After a week of trying to tie the man down to a time through two different sets of PR people, and a final half hour of sitting at the venue waiting for Jimmy Barnes while Jimmy Barnes sat at his hotel waiting for me to turn up, we finally got to sit down and chew the fat about his new Living Loud project, having a Freight Train Heart, and what it means to be an ‘Australian Legend’. Here’s what happened…
You seem to be in the middle of a perpetual tour… “Yeah, it started about 33 years ago!”
Could you not pack it in? Or do you love getting out and about? “Yeah. I love working. It’s what I do, how I make my living, how I get my kicks basically. It’s what I enjoy doing. In the old days I used to release an album, do a major tour, take a break, release an album. In the last 5 years I haven’t been making records on a regular basis like before- I was making one or two a year! So with my touring now it’s more a case of getting out there, trying out some songs, keeping the band match fit… I hate being in the studio. I’m making a record now of duets and I hate being trapped in the studio- I’m a live performer. I don’t know if it’s the ham in me but I need that fix. I just enjoy doing it”.
Who’s on the duets album? “So far, the new ones are… I’ve done a new one with Diesel, The Living End, I’ve done one with Roshaan Patterson, a fantastic R&B singer from LA, Mica Paris, my brother John Swan– we’ve been in this industry for thirty years and never done a duet so that was good… I’ve done one with each of my kids”-
Is that what the Barnes Family Album will turn into? “If it ever eventuates! We duet together on stage anyway, but if it does eventuate it will come about from this sort of thing. Some of the other artists are Juanita Tippins, a Tongan R & B singer from Sydney who is fantastic. I’m talking to the guys from Dallas Crane about doing something… Troy Cassar-Daley was great too. With this album I’ll have 15 or so new duets. And I’ve got the old album of duets I’m gonna package up as a bonus disk- I’ve remixed the John Farnham one, done the drums up and added more guitars, INXS, Simply The Best with Tina Turner, Joe Cocker. It’ll be a good package. I love duets- it’s not about my musical direction, it’s about my musical influences… the people that have inspired me and are inspiring me. It’s a great thing. Consequently between doing all that I’ve wanted to shake it off and get out on tour!”
You’ve been in and out of Cold Chisel, you’ve done a reformation tour, did you find the whole dynamic of being in a band again with Living Loud hard to get used to? From band leader and solo artist to one of the boys? “Not really, not when it’s a good band. With Cold Chisel, and with Living Loud, I have complete faith in Don Walker’s ability as a songwriter and Living Loud’s abilities as players to form a sound… I know that the sum of those players will make that thing work. With all the decision making, the sum of those people makes Cold Chisel stay as it is. It’s slightly different with Living Loud in that we didn’t grow up together, but we ‘grew up’ in the same industry, none of us are young guys! And as players they’re fucking awesome! I have as much respect for each one of those guys as I do for Chisel… what they’ve done. What I grew up listening to is pretty close to what Living Loud’s doing now”.
That’s right- are you too long in the tooth now to be starstruck? Or were you excited to be recording with Lee Kerslake, one of your teenage heroes? “Listen, one of my first records I bought was Very ‘Eavy, Very ‘Umble!, I loved Uriah Heep, supported them with Chisel! I forget the name of the singer, the guy who died”- David Byron. “Yeah. He was awesome. One of the best microphone stand techniques I’ve ever seen in my life! I love that band. And Bob Daisley has a phenomenal history. He’s played with enough Australian bands, let alone Rainbow, Ozzy, Gary Moore… Both of those guys… the first two Ozzy albums have sold, like, 35 million copies worldwide! In Australia, you see guys sitting in cars banging their heads and singing along to Khe Sanh– in America it’s Crazy Train, you know, Ozzy’s a roots rocker there, a staple. And these guys wrote it. Steve Morse– Dixie Dregs“- He’s my favourite guitarist of all time. “Just a phenomenal guitar player. But you know I knew Steve as a phenomenal guitar player but I wasn’t sure whether I rated him over [Cold Chisel’s Ian Moss] Mossy, who’s so tasteful, but Steve plays with such taste and such flair… at such high speed! But you can’t write him off as just a speed technician. I flew to Okala, where Steve lives, in the middle of Florida to do this project, and I was gobsmacked- I was starstruck! I had to sit down, take a few deep breaths and compose myself so I could contribute! It was a bit overwhelming- the ideas they were all coming out with, the technique, the ability- it was pretty gobsmacking!”
Bob Daisley said you’d met up with him in Melbourne when you were both playing with Jon Lord– was that where the plan was hatched? “Bob might have mentioned he was planning something. But it was sort of an ongoing thing. For three to six months after that Drew Thompson, who actually put the thing together, and Bob were asking me if I wanted to do it- I was trying to see how the fuck they were going to get the guys together! How could we get Lee’s schedule to fit with Steve’s, and Don Airey– he’s another one! For me, he’s like Jon Lord. He’s phenomenal. He’s been instrumental in so many of my favourite records. To work with him… I just didn’t know how we were going to get all these guys together. And then Drew said ‘we’ve got a two week window!’, and I thought It’d just be a sort of ‘get to know you’ period, not really productive, but lo and behold we got there and within five days we’d fucking written six songs! It was very impressive. To get back to that thing about being in a band… the experience those guys have had of working in different units- they knew what to do to make things work. And we were all fans of each other- Steve knew of my work, I’d met him when I sang with Deep Purple out here [in Australia], but what I didn’t know was that Lee was a huge fan- Heep covered When The War Is Over![on 1989’s Raging Silence] and I was going into this thinking these guys wouldn’t know who the fuck I am!. But everyone was great, there was no ‘ME! ME! ME!’, everyone was very open to each others ideas”.
Did you take your book of lyrics with you or did it just all flood out in the studio? “I have a tartan book full of writings- ‘Diary of a Madman’ basically![laughs] I sat through drug addiction, paranoia, all sorts of shit, some very clean times too, and every time I get in a tizz I just write shit down… sometimes it’s unusable but other times someone will play me part of a song and I’ll go hang on a minute, this reminds me of- you know? So for a bunch of these songs I had half the lyrics written or had a great line that painted a picture and I hung the rest of the lyrics around it. The rest of the band would be figuring out a chord passage and bang! I had some lyrics to match the emotions they were filling me with. It was a very stimulating, creative atmosphere”.
It sounds like it was. Were you aware of the problems that Lee and Bob had with the Osbournes over their parts in the Ozzy Story?[to cut a long story short, Daisley and Kerslake’s contributions to the first 2 Ozzy Osbourne albums have been erased, and the pair recently lost a lengthy court battle over royalties from the records. Consequently part of the idea behind the Living Loud project was for Kerslake and Daisley to rerecord some of the songs they wrote for Osbourne’s first two solo albums] “I wasn’t aware until I got to the States, basically. I wanted to do it, and because the Ozzy stuff isn’t that popular in Australia I wasn’t that au fait with it. But I didn’t want to just do an Ozzy cover album. Ozzy’s an icon, he’s fucking great, but he’s not much of a singer”.
He’s a stylist. “Yeah, a stylist. He’s great at being Ozzy. I didn’t want just to do Ozzy stuff, and I especially didn’t want to do it from the perspective of ‘sticking it up him’. When I heard about this problem they’d had I thought there might be a bad vibe- I don’t want to do an album to stick it up anybody. But the more I got into it the more I realized… Bob and Lee don’t want to stick it up Ozzy. They love Ozzy. It was just about songs that they’d been involved in that they wanted to play, and play with other people. Once I realized that… it became rapidly apparent to me that this wasn’t just a thing to stick it up Ozzy- he looks like a great bloke, and I don’t wanna get involved in anyone’s politics… but at the same time I don’t necessarily agree with what was done. I think an album that sells that many copies, a quintessential rock album, should be left as is. Should not be fucked with, full stop. End of quote!”
I’m fully behind you there! But when I first heard about the project, cynic that I am, I was sure that it was being done to ‘have a go’ “I’m sure at the start there was a bit of a prod there, more for Sharon than anyone, but that was the last thing on our minds by the time it was finished. I’d like to hear what Ozzy thought of it! It interests me… I thought a lot of what Ozzy did was groundbreaking, and Steve Morse, great as he is, kept a lot of the stuff true to Randy Rhoads… Randy was this young fucking stylist that came out of nowhere- the potential that was in that guy was amazing… it was a shame to see that cut off so early. And I think Steve pays a great tribute to him”.
I love his solos on the record- It’s Steve Morse, but you can hear Randy there. “It’s really cool. He kept the flavour there. It’s also about bringing a bit of modern technology to some classic songs. I can listen to some of my old stuff and think ‘what the fuck was I doing there?’. You know?”
Indeed. So, the record’s done. Next year- all Living Loud? “Not all, but it’s certainly shaping up to be a big part of it. Lots of Europe,or at least Festivals in Europe, there is talk of an American tour dependent on Steve and Lee’s schedules”- I think Germany will go for it in a big way. “They’ll jump at it. I wouldn’t be surprised if Japan does, Sweden, Holland- as long as people don’t think… I saw a review in England that said we were just rehashing Ozzy songs. If people can just get over that and see it as a stepping stone to something else… one of the great things about this band is we can now go in and make another great record- it’s all set up nicely. It’s an unusual way of getting there!”
Well, by any means necessary. It’s got you together, and in doing so you’ve written a song like Every Moment A Lifetime which, for me, is the best thing you’ve put your name to in maybe ten years. A fantastic song. If it’s meant that you’ve all come together- “For a reason? Yeah. I’m pleased you think of it like that. I agree- whatever it took to get us there. There’s been talk about us going out in the states supporting Steve’s band, which would be interesting. And then, if there’s time, spending maybe a month recording a new record. We did the first one so quickly it would be good now to spend a bit of time and develop it further”.
If I could go back to you now, and the recording of Freight Train Heart– what was it like to be put together with people like Journey’s Jonathan Cain and Neal Schon? “It was interesting. On that album Tony Brock was playing drums and Randy Jackson was playing bass. Prior to that album, on the Working Class Man record those two guys had played on Jonathan’s tracks, and I’d developed a good rapport with them. But for Freight Train Heart I was a bit worried about stepping into Journey, who I wasn’t that keen on. I mean, I could appreciate them, but I wasn’t a huge fan”.
Was that before Bad English? “Yeah, it was”. So you’d have really been stepping into Journey! “Yeah! They had a bad taste in their mouth about singers- John Waite with Cain in The Babys, and Steve Perry had given them a hard time, but compared to those two I must have been easy to work with so we got on well- I met Steve Perry once and he seemed alright, and John Waite’s one of my favourite singers, but there you go! It must just have been a professional thing. But Tony and Randy were on my side so it wasn’t so much of a Journey thing in the end. And I love Jonathan’s songs, he’s one of my favourite songwriters. The stuff that he’d done with me on Working Class Man– even American Heartbeat, which wasn’t such a good song for me but was my stepping stone to get to Jonathan, I really liked. I liked his work. And we had a great time writing. Once again the whole thing only took about ten days- I’d go over to his house and write songs bang! Bang! Bang!. And Neal Schon is an amazing guitarist. But he’s one of those guys who has let his technique get in the way of his fuckin’ feel, you know? He’s an awesome player, but I remember when we were recording Too Much Ain’t Enough, the big ballad, and Neal was shredding (makes lawnmower noise). I was drunk, sitting in the control room pissed and trying to get him to play but it was more technique, more technique. I got on the mic and said ‘Neal, think as if every single note you’re playing on this fucking song is the last fucking note you’ll ever play. How much feel are you going to put into that? Play it like that’ Then I touched the button again and said “cause if you don’t it fucking will be!’ (guffaws). So he shook it up, thought about it and played the blues. And the solo he played was awesome. Fantastic. And he actually says to me it was some of the best guitar he’d played in ages. So there were a couple of moments when we had to keep in touch with feel and not let technique get in the way. But overall it was a great record. Randy is a great, mutherfucker of a bass player- forget fucking American Idol! he’s a fucking amazing player”.
I love his playing on [Journey’s] Raised On Radio. “Yeah, fucking brilliant. And Tony ended up joining my band and staying for ten years. I ended up having a great rapport. But for some reason, maybe when we were doing vocals, things went a bit iffy. Maybe because they were used to working with Steve Perry they’d invented a little machine to fly vocals in and out, pitchshifting everything. It was something designed to make singing even easier than it is! We started doing Too Much…, and I was singing, and Jonathan said ‘go away, come back in eight hours and I’ll make you sound fantastic’. I went away and he’d put my vocals through the machine, and every fucking syllable was pitchshifted, absolutely perfect. I mean, if that technique had’ve been around when Otis Redding was alive he would have sounded terrible- so white, so sterile. And that freaked me out. So at that point I got the shits and said no. I took my tapes and brought them back to Australia to finish all the vocals. I finished the vocals with a guy called Mike Stone, a producer who worked with Queen“- And Journey! “Yeah! And lots of great guitar stuff, though he played keyboards himself. He was a lot rougher. Unfortunately Jonathan got the shits about it and it left a bit of a bad taste. Which was a shame, because some of the best songs I’ve written were written with him, it’s been one of my great partnerships. It seems like a tragedy that it wasn’t taken further- I’d love to get back and do some more writing with him. Regardless of our complete differences we wrote some great things together. I’m looking at getting in touch with him again”.
He’s not up to much. Journey are playing cruise liners now. “Are they really? (grins). So it was an interesting experience. And I think it’s one of my best records. I love the record, and Jonathan had a lot to do with that”.
Did you ever have designs on cracking America through that record or were you not really worried? “I think the record company, Geffen, did. Gary Gersch, who signed me to Geffen, put the whole thing together- he put me in with Jonathan. He got me managed by Bruce Allen, who also managed Bryan Adams, he had it all set up for me, but because I wouldn’t just play the game, I wouldn’t do it their way it backfired a bit. There were times when I got a bit carried away, they would say ‘this is what you’ve got to do, this is gonna break America’ and I would go along with it. But everytime that happened I would dig my heels in and stick to my guns. I could’ve bastardized myself a few times and made quite a success of it but I just couldn’t do it. There have been a few points in my career where I’ve made decisions… I have to stay true to myself. After Freight Train Heart was finished, I was taking it out on the road, and Tony Brock wanted to play drums with me, Randy Jackson wanted to join the band as bass player, and we were going to tour with ZZ Top. Geffen were in charge of tour support, funding the whole thing, and I went to them and said ‘I need money for wages’. They said ‘who’s in the band?’- I told them. They said ‘Look, it’s great having Randy on the fuckin’ records but you’re not having any spooks in the fuckin’ band.’ That’s literally what they said. I stood up and walked out in disgust”.
Geffen said that to you? “Yes. No spooks in your band. Quote. I thought it was the nastiest, most hypocritical thing I’d ever heard in my life. Gary Gersch, a huge A & R man, who signed Bowie in America, when I took the vocals away from Jonathan he put me in touch with Terry Manning who produced ZZ Top. We arranged a meeting at Gersch’s office, and he said ‘come in fifteen minutes early as I want to talk to you about a couple of songs’. I got there. He said ‘there’s a song on this record called Lessons in Love. It stinks. It’s not going to make the record’. I said ‘it’s one of my favourite tracks on there!’ I was flabbergasted but he maintained it wouldn’t make it on to the record. Then Terry Manning arrives. He’s been listening to the tapes for a week. The first thing he says is ‘I’ve been listening to the record, I think the first thing we should work on as a single possibility is Lessons in Love’. Gary Gersch said ‘I’ve just said the same thing to Jimmy’. I thought ‘you fucking lying cunt’ (laughs). I walked out. That was the end of my career with Geffen. But I could have quite easily shut up and played the game, smarmed everybody. That sort of thing happened again and again and again in America. And if you want to get on in their world you sometimes have to bite your lip, but I’m afraid I can’t”.
So after that, did you feel disillusioned, or did you just feel ‘fuck it’? You were getting quite big in Europe at the same time, I remember.”One of the things I learned from the experience was to make records for myself. Get out there and enjoy the process. Don’t worry about what market you’re making the record for, just get out there and make it. And enjoy making it. The creative process. People think making a record is hard but it’s a joy. Writing songs is great. The hard work starts afterwards- the banks and banks of interviews, the stress of selling it. Just enjoy the process. Stop looking at the destination”.
Which you’ve done with Living Loud? “I’ve done it with all my records since. And they haven’t always been successful. But they’re more satisfying for me. The way I see it is that if I make records that I really like, that I feel good about, then that’s a degree of success already. If, at some point a whole bunch of other people think the same thing, then you get a big seller. Either way you’re getting a pay off”.