"The story goes young Billy was a farm boy sitting in a city bar/ minding his business when a fight broke out/ it was one that he didn't start/ from out of nowhere a mountain of a man stuck a bottle in Billy's face/ so Billy took a knife, he was fighting for his life/ he wasn't gonna die that day/ with every ounce of strength had he swung that blade around/ he left that big man lying in a pool of blood face down." - Billy - Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.

Crime narratives have been a staple of country music dating back to the murder ballads of the twenties and thirties.

So it's no surprise modern versions are rooted equally deep in the past and cut from the same cloth.

Texan Emily Irwin, whose former singing spouse Charlie Robison was no slouch at crime tales with songs such as Desperate Times, recently ignited a debate about artists pillaging the past for song sources.

She argued that Oklahoma flag waver Toby Keith's 16th album title track Bullets In The Gun borrowed it's theme from Texan Robert Earl Keen's epic The Road Goes On Forever.

The latter was a nice earner for Keen when it became the title track of an album by The Highwaymen who borrowed their name from a folk group that featured recently deceased octogenarian Gil Robbins - father of the singing actor Tim.

Emily, co-founder of the Dixie Chicks with sister Martie Maguire, and Courthouse Hounds, drew parallels between the male and female bandit duos in both songs fleeing to Mexico after armed robberies north of the Rio Grande.

She could have added Tom Pacheco's Robert & Ramona where the duo drove their car off a cliff after their armed robbery.

And, of course, there's a vast cast of other country songs - especially by Texan singer-songwriters diverse as Joe Ely, Adam Carroll, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Steve Earle and the late Townes Van Zandt, that exploit similar themes without attracting such scrutiny.

But when it happens in Australia less than a year apart the spotlight is a little brighter - especially when the songs share the same title and appear on three separate albums.


"Billy was a friend of mine, you must have heard me say/ it was back in the summer of 62/ in a mid term weekend holiday/ Billy got mad and a boy got stabbed/ I remember to this day/ we all went down to the railroad yard just to watch him get away." - Billy - Kim Cheshire.

When rural reared NSW duo McAlister Kemp wrote and recorded their crime narrative Billy they were obviously oblivious to a song with same title and similar theme by fellow Golden Guitarist James Blundell and its writer Kim Cheshire.

And with good reason, I suspect.

The McAlister Kemp album All Kinds Of Tough came out late last year on ABC through Universal.

Blundell recorded 10th album Woolshed Creek north of the NSW border in the shearing shed on his Mt Malakoff family farm with the Olympian athlete and singer-songwriter Paul Greene as producer.

But Blundell didn't release his album - featuring that other local crime narrative Billy - until earlier this year on his own Revenge Records.

The Blundell Billy was written many moons ago by Cheshire who made his name with Danglin' Brothers in the eighties before going solo.

Although Cheshire included the first version of his song on independent solo album Dead Man's Shoes - also released last year - it seems unlikely McAlister Kemp were aware of it.

The Australian commercial corporate radio chains don't play local roots country music and ABC and community radio don't have the reach with album tracks airplay.

Cheshire, also a columnist for national magazine Country Update, won't be complaining about the brace of Billy recordings.

Ironically, the sire of Billy might be Hard Doin' Ken by outlaw country band the Dead Livers in which the hapless Fitzroy bank robber cops a bullet in the back of his head from a 38 in his getaway car.

And there's the Dale Watson song Where Do You Want It about another Billy (Joe Shaver) who shot a Waco honky tonk barfly who stirred his drink with his rusty knife in 2007.

But I digress - this started as a feature on McAlister Kemp who return to Nashville for a Global Showcase concert in June, sponsored by country radio, and a two-week songwriting sojourn.


"His lawyers claimed that it was self-defense but it fell upon deaf ears/ the jury found him guilty and they gave him twenty years/ somewhere between the court house and those rusty prison gates/ that jail bus crashed into a river he made his great escape/ he crawled from the water and he ran towards the hills/ knowing they'd be after him with orders shoot to kill." - Billy - Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.

McAlister Kemp has no plans to make a video clip for Billy - for a much more practical reason.

"I imagine if we ever tried to do Billy as a video clip it would be a rather large budget," Drew McAlister told Nu Country TV on the eve of their Victorian tour this month.

"There would be a lot of locations in that video. And we already have another song scheduled in a couple of month for our final single from the album."

Neither Drew nor partner Troy Kemp heard Cheshire's song before they wrote their Billy for debut disc All Kinds Of Tough.

It was one of their 11 originals on a 13-track disc that enjoyed production of Matt Fell.

The duo's country character Billy stabs a man mountain who glassed him in a city bar and is jailed for 20 years.

But the bus taking the prisoner to jail crashes into a river and he escapes by jumping off a cliff despite Copperhead Road like choppers in the air and hound dogs on the ground.

In Cheshire's song Billy - a junkie - also stabs a bully in a railway yard and escapes in a beat-up car.

So what was the source of the duo's Billy?

"I already had the musical idea and went to Troy's place at Newcastle," McAlister confessed.

"We sat around played with it but how it started is not how it finished up at all. It changed.

We had been touring with the Johnny Cash show Walk The Line and were exposed to all that old school country. It was not based on any Billy we know. It was all vivid imagination."

What about the punchline where the singer's character reveals he is Billy?

"We debated about whether to end it like that," McAlister said, "it seemed to work and it's one of our most popular songs live."


"He was slowing down with every step, chains heavy on his skin/ night sky bright with chopper lights and hound dogs closing in/ the hunt led to a canyon and with nowhere left to go/ Billy's choice was prison or the water far below/ he yelled I'm not going back and turned himself around/ and threw himself right off that ledge never to be found." - Billy - Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.

McAlister, son of a farmer turned meat worker, was born in Narrabri and raised in rural towns Moree, Casino and Dubbo before moving to Sydney.

Kemp, whose dad is a physiotherapist, hails from Slim Dusty hometown Kempsey and met McAlister in the Australian production of 2008 Johnny Cash musical Walk The Line.

But it was fellow singer-songwriter-musician Michael Carr who co-wrote two songs on their debut disc and suggested they write and perform as a duo.

It was a smart move.

The duo toured the east coast with Georgian born superstar Alan Jackson and Fawkner singer Jasmine Rae in March.

They also played the CMC Rocks The Hunter festival with Jackson, Jack Ingram, Joe Nichols, O'Shea, Buxton Hughes, Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daley and many more.

That was after national tours with Lee Kernaghan and Adam Brand who guests on Sing Me Home - one of two covers on an album for which they pitched 30 of their own songs.

On the first Nashville trip Drew wrote with expatriate Australian Heather Field and a brace of local tunesmiths.

This time Troy, who performed in Canada during his sojourn, and Drew have two weeks of songwriting sessions booked.

"My first trip was inspirational," says McAlister who now lives in the Blue Mountains with neighbours including producer Roger Corbett, Pat Drummond and The Robertson Brothers.

"I was already headed in that singer-songwriter direction then I saw these writers in the round showcases at the Bluebird Café and Douglas Corner. I came back home inspired.

Some writers were not well known but I was intrigued by the quality of the songs. I knew when I came home I would have to raise the bar and lift my game a bit."


"I learnt tough was just how hard a man could hit a man/ you don't back down from a fight, and that was understood/ I learnt tough was drinking hard and laying rubber down/ driving fast and living large that V8 growling under the hood." - All Kinds Of Tough - Drew McAlister-Troy Kemp.

McAlister and Kemp, who did their time in the beer and wine mines with rock bands before boomeranging to country music, are prolific writers but so far have no major covers by other artists.

"We're constantly trying to pitch songs and came close a few times," McAlister said.

"We've got to keep on writing but it's like the Lotto over there trying to get songs cut.

All Kinds Of Tough was on hold at one time for Rodney Carrington. A lot of those songs are sleepers. They can be around for a long time and one day they'll find a home."

The duo will add to its song stockpile on its latest Nashville trip.

"One of the sessions is with one of the guys from Blue County,' Drew said.

"Several of the writers have really cool credentials, lots of songs cut. It's a very different way of writing. It's fast, very fast. We wrote most songs for the first album at my place in Neutral Bay or Troy's home. It's tricky now so we're writing a lot on the road and over skype. It's like we're in the same room on a computer screen. Our next album will be a little rockier. The thing I like about country is they're all core values. We're two guys in our thirties with young families. There's a whole bunch of people out there in the same boat and they're going to relate to our songs. All Kinds Of Tough is the perfect example."

Although McAlister Kemp didn't pitch songs to Jackson or swap yarns with him in post concert picking and grinning sessions they had a cool conduit.

"We only met him once as he's a very shy guy, a really nice guy," Drew recalled.

"He and his crew left a bottle of Jack Daniels in our dressing room at the end of the tour. It was fantastic - we shared that with all of the band. It was a great experience sharing our music and getting to that many people. There were all these new fans on face book who had never heard of us before. We were very lucky, thanks to Rob Potts (the tour promoter.")

CLICK HERE for Tonkgirl's Gig Guide for McAlister Kemp concerts.

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