Rock Gunn turns to country
With award-winning results
By SHIRLEY BROUN
FINDING your own niche when entering the world of live stage performance can be a little daunting especially when you are not quite sure where your talents could best be showcased.
For this year’s recipient of the Slim Dusty Country Artist of the Year MO Award BENN GUNN the journey of discovery began singing in a rock band at Sydney venues as a teenager in the 1990s.
Then Benn’s country upbringing around the areas of Dubbo, Forbes and Parkes in western New South Wales and early country music influences from both Australia and America kicked in and life as a rock `star’ was replaced with a new and exciting country sound that has been winning awards ever since.
“I went from being known as `The Gunn’ on the rock stage to `Benn Gunn’ the country performer … and I’m so glad I did,” said Benn.
“Living in rural Australia I grew up with country music on the radio … Kenny Rogers, John Williamson, Slim Dusty were my early influences. I guess, when I think about, it was a natural progression to want to sing country and I’ve always loved writing my own songs too. But when I was just starting out I was keen to experiment with different sounds before people had a chance to pigeon hole me into just one genre.”
Nashville here I come
However, when the country music bug hit, Benn’s first move was to travel to Nashville, USA, to check out the American country music scene firsthand. “I arrived just in time for the Country Music Awards (CMA) fanfare and saw some big name artists including our own Keith Urban.
On his return home in 2008 Benn tried out for the Tamworth Country Music Starmaker Quest and attended the College of Country Music Australia and he has been hooked on it ever since. “The college was a great networking opportunity for me. I met some great musicians and ended up recording my first solo album Keep on Drivin’ with one of the teachers.”
All of a sudden Benn began to feel part of a vital music culture that was acknowledged and applauded throughout the country. “There wasn’t a structure or support for what I first did in Sydney but country music had a structure and you could see the benchmarks and start to achieve them,” he said.
Benn admits his music still leans towards more of an Australian country rock feel. “I still see myself as the guy doing the late nights in the once smoky bars like an Australian version of the Honky Tonks. That image has helped me along the way.”
Popular at B&S Balls
His performances are in great demand at country events including the now famous Bachelor and Spinster (B&S) Balls which are regarded as almost a culture of their own within bush societies. “Events such as these boost revenue in rural communities and it tremendous to be a part of it all.”
Benn is currently filming for the pre-release of his next single `Girls like Guys with Trucks’ scheduled to be cut in August for a September/October release.
It’s one of over 100 songs he has written since he first put pen to paper as a young teenager. “I love the craft of songwriting especially country music although I am my own toughest critic.”
Benn says what he likes most is the way country music tells a story, almost conversational and most relate directly to culture … “for me its Australian culture”.
Writing about Aussie culture
His first Victorian Country Music Award as a Rising Star was received for his `Rawsonville Road’ release which was inspired by his life growing up in rural Australia between Dubbo and Narrabri on a farm owned by his uncle and aunty.
“The last verse is about a family feud that broke all ties between me and Rawsonville Road. There’s no going back but I wrote the song as a tribute to the great memories we shared.”
While the 37-year-old singer with the big country hat enjoys nothing better than touring his show for fans around the nation he is also keen to pursue a career in America where he is signed to a label and is currently co-producing an album with hit US songwriter Jason Matthews in Nashville.
Jason has written singles for the likes of Randy Travis and Travis Tritt as well as penning the hit song `Doing Something Right’ for Billy Carrington.
Benn says he also admires the songwriting talents of peers such as Lee Kernaghan and John Williamson because they are so authentically Australian. “Like them, I would like to blaze my own trail and be unique in that. I have a strong American influence to the style I play but my experiences are uniquely Australian.” This includes a love of surfing and fishing.
As for his latest accolade presented at the Australian Entertainment Awards a few weeks ago Benn said he was not expecting to win in a category that included high profile performers including Beccy Cole, Kel-Anne Brandt, Nicki Gillis, Snowy Robson and Wayne Horsburgh.
“I considered myself a dark horse but to be recognised by my peers in this way was simply fantastic. Being an independent artist my attitude has always been hard work, don’t pay too much attention to the politics of the industry, just put my efforts into carving my own trail. I go out, get gigs and perform. My motto is one fan at a time. I focus on them.”
With Benn performing over 150 shows a year there should be plenty of opportunities to see him live doing what he does best!