The Australian

Jimmy and Cheney team up for Barnestorming debut

Author: Andrew McMillen

When the two Australian members of international rockabilly group The Barnestormers are asked how the notorious musical term ‘supergroup’ sits with them, opinions are starkly divided.

“I don’t like the term ‘supergroup’; we’re a bunch of mates getting together to play music,” said Jimmy Barnes, 67, the chart-topping singer whose distinctive voice explores new tones on the band’s self-titled debut album, to be released on Friday.

“I love it, because I think we’re super,” said Chris Cheney, 48, with a laugh. The guitarist and frontman of Melbourne rock trio The Living End has lent his stirring licks to a set of songs that celebrate the origins of rock ’n’ roll.

The quartet is completed by Slim Jim Phantom, aka James McDonnell, the drummer and co-founder of esteemed New York rockabilly act the Stray Cats, with British musician and television presenter Jools Holland on piano.

The four of them recorded their parts remotely, in the depths of Covid lockdowns – yet thanks to the talents of South African record producer Kevin Shirley, the 11-track set has the feel of musicians sharing the same space.

“The essence of rockabilly music is that it sounds like you’re in a garage, thrashing it out ­together,” said Barnes. “We managed to do that while in four major cities around the world. I can’t give enough credit to Kevin; I don’t think there’s many ­producers that could have made that happen.”

For Cheney – who was a wide-eyed, 15-year-old witness when the Stray Cats supported Barnes at Melbourne’s National Tennis Centre in 1990 – working with Slim Jim Phantom is a dream come true.

“I do have to pinch myself,” he said. “I feel blessed, and it’s quite an amazing thing to be sitting on the edge of your bed, playing along to Stray Cats songs – to now playing in a band with him.”

The album includes a mix of originals – including first single Johnny’s Gone, which was written by Barnes’s Cold Chisel bandmate Don Walker – and covers.

The musicians recorded songs made famous by the likes of Roy Orbison (Working for the Man), Chuck Berry (Dear Dad) and Johnny O’Keefe’s Wild One, which was the first Australian rock ’n’ roll recording to crack the local charts in 1958.

As well, there’s a version of a recent Cold Chisel song in Land of Hope and Glory, co-written by Barnes and Walker, which appeared on its 2019 album Blood Moon.

Asked whether that meant he felt he had to rise to the high standard set by Chisel’s revered guitarist Ian Moss, The Living End’s axeman modestly ­demurred. “I just think he’s on this other level,” said Cheney of Moss. “I look up to players like that, and admire them so much; I tried to bring my own thing to each of the songs.”

On hearing this, the Barnestormers’ leader offered some high praise for his bandmate.

“I’ve watched Chris play a million times, and I don’t think he ever feels intimidated by any guitar player in the world,” said Barnes with a laugh. “I’ve stood at the side of stage with Mossy, watching him.”