The Moonee Valley Drifters are:
The Moonee Valley Drifters are alive and well and play regularly around Melbourne venues including the Retreat Hotel in Brunswick, Port Albert Hotel in Williamstown, The Espy in St.Kilda, The Lomond Hotel in East Brunswick, and The Bendigo Hotel in Collingwood. They play every week and their motto is Roll With The Punches, Make It Swing And Groove On Your Hunches.
In 1984 Tom Forsell and the bluegrass band he was playing in were starting to unravel and he was trying to find a better name to replace the one he had given the band.
After a late night gig he and roadie friend Ian threw some names around. He clicked with Moonee Valley Drifters, the only problem was the band members didn’t like it. Well Tom filed the name in his memory and three weeks later after everything fell apart he was talking to Warren Rough, ex-Cracker Jack guitarist and Merle Travis devotee and they found they had a similar interest in country music and started forming the first version of the Moonee Valley Drifters.
The Moonee Valley Drifters started working sometime in mid 1985 with Warren Rough on lead guitar, Tom on vocals and rhythm guitar, Bernie O’Brian on the bass, and Peter Linden on pedal steel guitar. This line-up lasted about 3 months before fading away in August of that year.
In 1986 Tom began reforming the band with old friend Rob Grenville on lead guitar, a couple of different fiddle players and bass players until they brought in Paul Pyle then Jerry Hale on fiddle.
They still did not use a regular drummer until Kevin Curley stepped in and played "no frills" great swingin’ brushes and was followed by Andrew Lindsay, "Pixie", who recorded the first album with the band in 1988/89.
In mid 1987 after Jerry Hale left they brought Peter Linden back in to the flock and then Ed Colbourne came in. Paul Pyle had already chucked out his electric bass and was playing the double bass. Everything worked.
This line-up went for over 2 1/2 years and had residencies at the Great Northern Hotel in Carlton for 10 months, the Terminus Hotel in Richmond for 18 months on Saturday and then one year on a Saturday there. The band played festivals like Port Fairy, the St Kilda Festival, Esplanade Hotel and more and about this time they met the sixth member of the band and musical producer and friend James Black.
They were clocking up over 120 gigs every year and sounded great. The original Drifters did mainly country swing and country boogie tunes. This line-up was moving into the shuffle territory alá Ray Price, some R&B tinged country by Moon Mullican, Roy Hall, and verging on western swing with the great steel work of Pete Linden on tunes like "Boot Heel Drag", "3 will get ya 6", some originals and even some country rockabilly.
The vocals of Rob Grenville added that good time feel, and they played on the ABC Coodabeens Show, RRR, and Gary Young’s 3CR show, and held down the Cricketers Arms residency for almost 2 years. In 1989 Rob left to travel around Australia, Brendan Shearson came in on guitar and Tom went over to Texas. The band’s final gig for this period was Anzac Eve at the Royal Derby Hotel where they pulled in almost $3,000 with their big 7-piece band including James on piano and Gerry Hale on fiddle and numerous guests.
Tom went away for a year to Texas and played over there and the members of the band did other work with Andy Baylor’s Cajun Combo, Ric O’Shea and Rob Grenville started his first jazz trio which he still has today, The Flyright Trio.
When Tom came back from Texas he reformed the band with Ric Dempster on steel guitar and harmonica and vocals replacing Peter Linden who went to New Guinea for 2 years to work as a missionary. With Paul on bass, Brendan on lead guitar, and Ed on that "swingin stool" and Ric the band were ready.
They were asked to come back to their residency at the Cricketeers Arms on Friday nights and did the Old Homestead on Saturday plus played Tamworth, Gympie, numerous Port Fairy Festivals and continued to log 100 plus gigs a year playing the Espy regularly and the Prince Patrick.
The early 1990's were the salad days for Melbourne "Roots" bands and the Drifters released Juke Joint Johnny in 1992 and followed it up with Moonee Valley Drifters self titled album number 3 in 1996. Both did well with good reviews and airplay and the latter was with Larrikin/Festival, their first major label deal. The band continued at the Old Homestead on Saturday nights through 3 owners until 1998 when Tom returned to Texas to do some work and study. The band members continued playing the Homestead for sometime after and in total they had almost 8 years playing the venue by 1999.
In mid 1999 Tom was back and the music scene had changed with fewer venues but he reformed the Drifters in October and played a few gigs at festivals, and the Rainbow and the Country Music Guild.
The band were asked to come back to the Homestead and started there in November with Quentin Frayne on drums, Ashley Kluss back on guitar with Adam Gare on fiddle and on bass Peter Bulky. This line-up stayed there for another almost 2 years before moving to Friday at the Homestead and Ed Bates came in on steel guitar, and Kip Dale on bass and Nick Grant on guitar.
Quentin went overseas and John "Dude" Brockton came in on drums, vocals and harmony and this line-up is still current with the change of Gerard Rowan on pedal steel and John and Quentin sharing the drumming, harmony and singing chores. All in all the Drifters would have logged close to 2,000 gigs in their career and are still going today after about 18+ years. They now play at the Lomond, the Espy, Tramways, Bendigo, Prince Albert and other pubs and festivals so try and catch up with them soon, if you don’t you are missing out on one of Melbourne’s legendary identities.
As someone once said, was there ever a time before the Moonee Valley Drifters?