Coming in from the Cold - By Adam Zwar

 

Don Walker warms to Melbourne with a backhanded compliment, reports ADAM ZWAR

There are two Dons in the life of every Australian.
Both are thoughtful, introspective men who value privacy and have a strong connection with South Australia.
One may have had a Test batting average of 99.94, but the other wrote Khe Sahn.
Don Walker, the latter, but never the lesser, starts slowly.
The former Cold Chisel keyboardist and songwriter allows a few questions to go through to the keeper and ducks a couple more.
After 15 minutes in the middle, Walker, one of Australia’s most educated musicians – with a degree in quantum physics – effects a reverse sweep and it is Melbourne that cops a back-handed compliment.
"Sydney has never had the tradition that Melbourne has, where people can get up on stage and workshop with each other." Says Walker, speaking from his home in Sydney where he is "trying to bring up a family".
"Of course, it’s a lot colder down there and people have to get together and reduce their surface area. Next thing you know, they’re discussing Marxism and talking in blank verse.
"Melbourne’s always been a bit like that. In short bursts, it can be enthralling. Over a lifetime, it just drives people insane."
It has been two years since Walker orchestrated Cold Chisel’s brief comeback and tour.
He says he has only "just recovered" from the ordeal.
And, to celebrate, he is taking his roots rock band, including renowned guitarist Red Rivers, on a brief visit to Melbourne.
Walker last released a solo album in 1995. Although We’re All Gunna Die was received warmly by the critics and fans, the master lyricist has baulked at making a follow-up.
"The blunt reason is that I haven’t written songs of high enough quality to follow up that last album," he says.
The former member of Catfish, Tex, Don & Charlie and songwriter to everyone from former Chisel-mate Ian Moss to Slim Dusty, says he always dreamed of leading a band dedicated to roots, blues and a bit of country.
"It was just a question of whether I was capable of doing it," he says.
Still, as far as product analysis is concerned, Walker says the buck starts and stops with him.
"I can only talk to myself about whether or not a piece of music is good or bad," he says. "There’s not too many people I can bounce things off with"
One friend did, however, recently tell Walker exactly what he thought of Chisel’s recent Last Wave of Summer album.
"I pulled the album out about six months ago and played it," he says. "It sounded pretty good to me. But I had a close mate – a hard rocker – who said that it was not the Chisel of old. I found that quite puzzling.
"But sometimes you can be blind to your own shortcomings when you’re in the middle of it"
And like its predecessors, Walker says Last Wave of Summer did not bow to fashion or trend.
"There are no fashionable tricks on it," he says. "There are no concessions to the fashion principles that existed in 1998 – and that is why it’s not obsolete in 200
0."

Asked about the legacy of his music, he says, "At the University of New England (in NSW), where I went, there is this collage.
"And it is the tradition of this collage that its members unbuckle their belts and drop their trousers to their ankles and stand to attention whenever they hear Khe Sahn.
"They have to do this – regardless of where they are in the world or what time it is or the situation they’re in.
"Now I just think that’s great."


The Don on…

Jimmy Barnes: "I heard that Jim got locked in a dressing room for 12 hours before the Olympic Games closing ceremony. With the Olympic security, he wasn’t allowed to leave. I find that extraordinary. Jim has never been in any one room in his life for longer than five and a half minutes without busting out."

On writing for others: "It’s not rewarding. I don’t get a kick out of the result. And when you look at the hard bucks of it, it doesn’t make a lot of money as it should."

On Slim Dusty: "Now there’s a bloke I enjoy writing for. The first time he did a song of mine it surprised me. I thought ’hey, this means something to me’."


Don Walker will perform with Red Rivers and special guest Maurice Frawley at the Corner Hotel, Richmond, On Wednesday. Table reservations: 9427 9198.

2000 Melbourne Herald Sun (26/11/00)

 

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