After 51 years in the music industry, Joe Camilleri is as vital as ever.
The Oz rock legend, who began his musical career in 1964, has just released two new LPs with his band, The Black Sorrows. Endless Sleep (Chapter 46) and Endless Sleep (Chapter 47) are, respectively, Camilleri’s 46th and 47th albums; the cover albums pay tribute to the artists that inspired Camilleri and have since passed on.
There’s no sign of endless sleep in Camilleri’s future, though; he’s just booked studio time to begin recording his 48th album. So, after an almost unbelievably long career littered with hits like Harley and Rose, Chained to the Wheel and Hold on to Me, what motivates him to keep recording and touring?
“Well, it’s just music, and I’m a music fan,” he laughs, as if his longevity is no big deal. “I kind of like making music. I like writing songs and I like to be surrounded by people who can do things and encourage each other. You just do the things you like doing, and things just fall into place. The schedule’s whatever you want to make it. In the early days, we used to play 300 shows and put out a record every year, so 150 shows and a record is a walk in the park, don’t you think?
“It’s really not that difficult, as long as you keep working at it. Some songs promise you everything and give you nothing. You have to accept that and just do the best you can. As long as you want to do it and you’re interested, it’s fine. I’m still interested, because I don’t want to live in the past. I’ll embrace the past, and I’m thankful that I was part of the Australian music scene when it was a scene, and you didn’t have to go on the morning shows to be on TV. Music was king, and people followed bands like they followed football teams. I was fortunate enough to be part of that, and it’s a different animal today.
“But in saying that, I really want to have something new to say. I love Harley and Rose, I love Chained to the Wheel, I love all those songs and I was blessed to have them, but I’m also interested in what’s around the corner. That’s fascinating and exciting, even at my age.”
Following on from last year’s critically acclaimed Certified Blue LP, the Endless Sleep records see Camilleri putting his own stamp on the music he loved in his youth. The likes of JJ Cale, Lou Reed, Blind Willie McTell, Gil Scott-Heron, John Coltrane, Hank Williams and Ray Charles have been given the Camilleri treatment, but it’s not a straightforward exercise in nostalgia.
“I’ve tried to deliver something that still has the heart and soul of the song,” he explains, “but they’re not just copies. It’s like in My Kitchen Rules, you know? I’ve deconstructed the pavlova.”
In 2011, a documentary about Camilleri’s life – Australia’s Maltese Falcon – was released. In true Camilleri fashion, he’s never watched it.
“No, I have no interest in that,” he sighs. “I hate the way I look, I hate the way I sing, I hate the way I do everything, so I don’t want to watch it. Honestly, I think the reason I keep coming back to this stuff is because I keep thinking I can do it better tomorrow. I’ll have another crack, I’ll have another go at it tomorrow, you know? I really think I’m getting better… I’m certifiable, I guess. Put me in the nuthouse!”
The Black Sorrows will appear at the Blues on Broadbeach Music Festival, which runs from May 21-24. For more information, visit bluesonbroadbeach.com.