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‘Foot Notes’: Muso Benjamin Allmon’s Epic 1000 km Journey Across Australia

Written by Zana Rose on December 16, 2016

Ben Allmon’s Foot Notes is a story that outlines the struggles, lessons, and joys of trying to make it in the music industry by taking the road less traveled.

After spending over a decade trying to break through in the music industry, singer-songwriter (and journalist by trade) Ben Allmon decided to take a less common approach to getting his recently recorded debut album heard. He chose to promote it on foot. And so, his book Foot Notes was born.

The story goes, after reading about the travels of the Deep South bluesman walking and playing their way to Chicago, Allmon decided to make the 1000 km trek along the coastline in Northern NSW to the bright lights of Sydney, carrying just a guitar and a sleeping bag.

Foot Notes is a descriptive story of the Australian coastline and the gritty road to self-discovery, about someone losing their path but determined as hell to somehow find it again.

Now, in a bid to share this collection of his wild and wonderful experiences on a 1000km musical journey to the masses, Allmon is retracing his steps and stopping by every town written about in Foot Notes. 

The following excerpt from Foot Notes identifies the exact moment that Allmon was inspired to embark on this wild and unconventional journey of self-promotion.

Catch the full details of his book tour and links to buy his book below.

An excerpt from ‘Foot Notes’, by Benjamin Allmon

‘Have you seen this?’ I said, flapping Rolling Stone’s 50th Anniversary of Rock at my flatmate, Ken, who shook his head and continued rolling a cigarette from the butts we’d piled together on the table. It was 2005, and times were tough. My guitar lay propped on the threadbare couch next to him, missing the A string I was too poor to replace. Incomplete, it looked like a grinning, gap-toothed hillbilly.

‘There’s a piece in here about Muddy Waters, written by Billy Gibbons.’

‘The ZZ Top guy?’

‘Yeah. Check this out: “Muddy told us a story once about his friends Freddie King and Little Walter walking from Dallas to Chicago. I’ve always had that image in my mind of two guys walking from the South to the North. Everyone else in the Great Migration took the train. I hope they weren’t carrying their equipment.”’

An idea occurred to me.

‘Wouldn’t it be funny if I picked up that guitar, walked out the front door, got to the corner, and then kept going? What if, when I got to the edge of town, I just kept walking? What if that was how I toured my album? Just see how far I could go with the guitar …’

‘Madness, Allmon,’ Ken said, but he was smiling.

‘I know, but still …’

‘It is a pretty interesting idea, I guess …’

‘I’d need a cooler name though.’

‘Like Muddy Waters?’

‘Yeah, something suitably vagabond-esque.’

‘How about Smokey?’ Ken said, holding up the result of his careful tobacco scrounging.

‘Perfect,’ I said, taking the cigarette and looking around for the matches. ‘Maybe it’s not as crazy as it sounds … and I’ve done the usual circuit, the pubs and cafeìs, for years. I just can’t get excited by it anymore. But this … this might just work. A Walking Tour, a modern-day troubadour …’

‘But you get lost on the way to the kitchen,’ Ken said.

I ignored this for the uncouth slur that it was, finally finding the matchbox.

I had been sitting on it. Maybe my observation skills were a wee bit below par. ‘I’ll walk to Sydney, like those guys walked to Chicago,’ I said, and lit our last cigarette for the week. Ken nodded and refrained from further comment, taking it from my fingers as it rapidly burned away.

I looked around the apartment. We had the couch, a beanbag and a coffee table, and two mattresses on the floor upstairs. Our ancient television silently blared snow—it was broken and we couldn’t afford to get it fixed, had grown to like the static. Patterns appeared if you looked long enough.

The setting sun washed our place in scarlet light, giving it a feel of impending doom, and rightly so—it was condemned. They were tearing it down to put up a new high-rise apartment block. Story of the Gold Coast. Out with the old, in with the rendered. You can remake yourself in a day in this city, be anyone you want to be, provided nobody looks too closely.

‘I’m twenty-seven,’ I said to Ken as he butted the smoke. ‘Robert Johnson had already changed the course of music and gone to that Great Gig in the Sky by this point. Ditto Jim Morrison, Cobain, Hendrix, Joplin …’

I trailed off, inordinately depressed I’d made it past the Death Age. Still here. Still nobody. Still working for minimum wage. Still driving a car that required a golf club hitting the starter motor to get going. Still broke. Soon to be homeless.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way.

I couldn’t admit it to Ken, but it felt like the album I was recording,The Dark Carnival, was probably my last shot at making rock a career. Over ten years trying to get noticed, get to the next level, and it looked no closer than it had in 1994, the year I began playing bass, the year Cobain was replaced on the great conveyor belt of life by Justin Bieber.

My high school friends and I had decided we’d be the ’90s Metallica … even though Metallica were still conspicuously alive and active. Undeterred, we called ourselves Valhalla and commenced strumming and putting rudimentary lyrics to crude melodies.

A car accident in 1995 nearly did for me, shattering my spine; for a year, every gig I played was in a back brace, fortunate to be playing (or walking) at all. With Metallica selfishly showing no signs of stopping, coupled with head-banging restrictions due to my neck and back, I put down the battle-axe bass and picked up an acoustic guitar, determined to teach myself how to be James Taylor.

The acoustic band I joined, All But Well, came to the attention of an inordinately patient publisher, Marty Ryan, and his wife Kylie. We recorded some demos that were fun and mostly awful, yet which drew some interest from a new band up the road from us, Savage Garden. Pride meant that we (mainly me) declined their interest in recording one of our tunes, for our songs were, like, our children, man. We (mainly me) were idiots.

In 2000, Marty—prematurely greying by this stage—arranged for me to live and work with award-winning Nashville-based songwriter Heather Field. She had worked with Tina Arena, Rick Price and Troy Cassar-Daley. When I arrived I realised I was in another league entirely. My flatmate was Keith Urban’s friend and FOH engineer, Steve Law. He’d just finished doing the sound at the Sydney Olympics’ Closing Ceremony (where Savage Garden had also appeared, naturally).

Upstairs in Heather’s studio, men with formidable command over their instruments were recording an album. When they asked if I was a muso, I mumbled something about inspecting for termites and beat a hasty retreat, unwilling to admit I had anything more than a nodding acquaintance with music (which, relatively speaking, I didn’t).

Heather was good, but Heather was hard. Up until that moment I had been the best (and only) lyricist I knew. Nobody ever challenged my lyrics.
Until Heather.

‘Why is the woman like a river? You can’t just put that line in and not give me a reason. And this obsession with putting the word “dream” in your songs … every song has this word in it somewhere! You are hereby forbidden to use that word as long as you are under my roof.’

‘But—’

‘You’re lazy, Ben. You are lazy because you have some talent, and no one is lazier than the moderately talented. And those around you who say, “Oh Ben, you’re so good, what a good songwriter you are”’ aren’t songwriters, and they are doing you no favours. Real songwriters know the difference between what sounds pretty and means nothing, and what is honest and means everything. Do you want to be a real songwriter, Ben?’

‘Yes.’

‘Then listen and learn…’

Benjamin Allmon’s ‘Footnotes’ 2016 Book Tour

Wednesday, 14th – Sunday, 18th December
Port Stephens, Broken Bay (85km)

Monday, 19th – Saturday, 24th December
Avalon, Sydney (40km)

Head to Benjamin Allmon’s Facebook page or Official Website to check out his blog and to see exactly where he is at and what he is up to while he is in Sydney. You might just catch him on the radio or in person at a book store.

You can purchase your own copy of Foot Notes right here.

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