Take a Walker on the Mild Side - By Chris Whiting
|The voice of Don Walker when
it comes over the phone is surprisingly familiar. It comes in broad measured everyday
Queensland tones, and betrays his North Queensland background.
"I'm told I don't really talk like anybody else around down here," he says.
You could almost believe he was ordinary. Throughout the interview there are constant reminders that Don Walker, the creative force behind Cold Chisel, now collaborating with Tex Perkins and Charlie Owens, is not a rock star, but a musician. A man whose work is the creation & crafting of music.
I think it's that simple.
Discussing their upcoming tour you find him seemingly uncomfortable or dismissive of the narcissistic elements of modern music.
Dealing with a badly worded question about "charismatic frontmen", he replied he hasn't thought about whether it's a disadvantage or not to have the "charismatic" frontman: the word charismatic is surrounded by frowning pauses, and rolls off the tongue like chewed up lemon rind.
"It doesn't mean anything really. It just comes down to the fact that it's a real pleasure that when you're writing songs to hear them sung by someone with an extraordinary voice like that, to just hear the sound of it. The first time I clapped eyes on Tex was when he came in my front door, and the next thing I noticed was that he opened his mouth & sung a song or two, and he had this extraordinary voice."
Let me introduce you to the stripped-back and laid-back world of Tex, Don & Charlie. And introduction it will be for many of you, for their self-titled album was one of the most under-rated dishes on last years menu.
The album was recorded in 3 days, and has a place & feel which reminds you of the Paris Texas album. It's relaxed but not sloppy, sparse but precise, the piano tinkling along with an acoustic guitar. Then the vocals wash in, with the steel guitar creeping in to swell out the mood. It captures the mood of wearied men sitting around in bars ruminating through cigarette coughs on lost lives & lost loves. Love's thrown away or unrequited, the downward spiral of human experience. But strangely it's a seedy melancholia that embraces & warms you, and makes a superb package of an album.
Let's start with the sound of the album. There's a country & bluesy feel, especially with the dobro and pedal steel guitar playing of Charlie Owens. Have you always been attracted to that "soulful" kind of music?
"My dad had a cane farm down on Rita Island on the Burdekin River, and my mum taught in Home Hill. I left there when I was 4 years old. The first time I actually got back to Rita Island was during a Cold Chisel tour when I was about 30-something, doing on of those tours down the Queensland coast."
And then completely unprompted, he said "When I see Steve Renouf heading down the sideline, that's pretty much when I know I'm a Queenslander."
You support dem Broncos, despite knowing what kind of shit will be hung on you by the rest of the population of Sydney?
"The household I'm living in is a Broncos household & I'm very much in a minority down here. I mean, being a Broncos supporter in Sydney can sometimes be dangerous. But.... I can just point at the scoreboard."
"I will say also that I was a Broncos supporter since their inception in the competition. I'm not someone who just jumped on it when they started winning."
Listening to him talk about football & canefields I wonder if it's reconcilable with the image painted in some of the press. One article in Rolling Stone labels him as a suave urban gentleman of leisure, complete with slicked-back hair, and a marked preference for suits, cigars & single-malt whiskeys. Will the real Don Walker stand up?
He laughs, almost groans, quite possibly at the question itself.
"Refined taste? Look, there's nothing in that stuff that is inaccurate. It's like a tick-list, you know, define the guy by what he likes. Well, I smoke cigars. There's nothing more to that than once I used to smoke cigarettes, & I decided to give my lungs a break, and I like scotch - well, if you drink scotch for any length of time, you start to think you'd like to drink some of the nice stuff."
"But the thing is with all these matters, no matter who you are, you can't get presented in the media in a 3-dimensional way. The way that the presentation comes across in the media is always going to be a 2-dimensional caricature, and there's nothing you can ever do to change that. That's just the way the media works. The only thing you can hope for is that the caricature is that comes through is a pleasant one & doesn't make you go to bed that night feeling like an idiot."
Sounds like you've had a lot of experience and exposure with the media.
"Well, I went through a stage, when I was young, of thinking that I could jump in & sort of manipulate this. And very quickly, it's a real disillusionment. But the media is just someone that's there - I don't have to deal with it very much because I'm not that much of a public figure."
But you're the lead person of Catfish. Don't you have to be the one to go through the hoopla?
"So far Catfish hasn't led me to deal with being on the cover of Woman's Day or anything. Catfish is, ummm.... Catfish doesn't really challenge my privacy."
As he said earlier in the conversation, Catfish hasn't generated "crushing" volumes of sales. What of the new Catfish album in the works?
"It'll probably be recorded for fun rather than perfection, which is something this whole Tex, Don & Charlie thing has put me back in touch with. It's been nothing but enjoyment & no pressure right from the start. Every time we go & do something together, which is only every 6 months, when we al have "spare time", we go & do this enjoyable thing for a few days or a few weeks, and it just has always been without too much effort being put in."
That's true, too- their first rehearsal is the day before the first gig & Don admits these interviews are the first time he's focussed on the tour.
"The results are just as good as those things you sweat and toll over. So I'm wondering if the more relaxed approach to it is not the better way."
He talks sense, this Don Walker. A down-to-earth, honest man, a music craftsman who would be uncomfortable in the guise of "rock star". Certainly not keen to have his privacy tested and his personality analysed by the media.
Any last thing you want to say?
"If the Broncos want to head down, they're more than welcome."
Now the Courier Mail would love that.
© 1994 Rave Magazine 2/3/94
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