Lost & found
A song Wes Carr wrote with Don Walker years ago has made it to Cold Chisel’s album, writes Kathy McCabe
Wes Carr remembers the first time he met legendary Cold Chisel songwriter Don Walker — the pair sat in silence for 20 minutes.
Carr was only 14 and had moved to Sydney with the big dream of writing hit songs. Music publishing boss Damian Trotter, who thought the teenager had the talent to do just that and signed him to Sony/ATV, asked Walker if he would give him some time.
The ambitious apprentice had grown up in Elizabeth, the “bible belt of Cold Chisel”. He knew he was in the presence of music greatness.
“If you are from Elizabeth and you’re not into Chisel, you got beaten up,” Carr says, chuckling.
They didn’t write a song together that day. After the excruciating silence was broken, Walker and Carr swapped stories, “yarning” as the Chisel man calls it, and he offered some reading suggestions.
“I remember him suggesting Charles Bukowski. At that time I was really just a sponge of everything and everyone around me,” Carr says.
“That’s when I really started treating my songwriting as a craft and I knew that’s what I wanted to do one day even as I played in bands and then became more of the acoustic troubadour for a while.”
The next time Walker saw the aspiring artist, it was 12 years later and Carr was on television, singing for his future on the 2008 season of Australian Idol. Yes, Don Walker watched reality television.
“To tell you the truth, I forgot about (the meeting) until suddenly Wes is huge on television and I remembered he was the same guy who had been around to my place years ago,” Walker says.
“After putting out an album of the normal stuff that Idol people have to record, he wanted to do an album of real songs and wanted to see if I could get involved in some co-writing.”
Fast forward seven years and the men have enjoyed several writing sessions.
Now one of those songs, originally intended to find a home on a Carr release, is now the first single from Cold Chisel’s upcoming eighth studio album The Perfect Crime.
The pair wrote Lost a few years ago and Carr has been playing it at his gigs since 2012. He would often score a disbelieving chuckle from the crowd when he introduced Lost as being “half a Chisel song”.
“Then they would be kind of silent when I said I wrote it with Don and that I could hear Jimmy singing it one day,” Carr says. A few weeks ago, his prophecy became reality.
Carr got an email out of the blue from Walker informing him the song would be Chisel’s next single.
“After winning Australian Idol all those years ago, I felt like I had kissed goodbye to my heart in a strange way, I feared I would never be known as a songwriter which was all I ever wanted to do,” Carr says.
“So I am blessed and very grateful to someone like Don for saying ‘We have a great song here and we want to make it part of the Chisel story’. It’s pretty mind-boggling to get your head around.”
The Perfect Crime, which will be released on October 2, marks a new chapter for a band who takes its legacy as seriously as their legion of fans.
Chisel’s decision to continue their reunion after the death of drummer Steve Prestwich with the 2012 album No Plans, their first in 14 years, and wildly successful Light The Nitro tour, was not taken lightly.
The album and the tour reignited the musical passion of Walker, Jimmy Barnes, Phil Small and Ian Moss, with new drummer, ex-Divinyls Charley Drayton, and forged an even stronger bond among the men.
Walker encouraged them to bring songs to the table while respected American producer Kevin Shirley kept them on track to make a “rock’n’roll” album which bristled with the energy they exude on stage.
Lost is the one exception, a song which introduces strings and female backing vocals to the Chisel sound for the very first time. Walker says the song almost didn’t make the cut until the last minute.
“I could always hear Jim singing it, I thought it would be perfect for his voice and we did a pretty good recording of it during the sessions last year,” he says. “But when we were choosing the songs for the album, it wasn’t on there.”
As the album was being mixed in Los Angeles, Shirley contacted the band and suggested revisiting Lost by adding strings and gospel-style backing vocals. The strings were recorded in America and Chisel tapped Mahalia Barnes and her good friends Juanita Tippins and Jade Macrae to sing up a storm.
“Jim had the best line-up for it because he uses female backing vocalists all the time,” Walker says. It worked and not only did Lost make the album cut, it was now the first song the band’s fiercely loyal fanbase would get to taste.
Lost is an ultra personal song for Carr which he hopes will resonate loudly with Chisel fans. It’s about his own struggles, whether with the black shadow of anxiety or the ingrained insecurity which plagues many songwriters.
“I have no choice, I have to talk about these things in my songs and I know there are so many people out there suffering in silence,” he says.
“It doesn’t have to be like that and even with a tiny glimmer of a voice that can access more people than your average Joe, why not talk about these things. For me it is a powerful thing to do and music can be the greatest healer.”
“There are so many people out there suffering
in silence” WHAT INSPIRES