I grew up in a big (low) income family. We never had the latest toy or game, nor even a TV for many years… but the funny thing is I don’t remember ever missing them! We had to create our own entertainment, and create we did. Think for a minute – remember that house in your street that was always full of kids and noise and rooms that you were allowed to play in? That was our house. There was always games to play, clothes to dress up in and yummy things to cook. Mum was great – she encouraged us be honest and to be ourselves and not be afraid to say what we thought (yep, there were lots of soapboxes around our house!). Most importantly we knew that with a bit of hard work, we could do or be anything. She taught us the power of being an individual and standing up for what is right & fair, even if that meant that sometimes you were only one left standing!. Don’t get me wrong though, we were no Brady bunch – just an ordinary, (at times disfunctional!) family.

Music has always been a part of my life… I never actually chose to sing, I just always did it and the ‘performing ‘ bit just kind of happened. We didn’t have a TV for years, and when we got one we were rarely allowed to watch it (something about it ‘poisoning our minds’ wasn’t it dad?), although I remember being allowed to watch the Nana Mouskouri Show and some other program with the ‘Irish Rovers’ on it,..  and one with Emma Hannah & John Williamson on it,.. “Travelling out west” I think it was called. So, at night after homework was done, often Dad would get out his guitar and old leather song bag and sing. Mum would join him on harmonies while she’d wash the dishes and they’d sing those lovely old country & gospel songs from Slim, Rick & Thel Carey, Hank & The Carter Family etc,. My older brother & me would join in and soon we learnt how to work out a harmony. I got a ukulele when I was about 7 or 8 – as kids do, and I actually became quite profficient at it! – and it soon became “my” instrument in the family band. Luckily I upgraded to the guitar before I was old enough to be embarrassed about it,.. although I gather playing the ukulele is quite fashionable these days!

I loved those songs, they were real – real stories from real people living real lives. I loved the songs that made me cry. I’d play some of my dad’s old “singles” till the grooves were gone – songs like “Tige”, “Old Shep” and “In the Ghetto”. As a teen, Pop Music confused me – I wanted to hear the words,.. and the stories – but it didn’t take long to discover that,.. they didn’t seem to have any – certainly none that actually meant anything. I was a big ABBA fan though – I wasn’t sure why, as their songs were probably as silly as the rest, but now I know it was that amazing vocal harmony sound that drew me. So I kept listening to those scratchy old singles along with plenty of “The Seekers” & “Bread” thrown in and let the pop world pass me by. Mum guessed I was musically inclined so she taught me a bit of piano but I desperately wanted a guitar (definitely more ‘cool’!) but I knew we couldn’t afford one. Dad was however pretty handy with a hammer & glue and with the help of an old “pre-loved” guitar body he found at the refuse tip, I got my first guitar for my tenth birthday (complete with home-made vinyl frog shaped guitar case). Rough? Definitely! But it served me well and gave me a lot of joy and amazing callouses (2cm high action will do that!). Soon I was a songwriter – albeit a bad one! and still painfully shy, playing only to my frog collection that adorned my room.

It wasn’t till a few years later, still in my teens, whilst helping my girlfriend practise her song in the dressing room before a local talent quest – the compere heard me singing and insisted that I should compete the following week. I think I agreed only out of politeness but how I regretted it the next morning! However I had committed myself and in my world you never went back on your word. I returned the following week with an acoustic guitar and a hand written ‘word & chord’ chart for the band. I was absolutely terrified!,…but I won.

It didn’t take me long however to work out that it took a lot more than a good voice to win all the time – life was so unfair! – and also that sequined dresses, puffy hair, dramatic stage moves and fancy charts of show-casey Barbara Streisand-type songs played a big part in the Talent Quest circuit! I knew it was all too plastic and just not me. So at around 17 I searched out and joined the local (South Coast) Country Music Association. The family ended up joining too, and we soon became those “singing Frenchams”. The people were so friendly, & they thought I was the best thing since sliced bread! I guess there’s nothing like a bit of new blood. So I became a regular artist on their charity shows, and met a lovely young guitar player who became a third brother to me, Quentin Fraser. I was going through a serious Ralph McTell phase – and he could actually fingerpick the song “Streets Of London” just like Ralph! He was my hero. I also got my first couple of (paid!) gigs around this time – through my first friend-come-Manager!,.. Bryan Hayes. He was a lovely Ex-ships Captain (still is!, although now retired!), I had met where I was working at the then ‘Maritime Services Board of NSW’. He had the “gift of the gab” and lots of charm (still does!) and he loved listening to me sing. Pretty soon I had my bright green metallic Mini chock full to the brim with some “Farrington” PA gear (all for $25 night hire!,… those were the days!) my guitar and song books. I learnt really quickly that people would actually pay me to sit in the corner and sing Country & folk songs – something I loved doing.

I knew by this time that the Talent Quest scene wasn’t for me, however I stayed on the circuit for a little while for a few reasons. It gave me most importantly some profile in my local area, got me noticed by a few local agents, allowed me to watch and learn from others in my field and helped me deal with pre-performance jitters of which were always a problem (still are!). Of course the winner and place getter cheques didn’t go astray either … but I had other long term plans. It was about this time that I met Gary Brown. He was a young guy who took a great interest in my talent and was working in a well known local duo. He was the first songwriter I had ever met and after seeing me in a Talent Quest he asked me if I would come and sing some of the songs he’d written. I was very flattered (and quite smitten – if the truth be known!), but it wasn’t long before we became really good friends. I soon discovered that he was everything I wanted to be. At the time he was in a good working duo, writing his own songs, recording in good studios and even had a great home studio. I sometimes wonder why we never ended up together … (singing in a duo I mean!),.. I still wonder why he never wanted to sing with me in a duo – it would have been pretty awesome,.. . I guess it just wasn’t to be. Instead we spent many years together as friends, many days in his studio making recordings of me singing country classics and songs he’d written and many nights in post gig pizza places just being muso’s. Gary taught me a lot though, much of which he would never know. Most importantly he was the first person to tell me that I sang well. He helped me to believe in myself and gave me the courage to continue to bumble along, despite the odds.  I also met another good friend at this time, Barry Thompson, a keyboard player who was looking for a female duo partner and sang the songs that I had grown up listening to, the songs my dad used to sing,.. I don’t think he could quite believe I knew so many of those old songs,.. It didn’t seem right,.. I was so young!  We continued playing together here and there – and still do and it’s always a pleasure!

At this time I was regularly attending my local Country Music Association – the ‘South Coast Country Music Association’ (based in Wollongong) and it was with them that I made my first visit to Australia’s largest Country Music Festival in Tamworth. The festival was a regular trip for many in the Association and a lot of us stayed in the same hotel so there was always a jam happening around the pool when you finally trudged “home”. The Association also encouraged its members to go into the “Capital Country Music Association’s” big talent quest. At the time it was Tamworth’s biggest semi-professional talent quest and held quite a high profile in the Festival. The Association would put together a backing band for it’s members to use and then of course got great publicity mileage when their members came back home with awards – of which quite a few of us did and when asked to enter, I thought, why not?  Armed with (still) very good friend Deb to share the trip with,..  a song to sing – written by one of the Association’s members (Mike Blanch) and adorned with a new dress made by my mum (who, mind you, hated sewing!),.. I gave it a try.  It was my first try and I was hoping maybe for a place, but some of those girls were so good. They had the right moves, the right dresses, the right sound, I didn’t think I had a hope. I didn’t wait around till the winners names were posted and thought my Association friends were joking when they told me I’d won, I just couldn’t believe it – it was my first real taste of success,… to me this was no club talent quest, this was my kind of music and I was on my way! Not only did I win the “Female Vocal” Award in that quest but I also picked up the award for the “Best Performance of an Australian Composition” – I was on cloud nine for quite a few days!

As well as some great publicity for the Association I also got an opportunity to join a local club band, “Impulse”. It was my first taste of being in a band and I liked it. Just a 4 piece, myself singing, Alan Oysten (Bass), Alex Sreckovic (Guitar & Vocals) and Dennis Heffernnan (Drums). It was only supposed to be a “trial” but it sounded great and I became an integral part of the band for the best part of a year, until the drummer decided he wanted the old keyboard player back and the money we made just couldn’t support five. I was devastated initially, it was my first ever rejection and even though I cried all the way home that fiesty, fiery, stubborn “never give up” attitude within me was causing havoc by morning. As I nursed my somewhat wounded pride I thought, never mind, I’ll show ’em, I’ll start my own band! … and that is exactly what I did. I was a woman with a mission! My first solo gigs had been at Mt Kembla Heights Bowling Club and the “Fern Street Bistro” at Gerringong, but I had been becoming restricted to singing songs I could play on the guitar and this was frustrating as my voice had out grown my guitar skills – and “Impulse” had spoilt me – allowing me to sing anything I wanted. I had also been using the Country Music Association’s “Showband” sometimes, but again my choice of songs was restricted generally to the well known ‘standards’. I did try a sort of “family type” band – “Homefolk” with my brother Rob (Bass), Quentin (Guitar), my sister’s Shirley and Liz singing (even with some basic banjo & mandolin respectively!), but they were very young and I needed something a bit more serious.

“Shades of Grey” was my first real band – a trio. Quentin was a great guitar/dobro/banjo player and an obvious choice along with a great singer whose name I can only recall as Michael. We practised for ages! It was a real folky – Simon & Garfunkel type thing – shows how much I knew about the music business! Great sound, but it only took one or two talent quests to realise that musically we needed more than 2 instruments and that regardless of the great voice he had,… our new male singer seemed permanently afflicted with a serious condition known as “stage fright” – not a good start. However, even as a teenager I was not easily discouraged when I had my mind set on something, so with my brother Rob on bass, my claytons brother Quentin on guitar, banjo & dobro and a fairly fancy drum machine the first truly commercial form of “Shades of Grey” was born.  Why the name you ask? When people would ask us what type of music we played it was kind of hard to describe – we couldn’t really put it into one genre. A bit of country, some pop ballads, some country rock, some folk and bluegrass – we had a reportoire that was endless and we’d give just about anything we liked a go. Our music wasn’t one thing or the other but instead kind of everything in between – it wasn’t black or white – kind of Shades of Grey.

We had a regular little band happening for while. Our first gig was at the Mount Kembla Hotel and soon we had a few residencies – but Quentin was a bit of a wild one and although a naturally talented musician, trying to pin him down to learn a solo, have a rehearsal or turn up on time!!,… became all too difficult and I learnt my first most valuable lesson in music – be very careful when you mix mix friends and business. We had also been experiencing some limitations with the drum machine and were finding that gig opportunities without a real drummer were limited, so Rob and myself took that great leap of faith and hit the local newspapers.

It was a good call, and soon we had a real band with Bruce Tulloch on lead guitar and Steve Benko on drums. From there we moved from strength to strength, all the while having a ball! We did the club lounge circuit until we got a great gig weekend residency at a lovely local restaurant.

After 2 years and lots of fun we were part of the furniture but I did wonder sometimes what we were missing out on. It was probably a good thing that the restaurant eventually went broke, because it pushed us back out in the club scene – but by then the market had changed.More uptempo material was needed, more dance music – it was clear that more “meat’n potatoes” were required if we were going to survive in the Club scene. Sadly we knew we needed a Rock’n Roll drummer and Steve didn’t really want to be one, so on good terms we parted and Ron Bryant became our new drummer. Now we could do the dance music but suddenly our folk & country music didn’t fit the audiences. A re-think was required as we had become a very competent Country Band and in fact enjoyed that side of the band most of all. We didn’t want to stop playing it but I was fast becoming a shrewd businesswomen and knew the basic laws of supply and demand.

So, in effect we became two bands – or one band with 2 completely different reportoires! The people who saw us playing Rock’n Roll, had no idea we were also a great Country band and would never have gone to any country music venues to “catch us out’. Our country music audience were also well-warned that our dance night reportoire wasn’t their cup of tea! We continued happily that way for a few years. All went well until we won a few band awards up at Tamworth at the CCMA Awards – and came back to Wollongong as “Country music” stars. Now the cat was out of the bag and the clubs weren’t quite sure they wanted us – being that we “apparently” were a country band (regardless of the fact our reportiore in their venue was anything but country music) – and so the confusion began… and continued… and continued.

Although a great drummer, Ron was at this stage having some difficulties coping with the “team player” rules, he also like a few too many drinks and other nasties at times and it was time for a rethink. I also had a car accident around this time, receiving a neck injury which made guitar playing difficult, so singer/guitarist Trevor Carpenter joined us temporarily, allowing me to concentrate on being a singer. Ron soon called it a day and was replaced temporarily with Mick Shirlaw and then,…  quite by accident we did a gig with a local drummer, Phil Sharp. I can’t explain it, but something just felt right about that gig, and soon we had a rehearsal arranged with him and his mate – who “wasn’t a bad singer”, and although primarily a bass player he “played a decent guitar too”. Again, I don’t know what happened at that rehearsal but everything just fell into place.

Suddenly we had five great vocalists, (spectacular lead male & female voices!) and great harmonies, and the best darn musical line up I had ever experienced!  It was scary, but I finally had what I was looking for – and they were even happy to keep the Country Music side of the band going. Phil Sharp and Joe Quennell – along with Bruce, Rob and myself were now a force to be reckoned with! We became “Step Forward” and soon became one of the top Wollongong-based cover bands to work the east coast. We had added my electric guitar and keyboards (with myself and Joe alternating on it when needed). This euphoria lasted for the next 8 years.

It was a truly great time of my life. Bruce by now had become a very dear friend, and when he gave us 5 years “notice” at rehearsal one evening (as he was planning to eventually re-locate to Qld to live) we laughed! I guess I never really believed it would come true, but it did. The winds of change were blowing and in the words of Pat Drummond, the hardest part is ‘learning to let go’. Around this same time Joe became a dad and decided it was time for a change. I had taken the big ‘leap’ and gone professional, leaving a highly paid public service position after 16 years and was trying to lift my profile in the Country & Folk music – after all that was really where my heart was. Eventually you choose what is really important over the need to pay your bills. I had been working part time with Pat Drummond ina duo and loved being able to sing my own songs – and sell my product!

I was also getting married and moving out of the Wollongong area, the logistics were becoming obvious. Suddenly everything that was so sure was unstable and after over 8 years together we finally called it quits. We tried a smaller lineup with Alex Srekovic on guitar & vocals, but Phil soon got a better offer and so the wheel turned. It’s been hard, like losing an arm or something – but life goes on and it did,.. But I remember all this oh so fondly.

Since the very sad ending of Step Forward,.. My journey has been interesting to say the least,.. Firstly my work with Pat Drummond and our ‘all Australian’ story teller show increased substantially,.. While I had been songwriting, I was primarily a singer and this duo enabled me to sing well written Australian songs about Australia and it’s people. I really loved Pat’s work as a songwriter – from the first time I heard ‘Somewhere in the car’ on a scratchy cassette from my dad,..  And was very privileged to work with him. I believe I added some new life to his more gentle songs & subjects, and a new sensitivity to his somewhat at times, ‘intense’ songwriting and our audiences loved it. It lead to our first recording – Six Days in December, a very country sounding album which surprised Pat’s hardcore folk fans and lead to us touring all over Australia (although we never quite got to the Northern Territory!).

I was married to my banjo champion husband Martin Louis by now, and even though he was incredibly supportive I could tell that he didn’t like me being away so much, and while I agreed with him – I had no band anymore and I wasn’t sure how else I could continue as an artist without going back into ‘clubland’ full time and sing covers? I had however, started singing a song or two occasionally with Marty’s bluegrass band ‘Acoustic Shock’. They were a great acoustic band and it sounded great with 3 male voices and a female voice as well!,..  & it suddenly gave me a way I could pursue  my music with Marty – as I too was starting to understand the cost on a relationship of me touring so extensively. Nigel and Jim from Acoustic Shock obviously liked it too and before long we were appearing as ‘Karen Lynne & Acoustic Shock’ and getting rave reviews!

Having been the psuedo ‘manager’ of so many of my bands, I was actually getting quite good at all the paperwork and organisation required to promote a band & get gigs so before long I had my old friend Quentin (who was now a fairly neat little Double Bass player) playing bass and was getting festival gigs for them too, and having a lot of fun all the while. Meanwhile the world of ‘recording music’ had changed much since my days in Wollongong with Step Forward, and as we were playing a lot of festival gigs (as happens eventually), it was becoming important that we have a recording for sale. The guys in Acoustic Shock however, were harder to convince as the bluegrass scene was pretty laid back,.. and ‘non commercial’ at that time,..  they were far more interested in playing than recording, so myself and Marty put up the cash & took on the job of recording an album featuring them as the main band – with a few friends as well of course!  This was the birth of ‘Blue Mountain Rain’ my third album and my first bluegrass album – and as I soon found out – a milestone!, Australia’s first Bluegrass album featuring a female bluegrass artist! I really wasn’t prepared for the reception that it had both with audiences and media,.. Everyone loved it. Whether it was the sweetness of the vocals & harmonies?,.. The amazing musicianship?,.. The combination of male & female vocals in a bluegrass setting – I wasn’t quite sure, but people loved it and it remains as our best selling album to date.  I gained many new supporters who loved this new music I was singing,.. and certainly converted a few who weren’t quite sure!

We sounded great,.. But being in a band that played mainly festivals could be tricky sometimes. For a start all the guys worked real jobs,.. We had two members with families to support and two members who worked shiftwork and it was hard work getting everyone there in the same place at the same time. Rehearsals were tricky with members living in Sydney, Blue Mountains and Wollongong and at times it was just plain hard work with very little return.  I was still working with Pat and the bluegrass band and enjoying both, but a little worried that my opportunities for singing straight classic country music had seemed to dry up and I was missing singing all those classic country songs I loved that I used to sing in my country band. So I decided if I couldn’t  sing them very often, I would record them – and so Second Wind was born. My fourth album was my first with Herm Kovac, a ‘real’ producer in a big fancy studio,.. and the first time I had a producer in the real sense of the word. While Rod Coe had produced my duo album, Six Days in December, myself and Pat had a lot of input into what we wanted, the sound, the instruments, the players etc and believe me – Pat had a LOT to say (and we had a lot of arguments about it as Rod will agree!). I had some songs picked out but Herm found me a bunch too,.. I wanted it to be more commercial than anything I’d ever done, something to compete on the big stage with the other ‘up coming’ artists of my time. I picked some songs way out of my comfort zone, I wrote with Nashville writers in a style way out of my comfort zone, but it was meant to be an album that made people notice, to showcase me as a solo artist like never before, and that it did. That album was quite ground breaking, and the fact that I wasn’t really doing any gigs to showcase the ‘solo’ artist from that album didn’t seem to matter, my supporters loved it and I have a very big soft spot for that album even today. I loved the sound of that album – and the overall experience even though the budget was way over anything I would have imagined paying for a CD,.. But that’s the way it is, you work so hard you get to a ‘point of no return’ where your product has to be top notch, where you’re playing in the big league,…. And I was.

I was also getting a lot of airplay and interest from friends and associates in the UK who had been telling me that I should tour again. The stress of touring overseas previously was mainly in working with musicians that didn’t know your material and having to back myself on guitar – or lead a fill-in band with my guitar playing (non) skills. I had never thought of taking a band with me – or the logisitics of doing it, but having such great players around me was a chance you don’t get everyday.  Some of the band members didn’t want to go,.. Or had day jobs that didn’t allow them to, but luckily Marty, Nigel and Quentin thought it was a chance in a lifetime – and if I could pull it off,.. they would come.  We still needed a Bass player and I took a punt and asked my talented sister Liz Frencham, if she was at all interested. She had been on a couple of tours overseas previously and had some unfinished business to attend to and friends to catch up with, so amazingly, she agreed. I thought at the time it surely must be meant to be,… and I think it was.  The aim wasn’t to make lots of money, but certainly to make something, cover our costs and have the experience playing music on the international scene,.. (Bluegrass afterall crosses all language barriers!) and not to mention have a pretty fun overseas holiday at the same time.  Believe me, I had a lot of late nights pouring over my computer over the next 18 months,.. however before long I had a proper tour schedule happening – with gigs in England, Wales, Denmark, Germany, The Netherlands & Norway – the latter supporting Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky thunder (what a treat that was!). I can still see those views of snow covered mountains as our back drop as we sang on that stage,.. And later standing next to the man himself in a church filled to the brim with eager listeners,.. Something I will probably never match again,.. we all need those ‘moments’ in life. There were so many memories to take home from that trip,.. We made many friends, and became better friends,.. Our playing & vocal harmonies were so tight, it was an absolute ‘goose bump’ experience,.. Musically I think it was the best we ever sounded – mind you we were playing everyday!,.. and we were having a ball.

As most of my work at that time was bluegrass so I thought it was time to capitalise on my seemingly rather lonesome spot as the only female singer making professional strides in the Australian Bluegrass market, I went to Herm to discuss the idea of doing a top notch solo bluegrass recording. Herm loved bluegrass – but had never recorded it, so advised me to talk to Rod McCormack about the project, seeing that he was not only a great bluegrass player but a great producer who knew how bluegrass should sound (although he did tell me he still really wanted to be a part of it somehow),.. and ‘somehow’ – after a little chat amongst themselves, exactly that happened. It was the first joint project those two top producers had ever worked on and I still think ‘Changes’ is probably my best studio album to date. However, having it showcased in the industry was difficult at that time as above the glass ceiling there still seemed to be a ‘hillbilly’ attitude towards Bluegrass in Australia, it was a shame that album didn’t get a proper chance, as it really is quite an exceptional album. I worked hard to promote that album, I felt I had earned my stripes and deserved to be recognised. It got wonderful reviews as quite a ground breaking album in bluegrass,.. But perhaps Australia or our bluegrass scene just wasn’t ready for it,.. I don’t know but I know I felt like I was talking but ‘they’ in the industry just weren’t listening,..  Something i had never felt before. It was like I was banging my head on a brick wall, I was somehow hearing ‘you’ve had your go,.. Step aside now’,.. What?, I wasn’t ready to step aside!

I must admit I was feeling a bit lost, disappointed, angry at the time and needed a re-think,..   I was given my reprieve in the form of William, our first child – my most wonderful creation yet!, what a gift he became!,.. He put my priorities right, I loved my musical world, but having that tiny little human being placed in my arms that day made any gig, tour, record or award pale into insignificance, it was a powerful thing. Other things in my life were changing too. Marty left Qantas after 25 years and it proved life changing for him and we had to spend time dealing with our new found status of parenthood, career re-training & unemployment,.. It was not an easy few years for me,.. I gained a lot of grey hairs and pounds over those years,.. But it wasn’t over yet. I was becoming aware that my growing record catelogue was proving quite a financial burden to me – with most radio presenters expecting every album for free!,  so my initial idea for ‘radio sampler’ album turned into my first compilation album – ‘The Singles’ which contained 3 songs from each of my five albums plus a video clip, it was a good move and turned into a good ‘best of’ album for buyers wanting an introduction to all facets of my work.

It was also around this time that Pat and I realised we had been singing together as a duo for 10 years (although  a little less often when I became a mum and my career became ‘part-time’!). It occurred to me that the follow-up album we were ‘going to do’, just hadn’t happened and there was a chance that it might not.  Pat was involved with a long running bush poetry troupe – The Naked Poets, and also a comedy trio called the BBQ Kings and there didn’t seem to be a lot of work happening on the Karen & Pat Duo front. It wasn’t that we didn’t want it to, it just seemed that every other thing seemed to take priority.  At the time Pat was working on his own solo album and wasn’t in a financial position to do it  – and even questioned our ability to sell it as our work together had lessened significantly. I wasn’t to be deterred however, I wanted to make that album for me. I wanted a record of our 10 years working together and all the wonderful songs that had grown to be ‘duo’ songs rather than Pat’s songs. I knew it would only happen if I made it happen,.. So with a babe under my arm,.. I did.  It was also a rather perfect opportunity (not that I planned it that way) to take complete musical control over the project and to ‘produce’ for the first time,.. Without Pat (sorry sweetie,..) getting in the way!

I  picked most of the songs,.. particularly the ‘duets’ we were doing in the shows as these were the songs people were asking for at the shows but of which there were no ‘duo’ recordings of. I’ve always thought Pat’s songs were rather over shadowed by the big studio band arrangements and his sons very fancy drumming etc, so I was determined to make the SONGS shine, they needed to,.. They deserved to. I took a leaf out of my bluegrass acoustic experience and got together a few acoustic musicians and recorded the whole album in a wholly acoustic setting – with no drums. I must say it was a bit of a shock to Pat to find out there was going to be no drums,.. But he was so busy with other formats etc at the time, he had no choice – besides I was paying for it after all!  Luckily my idea worked. The music worked, the vocals were clear and sweet and you could hear every word,.. just as I wanted it, the songs were going to shine,.. and indeed they did.  I think Pat was quietly pleased that I’d made it happen, and after putting up his share of the costs we officially released our second (and probably last) album together,.. But it’s pretty special and a great record of our time together.

I continued to sing bluegrass and although always with my husband Marty at my side on Banjo, the ‘Acoustic Shock’ line-up our supporters were expecting to see was constantly changing and proving quite a headache for me as an organiser. Jim, our guitarist had family issues and took a break and Quentin was tired of playing Bass,.. wanting to return to guitar playing role, so I took a punt and asked my sister Liz Frencham if she would be interested in playing Double Bass for us. Although she herself had achieved quite a bit of fame in the Australian contemporary folk scene in various bands such as Jig Zag & Frencham Smith, she had enjoyed our time playing together overseas and seemed happy to return to her bluegrass roots for a while.  She was actually the original ‘Acoustic Shock’ Double Bass player years before and probably thought the extra cash would come in handy!  She added a breath of fresh air and another great voice and a bunch of her originals to the reportoire and ‘Blue Mountain Rain’ – the band, was born. I believed it was time for a name change as the look and feel of the band had changed so much that it was now only a remnant of the original ‘Acoustic Shock’ sound.  Having Liz in the band was wonderful for me, I had long been impressed with her talents but the differences in our musical preferences and ages, had meant that I didn’t think I’d ever get the chance to share music together on stage (aside from our original family folk band ‘Homefolk’ in the 80’s) so if nothing else, this was a great experience for me.

About this time I got my first Manager,.. well,.. kind of,.. we worked together as a team rather than artist/manager,.. but he believed in my music and felt it should be heard and set out to get it heard –  he had some good contacts in the music industry too – all of which gave rise to my eighth album ‘Wishing Well’.  Through his pushing, shoving and ‘nipping at ankles’, he brought my wonderful ‘Changes’ album to the attention of ABC Country. I don’t know why – whether it was just that it was a great album, or whether that it was so different (Australian Female Bluegrass was pretty hard to find at that time!!),.. or whether they just needed some bluegrass on their roster and I was the lucky one?,… but they decided to do a Lease deal & give it a ‘re-birth’ (a re-package with two extra tracks), as a compilation under the title of ‘Wishing Well’. To date, I don’t know how many albums they sold but I hope it’s quite a few! as it is a very different example of Australian bluegrass and I thank them greatly for giving it a run. It’s important for Australia’s ABC to showcase music that is new and different, music that wouldn’t necessarily be heard ‘above the radar’ so to speak and being ‘traditional country’, it fitted perfectly under their ‘Heartland Label’ which was started to showcase Australian ‘country’ music that wasn’t in the contemporary/commercial style,.. and I have to say it was really nice after all those years to get some notice by a major record label – without losing my proud ‘Independent’ status!

All the while ‘Blue Mountain Rain’ – the band, continued to work, it was a great line-up and we even added a fiddle player for a while to enhance the sound even more, that last big gig at the National Folk Festival in 2010 was,.. Awesome!. We looked and we sounded great, a fitting conclusion indeed to a lot of hard work.  A 6 piece bluegrass band however, was hard to get work for,..   getting decent fees for them was even harder & in order to get the band members decent fees (or for some members – the ‘fee they required’), I found I was often playing for very little, sometimes only for my CD sales, and they weren’t always that great,.. Something had to change. The winds of change were blowing again, Liz was getting married and undergoing some ‘house keeping’ in her life, home and music,.. and soon departed our line-up and suddenly being unable to use her name, picture, demo recording etc in my applications,.. I was – for the first time in some 25 years, with no actual band. It was good though,.. I needed time to think and get some things sorted,.. and of course, there was that country album I had started back in 2007 that still wasn’t finished?, I had been just too busy,.. and so it had to wait,.. until now. So, with space & a new found enthusiasm for that unfinished project I decided it was the perfect time to finish it. I needed a break from Bluegrass – from everything,… and time to think about how to continue as a ‘band’ or such,.. besides, I didn’t really ‘have’ a band to pitch for work anyhow,… so with a ‘don’t mention the band’ state of mind between me & Marty, off to the studio I went,.. to sing country.

I had started this country album many years before – as a response to my neglected ‘straight country’ supporters who loved my bluegrass but were longing for another straight country recording like ‘Second Wind’. I was so busy before William came along – so you can imagine the crater of stuff that didn’t get done after he came along!,… many things I had been doing slipped thru the cracks,.. everything I did was ‘late’,.. so many things were delayed, unfinished etc,.. my contact with my vast media database had reduced – not that I wanted it to,.. I was just tired all the time and there were only so many hours in the day!

The recording of the country album was inspiring for me. While it reminded me of the past,.. and where i’d come from, at the same time it was a kind of ‘reflection’ of my life journey in music. By the end of that recording, I was in a really good place,..’Heart Songs & Laugh Lines’ was finally born and in many ways (if you read the cover notes) it was a personal landmark for me.  I had been a little hurt by the bluegrass band ‘outgoings’ at the time,.. but I hadn’t stopped loving – or wanting to sing Bluegrass,.. (neither had Marty!). I suppose I’m never down for long and so – determined to not be ‘hobbled’ by any one player again,.. the ‘Karen Lynne Bluegrass Circle’ was born, and hopefully will continue for a while yet (although i do enjoy getting together with ‘Acoustic Shock’ every once in a while and singing,.. always fun!). This is my current line-up and is made up of various A class musicians that have worked with me over the years, playing the repertoire that I choose, at the gigs that I do the hard work to secure.  I don’t fuss trying to please the individuals anymore,.. I love my Muso’s – but I’ve learnt that they can take the gig – or leave it. It’s too hard trying to please everyone,.. or maybe I’m just to old to do that anymore. I want to play great Australian bluegrass and this allows me a ‘no fuss’ way of doing that,.. and it’s feeling pretty good.

There was one thing though i always wanted to do,.. but just never got around to it. I always wanted to record a gospel album. I decided to make this album back in 2005, i was going to do it using the guys from Acoustic Shock in a local studio. I even paid a deposit upfront, to my mind it was a promise to myself – a way of making sure that it happened. Times changed, people changed, the Country Music Industry changed,… the music changed! and it wasn’t too long before I realised that even with that vital down payment, I could never afford to record in Australia again. For years I have resisted the temptation to record in the USA and I stand proud knowing that I have supported the Australian Recording Industry for as long as I could, but I can’t do it any longer.  Sadly I lost that money, lots of my self confidence with it and a piece of the person I was at that time but slowly, with patience, prayer and trust in the Lord, the pieces fell into place to allow it to happen. I don’t doubt for one minute that it wasn’t meant to be that way. The Lord will turn the misfortune into good if you let him, he allows you to endure what you must and learn what you have to, and he makes good things come of the bad when the time is right. That experience gave me the courage to step out of my comfort zone, to make it happen regardless and it was the best thing i ever did! Of all the albums I have made, this one is mostly for me. It’s a celebration of my faith and I love the songs, I love their message and I loved every minute of the recording process and all the beautiful people who were a part of it. The only regret I have in making this recording, is that I didn’t do it sooner,.. in saying that however, I realise that it is only in becoming the person I am now that it has become what it is.

Mr Tom T. Hall & Miss Dixie allowed me to make this record at their studio in Nashville. What a joy & honour it was to meet them and make this record. It was around this time also that i became a ‘Daughter Of Bluegrass’, and I was given the honour of featuring on the ‘Daughters of Bluegrasss – pickin’ like a girl’ Box set, released in 2013. So here I am,.. at my latest ‘signpost’ on the road that brought me here,.. singing bluegrass when I can,.. singing with Pat Drummond when I can,..or just singing on my own!,…. and I hope to continue to do so for a long while yet!