85 Years Young: Meet Buzzer the Bush Balladeer
At 85 years, Brian Bitter, aka Buzzer the Bush Balladeer, is one of our oldest members - and the oldest who plays original songs on the road. Performing around a hundred shows a year, Buzzer doesn’t let much stop him from taking the stage in and around Jurien Bay, the WA town he calls home. As we celebrate our 90th year, we thought it timely to compare notes with Buzzer about performing, country music and jumping out of planes.
“Country music was very, very popular when I was young,” says Buzzer, who cites Tex Morton and Slim Dusty as his idols.
“I started recording in 1951, '52 on the old 78 records. They were a very heavy 12 inch, and you had two songs, one on each side, and you had a gramophone to play them.”
Buzzer’s first release on wax featured his songs Silvery Moon and Slippery Jack, and came out on his own label, Ranch Record. Since then, he’s gone on to write close to 80 songs and release music on cassettes and CDs. He was also a featured artist on WAM’s 2014 Sounds of the Wheatbelt compilation with his track Forget the Bitumine.
Buzzer’s colourful ballads have been inspired by the surroundings and experiences he’s had living all over Australia, from the Barossa Valley in South Australia up to the Northern Territory.
Although he doesn’t write much new material these days, he does play his originals live, which he mixes with covers by the likes of Johnny Cash, Slim Dusty and Kenny Rogers.
“I usually do about 35 songs in two hours,” he says of his mammoth sets. “I tell a few yarns as well, just to give my throat a bit of a rest.
“I just love performing, and I involve the people as much as I can.”
To make sure Buzzer gets paid royalties for his live performances, APRA AMCOS WA Senior Writer Services Representative Tenille Elkins works closely with him. A musician herself, she has been with the organisation for close to 15 years, and first chatted with Buzzer in 2002.
“I remember ending the phone call with a smile on my dial,” she says. “At that time he would have been around 70 years old.
“It’s interesting how you get to know people as little extra comments creep into phone conversations over the years,” she says. “Songwriters contact us when they need to register their work, so I’ll often hear from people after something major has happened in their life and they’ve written a new song about it.”
When Buzzer turned 80, he invited Tenille to celebrate with his family and friends in Jurien Bay. To mark the occasion (which also coincided with his 50th wedding anniversary), Buzzer and his wife Nan went skydiving.
“I loved it,” says Buzzer. “I went again last year against my doctor's orders.” Not one to shy away from a challenge, Buzzer is looking for another opportunity to jump out of a plane (when his health is back on track) and is also keen to go cage diving with sharks in Port Lincoln.
“Why not? You're dead only once!” he says with a laugh.
It’s this cheeky spirit that no doubt has Buzzer winning over audiences at the caravan parks, agricultural fairs, rodeos, country music festivals and venues he regularly performs.
When he reflects on the changes he’s seen in music over the past years, he notes the shift from country into country rock as a big one. While he still prefers the original style, he says he likes all music (with perhaps the exception of rap).
“You can't expect 99% of people to eat Weetbix every morning, that's the way I look at music,” he says.
“I think country music will come back because there's a story behind every song… You only have to look at all the young talent coming through. I get the A.B.B.A (Australian Bush Balladeers Association) bulletin and all these younger people, in their 20s and 30s, are all making CDs. They're all coming back into country.”