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A fortunate future

Why Geoff Achison ran away and joined the circus

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Take a trip to an old-time carnival, circus or fair, and you can still find fortune tellers, faux gypsies ready to reveal your future. It's a gimmick, a hustle, of course l albeit an intriguing one.

And then there's guitarist Geoff Achison, who, as an employee in a plastics factory in his native Australia, clearly saw the future -- his own -- in no uncertain terms, and was determined to change his destiny.

It was the mid-'80s, and Achison, who performs this week at Whisker's in Dunwoody, worked in a factory that manufactured windshield wiper fluid containers like the ones under the hood of your car. The best jobs in the factory belonged to senior employees, gray-haired types with 35 to 40 years on the job, he recalls. Their duties involved mounting spools of wire on machines, starting the machines, "sitting on their asses" and watching them run until it was time to mount a new spool of wire.

"I watched them and thought, 'That's my future if I stay here,'" Achison recalls. "I started looking at my guitar playing more and more as a way out, like running away to join the circus."

In 1987, he did just that: "I threw my overalls on the floor and said, 'I'm out of here.' I knew exactly what I didn't want to do. I didn't know what I was going to do," he says.

Achison did know that he loved the blues, and had since childhood. He'd played in his father's brass band, performing a blues tune or two in the course of those shows. Then he heard a recording of John Mayall's Bluesbreakers, with Eric Clapton on guitar, and "it just flipped my brain. I thought, 'What is that? That's the sound. That's what I want to do.'"

Achison got his hands on a cassette tape of Freddie King's 1972 recording, Texas Cannonball, and taught himself to play blues guitar.

After quitting his factory job, Achison knew he had to take a chance. "I didn't want to go through life wondering, 'What if?'" he says. Armed with his car, his clothes, his guitar and a $300 stake from his father (a trumpet player), Achison left his home town of Malmsbury, headed for the big city -- in Aussie slang, "the big smoke" -- of Melbourne.

It was a humble beginning: Achison remembers being down to his last $40 in Melbourne, unemployed and without a gig. He soon got a local foothold. However, it's difficult to tour in a place like Australia: The country is roughly the size of the United States, Achison explains, but has only six major cities, the closest one to Melbourne being Sydney, which requires an 11-hour drive.

So Achison, who still lives in Melbourne, embarked on an ambitious three-continent approach, working in Australia, the U.K. and the U.S.. Of the latter, he originally had made Portland, Ore., a home base of sorts. While the city itself had a vibrant music scene, he found the location too isolated -- in some respects not unlike Melbourne, he says -- requiring fairly long trips to other cities, such as Seattle (three hours) and San Francisco (14 hours).

Through a connection with a local fan and promoter, Achison has more recently participated in a number of mini-tours of the Atlanta area. In addition to Whisker's, his current visit includes local stops at Jake's Roadhouse in Decatur (June 13), the Peckerhead Brewery in Douglasville (June 15) and Chip's in Winder (June 16).

As for his future at this point, Achison is uncertain, although it seems he'll be recording on two or three continents. "There have been questions as to whether I'd live in England or America. I'm not sure. I'm pretty settled here [in Melbourne]. We'll just have to see what the possibilities are."

In any case, you can bet the farm that the only windshield wiper bottle he'll see is the one under his own hood, and the only wires he'll have to deal with are those six shiny ones under his fingertips as he takes the stage.

Geoff Achison performs Wed., June 12, at Whisker's Tavern, 8371 Roswell Road, Dunwoody. 10 p.m. $3. 770-992-7445. www.geoffachison.com.

This column covers music outside the Perimeter. E-mail or mail "outside" music news to Bryan Powell, 830 Josh Lane, Lawrenceville, GA 30045.

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