Bill Lake and The Right Mistake

About The Band

Bill Lake - Singer & Songwriter

When it comes to blues and roots music, Bill Lake is one of New Zealand’s most respected and long-serving practitioners. For more than four decades he led the iconic country-blues band The Windy City Strugglers, as well as playing with pioneering rock group Mammal in the 70s and fronting brassy funk-rockers The Pelicans in the 80s. He is also admired as a songwriter, his songs having been covered by numerous performers including Midge Marsden, Darren Watson, Kokomo and Marg Layton.

Bill Lake was born in Canberra in 1947. Early musical influences included Elvis, Little Richard and Chuck Berry, but by his teens he had been drawn to the blues and black folk music: Lead Belly, Lightning Hopkins, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee.

Bill began teaching himself to play the guitar when he was around 14 or 15. His father offered to pay for lessons but the teacher was a jazz guitarist and it didn't work out, so he continued teaching himself, learning off the blues and jug band records he loved.

He formed a jug band in Canberra and they attempted to play some of that music. “We weren't any good at it,” he says, “but we had quite a lot of gusto. We called ourselves The Garden City Strugglers.”

He came to New Zealand in 1967 as a draft dodger. In Wellington he soon hooked up with Rick Bryant and the Rashbrooke brothers, Geoff and Mike. As the Windy City Strugglers they played for the first time in 1968 at the Wellington Folk Festival. Wellington blues authorities Midge Marsden and Colin Morris, were bowled over.

“We were trying to play authentic country blues and at that time it wasn't common. We had a pretty primitive sound. We played university arts festivals and folk festivals. We were extremely shambolic. We played multiple instruments, so we had a pile of instruments in the middle of the floor and whenever we changed songs, we had to go to the pile and find whatever instrument we supposed to be playing.”

At the same time, Bill was playing in Original Sin, an electric band including Rick Bryant and Simon Morris, specialising in R&B covers – Pretty Things, Them, early Stones. Original Sin evolved into Mammal, “a more formidable outfit with Tony Backhouse and Robert Taylor, doing our own songs as well as more sophisticated covers – The Band, Little Feat, Temptations. I didn't like touring, so I bailed and went back to my studies.”

In the mid-70s Bill reignited the Strugglers, with Geoff, Andrew Delahunty and Nick Bollinger. We weren't strictly country blues any more. We were a hybrid of electric and acoustic and we played primitive versions of Little Feat and the odd original song.”

 

In the late 70s Bill met Arthur Baysting, a poet and performer who had been involved with the Red Mole theatre troupe, and the two began collaborating on songs.

“We shared musical tastes and had a real chemistry. Arthur could write a lyric in two minutes. If I played something that got him going, he could write very quickly.”

The first song they wrote together was 'Can't Get Back', which has become one of Bill’s most requested songs, recorded and performed by numerous artists. The pair went on to write many more songs together.

In the early 80s Bill formed The Pelicans, a fully electric band including a horn section, focused on original songs. They made two albums: Eight Duck Treasure (1983) and Krazy Legs (1984), toured nationally and found considerable airplay on student radio. Of special note was their song ‘Banana Dominion’ – Bill’s withering commentary on New Zealand in the Muldoon years.

After The Pelicans split up in 1985 Bill formed The Living Daylights, sharing the frontman role for a year with singer Ra Te Whaiti. In the late 80s he revived the Strugglers yet again, which had been dormant for most of the decade, with Rick Bryant rejoining the fold.

Between the early 90s and late 2000s the Strugglers recorded five albums, several of which were picked up by French label Last Call. In 2005 the Strugglers toured France and the Britain, playing at blues festivals and folk clubs.

During this period Bill also released his first solo album, Home Truths.

In 2015 Bill began performing solo and as a trio with Andrew Delahunty and Andrew Clouston, both of whom join him on his new album As Is Where Is. The catalyst for the recording was a play: Jane Waddell's adaptation of Kate de Goldi's novel The ACB with Honora Lee. “John McKay was the sound designer for the show and he and Jane had both been to a couple of our house concerts. John was after a garage-band sound and was certain we could provide it, so we recorded the music for the play and then John convinced us to make a record.”

The songs are all Bill Lake originals, several co-written with Arthur Baysting. The album, recorded and mixed by John McKay, was made with a small group of friends in the relaxed and intimate setting of Bill’s living room, where many of these songs began.

Bill Lake has never sounded more at home.