After his family moved to Melbourne, Tilders began devouring US blues records by Big Bill Broonzy, Brownie McGhee, Mississippi John Hurt, Josh White and Blind Blake.
He taught himself guitar, harmonica, piano and stompbox. His first paying gig was at 15 at a Collingwood Town Hall show headlined by Johnny O’Keefe.
He soon made a name for himself in the folk/blues clubs in Melbourne and Sydney.
But Tilders’ audience was much more diverse, and his natural no-nonsense charm could win over crowds at rock venues, jazz festivals, parties, bike clubs – and one memorable time at the Box Hill Town Hall, skinheads and sharpies at a Lobby Lloyd and the Coloured Balls show.
A member of the Musicians Club, he’d often drop by after a gig, to play piano before jazz and classical musicians.
There are many anecdotes about his shows. As a big fan of wacky British comedy show The Goons, Tilders would listen lovingly to their cassettes on the way to shows.
This included a Goons marathon during a seven-hour drive to Canberra. When he welcomed the crowd, out came a lot of unexpected Goons gobbledygook which had everyone bewildered.
No one was surprised when Dutch got a blood-spattered shirt on the way to a gig. On the train in, some thugs were hassling an old woman, so he went over and punched their lights out.
A country pub had the last quarter of the footie on TV during Tilders’ set for the regulars. Fans of the Carlton team kept shouting, ‘Come on the Blues’ and ‘Go Blues’. Dutch yelled over the banter “I’ve been playing the blues all night!”
Tilders was diagnosed with terminal inoperative oesophageal cancer in May 2010. While the music community gathered around doing benefits to raise money for medical costs, Dutch kept performing despite the pain.
As he would sing onstage on ‘Workingman’s Blues’, “I guess I’ll keep on working, honey, until I’m dead and gone.”
While preparing for his departure, Tilders wrote and recorded ‘Going On A Journey’, his thoughts about his life, which became the title track of his 15th and final album.
‘He was asked during this time if he had any regrets, His swift answer was: No … at least none I remember..”
Wright explains, “Dutch lived in the present, loving his life every day.”
He defied doctors’ orders and kept smoking and drinking until a few hours before he passed away on April 23, 2011. He was 69. Dutch chose quality of life, not quantity, and passed peacefully.
In May 2012 Australian Guitar magazine listed him among the top 40 on its Definitive Australian Guitarists of All Time list.
On October 30, 2019, Dutch was inducted into the Blues Music Victoria Inc Hall of Fame.
Before he died, he gave Wright a bucket list of projects to do. Nine years later she says the list is 90% finished.