Beyond Cold Chisel: Don Walker celebrates his songs with Blacktop tour

Don Walker on songwriting: “I’m doing songs that I don’t really know where they are going to go. That’s what keeps it interesting ".
Don Walker on songwriting: “I’m doing songs that I don’t really know where they are going to go. That’s what keeps it interesting ".

When the good lord finally calls time on Don Walker’s soul, whenever that may be – god knows, with the amount he’s got on his plate right now, there’s no time for it – Australian music scientists should race to save his brain.

It would take a researcher a lifetime to figure out Walker’s psyche, where in his mind he conjures up the thousands of images and messages carried in his extensive catalogue of original songs. 

Despite his claim at times that no-one will ever remember him when he’s gone, the songs – albeit sung by others and co-written with others – will be etched in Australian cultural history forever. Khe Sanh. Flame Trees. Saturday Night. Choirgirl. Cheap Wine. Stone Cold. Breakfast at Sweetheart’s. Tucker’s Daughter. And country hits like Looking Forward Looking Back, Charleville, High, Dry and Homeless.

At 66 years of age, Walker still operates like he’s in his prime. 

Last weekend he played his part on the keyboards with Cold Chisel, as they headlined at the Supercars event in Adelaide (they also played the Supercars event in Newcastle last November). He admits on Wednesday: “My arms and shoulders are only settling down now from the Chisel show”.

Legend: Don Walker has been writing and playing music for more than 40 years.

Legend: Don Walker has been writing and playing music for more than 40 years.

On Thursday he rehearsed with Tex Perkins and Charlie Owen ahead of their lightning run of shows at Port Fairy Folk Festival, WomAdelaide, the Athenaeum in Melbourne and Twilight at Taronga Zoo in Sydney. 

On March 23 he releases Blacktop, a vinyl set of his entire solo catalogue of six albums, five of which have never been on vinyl. The Blacktop tour, which features his back-up band, the Suave F –  – ks, opens in Newcastle at 48 Watt St on Friday, April 6.

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“It’s an unusual three months,” Walker says. “Three completely different repertoires and three different sets of songs.”

It was 40 years ago in April that Cold Chisel’s debut album thurst the band into the spotlight. Walker wrote six of the seven songs and shared the co-write with Jimmy Barnes on the seventh one. The album included Khe Sanh.

Despite the fame and notoriety of the iconic rock band, the wild ride of Chisel is not the defining story of Don Walker.

Walker has continuously written and recorded music with a handful of close music mates, and co-written with many more in the music industry. His forte is blues, jazz, alt country, but frequently pushing away from easy definition by genre.

The box set called Blacktop (so-called most likely because of the number of songs written on the road) is a fascinating collection of Walker’s music. Ego is not at the forefront of his narrative. Rather, it’s escape and reflection, through the eyes of a knowing voyeur.

Blacktop: Walker's vinyl collection will be released on March 23.

Blacktop: Walker's vinyl collection will be released on March 23.

 Are the stories he weaves true? Or a mixture of fiction and bullshit? 

“Some of it is fiction and bullshit, as is life,” Walker rebounds on the question. “But let me tip my head straight on the question … I’m not a ... I don’t write my diary into song … so, if I’m going through a personal or love life issue, I think it’s very important not to inflict on that listeners. Because when somebody else inflicts that on me, I get really pissed off.

“But inevitably, there is some leakage, between things you go through and the songs, because the songs come out of life experience.

“My songs don’t come from books, they don’t come from a record collection. But there is a fair bit - how can I put this, some times I write songs and I don’t know what it means or what I am writing about and it becomes clear five years later.”

Walker’s songs offer a poetically raw glimpse of life moments, plenty from the dark side, punctuated by piano riffs and funky surf-blues guitar.

Take Sitting In A BarWell, I'm sitting in the bar doing lift home deals, With the last two drinkers in a skirt and high heels, One of them's a girl, the other one I'm not so sure …

Or Four in the Morning; It’s four in the morning, who knows why , I can’t sleep, and if I try I can’t follow where she goes when she closes those beautiful eyes.

Walker has never really stopped writing music – he’s writing at this moment, and will play some new music on the Blacktop tour and hopes to find a day to record a bit of it at the end of the run. It’s been more than five years since he’s recorded with the Suave F –  – – s, but that’s fine.

“It’s fun, as I’m doing it now,” he says. “I’m doing songs that I don’t really know where they are going to go. That’s what keeps it interesting.”

There’s no rush, mind you, he doesn’t work that way. His collaboration with Tex and Charlie has resulted in albums coming out 12 years apart and he’s happy with that.

And the oxygen he’s getting from gigging with Chisel feels better than ever. “It’s the most enjoyable time ever, for us,” he says.

He’s been in and out of Newcastle a bit – Roy Payne, a muso in the Suave F –  – – s, lives in Mayfield, and he’s been here to see him. While he hasn’t played here often with his own band, he’s looking forward to the 48 Watt St show, having heard about its great acoustics. 

Walker as a touring act is a harder sell, he’s the first to admit (he rarely plays Cold Chisel songs when he fronts his own band).

“I don’t have big radio hits,” he says. “That’s a blessing and a curse.

“The curse is I can’t go out and put out a poster and get people coming along to see my five big hits in the ‘80s ‘cause I don’t have any.

“The blessing is I don’t have five or 10 songs I have to do each night.”

Don Walker and The Sauve F – – ks play Commonwealth Games Festival on Gold Coast on April 5, 48 Watt St on April 6; Bowral Bowling Club on April 7;  Bloodwood Winery in Orange on April 8, The Gov in Adelaide on April 12; Memo Music Hall in St Kilda West on April 13;  Northcote Social Club on April 14; The Camelot Lounge in Marrickville on April 19; Bellingen Memorial Hall on April 20; Club Mullum in Mullumbimby on April 21.

Blacktop Vinyl releases March 23. The collection contains:

Catfish – Unlimited Address

Catfish – Ruby

Don Walker – We’re All Gunna Die (double album)

Don Walker – Cutting Back (double album)

Don Walker – Hully Gully (double album)

Don Walker – Live At The Caravan (double album)