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How it all started

John’s involvement with old-time country music and bluegrass began in Melbourne in the late 1960’s, when the folk music revival was in full swing.   He had some guitar lessons, and attended the many coffee lounges that featured live folk music.    He formed a duo with Juanita Hillman in 1969, performing songs from such artists as the Carter Family, New Lost City Ramblers, Ian and Sylvia, Doc Watson and The Country Gentlemen.   They soon performed together as “John & Juanita” at coffee lounges, at Traynor’s Folk Club, and various Folk Festivals.  After their marriage in 1970, they lived in England for 12 months, and performed at Folk club venues in and around London.

By this time, John was playing banjo in the old time clawhammer style, and was greatly influenced by the playing of such American performers as Clarence “Tom” Ashley, John Burke and Mike Seeger.   He also learnt from Australian clawhammer banjoists Stan Gottschalk, Tony Simpson and Rob McCarthy.  As all three lived outside of Victoria, their meetings were very occasional.    Recordings on the County label and the Folkways Anthology of American Folk Music were (and remain) an invaluable resource.

John and Juanita performed at many Folk Festivals and Bluegrass & Old Timey Conventions over the next 30 years, until Juanita died in 2001.    Since then, John has continued to perform mainly as a soloist, playing banjo and guitar and singing songs from the pre war period. 


John presented a radio program each month on Melbourne’s 3CR for some six years during the 1980’s.   Since 2007, he has presented occasional programs on Melbourne’s PBSFM 106.7 on Jan Dale’s “Southern Style”.   These shows concentrate on Bluegrass, old timey, Western Swing, Cajun and blues music.


John’s interest in Bluegrass music and collecting Bluegrass LP records led him to compiling a discography of such LP’s.  This work contained a listing and details of over 5,000 Bluegrass LP’s issued worldwide, and in 1990, his discographical work “Bluegrass LP Issues, 1957 – 1990” was published.

In 1999, he wrote and published “Australian Bluegrass Recordings – A History and Discography”, the definitive discography and history of Bluegrass music in Australia.  

Both books are out of print, but copies can be read at the National Library in Canberra, the Victorian State Library and also at the Library of Congress, Washington D.C.

“Out To Lunch” Duo

John teamed up with long time music friend, Rob Lewis to play guitar duet instrumentals and sing songs from the repertoire of artists such as the Delmore Brothers, Carter Family , Larry Sparks and Bob Black.  They would practice in the Board Room at Rob’s Law Practice in the Melbourne CBD during their respective lunch breaks.  John or Rob could not be contacted during that precious one hour period, and the staff at their offices were told that they were “out to lunch”, and the name stuck!  They performed mainly at folk clubs, Bluegrass and Old Time music Conventions at Harrietville and Yarra Junction over a seven year period. 


In 2010, John and his wife Susan fulfilled a dream to attend the International Bluegrass Music Awards in Nashville, Tennessee.  There he was to meet up with many of his favourite musicians, including Del McCoury, Tony Rice, Claire Lynch, J.D. Crowe, George Shuffler, Bob Carlin, Audie Blaylock and Mark Johnson.

Other highlights were finally meeting Dave Freeman, of County/ Rebel Records, touring the Martin Guitar factory, spending time at the Mandolin Brothers instrument store on Staten Island, and the Gruhn Guitars  store in Nashville.  So many guitars and banjos, and not enough time!

In October 2014, John and Susan again attended the International Bluegrass Music Association Awards, this time held in Raleigh, North Carolina.  Following this, they drove along the Blue Ridge Parkways along the crests of the southern Appalachians in North Carolina and Virginia.  Highlights included several gigs near Galax, and meeting and playing with Willard Gayheart, Melvin and Dea Felts.  Enjoyable times were also spent playing with Charlie Pennell, Adam Hurt and Beth Hartness

Appalachian Heaven String Band

In 2011, he joined the Melbourne based old timey band Appalachian Heaven String Band.   Here, he plays guitar and takes lead vocals.    John was a guest artist on the band’s second CD “Railroadin’ & Gamblin’ “(2011),  and a full band member on their third CD “Been All Around This World”, issued the following year.  The other band members are Ian Alexander (banjo), Maggie Duncan (fiddle), Graeme Fletcher (autoharp), Kimberly Wheeler (mandolin) and Evan Webb (bass).  Both CD’s are still available.  

2013 was a very busy year for the band, having performed at:
Cygnet Folk Festival (Tasmania)
Yinnar Fiddlehead
Yarra Junction Fiddler’s Convention
Healesville Music Festival
Great Alpine Pick, Harrietville
Kelly Country Pick (Beechworth)
Contra Dance, Northcote
Yinnar Hotel
Hickinbotham Winery, Dromana
Jamgrass Festival, Thornbury
Dorrigo Folk Festival  (NSW)
Maldon Folk Festival
Mountain Pickers Association at  Burrinja Cafe, Upwey
MountainGrass Festival (Harrietville)

Solo Recording

John produced a solo CD in 2013 entitled “Still Rollin’ On”.   Recorded by Hugh McDonald, the 17 tracks feature his guitar, banjo and vocals, including five original instrumentals.  He over-dubbed instrumental backing or vocal harmonies on most tracks. 

Recording Library

John has a vast collection of American old time, bluegrass and pre-war blues music and literature, and he uses it to assist anyone who is looking for an obscure song or tune or information about the artists and song origins.  He uses his music collection as a source of inspiration for his own playing.    

John has been a prominent performer and teacher of old time music for over 40 years in Australia.   He loves nothing better than finding a new tune to learn, a new song to sing or talking to someone who shares his interest in old time and Bluegrass music.