Don Walker's Catfish - By Robert Dunstan

 

Having lately been heavily involved with Tex Perkins and Charlie Owen in acoustic hand Tex Don & Charlie, pianist, vocalist and song writer Don Walker is now touring with his hand Catfish. Having already released two albums, After Hours and Ruby, since the beginning of the decade, a third Catfish album is about to surface in the form of We're AU Gunna Die and Rip It up recently spent some time talking to Don about the album and Catfish's gigs in Adelaide this coming weekend.

Well-known as chief song writer and keyboard player with legendary Australian rock band Cold Chisel, Don Walker embarked on an extensive overseas sojourn following the demise of that group in the early '80 following a decade of success.

Returning from a lengthy hiatus to such places as Russia and Europe, Don then put together Catfish, which highlighted a bluesy, soulful sound before becoming involved with Tex Perkins and Charlie Owen in the highly successful acoustic outfit, Tex Don & Charlie.

Speaking to Don late last year (for a Tex Don & Charlie article), he'd mentioned the fact a new( Catfish album had been recorded and explained he was currently in the process of listening back and re-mixing it.

"Well, the album's now been mixed and ready to go and I'll be puffing it out midyear," Don says, "and I've got the band [Catfish] back together for some live shows for the first time since May of '93. We did a few shows in Sydney in Melbourne last November but this is bit more of an extensive run with the main aim being to try to get to Brisbane and Adelaide for the first time in many years. It'll give people in those places another chance to look at the band and, hopefully, we'll be able to go back to those places and not just play around Sydney and Melbourne."

In addition to regular accompaniment by local Adelaide musician Dave Blight on harmonica, Catfish now include the sweet sounds of Garrett Costigan on pedal steel.

"Catfish were basically going out as a three-piece guitar band with harmonica over the top and I didn't want to use keyboards because it's the obvious thing," Don sighs. "Keyboards also tend to weigh music down. It doesn't float. Then, over the last couple of years, I've seen Garrett Costigan playing pedal steel with Steve Hoy in Melbourne.

"While we're at it, let's put a plug in for Steve Hoy," Don then remarks. "He's a fantastic Australian songwriter and a fantastic singer and, some years ago, released one of the greatest albums ever recorded in this country. But, because of the collapse and sale of his record company the week the album was released - a technotronic clash of multi-nationals - it fell through the cracks. But enough of that."

(Happily, Steve Hoy has now scored a deal with EMI and an independently recorded album Self Defence, has very recently been re-issued by that company.)

"Anyway," Don continues, "watching Garrett play pedal steel with Steve, it occurred to me that this was the missing instrument which could sustain chords without elbowing everybody else out of the way. Pedal steel is very much an instrument which floats over the top of the music.

"So, I got together a basic band to record We're All Gunna Die which now includes Garret playing pedal steel. In the past, we've always featured Dave Blight on harmonica and a succession of guitar players but the addition of pedal steel has made a big difference because Catfish now has this curious mixture of white music and black music - the pedal steel against the harmonica - and I'd been looking for something a bit different for years.

Along with his involvement with Steve Hoy, Garrett Costigan has also worked with Tex Don & Charlie and appears on their recent live album, Monday Morning Corning Down

"I originally wanted to get Garrett in on pedal steel for a couple of songs but Tex and Charlie said 'why?' because Charlie was already playing lap steel. But the two instruments are as different as chalk and cheese and once Tex and Charlie heard Garrett, they understood how he would fit into what Tex, Don & Charlie were doing."

Guitarist Ian Moss (ex-Cold. Chisel) is also currently playing with Catfish.

"Yeah, Ian's helping out temporarily," Don confers. "Ian plays one one track on the album, a guest spot. The guy playing guitar on the rest of the album is Andy Heggan who goes under the name Red Rivers. He's a slower, bluesier player than Ian and plays a Gretsch and has a band called Red Rivers & The Love Rodeo. But Andy's more of a studio player and when it caine to take it out on the road, it didn't work."

Oddly perhaps, Ian Moss is touring with Catfish under the. name Kid Groove, a moniker he used when guesting on the Ruby album.

"We're not being coy about the fact Ian's in the band by using a pseudonym but, bear in mind. certain people will grab a thing like that and print Cold Chisel in big black letters," Don wryly suggests. "That's hardly the thing we want to get across and it's hardly what people are going to see when they come to see Catfish."

Deciding that he's more than happy with the success of a recent Cold Chisel album, Teenage Love. which comprised never before issued recordings. Don - who was heavily involved in compiling the release - also explains the reasons for the recent repackaging.

"The logic was that we were a little bit too arty farty with the original cover design," he says. "We took a hard look at it over Christmas because. although Pierre Baroni had down a fantastically striking album cover for Teenage Love, if you stood any more than 10 centimetres away, you wouldn't know it was a Cold Chisel CD. We've now rectified that."

Rod Willis (Catfish and former Cold Chisel manager) recently suggested the new Catfish album might be released independently..

"I think that's what we'll do," Don confers. "It's something I've been thinking about for quite some years having been involved with various Cold Chisel deals. Cold Chisel are at the other end of the spectrum from Catfish because, Cold Chisel had a tremendous amount of power. Enough power to virtually write our own deals. We could take it to the limit and not be constrained by the conventions of normal record company procedures which dictate terms to young bands because, 'hey, that the way it is.'

"I've now become very familiar with the numbers as far as the money is concerned and who makes what on all these record deals," he continues. "Having seen these figures, it's been very tempting to entertain the thought of puffing out a Catfish album ourselves. It's just very tempting when you know how many bands and managers are frustrated with the practicalities of getting a major company to distribute your album properly. They just don't.

"Doing it yourself," Don explains. "you're gonna make eight to 10 bucks per sale instead of two. All you have to wear is the responsibility of doing your own sums and running your own marketing campaign. You also have to do that with a major company but, for some reason, it never gets done. You go and have lots of meetings and plan it out with them and then everybody nods their heads. But it never gets done.

"So," he adds, "I'm looking forward to the whole exercise of being completely in control remembering that 20 years ago Rod and I used to run Cold Chisel gigs in Adelaide. We used to do things like hire Norwood Town Hall and then make our own posters.

"It'll mainly be new songs from We're All Gunna Die," Don says when asked what form Catfish gigs will take. "We do Early Hours from the first album and a couple form Ruby and in the last week, we've also learned a version of Too Long which I've always wanted to play live but have never been able to until we got pedal steel in the band."

Catfish perform at Flinders University on Saturday April 29 and at The Oriental Hotel, Norwood on Sunday April 30 from 5 - 8 pm.

1995 Rip It Up (April 27th)

 

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