MUSICAL MASTERMIND JOE CAMILLERI BRINGS HIS BLACK SORROWS TO TWEED HEADS
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
WE WERE A PART OF THE GOLDEN AGE OF AUSTRALIAN MUSIC – THERE WAS SOMETHING SPECIAL HAPPENING
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.