The Backsliders formed in late 1986 in Sydney, Australia with Dom Turner on guitars, mandolin and vocals, Rex Hill on harmonica and Peter Burgess on washboard, drums, percussion and backing vocals.
In the early 1980’s, Dom Turner and Rex Hill began playing around Sydney as an acoustic blues duo, while at the same time both were playing in Chicago style electric blues bands ‘The Goldentones’ and then ‘The Stumblers’ with various band members including drummer Peter Burgess. After returning from the United States in 1986, enthused by the idea of blurring the lines between Mississippi and Chicago blues, Dom began rehearsing a new band concept with Peter Burgess in duo mode, which moved to the inclusion of Rex Hill on harmonica, completing the blues trio. The name ‘Backsliders’ a term prominent in Southern American gospel tradition came from a Library of Congress recording of Lead Belly singing ‘Backslider Fare you Well’, with a meaning associated with the concept of blues music being the music of the devil.
After a short stint of rehearsals, and a run of early local gigs, the newly formed band was offered a live performance at the Sydney Town Hall for radio station 2MBS FM (host to Stormy Monday blues Program) by blues DJ Austin Harrison scheduled for August 1987. The band played in duo mode (Dom and Pete) and directly after the performance was approached by the station label manager with an offer of an album release to be the first blues album on the 2MBS FM music label. The debut album ‘Preaching Blues’ was released in 1988 to critical acclaim. The band continued to gig locally particularly around the Balmain /Rozelle area of Sydney including a residency at the Bridge Hotel, Rozelle. In 1989 Rex Hill resigned from the band.
As both Dom and Pete were fans of Captain Matchbox Whoopee Band, Jim Conway was contacted as replacement for Rex. Jim agreed to join on harmonica (Jim had filled in for a Rex at a number of gigs in late 1988).A follow up album ’Sitting on a Million’ was recorded and released (1989) and the band quickly moved onto the Australian music festival circuit beginning with the Port Fairy Folk Festival, The East Coast Blues Festival and the Woodford Folk Festival as well as touring Australia, in particular travelling to Melbourne and regional Victoria as a strong live blues music circuit had developed in that region of Australia. Throughout the 1990’s the band continued on the touring circuit as well as playing a number of residency gigs in Sydney, including the Rose Shamrock and Thistle Hotel in Rozelle (known as the ‘Three Weeds”) and supported and toured with various visiting US blues acts including John Hammond and John Cephas and Phil Wiggins. The band also took advantage of the various television opportunities available to independent music acts in the1990’s, performing live on a variety of daytime and evening news and variety programs.
The 1990’s also saw the release of a series of 4 new albums as well as a ‘Best of’ style release. The 1995 ‘Wide Open’ was a turning point in its departure from musical content of primarily arrangements of early blues songs, to an album of predominantly original songs penned by Dom Turner as well as a track by Peter Burgess, and in a more eclectic style introducing Cajun and Tex-Mex influenced sounds to the repertoire as well as guest artists George Butrumlis (accordion) and Gyan (vocals). Various tracks from the album were used as theme music on the ABC TV Series ‘Seachange’. The decade ended with the release of ‘Poverty Deluxe’ which was nominated for an ARIA award in the Best Blues and Roots album category, again an eclectic album of essentially original songs, but including guest performance by blues legend, Roy Bookbinder and guest artists Don Walker, Broderick Smith and Ian Cooper (violin).
In 2000, Peter Burgess resigned after 13 years playing in Backsliders. After meeting at a 1996 recording session by Sydney band ‘Ghostwriters’ (Rob HIrst and Rick Grossman) Dom became friends with legendary drummer Rob Hirst. Rob was asked to join Backsliders as a permanent replacement for Peter. A very brief rehearsal followed and Rob and agreed officially joining in 2000, however with the understanding that there were to be some upcoming Midnight Oil commitments. Drummers Angus Diggs and Ashley Davies filled the drum role during Rob’s occasional absences, however with the disbandment of Midnight Oil in 2002, Rob was able to focus on touring, writing and playing with Backsliders. 2002 also saw the release of ‘Hanoi’ the first album with the new line-up, an album that featured numerous Turner / Hirst co-writes including the title track ‘Hanoi’, and received an ARIA Blues and Roots category nomination.
The band was filmed live at Sydney’s ‘Basement’ club in 2002, a concert that was released in 2003 as Backsliders ‘Live at the Basement’ and has been broadcast on numerous occasions on ABC Television in Australia and South East Asia. 2002 was also the year the Dom and Rob began recording what would become the 2007 album ‘Beat the House’ as The Angry Tradesmen.
The following few years involved playing and touring the country including the first visit to Broome as part of a tour with friends, the Pigram Brothers and a return to the prestigious Jazz in the park Concert at Sydney’s Domain in January 2005 to a crowd of over 50,000 people. As well a live album “Backsliders Live” was released in 2005 following on from 2003 Live at the Basement DVD. More awards followed and In 2004 Dom was voted “Blues Songwriter of the Year” at the Australian Blues Awards.
In 2006, Jim Conway resigned from the group. As an initial trial, both Broderick Smith (Dingoes, Big Combo) and Ian Collard (Collard Greens and Gravy) took the harmonica role at alternate gigs – a model that has remained in place with both players sharing the role at live gigs an on recordings.
The band continues to tour nationally and internationally (Cambodia and Vietnam in 2007) releasing 3 more albums since 2006 ‘Left Field Holler’ 2007, ‘Throwbacks’ 2009 and the ARIA Nominated and I-Tunes Australian Blues and Roots album of the year ‘Starvation Box’ in 2011, and playing a myriad festivals including Apollo Bay Music Festival, Blue Mountains Folk Festival, Woodford Folk festival, Port Fairy Folk Festival, Bridgetown Blues Festival, Broadbeach Blues Festival to name a few.
2012 sees the band continuing to tour ‘Starvation Box’ and returning to the East Coast Blues Festival (their 14th performance).