I'm Not Dead Yet follows comical country music legend Chad Morgan
and his wife Joanie, as they travel and perform throughout regional and
outback Australia. The 'Sheik of Scrubby Creek' is still on the road
almost 60 years after kicking off his career on Australia's
Amateur Hour
. Chad's life is the stuff of legends - his rapid
rise to the top, womanising, heavy drinking – and his story is about
laughter, love, music and family.

Narrated by rock musician Tex Perkins.

Portrait of rural troubadour lacks bite.

With its affectionately daft recreations of his childhood spent learning the guitar, Janine Hosking’s documentary Chad Morgan: I’m Not Dead Yet initially appears to view the veteran country singer, with his ready supply of old gags and seasoned vernacular, as an old coot who should be valued. The 78-year-old Morgan, who cut his signature hit 'The Sheik of Scrubby Creek" in 1952, pulls funny faces, maintains a constant patter and does his best to accentuate a gap-ridden bucktooth smile that could inspire Stan Winston’s next creature design.

Called to the telephone to be told, once again, that a radio station has mistakenly announced his death, Morgan remonstrates and grumbles. Despite his second wife and former roadie, Joanie, using a walker, the pair is still on tour, using caravan parks and motels as they play to a large and loyal fanbase. Mortality looms over the pair – Morgan has a serious limp – but they drive from show to show, whether it’s a pub at night or a shopping centre at high noon, revealing an audience distinct from country music’s increasingly shiny façade.

'Chad summons a mystical power," claims narrator (and The Cruel Sea frontman) Tex Perkins, who imbues his voiceover with rich amusement, but as I’m Not Dead Yet unfolds Morgan is partially revealed as a more stubborn and ornery man than his genial public persona might suggest. When a band soundcheck behind him during a festival performance (he’s a solo act), he comes off stage raging, while his disdain for the mainstream music industry is plainly apparent. The old man who sings 'If you give me half a chance I might end up in your pants" isn’t the same as the one who proudly asserts, 'I owe nothing to anybody, do I".

But as pleasing as the documentary is, Hosking puts more into the recreation of Morgan’s youth in Queensland and his early hi-jinks than digging into her subject’s character. Beyond the quick wit Morgan is taciturn, so his struggles with alcohol in the 1970s and a womanising reputation played up in his songs and sometimes played out in real life are sidebars to proceedings. The idea that Morgan represents a vanishing rural Australia, one he believes in himself, isn’t really explored, although there is some fine research to find the woman who grew up as his small town contemporaries, to hear their accounts of him and to ponder if they’re the 'top shelf" inspiration of his first single.

The pace is slow in part, but then that’s a reflection of how Morgan and his wife live, and the interviews tend to focus on his professional exploits. There are a few shots of children and grandchildren – good news: the teeth aren’t hereditary – when Morgan debuts his first new song in 25 years, the story of his indigenous Australian grandmother, and it draws a mixed but generally positive reaction from an audience expecting comic punchlines. It’s a telling moment, one he takes vindication in, but it’s never clear why the former hell-raiser turned teetotaler could go so long without penning a tune. Chad Morgan: I’m Not Dead Yet does a fair job of profiling an artist renowned for comically howling like a wolf, but it suggests more questions than it answers.


In Cinemas 01 December 2011,