TRIBUTE: Graham Toole has won acclaim playing the music of Kenny Rogers.
TRIBUTE: Graham Toole has won acclaim playing the music of Kenny Rogers.

Singer hits jackpot as Kenny

KINCUMBER'S Graham Toole reckoned he had hit the jackpot when, at 60, he was called up in January to sing as Kenny Rogers with the Las Vegas Legends at Melbourne's Crown Casino.

The US-based Legends are just that in musical tribute circles - legends - with the longest-running show in the world and a full cast of singers, dancers and a live band.

With 'Kenny' unexpectedly out injured, Graham had nine days to learn four songs and a duet before taking to the stage for 22 shows beside Rod Stewart, Tina Turner, Stevie Wonder, Elvis Presley, Michael Jackson, Donna Summer and Cyndi Lauper - or at least the closest thing to them.

"It was world-class," he enthused.

While it was a little surreal being on stage with these stars of the 1960-1990s, living and dead, Graham has made a career out of singing the songs of the greats.

In the past 12 years he has performed tributes to Glen Campbell, John Denver and Kenny Rogers.

These days he tours with his daughter Ashleigh, 26, who takes on the songs of Linda Ronstadt... and he couldn't be more proud.

"When I stand there on stage and hear her sing Don't Fall in Love with A Dreamer, and I look out at the audience, it is just jaw-dropping for them... it's a wonderful feeling... she makes me feel like an amateur," Graham said of their duet.

It's not just parental bias - Ashleigh was hailed by Marcia Hines as having one of the finest, strongest voices she had heard when she made Australian Idol's top 10 in 2009.

It's in her blood, with Graham having grown up in a musical house; his mum played piano and his dad sang alongside himself and his five sisters, all going through classical training and eisteddfod competitions.

"Music's always been my passion," Graham said.

At 12, the same year he discovered guitar, he joined an old-time dance band.

At 16, Graham won a talent competition to be the curtain-raiser for a young John Williamson back in his Old Man Emu days of the early 1970s, and he was on his way.

In 2004, he was recognised with the Frank Ifield International Spur Award for his potential global country music appeal, individual style and professionalism.

 

Graham and his family in the mid-2000s playing the streets of Tamworth (from left) Rebecca, Leonie, Graham, Julius and Ashleigh Toole.
Graham and his family in the mid-2000s playing the streets of Tamworth (from left) Rebecca, Leonie, Graham, Julius and Ashleigh Toole.

Wife Leonie also sings and writes and, for 10 years, he and his young family sang in the streets of Tamworth.

While the couple has penned and recorded an album, Graham said these days he was happy singing some of country music's greats.

"It's been a brilliant opportunity to play wonderful songs that everyone knows... that's the fun part: we encourage people to join in," Graham said.

"The music transcends through the ages, they are just such well-crafted songs."

Increasingly he finds second and third generations coming to the concerts, with grandparents eager to share the music they grew up with.

As for favourites, he said that was too hard to choose, with the melody in one, or a phrase in another clicking with him in particular situations.

"And that's what it's like for audiences too... one line in a song can just take them back to that special time in their lives," he said.

This month, Graham and Ashleigh will join with the talented Dean Bourne, of Roy Orbison Reborn, in the We've Got Tonight show, playing at Laycock St Theatre on June 29 (adults $59.95, phone 43233233).

Graham and Ashleigh will also play at The Doylo, Doyalson on Saturday,

July 27. Cost $39. Go to doylo.com.au or phone (02)43900622.


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