Muso just your average Joe
Layne Whitburn catches up with Australian music legend Joe Camilleri as The Black Sorrows are set to rock the Sunshine Coast
FORTY-EIGHT albums later, Joe Camilleri still doesn’t think he makes a great rock star.
Being inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, fronting two of Australia’s most successful bands – Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons and now The Black Sorrows – producing multiple platinum and gold records and even having a documentary – Joe Camilleri: Australia’s Maltese Falcon – is physical proof of a successful career.
However, when I chatted to the musical legend about his colourful 53-year career, he was more interested in hearing about my Christmas and New Year.
That is what makes Camilleri a rock star. His humble attitude and ability to connect with the everyday folk after more than half a century in the spotlight is simply refreshing.
“I am a very approachable person. I think it’s a good trait to have, but it’s not a great trait for pop stars or rock stars,” he said.
“Rock stars have got to be mysterious, I just don’t have the gear for it.”
What Camilleri does have, however, are the skills, experience and personality to put on a rocking show.
The Black Sorrows will do just that at The Shed at Aussie World on January 15 as a part of their latest album and tour, Faithful Satellite.
Having toured around Australia and the world with Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons and The Black Sorrows, Camilleri said the Aussie pub scene is right up his ally.
“I’m a big fan of the sticky carpet and no air with everybody right up in your grill,” he laughed.
Jokes aside, it doesn’t matter how big or small the stage, Camilleri said The Black Sorrows simply “come to play”.
“It’s not much of a motto, but it’s true. Nothing will please me more than playing music and having fun with people. Seeing people dancing, laughing and chatting to them after the show, that is what I love and what I am meant to do.”
This was almost taken away from him 20 years ago when Camilleri developed a random fear of flying.
Camilleri could only fly under certain circumstances. He had to have Valium, water, chewing gum, be on an aisle seat and have someone to talk to. Sometimes he would be seated and ready for take-off before anxiety brewed a dark cloud of claustrophobia causing him to get off the plane and drive back home.
“There was a time when it was really bad and I just couldn’t get on a plane. I would have to catch a train to Perth, Sydney, Adelaide or Brisbane to perform or I would drive,” he said.
“This feeling would come over me even in a tunnel. So there were a lot of things affecting my life just from feeling this. I had to change everything, my whole way of life.
“I thought it could either get worse or I could fight it. So I did.”
Camilleri said he tried everything from hypnotherapy, naturopathy and went to phycologists but it was his son Harlan who saved him.
“We were on a flight to Brisbane and Harlan got sick. Somehow that triggered something in me. I needed to help him, so the focus was off me,” he explained.
“Slowly I got to a point where I could get onto a plane and not have to sit on an aisle seat. I taught myself to deal with the uncomfortableness.”
Camilleri said he is still not 100% cured.
“I was in a picture theatre the other night and it was incredibly uncomfortable. It was full and I was sitting at the back and I wanted to get out, but I just kept saying to myself, ‘Just stay another five minutes. There is the exit, it is okay. You can go anytime’. My girlfriend felt my head and said, ‘Gosh, you’re hot.’ But I felt I had to get through it,” he said.
While music is a fantastic tool for relaxation, at the height of his anxiety, Camilleri said he had to run off stage during a few gigs.
“I actually did that about two or three times. But once I learnt I can only be the best I can be and try really hard, just keep working at it to be better, all these things subsided to a degree,” he said.
“He’s like an old friend who comes into me. But he is just in the background. Sometimes he might pop up to say hello, but I say, ‘I control you, you don’t control me.’ I’m still working on it. Sometimes I can’t take the elevator and I still don’t like flying.”
If there is one thing to take the discomfort off his mind, it’s writing and playing music.
“All I ever wanted was to play music because I love it. I would live it, breathe it, eat it,” he said.
“What I’ve realised is I’ve ended up with what I started with. I love dancing to music, dancing in the kitchen with my girlfriend listening to music. I love writing songs. I love the idea that there is a place in the world for me.
“We’d all love to be A-1 on the jukebox and A-1 on the charts, because that’s what gets your music heard by more people. But then you’ve got to deal with all the fame and things that come with it.
“It is easier when you have a big record, and I’ve had those and I really appreciate it. All those songs have value to me but I am not one to look to the past.”
Camilleri is not one to listen back on himself either.
“I loved our last record, Endless Sleep. I don’t play it but I loved making it. It’s a great collection of songs, but I’m off to the next thing,” he said.
Camilleri hasn’t even watched the 2011 documentary, Joe Camilleri: Australia’s Maltese Falcon.
“A friend of mine made it. I co-operated for him but I can’t
I find the future the most exciting. What can I do under this banner of The Black Sorrows and the people I love to play with? What music can I create in the future?
cope with the pain of just watching myself,” he said.
Claiming he has “a face for radio,” the humble Camilleri said he is simply in love with music and puts all his heart and soul into his work.
While winning ARIA awards and topping charts are all great achievements, Camilleri said these moments all fade into the background as he is always planning the next move.
“I find the future the most exciting. What can I do under this banner of The Black Sorrows and the people I love to play with? What music can I create in the future?” he said.
The music legend turns 67 in May this year but there’s no sign of Camilleri hanging up the mic anytime soon.
“I want to perform but give you more. I want people to know I’m not a band from the yesteryear. I am always evolving, always trying to be what I have tried to do for my entire life and do it the best I can.”
The Black Sorrows: Joe Camilleri on vocals, guitar, sax and harp, John McAll on keyboards and vocals, Claude Carranza on guitar and vocals, Mark Gray on bass and vocals and Angus Burchall on drums. SEE FOR YOURSELF: The Black Sorrows play The Shed at...
Camilleri said he lives, breathes and eats music.
The Black Sorrows perform at The Shed on January 15.