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Jimmy Barnes makes music comeback with new band The Barnestormers

Author: Kathy McCabe

Jimmy Barnes is back in the swing after his recent surgery launching his rumoured rockabilly global supergroup.

Barnes has been teasing The Barnestormers band in recent weeks as he recuperated from the hip replacement surgery which forced him off the road in December.

His first band project since Cold Chisel co-stars American rockabilly royalty Slim Jim Phantom of The Stray Cats, his close mate Chris Cheney from The Living End, and British television and music star Jools Holland.

The seeds of the project were first sown more than 30 years ago when Barnes enlisted The Stray Cats to open his Australian tour in 1990.

A lunch in Los Angeles 20 years later, which also included Cheney, again had Barnes insisting they should all make a rockabilly record together.

When global touring ground to a halt during the pandemic, producer and studio wizard Kevin Shirley, who was connected to all of the musicians, said “you’ve got to do it now.”

“I was like ‘How do we do it? We’re all locked away,’” Barnes said.

“Kevin was the motivator from hell who got us all of our arses and working. He hooked us all up, would record each of us and send the tapes around the world.”

While the men were frustrated they couldn’t make their album in old school fashion in a garage somewhere, Barnes and Cheney said they marvelled at Shirley’s considerable skill in assembling the parts recorded remotely in Sydney, Melbourne, Los Angeles and London.

There is also connection to Barnes’ old band Cold Chisel, with the first single Johnny’s Gone written and recorded by Don Walker in the early 1990s for his side hustle Catfish.

“Once the word got out that I was doing a rockabilly record, my friends were sending songs from everywhere; Don sent a couple of his own and 50 of his favourites, Paul Field suggested the Chuck Berry song Dear Dad,” Barnes said.

All of the Barnestormers grew up on rockabilly. As a teen, Cheney was practising Buddy Holly and Scotty Moore (Elvis Presley’s guitarist) riffs as his friends jammed on Nirvana and Guns N’ Roses songs.

The niche rock’n’roll genre is enjoying a generational refresh kickstarted by the viral success of The Cramps’ version of Goo Goo Muck after it featured on the hit Netflix series Wednesday.

“I think you would probably find there’s kids in garages all over the whole of America doing (rockabilly),” Barnes said.

Barnes hopes to use his considerable powers of persuasion to get this band on the road.

“We had some (live) things planned, but they fell through because of my surgery. So now we’re recalculating to see what we can do because it is difficult to get everybody in the same place at the same time. The thing is, we all want to do it,” Barnes said.

The 66-year-old rocker will give his hip its first live test in May when he joins the Australian Chamber Orchestra for their concert to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Sydney Opera House.

Barnes spent three months on physiotherapy and has spent the past month with wife Jane in Thailand swimming to get matchfit for his live return.

“I’m fighting fit, I’ve been swimming for an hour every day. You’ve got to do exactly what the doctors says. Three weeks after I got to Thailand, I wanted to get some heavy weights in and I couldn’t walk for two days, so I went back to what I was supposed to be doing.”

The Barnestormers self-titled debut album is out on May 26.