James Dixon Swan (Jimmy Barnes) was born in 1956, in Glasgow, Scotland. His family immigrated to Adelaide in South Australia in 1961. Jim’s parents divorced soon after and his mother (Dorothy) remarried Reg Barnes. The Swan children were given the opportunity to change their surname, and they all did except Jim’s oldest brother John. Jim Barnes left school as soon as he could and took a job as an apprentice iron smelter on the Australian Railways. John (Swanee) Swan, enjoyed some success as a singer and drummer and that encouraged his wee brother to follow suit.
John’s band Fraternity had just lost their lead singer Bon Scott, so young Jim took over. The music was not exactly to Jim’s tastes so he left and became the singer with a band called Orange. The lineup was Don Walker (keyboards), Ian Moss (lead guitar and vocals), Steve Prestwich (drums) and Les Kaczmarek (Bass). The group changed names several times until they struck on Cold Chisel in 1974 and 17 year old Jim fronted the rock/soul/blues fusion as lead singer and guitarist. On stage, Jim’s presence was magnificent as a raw-voiced singer who shouted into the microphone with every breath in his lungs. Cold Chisel proved to be a popular live attraction in the local clubs and pubs but took some time to get a record deal. Between 1977 and 1983, despite lineup changes they became the biggest rock’n’roll band in Australia. Along with success came excess, and Jim reveled in celebrity and notoriety, winning himself a reputation as a short-tempered, womanising, wild man and hard-drinking rocker. Despite their success in Australia Cold Chisel failed to impact overseas and internal disagreements meant the band was fragile. A disastrous tour of US in 1981 tore them further apart and two years later Cold Chisel called it a day.
Jim now called Jimmy Barnes went solo and toured with his own band which included Bruce Howe (bass), Mal Eastick (guitar) Ray Arnott (drums) and Chris Stockley. Jimmy Barnes signed for Mushroom Records and released Bodyswerve in 1984 which was an instant best seller in Australia.
The Adelaide singer was determined to break into the US market and signed to Geffen Records. His second album, For the Working Class Man (which was released in the US as, Jimmy Barnes) featured remixed songs from Bodyswerve plus five new tracks including "Working Class Man" written by Jonathan Cain (Journey).
Several US musicians worked as session players including Waddy Watchel, Billy Burnette, Kim Carnes, Charlie Sexton, Mick Fleetwood, members of Little Feat, and Journey's Jonathan Caine. The album sold less well than expected in the US despite ‘Working Class Man’ featuring in the Ron Howard film Gung Ho. Jimmy had better success in Australia and the album gave him a second number one album. Working Class Man became Jimmy’s signature tune and confirmed him as an Australian music icon. Meantime Jonathan Caine and Jimmy Barnes became good friends and Jimmy was offered lead singer of Journey but turned it down determined to return to Australia, but not lose his American connection. All of his subsequent albums took number one positions and the singer divided his time on the road and in the studio. He loved performing but needed to keep up a punishing schedule to support his live-now pay-later lifestyle, which would later catch up with him. Jimmy continued close association with the US and made up several song writing partnerships. In the space of nine years, Jimmy Barnes recorded eight albums which covered a wide range from Rock, Soul to Blues. Jimmie Barnes recorded Soul Deep in 1991.
This was a special project for the singer and involved a nostalgic return to the music which had influenced him as a young rocker. Many of the session musicians were the original players and later Barnes invited them to tour Australia with him to promote the album. Soul Deep went on to become Jimmy Barnes' most successful album ever, and spawned the hit single “When Something is Wrong with My Baby", a duet with John Farnham.
In 1992, Jimmy recorded 'Simply the Best' with Tina Turner for the NSW Rugby League ad campaign and the song enjoyed chart success.
By 1994, Jimmy’s private affairs were in turmoil and bankruptcy threatened. Unpaid taxes of $1.3 million (Au) forced the Barnes’s to sell up in Australia and move his family to live in France where he recorded Psyclone (1995).
Such was the acrimony between Jimmy Barnes and former Cold Chisel members, Ian Moss and Don Walker who vowed never to work with Jimmy Barnes again, the likelihood of Cold Chisel reforming become remote. But in 1993, Don Walker wrote Stone Cold for Jimmy and it appeared in his Heat album.
Cold Chisel decided to reform in 1998 for The Last Wave of Summer album and tour then regrouped again in 2003 and 2005.
Between times all the members of Cold Chisel pursued their individual interests with no serious intention of ever permanently reforming. During 2002, Jimmy gave up alcohol after a life-long addiction and 5 years later successfully underwent open-heart surgery to replace a heart valve that was faulty. Jimmy Barnes continues to perform and record and has become the real Grand Daddy of Australian Rock.
Worth a listen
Khe Sanh (1978)
Breakfast at Sweethearts (1979)
My Baby (1979)
Choir Girl (1979)
Rising Sun (1979)
Flame Trees (1984)
No second prize (1984)
I’ll die to be with you tonight (1985)
Ride the night away (1985)
Working class man (1985)
Good times (with INXS) (1986)
I’m still on your side (1987)
Driving wheels (1987)
Too much ain’t enough love (1987)
Little darling (1990)
When your love has gone (1990)
When something is wrong with my baby (with John Farnham) (1991)
Simply the best (with Tina Turner) (1992)
Stand up (1993)
Stone cold (1993)
The weight (with the Badloves) (1993)
Change of heart (1995)
Lover lover (1996)