Cliff Raux


Musician Cliff Raux outside his gig venue Melbourne's Golden Monkey


“That’s the best thing you can do – your primary function as a human being, is to love and connect. I do that through music.”

I am a Musician – Drummer / Singer / Songwriter / Producer.

I was born into a musical family, my dad is a drummer/bass player and my mum used to be an opera singer and a dressmaker. My parents exposed us to music at an early age. Dad used to take me to his band practices, and I’d always be mesmerized by the drummer. I started playing drums when I was 3, mainly because I was drawn to them, but also because I liked to bang things loudly.

As a kid, I loved to watch old movies just to listen to the soundtracks: there was something about the music that made me feel as though I was seeing what I heard, like colours. It was my own little world; I started going to sleep with headphones on just to be in that world all the time, which I still do to this day.

My family was very much a working class household, so we couldn’t afford much, like actual music lessons. I learnt how to play by listening to records and playing along. I’d come home from school, and play for hours, just drumming along to the records.  The records were my music lessons.

My first professional gig was at age eleven, my dad was double booked so he got me to fill in for him. It was for an artist being taped by SBS. Dad borrowed a kit and got my uncle to drive me. This was the first time I got paid to play; $100, which I never did get from Dad, so I guess he still owes me, ha!

Drummer and singer Cliff Raux warming up before a gig in Golden Monkey

However, I never thought about it being a career, I just loved to play.

High school was rough. I was the weird kid; I got picked on a lot, and beat up almost every day. I just didn’t fit in, and ended up being on my own most of the time so I’d go to the music rooms and play. It was a rough time for me, but I had my music, and it kept me going.

When I was 15 I’d had enough, I left school. I told my parents I wasn’t going to go anymore they said “Well you’re not going to just sit at home, if you’re going to drop out of school you have to get a job!” So I did.

First, I became an apprentice spray painter. I liked mucking around with cars. It was a pretty intense job; long hours for something like four dollars an hour. I had to stop after about a year, because I was getting nosebleeds from all the fumes.

Then I jumped from job to job for a long time, six or seven years. I did anything and everything; you name it – carpentry, apprentice electrician, sales, sound and staging. I did a lot of mechanic work, fixing cars for mates or helping out in friends’ garages.

When I left school something in me changed, I stopped playing drums.

I guess in my head I associated drums with those bad times in high school. However, the music never left. I’d spend hours just listening to records, really listening, like going deep inside. I guess I was looking for meaning in the music, and where I fit in to it.

Eventually, I started trying to write songs. I wasn’t great at the start, but it helped me to open up and it got me interested in singing. I loved artists like Stevie Wonder and Donnie Hathaway. I decided to learn how to sing like them. At that stage I didn’t think it would become a profession, I just did it for myself.

Musician Cliff Raux before his gig at Melbourne's Golden Monkey

My sister, who used to sing and dance in local production’s provided another incentive. We had always been very competitive with each other. One day, she heard me trying to sing and teased “You’re never going to be able to sing”. So I decided to prove her wrong.

A friend of mine, Gary Pinto, who is an amazing singer, had already become a household name at the time with his group CDB. I rang Gary and asked him to teach me to sing. He showed me some basics and laid the groundwork for my practice sessions. I’d come home after whatever job I was working at the time, and spend all my spare time practising.

By the time I was 18-19, I was singing, and it was starting to sound good. I started getting gigs. Nothing fancy, mainly through friends. Things like cover bands, weddings, parties – whatever was on offer.

I looked up to Gary and his band, trying to reach their level. Every now and then, I’d come to their gig, and Gary would shove the mic in my face and walk off stage, forcing me to sing. That certainly helped to improve my technique and get more gigs!

In my early 20s, my mum got breast cancer. She had to go to hospital, do chemo, the lot. I was terrified. Devastated.   Mum’s illness made me want to quit music. I felt like there were more important things in life than music. I thought I needed to make better money to pay for mum’s treatments. At the same time, seeing my dad breaking down from fear that he was going to lose her, made me want to be strong and stable for them.

During that difficult time, Stevie Wonder was in town for a show. I couldn’t afford the $200 ticket. But my friend bought me one because he knew how I felt about Stevie and his music. The concert blew me away but the best thing happened after the show.

A guy my friend and I had spoken with before the concert turned out to be Stevie Wonders manager. He invited us backstage to meet Stevie. I only got a few moments to introduce myself and get a photo with him, but meeting my biggest idol like that felt like a sign not to quit music.

The strange thing is, almost the exact same situation occurred again eleven years later. My mum got sick again, and I went through the same painful feelings. I was on the brink of quitting. And then I got to meet another hero.

I always wanted to be Prince. First time I saw him on TV, he was performing in a purple jacket and his guitar. Then he took the jacket off, and all he had on underneath was a pair of black jocks and I thought: “I want to be that guy!”

He came to Melbourne, and I went to the first show. My friends went the following night and called me from the concert, saying Prince was doing a two-hour encore, going crazy on stage, playing everything. I was gutted! So a friend and I found out what hotel he was staying at, and somehow we got to meet him. I took this as another sign to keep going with music.

By about 24, I was able to stop working and become a full time musician.

I was making income as a singer, I had also started writing and producing regularly for other people. At first, I was just helping out friends, but then people would hear my work and ask me to do something for them, and it just grew from there.

One night I went to a friend’s gig, and for some reason the drummer drew my attention. My friend invited me up to have a sing, but I asked if I could have a hit instead. They asked if I played drums, to which I replied “No.” I still hadn’t touched a kit since I stopped 10 years ago after leaving school, but I just felt like I wanted to play.

I sat down, took a deep breath, looked at my hands and thought, “….Okay, do something!” Then I counted off, and started playing. By the time I got to the chorus I looked around and realised everyone was where I was, and it sounded good.

I had found my way back to drums.

Drummer and singer Cliff Raux warming up before a gig in Golden Monkey1

The next week I bought a kit, a week after that, I put a band together; and have been playing drums ever since. I was already getting gigs as a singer, so I put the two together and started playing drums and singing at the same time.  Now I play four to five nights, roughly seven gigs a week.

By listening to genres like classical, jazz, rock, pop and soul, I developed a habit of listening to several tracks simultaneously. There’s something about hearing different things at the same time and listening to how they merge together. Sometimes its just noise, but sometimes, the notes land on each other just right, and magic happens. This also helps with my song writing and allows me to play with original artists across different genres.

I want to set a good example for the next generation of musicians. Today’s generation have so many more opportunities to learn than what we did – you can look up lessons on YouTube, or Google any question. Kids are so much more advanced than we were at that age, but they need guidance on ethics and professionalism.

It’s a competitive business, there’s a lot of undercutting going on. There are always kids coming out of uni, hungry and just wanting gigs, so they’ll play for anything, even for free.

So, you’re playing for peanuts now, but you’re bringing down industry standards. This is our livelihood, so when eventually they want it to be a career, there’s no money in it. Cause everything we’ve fought for, they gave away for free.

Everybody has to pay their dues. We all started out playing crappy gigs for crap money, but that’s what makes you a better player, and you work your way up from there.

I do see value in formal music education, especially when the lecturers are real musicians. Although I do feel there needs to be an ethics subject that teaches the practicalities of being a working musician.

Dropping out of school so early was a difficult step to make; there was so much I had to learn the long and hard way. If I could go back I’d stay in school, maybe change schools to escape the bullying, I think everyone should finish school. At the same time, I’m lucky that it all worked out for me as I’m still able to do what I love and be good at it, so I don’t I have any regrets.

My job is a blessing.

Someone might come to my gig after a hard day, but when I start playing, and I see their feet tapping – I know I’ve got them. I always watch the audience and their reactions, because you want to connect. The best gigs I do are the smallest gigs, you see how music connects everyone in the room. That’s the best thing you can do – your primary function as a human being, is to love and connect. I do that through music.

When I play, it’s my love going out into the world….


One comment

Comments are closed.