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Hey Smokey, where’re ya headed, mate?

It was March 1, 2006 when Ben Allmon, AKA Smokey, stepped onto the sand at Pottsville, just south of Tweed Heads. He was on a mission, one that seemed, well, stupid and ill-considered: Allmon embarked on a walk that mostly followed the east coast beaches to Sydney.
He had no real support during the trek – he was literally on his own – and his preparation, despite talking about the idea for a year, was virtually non-existent: the 27-year-old musician left Pottsville without a map – “I’ll keep the ocean on my left.” In his backpack were a sleeping bag, a lantern, a telescopic fishing rod and tackle box, three garbage bags (for shelter or a raincoat), a near useless medical kit and some clothes … and his guitar.
His purpose, to promote his record, was inspired by blues musicians among the millions of African Americans who migrated from the Deep South of the USA to the country’s northern regions; particularly to Chicago during the 1930s and 40s.
Allmon was in Yamba last week to promote his book, Foot Notes; but what did his adventure bring? How did it change Allmon’s life?
Allmon set off with an albatross firmly round his neck, the albatross of ‘pride’. During his trek, his personal albatross had its wings clipped many times. These little epiphanies resulted in big philosophical changes and a greater appreciation of humility.
“I wouldn’t have written the book,” he says of the journey and, while that is an obvious answer, there’s more. “I probably wouldn’t have had the maturity to ask Di to marry me and we wouldn’t have had our son.
“All of those things are a lot better than what I thought I wanted, which was fame and adulation for the music I was writing.”
Allmon’s book is a great read, in the style of a ‘road movie’, far more revealing than, say, Jack Kerouac’s famous novel, On the Road. Allmon actually listens and speaks to the people he meets, many of whom provide advice or insights that have permeated into Allmon’s being.
There’s plenty of dialogue, the type that provides insights into the characters uttering the words. There’s beautifully descriptive prose that puts the reader in Allmon’s shoes, wherever he might be, and there are unexpected events … and, often, enlightenment follows.
All of this, while revealing his inner thoughts and wrestling with ethical dilemmas – the classic fodder of most singer songwriters. And there’s the advantage of the book’s setting: anybody who lives in the regions featured will recognise the types of people Allmon meets and be able to ‘place’ themselves into the narrative as an observer, due to their exposure to the local geography.
During one encounter, a former record producer tells Almond that he should stop just making music for himself; rather, he should also give people the music they want (familiar cover songs) as well as the music they need (Allmon’s songs). It was a lesson he learnt again when working with his publisher.
“The first draft was written for me,” he says. “The redrafting process was trying to make it into something that people would want to read … but it took nine years to get to that.”
Allmon is still thinking close to home, though; his part-time book tour is virtually revisiting the places that feature in Foot Notes. “It’s been really good talking to the people who have read it – ‘I read it in 2 days’, ‘I usually can’t get to the end of a book’ –, it’s satisfying to have this reception from the people who aren’t the literati.”
Allmon’s first life-changing encounter was in the Clarence Valley. Simon (not his real name), a Grafton TAFE teacher, taught him that “an audience of one was just as important as fifty”.
So why adopt the name, Smokey? “Partly because of the bluesmen; there was Muddy, there were Smokies, Sunnyboys, there was the last of the Delta bluesmen David ‘Honeyman’ Edwards – I thought, ‘I need something better’, Ben’s not good enough.”
Foot Notes is available at most book stores between Noosa and Sydney; or go to benjaminallmon.com, Amazon, etcetera.

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