Jimmy Barnes goes solo with Canadian connection after Cold Chisel hits its peak



By Steve Newton

What do you get when you combine the guitarist from Streetheart, the bassist from Headpins, the keyboardist from Sharp Edges, the drummer from the Bryan Adams band, and the lead singer from Cold Chisel?

Well, with a little time, you get a pretty rockin’ band.

“The first month or so we had to get the right direction and focus,” says singer Jimmy Barnes, over the phone from Boston, where his band was touring with ZZ Top. “But it’s really happening now. In our last three weeks we’ve been hitting a good streak where we’ve been doing really hot gigs every night.”

Barnes is the former leader of Australian sensations Cold Chisel, who released eight platinum-plus albums in their homeland. Now Barnes has gone solo, signed a management deal with Vancouver’s Bruce Allen/Lou Blair team, and gathered together four local boys to help take his first North American album on the road. His straight-ahead, no-frills band is made up of guitarist Jeff Neil, bassist Ab Bryant, keyboardist Tom Lang, and drummer Pat Steward. They have the unenviable job of warming up the rowdy ZZ Top crowds, who have a reputation for not taking kindly to opening acts.

“Yeah, I heard that,” Jimmy says. “But they haven’t been hard with us at all. The two bands are compatible, you know. We’re both rock and rollers.”

Barnes has been rocking and rolling for most of his natural life, joining Cold Chisel when he was only 16 and sticking with them for 10 years. One of the things he left behind when he split the group, apart from all the hit albums, was his reputation as a heavy boozer.

“Yeah, I was pretty bad,” he admits. “I cut down before I left Cold Chisel because I was gettin’ to the stage there when I couldn’t remember the end of gigs. So I thought I better do something about that.”

Barnes still likes to party with the band after gigs. (In fact, the cover of his latest self-titled LP shows him holding a guitar and a Japanese beer, and both are within striking distance.) “[But] it’s not like there’s big binges every night,” he says, adding that his previous indulgences were not the main reason for Cold Chisel’s demise.

“I felt that the band had reached a peak. They were a really really good band, but just felt we weren’t playing as good as we had been say 12 months earlier. I didn’t want us to just slip away and become a bad band, you know. Plus I wanted to get out and work with some other musicians.”

Barnes got to work with some pretty big names on his Jimmy Barnes album. As well as Kim Carnes, Mick Fleetwood, Journey’s Jonathan Cain, and former Linda Ronstadt guitarist/sessionman Waddy Wachtel, he had the help of various members from Little Feat.

“I was in Australia doing a tour, and Mick Fleetwood  was touring with his band The Zoo, who he plays with when he’s not with Fleetwood Mac. And in that band was Kenny Gradney, the bassist from Little Feat. They were just playing small clubs. I went to see them, got talking, and they invited me for a sing. And I ended up singing with them for about 10 shows in Australia.

“Then when I went to L.A. last year to record the album, I was knockin’ around with them, playin’ golf with Kenny and drinking with the boys and all that. So I just asked them if they wanted to play and it was fine. Kenny said, ‘Do you need a keyboard player?’ and I said, ‘Yes, I do.’ So he got [former Little Feat keyboardist] Bill Payne, which was fantastic. And we had Sam Clayton too, the percussionist from Little Feat. So there’s three of them on there.”

On some of the songs on Jimmy Barnes, particularly “Boys Cry Out for War” and the Jonathan Cain-penned “Working Class Man”, Barnes’ vocals sound curiously similar to those of John Fogerty.

“People used to say that to me back in Australia,” says Barnes. “But up until that time I hadn’t listened to him at all. I have listened to him over the last few years though, and I can see similarities in our styles.”

Okay. So Jimmy Barnes is a guy from Australia, who sings a bit like an American, and plays with a bunch of Canadians. That’s not too unusual. But what’s a fellow who lives on a farm outside Sydney doing with a management team based in Vancouver?

“I think Bruce [Allen] was in Geffen Records one day, and they played him a tape of mine. He really liked it, and he and Lou [Blair] came to Australia and saw a tour. I knew about his reputation, so I went back to Vancouver and we hooked up. And as it worked out, it was a good thing for me.”

Good enough to make Jimmy Barnes the next Bryan Adams? We’ll have to wait and see.

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