Tex, Don And Charlie - By Dee


There have been various super-groups in the past but few have managed to capture the musical dignity and magnificence richness the recent collaboration between Tex Perkins, Don Walker and Charlie Owen has achieved.

Their recent album, Sad But True, is a wondrous collection of acoustic country blues and the occasional triumvirate - with the help of drummer Jim (Blackeyed Susans/Dirty Three) White and special guest, Conway Savage - played in Adelaide last year and totally captivated all who saw ‘em perform.

Tex, Don & Charlie make a welcome return next week - on this occasion with Louis Tillett as special guest - to perform at The Tivoli Hotel (Wednesday, March 1) and Rip It Up recently had the opportunity to speak to Don Walker about the current tour. He also told us about writing letters to Slim Dusty and, after some prompting, Don gave us a list of his ‘desert Island’ discs!

Formerly with the very successful Cold Chisel, Don Walker was the band’s keyboard player and songwriter he penned most of Chisel’s classics songs - but when they called it a day in the early ‘8Os, he took to travelling the world along with embarking on a sob career. Under the banner of Catfish, Don has now released two albums (Unlimited Address and Ruby) and we began by discussing the fact that Ruby, released in 1991, was a tine work that, much like its predecessor, went largely unnoticed by radio and hence the general public.

"Everyone who heard the album liked it," Don states matter of factly, "and I’m really happy with both Catfish albums. Nobody goes out these days expecting air play and I’ve never-made a special attempt to make my music palatable to radio. So I can’t really complain if they chose not to play my songs (faint laugh). Of course, I’d love it if it happened (radio play) but I’d never compromise Catfish in such a way to allow for what people in the radio industry are looking for."

Following his tour with Tex and Charlie, Don will contemplate a new record deal and also take Catfish - which includes Adelaide-based harmonica player Dave Blight - on the road for the first time in two years.

Along with guitarist Kim (Scientists/Surrealists) Salmon - who kindly contributed jew’s harp to Sad But True - vocalist Tex Perkins has been involved with underground rock band The Beasts Of Bourbon for the best pert of a decade but has recently scored mainstream success with The Cruel Sea. Guitarist Charlie Owen who occasionally fills in as second guitarist with The Divinyls and has recently been working with Adelaide’s Terry Bradford - was originally with Rob (Radio Birdman) Younger’s band The New Christ’s and was recently in Adelaide at The Big Day Out as replacement for injured guitarist James Cruickshank in The Cruel Sea. The first inklings of an on-going musical collaboration between Tex, Don and Charlie was noted when their version of Bob Dylan’s Blind Wille McTell appeared on the Triple J compilation album, Totally Wireless, with the suggestion an album would follow.

‘The Triple J acoustic thing was really the spark for the whole idea," Don explains. "We really enjoyed it and Tex, Don & Charlie became more or less a side project we did while we got on with the main things that we do. It was a matter of finding time to record the album. Just picking out a few days here and there where we all weren’t doing anything else. Same as when we went to mix it. It was just a matter of finding time. A couple of months would often go by before we could all get together again."

"It doesn’t feel strange to us," Don responds when I suggest the trio’s collaboration, on paper at least, seems a unlikely one. ‘There’s no reason it should be seen as a strange combination because if you examine the fundamentals and see where each of us are coming from, you’ll find we’ve got a lot in common. In fact, we haven’t got a lot that isn’t in common as far as the way we each look at music.

"Perhaps the only real difference is that Tex and Charlie are of a generation that came up through the punk era and I didn’t But punk is just one form of music. We keep coming across music that’s common to all of us. I mean, Tex is a huge fan of Johnny Cash and I’ve loved Johnny Cash for as long as I can remember."

Don explains that Conway (Nick Cave & The Bad Seeds) Savage - the pianist who accompanied them on their last tour - is in Europe making a Bad Seeds video but his vacant seat has been nabbed by Louis Tilleff. Originally with Sydney band, Wet Taxis, Tillett has also released his own albums, notably Letters To A Dream, and will open as support before lending a hand - both of ‘em hopefully! - to the remainder of the evening’s entertainment. "I’ve worked with Louis before," Don states, "and I’m also quite keen on the idea of getting up and doing some back-up things during his set." Also along for the ride will be pedal steel player Garrett Costigan who appeared on Sad But True but was unavailable for their previous visit.

Many of those fortunate enough to witness Tex, Don & Charlie’s earlier Adelaide performance suggested it was a highlight of the year and the intimate concert atmosphere offered by The Tivoli helped make the event a very unique musical experience.

"We’ve now thrown in a few other songs," Don says when asked if this tour will differ from their last jaunt. "Not in a deliberate way - it’s just that we’ve tried a few things out in rehearsals and soundchecks and then thrown them into the set. So, yeah, there are a few new songs that have crept into the repertoire. A few things Tex has thrown in and I’m always looking around to dig up a few new songs.

"In situations where we’ve gotta do an encore, they’ve come in handy. On a couple of occasions we’ve had to come back for an encore and do a few songs we didn’t really know all that well," he admits before wryly adding, ‘but then you could say that about a few songs in the set as well."

I suggest working with Tex and Charlie in an acoustic setting - which could easily be viewed as a musical hobby for the trio - must seem quite relaxing.

"That’s the thing about it. It’s extremely enjoyable. There hasn’t been any unpleasant experiences with the whole project and maybe that’s because it only lasts for a few days here and there. The other stuff ‘we do - Tex with The Beasts and Cruel Sea, Charlie with his own stuff in Melbourne and myself rabbiting away with new Catfish songs - is where all the real pressure is."

Slim Dusty - the Australian country music veteran - recently recorded his 86th album, Ringer From The Top End, and included a fine version of Don’s Charleville. The song had originally appeared on Catfish’s Ruby album and I asked if Don had been thrilled such a legendary figure had chosen to record one of his works.

"Oh yeah! Absolutely! I sat down and wrote Slim a letter of thanks," he proudly laughs. "Such a big blast! I’m told Slim rarely uses songs other people have already recorded. It’s not out of any principle - it’s just something that rarely happens. The other thing I’m also told is that Slim usually changes lyrics slightly but with Charleville he didn’t do that. And, he did such a magnificent job on the song.

"I don’t think people think about how great a vocalist Slim is," Don quickly continues. "He’s thought of as an institution but you don’t do what he’s been doing for that long without acquiring some pretty special qualities as a vocalist. With Charleville I can really appreciate how Slim brings just the right tongue-in-cheek approach to it. Charleville really needs that kind of ‘winking’ vocal."

A video for Slim’s version of Charleville is about to be filmed and Don has been invited to join in the festivities.

"We’re actually going to be doing the clip next weekend and as I understand it we’re going to be doing a duet version. We’re gonna use Slim’s band but I’m also going to get Dave Blight to blow some harmonica on it. Once again, we’ve been looking for the time to do it when everybody was available."

Don recently played piano on a couple of songs on Flesh & Wood the latest outing from former Cold Chisel cohort, Jimmy Barnes.

"I went down to Jim’s studio in Bowral and played piano on a couple of songs although, apart from the things on the radio, I haven’t actually heard the whole album yet but Jim’s sent me a couple of mixes of the songs we did. Flesh & Wood will introduce people to a side of Jim they may not have expected. A lot of people think all he can do is scream. They haven’t cottoned onto the fact he’s quite an astonishing singer."

Included on Flesh & Wood is the Randy Newman song, Guilty - Barnes sings it as a duet with Joe Cocker - and rumbur has it Cold Chisel often used to muck around with this particular piece during rehearsals.

"Oh yeah. All the time," Don readily confers. "Randy Newman was an early favourite of mine, especially Good Old Boys, the album Guilty comes from. It’s just one of the greatest albums of all time and would have to be one of my ‘desert island’ discs.

This prompted me to ask what music Don would be likely to take away to a desert island!

"Oh, now! Let me think." Don sighs. "I’d probably have to take a few Best Of collections. I’d take some Randy Newman; some Marvin Gaye - what can you say about a genius? Led Zeppelin’s first album. Sinatra’s Live at The Sands. I’d probably look around for a good Johnny Cash compilation and a good Elvis compilation. And a Howling Wolf compilation.

"Err, that list doesn’t include any female singers," he laments after a short pause, "and funnily enough most of my record collection, for one reason or another, seems to be made up of women singers. So, I’d have to take some Ella Fitzgerald and Billie Holliday. Maybe some Mahalia Jackson and possibly some Sarah Vaughan. Err, most of these people seem to be getting on a bit don’t they?

"Oh yeah, and I’d also take along some Shirley Bassey," Don happily concludes. "I love Shirley Bassey! I think she’s fantastic and I’m not even gay!"

Tex, Don & Charlie, along with special guest Louis Tillett, perform at The Tivoli on Wednesday, March 1.

1994 Rip It Up



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