|Concert Review by Mike Scholl
Radisson (Sacramento, CA - 1993)
This was the first time that either
Murray Attaway or his previous band
Guadalcanal Diary had played the
Sacramento area. How strange it
was that it took a South African artist
and band, Johnny Clegg and
Savuka, to introduce this town to one
of my favorite artists.
Sadly, nary a soul knew who he was
upon introduction (including
security, who kept me waiting
outside until Murray sent word that it
was okay to let me in. This incident
led me to be known as “That guy”).
Anyway, there was at least one
cheer that rose from the crowd. It
took a few songs to warm up the
crown to this artist from Murietta,
Accompanied only by his musical
partner Bill Bonk (John Prine),
Attaway proceeded to win the crowd
with the song craft and charm that
has made his songs so exceptional.
He began the set with the
Guadalcanal Diary classic, “Litany
(Life Goes on)” and then jumped
into his newest batch of songs from
his latest release, “In Thrall”. In
between each song, Murray played
on the fact that he was an unknown
in these parts, and proceeded to
spell and enunciate his name and
album again and again.
The only counter to his efforts in
warming up the crowd came with an
ice-cold arctic blast that put one
particular stop-set to absolute full
stop. Nevertheless, as good
southern folk, Attaway and Bonk
performed a round of seventies
cover tunes. Predictably, on cue one
audience member shouted, “Free
Bird!” Not missing a beat, the
acoustic brothers fired off a rousing
rendition of that southern rock staple.
Attaway and Bonk kept the music
rolling for about 45 minutes and
closed the “In Thrall”ing set with
another Guadalcanal Diary classic,
“Watusi Rodeo,” from the band’s
Many thanks to Murray and Bill for a
great show and allowing me to hang
out with you guys afterwards!
Spotlight - Murray Attaway
Interview By Mike Scholl
(from The Essence Newsletter, Oct/Nov ’93)
Murray Attaway is the former front man of Guadalcanal
Diary, who skillfully carved their initials into the oak of “rock,
jangle and roll.” Four years after their breakup, Murray is
on a new label and brings a more introspective offering,
called “In Thrall”. Busy on tour opening for Johnny Clegg
and Savuka, Murray had a few minutes to talk, before
storming the stage. He called me from a backstage utility
MS: Where are you now?
Attaway: Charlotte, North Carolina. We’ve been all over
North America. I spent a while with Robin Hitchcock and
right now on this Savuka tour. It’s really an interesting
mesh, because here I am this white southern
singer/songwriter, Clegg’s this white South African who is at
the forefront of change in South Africa, at least artistically.
At first it seems like an odd pairing, but I’m doing this as a
duo with Bill Bonk who plays everything: guitar, keyboards,
MS: So, is it kind of an “unplugged” situation?
Attaway: Well, I hate that word personally. To me, it
denotes “flavor of the week”. It’s an acoustic show, but not
MS: I see that Rolling Stone gave “In Thrall” three and a
half stars. The reviewer made a comment that spiritual
uncertainty still seems to be prominent in your work.
Attaway: I certainly wasn’t going to really take issue with his
interpretation, because most of it was too close. As far as
the uncertainty factor, I don’t quite agree with that.
(Background noise. Traffic is getting heavy in and out of
the utility closet)
Attaway: As far as spiritual uncertainty goes, I think what
he was referring to was the song “Angels in the Trees”. I
think everybody goes through a certain amount of
uncertainty, but as far as my own personal beliefs go, I’m
MS: I noticed something (about In Thrall). (The song) No
Tears Tonight… Is that an obvious sequel to “Trail of
Tears” (Guadalcanal Diary song)?
Attaway: (laughs) No. In fact, it never occurred to me that it
MS: It’s so cool, they both start off similarly.
Attaway: Yeah, they do don’t they! I never even thought
about that. I knew I had another song that started like that.
MS: It kind of brings the music around full circle.
Attaway: Well, you know, the guy in Rolling Stone brought
up something interesting too. He said for him that was kind
of a closure to the sort of Athens jangly pop sound of the
80’s. I didn’t necessarily intend it to do that.
MS: “In Thrall” is like “Jamboree” (Guadalcanal Diary’s
second album) to me.
Attaway: I actually listened to Jamboree for the first time in
years when I was out in L.A. doing this record. I’ve never
liked that record. Not to toot my own horn, but I was really
surprised by how well it help up to my ear. It sounded fresh
to me. It was kind of a painful, unnatural record to make. A
lot of people come up to me and tell me it was their favorite
MS: Why was it unnatural to make?
Attaway: It was an unpleasant record for me to make
because I was going through some rather bad times at that
point. I don’t know how much you know about me, but I
used to be a big drunk. I’ve been in recovery for years now.
At that point it was just before I got sober. But the funny
thing about it is, I don’t hear any of that when I listen to that
record. I couldn’t listen to it because I didn’t want to be
reminded of this period. Fortunately, I don’t think it made it
on the record.
MS: That explains why 3 AM and Whiskey Talk were
recorded. The first being more symphatetic to the cause,
and the other more of a “come on get with it!” song.
Attaway: There’s sort of a drunk song on every record
(laughter), whether I like it or not. The trend continues with
Fall So Far (In Thrall).
MS: I really enjoyed this album. But there are parts of it that
I really don’t understand. Like Walpurgis Night…
Attaway: The dictionary can give you a better definition of
Walpurgis than any I can give you. But let’s just say I’m
using that night as a metaphor. Walpurgis Night is a funny
song because it’s the closest I’ve ever come to writing a
protest song. It is my hope that the song had a lot more
validity last year before November than it does now, but
that remains to be seen. I have a problem with myself as an
artist getting on a soapbox about a lot of things, because
there are plenty of people doing that who are better at it
than me. So, when I do it, I just sort of cloak it a little bit. I’m
perfectly happy to get in your face about some things. But
other things I just feel that I’m not the most qualified guy in
the world. Who knows if I was a big stadium rock guy, I’d get
the big head and start thinking I was this big messianic
figure and try to control the throngs with a wave of my
hand. If I get to the point where millions of people are
hanging on my every word, I would probably say something
to the effect of, “Y’all are making a big mistake by following
these people as leaders. Look within yourself and quit
MS: Was it a mistake breaking up Guadalcanal Diary?
Attaway: A question I get asked all the time is “Did you just
throw your hands up in the air in disgust cause you hadn’t
gotten any further?” The answer is absolutely not! We got
a lot further than we thought we ever would. I was real
happy with our measure of success and our day in the
limelight and that sort of thing. In retrospect, if we would
have stayed together, since suddenly alternative radio
became such a big thing, that we would probably have
been looking really good … we would have gotten bigger
and bigger and maybe sort have done a Soul Asylum thing.
I mean, we were in the same boat as Soul Asylum. But who
knows and who cares… I mean, the idea was do we want to
get bigger and bigger and start hating each other? Or do
we want to break up and go our own ways and remain
friends with the option of being able to get back together
sometime. So, that’s what we chose.