Joe Camilleri is no stranger to performing and when Samantha Morris spoke to him just a few days ago he was multi-tasking: doing an interview from Melbourne while handling UN-style negotiations with his young daughter on the other end.
_ _ _ _ _
He’d have to be one of the most prolific, hard-working musicians in Australia: starting his career in the mid 60s, working with the longest list of musicians you could imagine, recording solo and with bands, producing other people’s records and being inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in 2007. But he won’t call it a journey – he hates that word.
Joe says it was around 1960 when radio just took him ‘somewhere’.
“Radio was king,” he said. “And everyone was just drawn to radio and sing-songs.”
“And by the time I left school – I left school really early – by the time I was working at thirteen, the radio sort of became more interesting to me, and music became more interesting. I wasn’t thinking I’d be a musician – I just liked the songs on the radio.”
“Today you can go to the internet and they’ll just show you how to play a song – show you one bar at a time. It’s different when you’re listening intently to a record that you’re wearing out,” he said of that time where he’d literally work out the chords by listening to a single over and over and over again.
“And all of a sudden, it becomes addictive,” he said.
“What was great about being around at that time and justs lowly doing things, slowly getting better – you’re sort of invisible in a way. You meet other people and they have a different vision, people who help you think about different things and I was fortunate enough to meet people like that.”
“I would study the rolling stones right down to their boots. I would try to stand like that / dance like that / pretend to be something like that,” he said. “And then of course, you get rid of those barnacles as you get older and find different things that are interesting.”
“You’d just keep finding things, meeting people that would say ‘yeah, that’s really great man, but come over here and take a listen to this.”
We’re briefly interrupted by Joe’s daughter Aurora. “No, you can’t have them,” he says. “Because they’re CDs and you’ll crack them.” CDs, yeah, sounds old-school, like Joe himself.
“I have this beautiful girl … it changes you. I’m an old man with a young child. When I was younger, I was too head-strong,” he said (he has five children in total, three who are adults). “Now, I don’t have plenty of time, but I seem to be able to make all the time in the world for her.”
But Joe quickly takes up where he left off. He says it was when he met a few other people who also just wanted to make music that things started to change.
“That was pretty much the Falcons,” he said. “And the Pelaco Brothers. That only lasted a year. But all of a sudden, the ten years prior started coming into play. Because you realise that what you did have was the ability to entertain an audience under extreme conditions.”
The classic 1976 – 1981 group Joe Joe Zep and The Falcons actually reformed in 2001 and playeda ne off gig. But they also released Ricochet in 2003, an album of new work and it was as a member of this outfit that Joe was inducted to the ARIA Hall of Fame a few years later.
Of course, his work with the Black Sorrows has achieved the greatest success – if you call record sales and airplay success. Which it seems Joe wouldn’t.
“I don’t have any interest in the business of smoke and mirrors. I don’t care about that shit. I don’t care about the popularity. I do care about being as good as I can. I haven’t been blessed with the perfect pitch. I have tenacity maybe, I’ve got a bit of that,” he said.
“I just love being in it. But it’s not about fame.”
And it seems old saxophonists never lay down. Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows released Certified Blue in April this year. And he says he’s already got a new album of tracks ready for release next year.
“I think the latest record is a really good collection of songs. I’m writing good songs with my friend Nick Smith – we love writing songs together.”
“I’m having a good run, really,” he says about his career. And with such a diverse career with an enormous back catalogue of songs, what exactly should we expect from his Yellowood set at the end of the month?
“I don’t want to be a heritage act,” he said. “I don’t want that. I want to feel relevant as an artist. I’ve still got something to say.”
But if you’re a diehard Camilleri fan, don’t fret, it sounds like there’ll be something in Joe’s set for everyone.
“It won’t be any different to what I usually do,” he said. “I want to do the things I’m famous for. Of course you want to embrace your past – those songs were new once and I still get a kick out of them.”
_ _ _ _
You can catch Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows at Yellowood on Saturday 30 August at Alberton – just 30 minutes from Gold Coast.