Thursday, 7 February 2013

Dan Sultan and Scott Wilson, Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman

It's hard to avoid Dan Sultan these days.  Ever since he appeared in the ridiculously funny Bran Nue Dae he's been constantly in the media, recieving music awards, playing at celebrity concerts, promoting worthy causes.  He seems a level headed young man, comfortable with his Aboriginal heritage and not afraid to speak up for himself.  He's also no mean singer, belting out an infectious brand of soul-inflected pop music.

However, I have to admit I find myself a lot more fascinated by his long-time collaborator Scott Wilson.  When I first saw Sultan live on stage - a vibrant set at Byron Bay Bluesfest - it was obvious Wilson was the key to the band, playing lead guitar, counting everyone in,  holding the whole thing together while Sultan did his charismatic performing thing.

So I've been digging.  On Sultan's most recent album, Get Out While You Can,  released in late 2009, Wilson plays a large number of different guitars and is credited as co-producer.  He's also the dominant song-writer, receiving credit for 12 of the 13 songs, six on his own and another six co-written with Sultan.  By contrast, Sultan gets sole credit on only one song.

Apparently the story goes like this.  The pair met somewhere around 2000 at a pub in Williamstown, outer suburban Melbourne.  Wilson was in his late 20s, a veteran of touring bands looking for a break.  Sultan was a 17 year old trying to earn a bit of cash singing karaoke.  They got together and played some music, and have been doing so ever since - at least until late last year, but more of that later.

So in a sense Wilson taught Sultan everything he knows.  He mentored him in the music industry, provided the songs, arranged the band, held the show together.  Everything, that is, except the voice and charisma.  It seems Wilson had little to teach Sultan on either of these scores.

So what I wonder is , why does Wilson not have equal billing?  Why is this not a duet - "Dan Sultan and Scott Wilson"?  Or perhaps a band - "The Williamstown Boys" maybe?  The charismatic singer and the musical genius working together for your pleasure.

Which is, of course, almost exactly the story of Meat Loaf and Jim Steinman.  Meat Loaf and Steinman met in musical theatre, where Steinman was a pianist and band leader and Meat Loaf a singer and actor with a weirdly appropriate stage name.  They put together their own show.  Steinman wrote the songs, played keyboard and bossed the musicians around while Meat Loaf sang and filled the stage with his huge, charismatic presence.  Millions of dollars later I think everyone sees it as a success.  But you have to be a music nerd to know this story.  To the general public Steinman is invisible while Meat Loaf is - well, he's Meat Loaf.

All of which makes Sultan and Wilson's recent split very interesting.  Sultan says, "I've been in a bit of a rut for the past few years creatively for various reasons and I've made a few changes recently.  You know the old saying, a change is as good as a holiday and it all seems to be flowing pretty freely at the moment."

I suspect for him this is part of growing up.  He's done with being mentored and now he wants to do his own thing.  He takes his charisma and profile with him, he still has his voice, and no doubt he has learned everything he can from Wilson about writing and arranging songs.  It will be interesting to see if he can build all this into a lasting career.

I feel sorry for Wilson, though.  After a twelve year creative partnership in which he was equal in literally all but name, what does he get out of the relationship?  Was he in a rut, or was he having the time of his life?  Before he met Sultan he played pub gigs and toured Australian country towns trying to get that big break. Yet when the break came it was Sultan's, not his. If he were to put out his own album now people would ask, "Scott who?". 

After Jim Steinman and Meat Loaf split, all Steinman really had to do was sit back and count his royalties, the odd legal issue aside.  No doubt various other projects came his way, and no doubt he did some of them, but he was free to choose.  Depite Sultan's recent profile, I doubt Wilson is in the same position.  You just can't sell that many CDs in Australia.  Wilson will need to keep working to pay the bills.  What does he have to trade?  He plays a mean guitar, writes some pretty funky songs, has some skill as a producer and arranger.  Will it be enough? 


Anonymous said...

Scott Wison has a new band and album out already and more to come

Anonymous said...

song writing and musicianship will carry scott wilson forward. totally agree about the question why he never had the name up front with dan but thats history. the industry isn't that big that this man will go unnoticed for much longer.

ccryder said...

We really need to hear more about Scott Wilson - in my modest opininion, the greatest all-round guitarist this country has yet produced.