Lucky Oceans up for a Grammy
FREMANTLE pedal steel guitarist Lucky Oceans has been nominated for a Grammy, the pinnacle of musical honours.
Oceans flew out on Thursday to join his long-term band Asleep at the Wheel for the awards ceremony in Los Angeles, where they’ll rub shoulders with other nominees including Beyoncé, Adele, Harry Styles and Abba.
AATW were nominated for the inaugural Best Americana Performance for the song Here You Go Again, featuring country music megastar Lyle Lovett.
It came from the album Half a Hundred Years, a 50th anniversary reunion featuring all the original members of the band and recorded during the height of the Covid pandemic.
Oceans was originally due to record with the band in Austin, Texas while headlining a steel guitar convention in Dallas, but an “eerily empty” Melbourne as he boarded his flight hinted at the trouble to follow.
Within days Australia announced its first border restrictions and he was desperate to get home.
“At the airport hotel where the convention was held I could see the planes leaving from my window but I couldn’t get through to change my ticket,” Oceans said.
Eventually his wife Christine got a call through and Oceans became one of the first to experience WA’s quarantine hotels.
Plans to record the album remotely had an early hiccup when lead singer Ray Benson caught the virus, but a few months later they were back in the swing and Oceans recorded his parts in his home studio on Solomon Street and Crank Studios.
Half a Hundred Years features his first vocal recording with the band after he pitched one of his own compositions, a “crazy Louis Prima-type thing” called I Miss You Most of All (When You’re Not Here) to Benson, only to have his oldest friend suggest he do it himself.
“For that session, we livestreamed to my house and I advised them on feels and arrangements on the fly,” Oceans said.
“I worked out a whole trumpet section part on lap steel from parts written by the Wheel’s sax player and played dobro and harmonica – things I’ve never done on other Wheel albums but were in the spirit of the early band.”
AATW already has two Grammys, their first 44 years ago for a version of Count Basie’s One O’Clock Jump.
Oceans told the Herald he’s expecting a slightly different Grammy’s experience this time around.
“Having lost previous attempts, we decided not to go to the ceremony but play a show the same night in freezing cold Lubbock, Texas,” Oceans said.
“The show was so sparsely attended that the club owner emptied quarters out of the pool tables and raided the waitresses’ tip jars to pay us while we waited in the tour bus.
“While we were waiting, a stranger ran onto the bus shouting ‘hey, ya’ll just won a Grammy’.”
Within a year Oceans’ first child Leela was born and his Australian-born wife brought him down under for the first time. Eventually the couple sold their Texan home and moved to Fremantle permanently.
Oceans restarted his music career in Australia and toured with Paul Kelly and Joe Camilleri’s Black Sorrows, but regularly flew back to play and record in Texas, cutting his first solo album Lucky Steels the Wheel in the early 80s.
On one of his trips AATW invited him to play on their upcoming album A Tribute to the Music of Bob Wills, including a solo on the standard Red Wing; already in the can were cameos from some of country music’s biggest names; Chet Atkins, Marty Stuart, Johnny Gimble and Vince Gill.
The song earned the band its second Grammy, and this time a limousine trip through the snow ensured they were on stage to receive the award.
“Highlights of that time were sitting in the audience near Aretha Franklin’s boisterous family who were there to celebrate her lifetime achievement award and attending the Rhythm and Blues foundation awards the next night where we met Little Richard and many other R&B heroes,” Oceans said.
He says his next session back in Freo with his band The Zydecats was one to remember.
In 2020 Oceans also scored an Aria nomination for his album Purple Sky; it’s roll call of Aussie talent an indication of his standing in the industry – Paul Kelly, Kasey Chambers, Tex Perkins, Don Walker, Vika and Linda Bull, Jeff Lang, Matt Walker and Eugene ‘Hideaway’ Bridges.
Part of that standing was earned through an unexpected career turn when he was offered a job presenting Daily Planet on Radio National; a position he filled for 21 years until 2017.
Oceans is also very proud of his work with the Songs For Freedom project, which came from working with inmates at Roebourne Prison and soon expanded to include the town’s mostly Indigenous residents who used art, theatre and song-writing to highlight their culture and aspirations.
In April he started producing an album from an annual concert the townsfolk host each September, which includes an alternative national anthem Songs of Freedom.
Perthies will get the chance to hear the anthem, and the songs from the album at a concert at Point Walter on March 5.
“The album and concerts aren’t music only,” Oceans said.
“They are part of a campaign to raise awareness of the untenably high Indigenous rates of incarceration and to convince the public, legislators and the judiciary to do something about it.”
Oceans says he’s also planning to record his first album of his own songs later this year.
by STEVE GRANT