JIMMY BARNES 1984 – 2019

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Chain of Fools (D Covay) Jimmy Barnes 2000 and Sit On My Knee (D Larkin) Jimmy Barnes and Dallas Crane 2005 and Gonna Take Some Time (J Barnes/ J Macrae/ M Barnes) – Jimmy Barnes and Mahalia Barnes 2005

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Jimmy sang at the opening ceremony of the Sydney Olympics in 2000 (above), at the time he was high on hashish and cocaine, he was taking uppers, downers, and all-rounders, his voice was shredded, he was drinking two or three bottles of vodka a day, consuming ten grams of cocaine daily, smoking grass, taking ecstasy, and ketamine (animal tranquiliser), and was on a path to self-destruction, it became a question of who would finish up in rehab first – Jimmy or his wife Jane, who had also adopted the party lifestyle after returning to Sydney from France. Barnes went back to the soul music genre which had been successful for him in 1991 with Soul Deep and released Soul Deeper – Songs From the Deep South in 2000, a collection of cover songs by such soul luminaries as Aretha Franklin, Jimmy Ruffin, The Temptations, Screamin’ J. Hawkins, Sam and Dave, Martha and The Vandellas, and others. Clearly Barnes was passionate about these songs, and his versions were sincere and sometimes affecting, without actually equaling nor improving on the originals. The Aretha Franklin hit Chain of Fools was the only single to chart top twenty when lifted from Soul Deeper, written in 1953 by Don Covay and recorded by Aretha in 1967, it was originally inspired by the cycle of poverty and slavery endured by African-Americans, but Franklin’s interpretation reflected the vicious cycle of domestic abuse and infidelity she had to endure at the hands of her then-husband Ted White, she was just one in a “chain” of his indiscretions.

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The original was classic Atlantic Records soul from the opening tremolo guitar riffs by Joe South, the soulful groove of the Muscle Shoals rhythm section, the inspired vocal backing of Aretha’s sisters Carolyn and Erma, and the Sweet Inspirations, it was a huge hit for the Queen of Soul, won a Grammy Award, and Barnesy should have left it alone- it charted #15 for his second last top twenty solo single.  

Some changes here- blonde tips, tattoo, ear ring – but still screaming Aretha Franklin’s song.

In 2003 both Jimmy and Jane would enter a rehab facility in Tucson, Arizona, but detoxing proved to be  stressful, frightening, and traumatic, Jimmy shared his experiences with other patients, he participated in various therapy sessions – group, private, craniosacral, electromagnetic pulse, gestalt, and acu -detox therapies, and he learned the serenity prayer “God give me the strength to accept the things I can’t change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”  Twenty-eight days later he left the facility, he felt raw and unprotected, there was no longer a shield of addiction, he was sober and straight, and attended AA and NA meetings.

There he met people he knew, some were genuinely trying to stay clean, others were not using drugs but still selling them, it was like being in a pool of sharks, but he never forgot the serenity mantra, and did stay sober for several years.

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In mid-2003 Cold Chisel began their national Ringside Tour, playing smaller venues in the round, Ringside was the resulting album, a recording of live performances, which charted #27, in 2004 Jane indicated that she was still dealing with the strain of everyday life, when she was arrested for assaulting a parking inspector at Sydney Airport, she fronted court and was fined.

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Two years later Barnes returned to the studio to record his ninth solo album Double Happiness, a collection of duets with Barnes and other bands and performers including his children – David Campbell, Mahalia, Elly-May, Jackie, and Eliza-Jane Barnes, his brother John Swan, and brother-in-law Mark Lizotte (Diesel). The album hit #1 and the first single released was the Jackie Wilson classic Higher and Higher, but Barnesy soon revealed that he could not match the vocal chops of Jackie “Mr Excitement” Wilson, whose swooping falsetto and trademark vocal dramatics were legendary. Wilson was also one of the most dynamic stage performers on the soul scene, his spins, splits, knee drops, backflips, and one-foot sideways slides were mesmerising, whereas Jimmy Barnes stage moves where those of a crouching, sweating, predatory, Howlin’ Wolf, this cover version stiffed at #85.

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However Sit On My Knee, was a more superior duet with Melbourne alt rockers  Dallas Crane, with a song co-written by lead singer Dave Larkin and Barnes, it was a solid pub rocker with Jimmy and Larkin sharing the vocals, in the promo video celebrity criminal Chopper Read makes a brief appearance at 1.55 mins, it charted #17 to become Barnes last top twenty solo single hit.

A duet with daughter Mahalia Barnes entitled Gonna Take Some Time, was a bluesy, acoustic song which revealed Mahalia’s soulful voice, and she combined well with a more restrained Jimmy, it was a love song recorded by a father and his daughter, but Frank and Nancy had done it very effectively with Somethin’ Stupid in 1967, and the Barnes did likewise, it deserved to chart higher than #29.  

In 2007 Barnes was diagnosed with a congenital heart defect in his aorta which required open heart surgery, his full recovery was delayed by almost six months after he kept returning to performing before he had fully healed. The deaths of his father Jim Swan, and friend Billy Thorpe that year, followed by the death of Chisel bandmate Steve Prestwich in 2011 were great personal losses, Jimmy should have become acutely aware of his own mortality, but instead he returned to self-medicating via drink and drugs.

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Cold Chisel released their seventh studio album No Plans in 2012, Charley Drayton had replaced Steve Prestwich on drums but the band was nonplussed by his death, directionless and the album’s title reflected their thoughts about the future. Jimmy would re-enter rehab at the Sanctuary in Byron Bay, and four weeks later he would re-emerge only to fall off the wagon again.

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He was fronting the band on their grueling Light the Nitro Tour, and he and his wife Jane were struggling to restore some sense of equilibrium to their personal lives, their children were growing up and having families of their own, they were grandparents with the responsibilities of an extended family. Cold Chisel would continue to release new studio albums – The Perfect Crime (#2 in ’15), and Blood Moon (#1 ’19), as would Jimmy Barnes as a solo performer – Out In the Blue (#4 in ’07, sales 75,000+), The Rhythm and the Blues (#1 in ’09, sales 75,000+), Rage and Ruin (#3 in ’10, 35,000+), 30:30 Hindsight (#1 in ’14, sales 75,000+), Soul Searchin’ (#1 in ’16), Och Aye the G’nu (#34 in ’17), and My  Criminal Record (#1 in ’19), whose continued success, albeit at more modest sales, indicated the durability of Barnes fan base.

Between 2016-2018 Jimmy Barnes chronicled his life in two volumes of memoirs, the first was entitled Working Class Boy which sold in excess of 150,000 copies and culminated in a documentary by Mark Joffe which traced the bleakly dysfunctional family life of the immigrant Scot and his family., sadly his mother Dorothy passed away in 2016 before the book was published. The second volume entitled Working Class Man covered the obligatory roistering, drinking and whoring life of a rock star; the abiding memory one takes away from these two volumes is that for most of Barnes adult life it seemed that he had to keep screaming, from crying.

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Jimmy Barnes has achieved the highest number of hit albums of any Australian artist in this county, with 16 Top 40 albums, including four #1s for Cold Chisel, and 22 charting solo albums including ten #1s as a solo artist, Jimmy Barnes was inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame for the second time as a solo singer in 2005, twelve years after his initial induction as a member of Cold Chisel in 1993.

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