The Man With The Smile And Song
In December 1996, I was invited by Ian McNamara, host of the popular radio programme Australia All Over, to sing at two Sydney concerts that he organised. The concerts were helping to promote a newly released Macca On Air CD, which included my song At Bogan Gate. The first Macca In Concert was at The Parramatta Riverside Theatre.
I was scheduled to perform towards the end of the first half of the concert. I had no idea who else was going to be performing. So when I entered the backstage dressing room, I was surprised and delighted to see Smoky Dawson sitting there.
Smoky Dawson is an important Australian pioneer country music performer. He was part of the travelling shows that toured remote areas bringing entertainment to many. Since my childhood days back in the 1950’s, when I used to listen to his weekly radio programme, he has been a hero of mine. Roy Rogers, Gene Autry and Hopalong Cassidy were superseded by this Australian cowboy star.
Smoky’s radio show adventures were broadcast for a decade. Each week there was an exciting adventure involving Smoky, his companion Jingles, and Smoky’s wonder horse Flash. The stories all took place in the Australian outback. For nearly twenty years, Smoky and Flash were also an important part of Sydney’s annual Waratah Festival Parade.
In his autobiography, published by Allen and Unwin in 1985, Smoky wrote: “I like to think of myself as an old-fashioned troubadour trying to preserve a feeling for the Australian past in word pictures and song.” He has certainly achieved just that with the many songs that he has written and recorded. Rich in their references to the people and places of Australia, they capture aspects of the Australian experience so well. They are a wonderful and valuable part of our country’s musical heritage. Smoky’s gentle wisdom, good humour, vitality and positive outlook on life always shine through his music too.
I had only met Smoky once before, in 1993 at the Tamworth Country Music Festival. But as soon as I shook his hand in the Riverside Theatre dressing room and mentioned my name, he responded immediately by saying, “The man with the smile and song.” This was in reference to the title of a song I had written about him back in 1988.
Listen to The Man With the Smile and Song
I was amazed that he still remembered me. I had taken my song title from one of Smoky’s songs, “Riding With A Smile And A Song”.
He told me that he and his wife, whom he affectionately calls Dottie, had recently been in a car accident. He expressed his concern for her when the accident happened. Mrs Dawson was then in her ninetieth year. I was reassured to learn that she was in the audience that night.
I enquired of his health and he said he was feeling very tired physically. He said he had so much that he still wanted to do. Despite his 83 years, he said that he did not feel old mentally. He spoke fondly of his recent visit to Nashville to attend a gathering of the old pioneers of country music. He made a comment about the old performers he had seen who sadly seemed to have so little life left in them now, especially when remembering their youthful performances.
We would have chatted for about twenty minutes. Our conversation was interrupted by a message that Ian was now ready for Smoky to come on stage. As he stood to leave, this unassuming, gentle man turned to me and humbly confided, “I really don’t know why Ian invited me here tonight”.
As he attempted to put his guitar strap around his neck, the bottom section of the strap came away from the guitar. Momentarily he became a little anxious. I quickly helped him, adjusting the strap back onto his guitar. He smiled and went off to do what he has done so well for so many years - entertain people.
Despite the apprehension about my own performance in front of such a large crowd, I found that my chat with Smoky had considerably calmed me down. Soon it was my turn to go and perform. When I walked onto the stage, there was something very special knowing that Smoky Dawson and his wife were somewhere in that vast expanse of darkness in front of me.
In 1998 EMI released a 3 CD set of the early songs recorded by Smoky Dawson for the Regal Zonophone record label. He recorded with this label for over thirty years (1941-1973).
In 1999 ScreenSound Australia released a 2 CD set entitled The Adventures of Smoky Dawson. Included in these recordings are five episodes of Smoky’s radio programme, interviews with Smoky and his wife and two songs.
In April 2000 Rob Willis recorded interviews with Smoky and Mrs Dawson for the National Library of Australia’s Oral History Collection. While Smoky was being interviewed, I sat with Mrs Dawson and we listened to Smoky effortlessly recall events from his remarkable life. At one stage of the interview she leaned over to me and remarked, “When you’ve lived a long life, you have a lot to say”.
You can also read the lyrics and hear an mp3 of the song.