On April 22, 2015 Ben Murphy, now known as Carl The Bartender, was overseas. It was a trip that at worst saved him from serious injury, or at best saved his life.
That was the day his Good Corn Liquor bandmates were travelling from Newcastle to their hometown of Gunnedah for a series of gigs. Just north of Singleton their car collided with another vehicle, killing the driver and Good Corn Liquor singer Stu McKenzie and badly injuring Ben McCauley (guitar/banjo) and Nick Wright (bass).
The bluegrass band had only a week earlier finished recording their second EP, but the pain of losing McKenzie caused Murphy to abandon music for 18 months.
“I didn’t deal with it very well and had a bit of survivor’s guilt for not being there,” Murphy said.
“It was the first gig I’d missed in four years.”
During that break Murphy began to write again and many of those songs appear on Carl The Bartender’s debut solo album Carousel Keepsakes, out on Friday.
The first two singles Dogs and Angels and Carousel Keepsakes point to a more contemplative alt-country sound than Good Corn Liquor.
“It closed a few doors on that part of my life and got my head around putting my own material out,” he said.
“The songs we did with Good Corn Liquor were written by me, but these are a bit more personal you could say.
“I wrote a lot of these songs during this period and it was writing these songs that got me back into it.”
The three surviving members of Good Corn Liquor remain close friends and they combined for an instrumental bonus track, GC Boogie, on Carl The Bartender’s album.
They have also performed tribute shows for McKenzie and will return to the Tamworth Country Music Festival in January. Murphy will also be busy doing his own Carl The Bartender show in Tamworth and playing guitar for his girlfriend, Kurri Kurri Golden Guitar-nominee Tori Forsyth.
Carl The Bartender launches Carousel Keepsakes at the Wickham Park Hotel on Friday before touring Queensland with reigning Starmaker winner Brad Cox.
This story first appeared on Newcastle Herald.