of a professional environment than in our early days. All styles of blues exist here: Chicago blues, Delta & country, New Orleans, West Coast jump, Zydeco etc, but the number of blues-friendly venues is very limited, and free gigs have thinned out. So the bands outnumber the venues, and many bands move around the festival circuit chasing work, naturally enough. The professional outfits need to tour, of course.  Fortunately there are signs that blues is coming back into focus (another ‘boom’?) and people seem more inclined to head out and catch blues in some form or other; we live in hope.


Of all the people you’ve met, who do you admire the most?

Impossible to pick out the ‘most admired’, but certainly B.B. King, Gatemouth Brown and Jr Wells had long been icons to us.


What is your “secret” music DREAM?  What turns you on? Happiness is…

Our ‘secret’ music dream?  To play at the Athens Blues Festival of course! Happiness is ...12 bars, 3 chords and a full house of blues punters – that’s enough of a turn-on for us.


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