Guitarist Hamish Anderson draws inspiration from blues masters, modern heroes
Courtesy of Juel Concepts
Every musician can recall the one song that forever changed his or her outlook on life – the one that suddenly paves a different path to destiny.
For 15-year-old, heartbroken Hamish Anderson, that song was a three-minute burst of crackling, swooning guitar from Elmore James, a late Delta blues legend that died in Chicago, 30 years before Anderson was born in Melbourne, Australia.
“The Sky Is Crying” was later covered by a string of the genre’s greats – Freddie King, Albert King, George Thorogood and perhaps most famously by Stevie Ray Vaughn– but it’s the original 1960 version that stuck with Anderson, an Aussie teenager agonizing over the first breakup of his life.
“That song hit me like a lightning bolt,” Anderson says. “It was so raw and honest. The blues is the most honest music there is. That element was something I really connected with.”
That bond still resonates nearly a decade later for Anderson, who will play the South by Southwest Music Festival in Austin for the first time later this month. At just 23 years old, he’s already opened for blues godfather B.B. King and modern blues guitar giant Kenny Wayne Shepherd, and he’s earned a devoted following back home in Australia and among savvy blues purists in the United States.
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Though he also spent parts of his childhood rooting through his father’s collection of classic rock vinyl staples – The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix – he quickly realized the American blues giants of Chicago and Mississippi influenced all those artists. And the names they always brought up – B.B. King, Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters – were mysteries of musical lore than needed to be solved.
“Whenever you would read interviews with Clapton or Hendrix, they were always dropping those names,” Anderson says. “It seemed like everything I read had the blues printed on it, and all the music I loved was coming from there. I went on a mission to go back as far as I could.”
Turning that knowledge into his own brand of music, however, was a tougher task.
He spent most of his teenage years scouring Melbourne for musicians with the same mindset, and few of his classmates were interested in playing the blues. They would often flake out on rehearsals or ultimately ditch Anderson’s band completely, leaving him to write songs and perform on his own.
That proved beneficial for Anderson, who enjoyed a minor hit last year with his acoustic ballad “Winter,” and has also won over the electric blues purists in the US.
He opened for King during a portion of his tour last year – Anderson was slated to open seven shows, but the 89-year-old blues legend cancelled the tour after just two performances due to illness – and he also teamed up with longtime Rolling Stones mixer and editor Krish Sharma to release his second EP, Restless, in October.
Anderson and his band recorded the album in less than a week at L.A.’s famed Henson Studios – where the Stones, Clapton and The Doors all plugged in at one point – and it’s his best effort yet to capture the electric live sound that’s made his reputation.
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Anderson will perform at The StubHub Music Experience at the South by Southwest Music Festival on March 18 at 3 p.m. CT, and while he’s perhaps the only bluesman on a bill loaded with pop sounds and electronic music, he insists his genre is alive and well, even all these years after his heroes first picked up a guitar.
“Sometimes I feel like guitar-oriented music is sort of fading, but it never really goes away,” he says. “It always comes in and out. There are always guys – The Black Keys, Jack White, Gary Clark Jr. – who keep the tradition alive but also take it some place new. That gives me hope and inspiration.”