"They're all my mates, I call them by name/ there's Dolly and Daisy, Elvis and Jane" - I Milk Cows - Garth Porter-Lee Kernaghan- Colin Buchanan.

When Lee Kernaghan and producer Garth Porter decided to honour dairy farmers they also created a genetic miracle - a cow named Elvis.

Not a bull in among the heifers or a cross dressing Friesian but a bovine beauty with a masculine name to separate her from the rest of the herd.

The song's seeds were sown after a concert in the Goulburn Valley dairy belt in North East Victoria.

But Kernaghan blames Porter - son of a recently deceased New Zealand dairy farmer and war hero - for the rural rarity.

"Garth wrote that - he said 'I don't know if we can leave Elvis in the herd' and I said 'no, we have to leave him in,'" Kernaghan told Nu Country TV.

The song shares Trans Tasman roots with long suffering Victorian cow cockies.

"I'd just finished show down near the Murray in North East Victoria when I met this young bloke," Kernaghan recalled as he promoted his big selling ninth album Planet Country (ABC-Universal.)

"We got talking and I said 'Johnno, what do you do for a crust?' Well, he looked me in the eye and said proudly 'I milk cows.'"

Kernaghan, whose mother grew up on a dairy farm at Berringama outside Corryong in the Victorian high country, recorded the song as a tribute to survivors in an industry decimated by the soaring dollar and production costs and low commodity prices.

"They struggle to produce milk for what they receive from dairy companies," the singer added.

"Their production costs are higher than their return."

But the song, like milk returns, almost hit the cutting room floor.

"We cut I Milk Cows and it wasn't on the album," Kernaghan explained, "but our Nashville engineer Luke Wooten said 'man, you've got to put it on the album. My uncle is a dairy farmer and there's not a word of that song we don't understand.'"


"Out here on the red dirt plains/ you reach the end of the table drains/ it's planet country." - Planet Country - Lee Kernaghan-Garth Porter-Collin Buchanan-Matt Scullion.

Kernaghan injected humour and optimism into an album written at the peak of the Global Financial Crisis and the vast contrasts of Victorian drought and bushfires and Queensland and northern NSW floods.

The singer reached back to 1998 for the source of his album title track - one of many inspired by his altruistic fund raising concerts.

This time it was the tiny town of Yaraka (population 30) in outback west Queensland where Lee raised funds for a school and bush clinic.

"For them, like many small town residents, it's the centre of the universe - their planet country," Lee, 45 and father of two sons, explained.

"When you travel around the bush you meet so many people - their town is centre of the universe. Planet Country is also a state of mind. It doesn't matter where I travel I travel on a country planet and I wouldn't want it any other way. Lyrically it's a very positive record. I wanted to give people an album that was uplifting but still true to what is going on in Australia right now. The drought has a huge impact on people's lives and I wanted to close the album with almost a prayer for better times ahead."

That song was A Place For Me.


"I want a cowgirl, I want a cowgirl/ I want a saddled up rodeo cowgirl." - Cowgirl - Lee Kernaghan-Matt Scullion-Robyn McKelvie-Garth Porter.

Kernaghan shared writing credits with frequent collaborators Porter, Buchanan, James Blundell and Lawrie Minson but also drew on family on Planet Country.

But it was not singing sisters Tania and Fiona - a successful writer in California - or drummer brother Greg.

The former Australian Of The Year recruited singing spouse Robyn - as a vocalist and co-writer of two songs Cowgirl and Girl's Gone Wild.

"She's a great co-writer," Kernaghan revealed.

"I think this album has got more female energy on it, more songs written from a girl's perspective. That helped balance it a bit. She has been singing on my albums since Hat Town."

The Kernaghans created the nucleus of their collaborations in their Queensland home studio.

"We wrote Girl's Gone Wild in an afternoon with Matt Scullion and finished it with Garth (Porter) down in Sydney," the singer revealed.


Kernaghan says that Ulladulla raised, latter day NSW Central Coast singer-songwriter Scullion was an integral cog in his Planet Country creativity.

Scullion, who joined Kernaghan in writing retreat in the McPherson Ranges, is now enjoying a three-month writing sojourn in Nashville after also writing songs for Lee's sister Tania, Steve Forde, Shea Fisher and others.

Scullion also released a Matt Fell produced solo album, Put It Down To Experience.

Some of Kernaghan's album was recorded with Music City session pickers - Bryan Sutton on acoustic guitar, banjo and mandolin, guitarist J.T. Corenflos, fiddler Stuart Duncan, Mike Johnson on pedal steel and dobro, bassist Mike Brigadillo and pianist Gordon Mote.

"We had been writing songs for this album for a couple of years but the turning point on this album was when Matt Scullion came up to Queensland," Kernaghan added.

"He had been working on a song called Scars with Lawrie Minson in Tamworth and said 'we're not sure if we've got it right' and he came up. The idea brought back memories for me of Hank Jr, David Allan Coe and Waylon. We starred rewriting it and doing it with southern rock influence. After about five hours I said to Matt why don't we stop now and revisit it later. He said 'no, let's finish it now.' So we pushed on and finished it - that opened a lot of doors for what we could do on this record. He also co-wrote Girl's Gone Wild, Something Right, Planet Country and People Like Us. He brought a different perspective to the writing."


"I got a souvenir on my leg, the time I stacked my bike/ a piece of history on my lip they day I learned how to fight." - Scars - Matt Scullion-Lawrie Minson-Lee Kernaghan

Arkansas born country star Dierks Bentley, who toured here with Brooks & Dunn in May, is guest vocalist on Scars.

"Most people can relate to those physical scars and emotional scars - we all carry them," Kernaghan added.

"Dierks reckons he has a massive scar on his knee. He didn't stack his bike - he wrecked it."

Bentley was also a creative conduit to Nashville engineer Wooten - studio ace for his Texas born producer Brett Beavers.

Beavers, occasional co-writer with Kernaghan, produced Catherine Britt's third album Little Wildflower.

The bassist and prolific songwriter is also fellow Texan star Lee Ann Womack's road bandleader.


"It was dusty in December, the dry was setting in/ could see the heat haze rising on the corrugated tin/ and nothing stood out in the holding yard/ she came right out of nowhere like a summer rain." - Love In The Time Of Drought - Lee Kernaghan-Garth Porter.

Kernaghan, son of truck driving troubadour Ray, ploughs his Riverina adolescence in Australian Boy with a nod to troops in Afghanistan.

He also explores personal paternity in The Old Block and preciousness of time in Gold and maximising chances in Something Right.

"Gold explores how life passes you by and it's not until later with the passing of the years that you realise how your life is so special," Kernaghan explained.

"It's through passing of time, the gold moments. It's also about now and a song about family and roots. A bloke can be bombarded with incredible pressure but has the love of his wife that supports him. It's more about the moment."

The song, like much of the album, is an attempt to turn negativity into optimism.

"I wanted to deal with drought but wanted to focus on it without all the bad stuff," he added.

"It's the love of a woman in partnerships that's so important because farming wives are the backbones of those families. They have to carry so much on their shoulders, those women.

I wanted to emphasise their role."

Kernaghan also drew on a decade old reading of Love In The Time Of Cholera author Gabriel Garcia Marquez for Love In The Time Of Drought.


"Susan Mansfield works out at the Mercy/ on the night shift up and down the wards/ making rounds and counting down the minutes/ the longest hours come just before the dawn." - People Like Us - Lee Kernaghan-Garth Porter-Matt Scullion.

But it's unsung heroes like long haul truckie Jack McGrath and Central NSW coast nurse Susan Mansfield - daughter of McDonalds CEO Bob Mansfield - who uplift People Like Us.

"When we were writing the album we were just getting bombarded with bad news," Kernaghan recalled.

"That impacted on me on the stories I wanted to tell on this record. It could almost have been a protest album but I went down the other road and focussed on the things that keep the spirit alive. One of those things is family and friends and that comes through really strongly. Susan Mansfield is a real person. She's a nurse and works on the Central Coast - she knows what night shift is all about. She's beautiful, young and loves country music. She's learning banjo and goes to the Deni Ute Muster each year.

Her father Bob is a huge supporter of country music - as a Director of Telstra. He's a great man."

The album is dedicated to Kernaghan's Singleton pen pal Tommy Kirkwood who died of a brain tumour a day before his 18th birthday and Porter's war hero father Ivan who recently died aged 88.

Porter was raised on his dad's Te Kowhai dairy farm before moving here and finding pop fame with Sherbet.

His session crew include multi-instrumentalist Rod McCormack, Glen Hannah (slide and electric guitar), drummers John Watson and Mitch Farmer, bassists Matt Fell, Ian Lees and Nick Sinclair and Minson on harmonica.

Kernaghan begins a national tour to promote Planet Country in northwest Tasmanian city Burnie on February 4.

Elvis has not left the dairy and won't be on the tour.

top / back to diary