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Q&A: The Wiggles' Murray Cook

By Stefan Shepherd Talking with The Wiggles' Murray Cook -- AKA the Red Wiggle, the group's lead guitarist -- is akin to talking to one of the Beatles, and finding out that they're really down-to-earth blokes. Before meeting Anthony Field and Greg Page while studying early childhood education Macquarie University, Cook played in various bands such as The Finger Guns. In 1991, Field, Page, and he formed the Wiggles. The rest is brightly-colored history.

It's possible that being the highest earning entertainers in Australia -- beating out Russell Crowe, Nicole Kidman, Keith Urban and Kylie Minogue -- has gone to their head, but nothing in our conversation with while he was in New York waiting to do a meet-and-greet suggested anything of the sort. In fact, it was a little bit like talking to your neighbor down the street -- if your neighbor down the street not only earned more than Kylie Minogue but also released a single ("Monkey Man") with her.

Cook and the rest of the Wiggles (sans Minogue, sadly) will appear in two shows at Phoenix's Dodge Theatre today. Read on for more info on the Red Wiggle...

UP: What music did you listen to growing up? MC: Well, it was the '60s, so a lot of the Beatles, of course... There's a long-running TV show in Australia called Playschool -- forty years and still running -- I watched that. But, of course, the Beatles and the Stones were important. At about 11 or 12 I started playing the guitar -- became obsessed with it, really. Kept on playing it. My dad in particular suggested that there might not be a career in it. About ten years ago, my dad said he was probably wrong that, which was nice for him to say...

UP: What process do you and the band go through in writing music? MC: It's all pretty collaborative with us. Anthony's brother [Paul Field] helps out with the music, though Anthony does a lot with lyrics. Paul Paddick, who's Captain Feathersword, also contributes. We all work together, all on the same page.

UP: How about Greg [Page, the original Yellow Wiggle]? MC: Yeah, after Greg decided to leave the group, he got away from it completely, a totally clean break.

UP: You're starting this new tour -- how long does it take you to prep for taking a show on tour? MC: It doesn't happen from scratch. A lot of the songs we've done for a long time. We obviously can't change "Hot Potato," for example. The show more evolves over time. We're touring all the time -- Australia, the US, the UK -- we're coming off a UK tour right now. We learn on the road, but at the end of the year, if there's a new show, maybe a couple weeks.

UP: So are there differences between American audiences and Australian ones? MC: The kids are pretty much the same. It's more the parents. Here in the States the parents get just as involved, just as vocal, as the kids. In Australia and New Zealand especially the parents are more relaxed, laid back. The UK parents are somewhere in between.

UP: When you're playing, are you playing just for the kids, or are you trying to reach the adults too? MC: If you're interacting with the kids, then you're probably doing OK with the adults. We take what we do pretty seriously, but have fun with it. A lot of the music is pop music anyway, so that helps. But if they [the parents] hate it, they won't come back with their kids. There's lots of acrobatics now, so that helps [with the parents].

UP: How do you keep it fresh after doing this for 18 years? MC: The audiences help keep it fresh, there's always something different from them. The response from kids, obviously. We're always trying to improve the show, changed the show. There's no shortage of ideas -- because we do enjoy this, we're always finding something new.

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Stefan Shepherd