By Dave Dawson. First published in Across Country magazine no. 15 (1980). Reproduced under authorisation from the author (Dave Dawson) and editor (Christine Whyte)
The weather-beaten cowboy singer strides into his inner suburban honky tonk and drops a coin in the slot. The denim clad lad pushes a plastic letter button and walks away. The juke box creaks as the needle hovers and then zeroes onto the record. Soon there is the twang of guitars - a fiddle sings and a pedal steel moans gently. The voice belongs to the button-pushing cowboy. It is the only juke box in town that boasts the record - and EP made by Fitzroy country band Hit & Run. The singer, Dan Robinson returns to the pool table and picks up his cue. His opponent, a long tall Texan chews on his tobacco and listens. Robinson talks to Danny Steagall from the internationally acclaimed Coleman County Cowboys about the frustrations of being a country music singer in Australia. Robinson is well qualified to comment. He has played in countless leading bands - both rock and country. And he also scored a classical music degree from the Melbourne University Conservatorium of Music. Robinson also unsuccessfully stood for Fitzroy Council. His campaign headquarters - the Napier Hotel - where Dan once sang and picked every Friday night. Steagall had just finished an interview with Robinson on his Fitzroy Cowboys country music show on 3RRR-FM. Dan feels that a little exposure from the regular Tuesday evening show (5-6.30pm) deserves some good old Texas advice. In between straight Scotches and beer chasers, Dan is getting all the advice he can handle.
The negativity of playing suburban honky-tonks week after week to the same faithful faces is not Robinson's idea of success.
It is certainly a far cry from his days as lead singer for the Virgil Brothers when they toured Europe with tie-dyed blond hair. And the 5am dawn shows with The Wild Cherries when they worked the pre-canned music discos of the 60's.
The Warrnambool born and bred dentist's son has been writing country songs for more than a decade. Hit & Run recorded four of the songs on their debut EP. They also recorded more of the songs for epic episode of the ABC Truckies show where the band played itself in a country pub. And the legendary country song "Smack, Smoke & Whisky" which Dan has sent to veteran American outlaw singer David Allen Coe.
Dan confesses: "I know I could be making a comfortable living by teaching music in a school or college. But I still believe my own songs and music are my strength.
"I keep hoping that someone will back me for an album of my songs - but if it takes much longer twill probably go straight to the US.
"I have been putting it off each year but now that Randy (former Hit & Run pedal steel player Randy Broughton) has gone back I will probably join him. Randy has formed a new country band with his brother in Minnesota. If all goes well I will join the band as a singer and guitarist and we will work the southern honkytonks. "We will be working to a different audience - probably a much more enlightened country music audience. And hopefully much bigger crowds. It's so frustrating doing door deals and only playing to up to 100 people a time."
At 33 Dan has to make a decision about his career. In a cowboy singer's life that is on the twilight side of middle age. And there ain't too many country singers making a full time living from their music in Australia. With a small population and a society numbed by TV, disco and mediocrity, there is little change from the media. With the exception of 3UZ and the two FM stations RRR and PBS there is little radio exposure for country music. There is even less on TV.
Dan's fears about his own longevity are reflected in the song Good Times. He sings: "it won't bother me if 1 don't see 33." And: "I'm getting old/feeling homeward bound/can't get your head in the clouds/unless you bump your arse on the ground."
There is also "Do Me A Favour" a song Dan wrote for a lady of the night. He sings: "I'd like to give you silver and gold/but all I've got is this old song/you do favours for money I'm told/just love me and I'll be your friend/some people say you're not real lady/just like you I'm working on life's other side.
Dan feels that the country music establishment in Australia has misinterpreted him and his music. He said: "They still think I'm an outlaw - just because I won't wear all the crawling that seems so necessary to attain commercial success here. I've been persecuted for too long.
"I'm no lush or junkie - still have the occasional drink of course. A lot of the outlaw talk stemmed from my song "Smack, Smoke & Whisky." It was the audiences who acted the lyrics, not me."
There is, of course, if a lot more to the Dan Robinson story. Sadly it won't be told until it is too late.
But it won't ever be told unless he rides on out of Australia to Nashville. And all those southern kicker bars where country folks can relate to his music - not the disco slush and pop schmaltz.
Note: Dan has settled In Sydney and has reformed Hit & Run with Rod Coe, bass; Mick Lieber, lead; John Proud, drums; Ed Matzenik, pedal steel, and Andy Baylor fiddle.
The "Sydney" version of Hit and Run - Ed Matzenik, Rod Coe and Danny Robinson.
Photo taken at the Locomotive Hotel in Tamworth in the early 1980s.
Ed Matzenik, Andy Baylor, Rod Coe
South West TAFE music archive