Early in his award-winning, three-decade career, Aussie folk-rocker Paul Kelly enjoyed going to Swan Oyster Depot when he visited San Francisco. “We didn’t have a place quite like that where I lived, so at the time it was really new for me,” says the Adelaide native, 57. “You just walked in and they’d open the oysters for you, and you’d eat them straight away — it was great!” It’s one of the few anecdotes that did not make it into his new memoir “How to Make Gravy,” inspired by recent four-night “A to Z” concerts in which he performs more than 100 of his songs in alphabetical order, starting with “Adelaide.” He plays a condensed two-show version Thursday and Friday — perhaps with a return visit to the Depot between.
Why write an autobiography now? I guess it was a slowly-unfolding accident. The first time I did my four-night “A to Z” show was in 2004 in Melbourne — 25 songs a night, with some storytelling. So I started doing it twice a year, then decided to pick the best performances and put out an “A to Z” box set. Then I thought, “I’ll make a beautiful package out of this. I’ll do a booklet with pictures, notes and stories, something quite substantial.” But after writing several pages about “Adelaide” alone, a little light bulb went off in my head: “If I keep doing this, I’ll have a book!”
What lessons does the book impart to young musicians? I never really thought of writing either songs or prose as a way of imparting lessons. But there is one section of the book with a list of advice to singer-songwriters. Like: “Try not to sleep with someone in your band” or “You don’t have to wear the crazy hat that the photographer brings to the shoot.”
Did you record your own 17-hour audiobook version? It just evolved. Eight years ago, I never thought, “I’m going to do these shows, do a box set of live recordings, and then write a book and do an audiobook!” If I’d thought all that, I never would have attempted this.
There’s a bonus audiobook disc, read by fellow Australians Cate Blanchett, Russell Crowe, Hugh Jackman and Judy Davis, right? I know Russell and Hugh, and I’ve met Cate and Judy and I’m a fan of theirs. So I picked out chapters that would suit them. Hugh loves Frank Sinatra, so I gave him this chapter on Sinatra, and Russell did a chapter on film and acting. I wanted to have some variety to break up 17 hours of one voice. Especially my voice!
If you go
Where: Swedish American Hall, 2170 Market St., San Francisco
When: 7:30 p.m. Thursday-Friday
Contact: (415) 861-5016, www.ticketweb.com