The Windy City Strugglers: A Lifetime in Music
Author: Trevor Reekie
The music industry has a way of weeding out the long term players, those people who music chose as opposed to those who chose music.
The difference is vast and usually it's the bread line that moves people on - it gets scarier as you get older. Consequently there are not a lot of the musos still active in the scene today who were there back in the 60's when Kiwi rock was still chucking its toys out of the pram. As much as anybody, Bill Lake and Rick Bryant epitomise the spirit of New Zealand rock'n'roll... and they are still doing it.
"I would call what I do a craft, rather than a profession," defines Bryant. "And I think if you're honest it's better to regard yourself as a journeyman - otherwise you end up taking your eye off the ball."
For much of the last 35 years both Lake and Bryant have maintained their commitment to The Windy City Strugglers, one of NZ's longest surviving bands. The Strugglers are as much a part of Wellington as the buckets in Cuba Mall. Strugglers in name sure, they've now got four albums, two RIANZ Folk awards, and a European licensing deal (with Paris-based label Last Call), to show for it. Not bad for a bunch of dented gents playing funky folk blues.
"Bernie Griffen from Global Routes got us the deal with Last Call Records," recalls Bryant. "I think he was a bit surprised when he found an outlet for us. Our French record company takes the view that we're a bit unusual.
"When I have to explain (what we play) to someone who's younger than 35, I use the phrase (I'm afraid!), 'retro blues'. We've all been doing mixed up styles for so long and together that it's not so much homogenised as seamless y'know? It's tasteful rebrandings."
The Windy City Strugglers are an institution with a national audience as diverse as the winery circuit to those recently filling central Auckland's Dogs Bollix for the launch of their latest album offering 'Kingfisher'. Mostly it's an audience with income - an audience who have grown up with and are still interested in music, and are likely to consider the White Stripes at the same time as buying a Windy City Strugglers' CD.
The Strugglers include some of this country's most respected practitioners of blues roots. Besides Bill Lake on guitar and vocals and Rick Bryant on vocals are the talented and hugely under-rated Andrew Delahunty on harmonica guitar and mandolin, Geoff Rashbrooke on piano and guitar, with well-regarded music journalist Nick Bollinger on bass.
Drum maestro Ross Burge sits in and songsmith Arthur Baysting co-writes much of the material with the band. That's some line up - a mountain of pedigree, musicianship and experience. For all of them, a lifetime in music.
"I guess I wouldn't notice how friendly, how social, how necessary the people were in this group to each other until it was taken away," Bryant confesses. 'Because I've got used to it now. That's how it is. You don't know how good a thing is until you lose it, time and time again. In fact I better go and write a song about that..."
"I often think, if we'd been on the road and all of us were trying to make our livings out of it, then there may well have been serious differences," Lake chips in. "Because, yes, there are differences between us. But given that we can all step back from it for a while, then when you do, you kind of realise that for the same reason that a person gets to you sometimes, they also have this very special contribution to make which nobody else in the band can. So it's very complimentary."
The Windy City Strugglers have just released their fourth album on Red Rocks Records, distributed locally by Global Routes Music. According to Bryant their records "... kind of break even and pay for the next one... maybe a little bit better than break even". They put performance fees into studio time for the next album rather than pay it out as dividends.
Former Six Volters David Donaldson and Steve Roches once again recorded the band at their Plan 9 studio in central Wellington.