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Brief History of the Golden Guitar Awards
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Brief History of the Golden Guitar Awards
In the 1960s, in the thriving inland city of Tamworth, NSW, Radio 2TM, still smarting from the introduction of TV, tried a country music program at night. "Hoedown" as it was called, flourished. The station saw the potential of country music and set about branding Tamworth as Australia’s Country Music Capital by extending their broadcasts and running concerts and other activities.
By the early '70s, artists and industry people were recognising Tamworth’s country music credentials and on January, 1973, 2TM launched the Australasian Country Music Awards.
Joy McKean received the first Golden Guitar for “Lights on the Hill”, the song her husband Slim Dusty had made so popular, with Slim Newton's “Red Back on the Toilet Seat” also a winner. Other winners at the first were Col Hardy (pictured receiving his Golden Guitar from Smoky Dawson), the Hamilton County Bluegrass Band.
2TM built a flourishing festival around the Awards during the seventies, with new events like the Roll of Renown, the Rodeo, Star Maker, the Bluegrass Championships and Hands of Fame attracting visitors from all over the nation. They started Capital News to help promote the Festival. Meanwhile established artists like Reg Lindsay, Tex Morton, Jean Stafford, the Hawking Brothers and Slim Dusty dominated the Golden Guitars.
In the '80s, venues changed as the event expanded, first moving into a circus big top and later an ambulance factory and school halls. The faces changed too with new Golden Guitar winners like Johnny Chester, Jewel and Arthur Blanch, Bullamakanka, and John Williamson taking centre stage. Then, late in the decade, James Blundell hit the headlines with another new generation of stars right on his heels.
Exciting young artists like Keith Urban, Graeme Connors and Gina Jeffreys started appearing and in the early nineties Lee Kernaghan burst on the scene.
In 1992 after 2TM changed the Awards format from a night of nights to fragmented presentations, the newly formed Country Music Association of Australia (CMAA) took over and moved the Awards back to the fans in the Showground Rodeo Arena.
In 1993, Toyota became sponsor of the Awards (continuing until 2005), expanding their involvement to many other Australian country music events including Star Maker and the National Country Music Muster at Gympie. Jayco became the new Awards major sponsor in 2007.
Jayco became the new Awards name sponsor in 2007.
By the end of the century the re-invigorated Awards had moved again, this time to Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre (TREC), the last of the 9 different venues it had been staged in. Country music was exploding, with more young stars like Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daly and Adam Brand joining the winner's circle. Some originals, like Slim seemed to go on winning forever.
Then the new century brought inevitable change. In 2003 Slim passed on leaving an indelible record. But already new names such as Sara Storer and Melinda Schneider were appearing in the Awards winners roll.
For over 30 years the Golden Guitar Awards have captured the imagination of millions of Australians, forming the foundation for Tamworth’s famous festival and inspiring generations of country music artists and their fans.
We salute all the winners, past and present. Long live Australian country music and the Golden Guitars!
A more detailed look at dates, venues and sponsors
The Golden Guitar Awards (or Australasian Country Music Awards as they were called until 1993) were initially scheduled for the Sunday of the Australia Day Long Weekend in January. In 1988 the Awards moved to Saturday of the last full weekend of January when the holiday was re-gazetted to fall on the 26th of January instead of the last Monday in January on or after the 26th of January.
While the Sunday and later Saturday in the last full weekend in January was the nominated date, this was changed once in 1999 when it was moved from 30th to 23rd because of school holidays and disastrously in 2005 when Council unilaterally moved the Festival back a week and then CMAA without consultation, moved the Awards to the first weekend rather than the second weekend thus making it two weeks before the scheduled date.
In 1979, with the Town Hall proving too small for the growing crowds, the Awards were moved to the giant 4,000 seat Big Top on Number Two Oval in Kable Avenue.
After the Big Top almost blew away in 1982, the event was moved to the Jakab Ambulance Factory in Taminda. In 1984, heavy rain on the tin building caused huge acoustic problems and in 1985 the Tamworth Workmen's Club Auditorium was utilised despite massive problems with safety regulations.
A new but small venue was found in the Tamworth High School Auditorium in South Tamworth, but after two years the Awards moved to the more suitable Calrossy School Auditorium in East Tamworth where the first national TV coverage of the Awards was achieved.
However like the Tamworth High School it was a tiny venue holding only a few hundred and fans were excluded in favour of industry. In 1992 the major sponsor of the Awards, NZ Insurance, pulled out and Radio 2TM presented the Awards at a number of different venues throughout the city at different times during the Festival.
After vigorous protests from the industry about the dismembering of the Awards, the Country Music Association of Australia (CMAA) was formed and in June, 1992, 2TM generously handed over the Awards to the new body.
The CMAA's first objective for the 1993 Awards was to take them back to the fans and this was achieved by utilising the 4,000 seat Don Willis Indoor Arena at the Tamworth Showground. For six years the Awards were staged in this difficult, virtually open-air environment, but in 1999 the event moved to "Australia's home of country music", the air conditioned 5,000 seat Tamworth Regional Entertainment Centre (TREC) which was built in 1989 as the culmination of a long and sustained campaign since 1981.
The first Awards did not have a name sponsor as such but the live broadcast of the event was sponsored by Insulwool. Wrangler Jeans became the first full name sponsor in 1975, followed at intervals by Palings, Commonwealth Bank Of Australia (CBA), New Zealand Insurance (NZI), Buttercup, Toyota (for a record 12 years) and Jayco, the current sponsor.