Chained to the Wheel – (Camilleri/Smith) 1989 and Harley And Rose (Camilleri/Smith) 1990 Black Sorrows
Following the break-up of Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons in 1975, Joe Camilleri emerged in the 1980’s as front-man for the zydeco party band the Black Sorrows who were ultimately signed to Sony.
The irrepressible Camilleri had done the hard yards with a succession of Melbourne bands – the King Bees, the Adderley Smith Blues Band, Lipp and the Double Dekker brothers, the Sharks, the Pelaco Brothers, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, but the Black Sorrows would be the vehicle for the musical chameleon Camilleri to break out nationally.
A shifting ensemble of former bandmates including Jeff Burstin (guitar), Wayne Burt (guitar), Mick Girasole (bass) and Peter Luscombe (drums) were joined by the luminous and soulful Bull sisters, Vika and Linda, who all coalesced around multi-instrumentalist Camilleri, to form one of the most sophisticated blues/rock bands in the country.
The band went into the Sing Sing Studios (Melb) in 1988 to record Hold on To Me, which would be their third album, typically the production was an inhouse affair with Camilleri and guitarist Burstin at the control panel and all the songs composed by Joe Camilleri and lyricist Nick Smith.
Of the five songs subsequently lifted off the album as singles, it was the soulful and engaging rhythm and blues of Chained to The Wheel, the last song to be included on the album, and the third to be released as a single, that would crash into the top ten (#7) and help propel the album to #8 nationally.
The domestic narrative of the song, which traces the dynamics of a troubled relationship, invoked the metaphorical “wheel” to represent the enduring pain, angst, and entrapment that a person feels when they are in an unhappy or abusive relationship. This dynamic encouraged Joe and Vika Bull to duet on the vocals, and this added intimacy and emotional shading to the record.
The album also broke through internationally charting #5 in Norway, #18 in Sweden and #36 in NZ.
The following year the band followed up with the album Harley and Rose, again Camilleri and Smith dominated the songwriting and on production drummer Peter Luscombe joined the Camilleri/Burstin production team who had clicked on their previous album.
This album was rootsier than its predecessor with semi-acoustic guitar, drums, electric guitar, piano accordion, the Bull sisters on backing vocals and tambourine and Jen Anderson spicing up the whole mix with a swampy bayou fiddle accompaniment.
Harley and Rose traces the fraught relationship between our two protagonists and defines the shaky ground upon which Harley and Rose agree to give it another go “ Harley and Rose were reunited, this time they said it was for real/ She’d take him back to where it started, he would melt her heart of steel/ Life is a bitter disappointment, she would hear-ear young Harley say/ If you find something more important, I will not stand in your way.”
Camilleri on lead vocals is convincing, he said it was his favorite Sorrows song, it was also successful, the single charted at #22 and the album at #4, to make it their most successful album to that time, and the band continued to fascinate the Scandinavians, the album charting in Norway (#5) and Sweden (#35).