The Gold Coast Bulletin - Play Magazine - - FRONT PAGE - ANIKA HUME

Shacked up in a cheap Syd­ney ho­tel room, The Black Sor­rows front­man Joe Camil­leri is all too fa­mil­iar with what he’s come to ex­pect from a life on the road after decades in the Aus­tralian mu­sic in­dus­try.

“When you tour as much as we did, you get to know ho­tels, and you know what you’re go­ing to get,” he laughs.

“This one’s got all the things that go with rock ’n’ roll – a pic­ture of a towel on the wall, and wall­pa­per …. all that’s miss­ing is the milk in the bar fridge that looks like yo­ghurt.

“I’ll have to have to paint the pic­ture for my man­ager I think. He reck­ons it’s all beer and Skit­tles!”

Almost 40 years have passed since Camil­leri first stepped into the spot­light as the leader of famed rock out­fit Jo Jo Zep and The Fal­cons, and he’ll be the first to tell you how dra­mat­i­cally times have changed. But that’s not to say that he has.

“Back in those days you wouldn’t fly any­where to tour. We’d take six days to get from Mel­bourne to Syd­ney, then another eight to get to Bris­bane, and we’d pump out about 300 shows a year in RSLs and quirky lit­tle the­atres, tak­ing one night off a week,” he says.

“But as soon as you get on stage you for­get about all the tri­als and tribu­la­tions be­cause those shows had a dif­fer­ent kind of qual­ity to them.

“Th­ese days we’re more week­end war­riors when it comes to play­ing shows, but it still feels like it did in some ways. On the road, Wil­bur (Wild) would al­ways sit be­hind the driver’s seat and I’d sit in the pas­sen­ger seat and we were the two naughty boys.

“Twenty years later dur­ing a re­union, we got in the car ex­actly the way we al­ways had, and it was like the scene was just how we left it all those years ago. We just looked at each other and cracked up.”

But it was those grungy begin­nings sweat­ing it out, tak­ing any gig he could, that carved an en­dear­ing and earnest qual­ity into Camil­leri’s work, and ce­mented his name and his mu­sic with The Fal­cons and The Black Sor­rows firmly into the coun­try’s mu­sic cul­ture.

A will­ing­ness to embrace the hard yards as he has is also a ma­jor per­son­al­ity trait he be­lieves is lack­ing in to­day’s young mu­si­cians, and it’s show­ing in their prod­uct.

“We were a part of the golden age of Aus­tralian mu­sic – there was some­thing spe­cial hap­pen­ing at that time, in a world be­fore downloads, when peo­ple ac­tu­ally went out and bought records,” he says.

“There was a lot of support in a big way back then, with shows like Count­down that peo­ple would stay in to watch, and ra­dio sta­tions were play­ing all the tracks from your record, not just the sin­gles.

“It was still kind of jun­gle drums back then when it might have taken a cou­ple of weeks to hear your song played, it was quite ro­man­tic re­ally.

“But to­day’s mu­si­cians are fast-track­ing that process. A lot of them are say­ing ‘I don’t need to do those crappy gigs, I’ll just go on The X Fac­tor and start things at a dif­fer­ent level’, and it be­comes a Cin­derella story for them. I’m for­tu­nate


enough to have that longevity that comes with get­ting used to heartache and dis­ap­point­ment when you’re try­ing to start up in this in­dus­try, which th­ese guys to­day seem to want to by­pass ex­pe­ri­enc­ing.

“There’s also a move­ment to­wards mu­si­cians singing other peo­ple’s stuff and be­liev­ing they’re di­vas when un­for­tu­nately they’re just part of a pro­duc­tion line. We’re get­ting some re­ally good singers, but they’re singing other peo­ple’s hits, and I mean sure, you may be able to sing well, but you don’t have a voice. It’s easy to sing some­one else’s ma­te­rial be­cause the mu­sic DNA is al­ready there, you just have to put on a good per­for­mance when you present it. And that’s just so man­u­fac­tured.”

For Camil­leri, it was never about the suc­cess, and al­ways about the mu­sic. To­day, with 45 al­bums un­der his belt, it still is. Camil­leri’s lat­est record, Cer­ti­fied Blue, cel­e­brates 50 years of his as­sault on the mu­sic scene and the 30th an­niver­sary of The Black Sor­rows and, ac­cord­ing to the mu­si­cal maestro, it com­prises 15 of the best tracks in the band’s his­tory, all packed into one colour­ful mix of blues, bal­lads, rock, coun­try, gospel, swing and honky-tonk.

“Even after all th­ese years, I still feel like I’ve got some­thing to say,” he says.

The Black Sor­rows, Twin Towns, Tweed Heads, Satur­day night.


The Black Sor­rows fea­tur­ing Joe Camil­leri are per­form­ing in Tweed Heads on Satur­day night.

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