“I’m on my 49th album. 21st with the Black Sorrows,” says Joe Camilleri, the giant of Australian rhythm and blues with a sideways glance that dares you to believe it. “So, there’s a lot of past sins I have to repent!”
For those who came in late, those include the ’70s soul-ska revolution of Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons, the peerless FM radio conquest of Hold Onto Me and Harley & Rose and, from the Drollies circa ’65 to Bakelite Radio and the Revelators, more soul-fed, sweat-soaked bar bands than he cares to count.
“This is the album I’ve just made and it’s the hardest album I’ve ever made, on many levels,” says the man who still plays 160 shows a year, from his home base in country Victoria to the music halls of Europe.
And Europe is Joe’s focus right now as The Black Sorrows’ are about to embark on their second run of European shows this year. When they return in October, Australian fans will have an opportunity to witness the band at its new peak of performance as The Black Sorrows undertake their Lover I Surrender Tour for late 2019.
“I know I’ve gotta do ‘Harley & Rose’. I’ve gotta do ‘Chained To The Wheel’. I’ve gotta do ‘Hit & Run’ or ‘Shape I’m In’ – and I do. I do those songs in a really heartfelt kind of way,” he says. “But some of the songs on Citizen John
are really hitting home in the live environment. ‘Wednesday’s Child’, ‘Silvio’ and ‘Worlds Away’ are working really well and the band loves playing them. If the band loves playing them, you feel good about it and that shows.”
Another that’s found a life of its own on the road is ‘Lover I Surrender’, the new single from the album. “It’s a simple love song, a soul song,” says Joe. “Citizen John was a difficult record to make ‘cause some of the songs didn’t like each other. Most were kinda dark and every now and then you got a sweetheart. This is one of those.”
With more than 50 years of road behind him, the next gig is never something Joe takes lightly. From Fremantle to Melbourne to Townsville and dozens of shows in between, on their upcoming tour The Black Sorrows will showcase a live chemistry that’s never been more potent.
“It’s not very often the band text you to say what fun they had at a gig,” Joe says. “Normally it’s the opposite. You’re stuck together in the van for five hours and it’s “get me out of here”. We come to play. And that’s what I still look forward to. It doesn’t matter what happens during the day, it’s all about getting up there, doing what you like to do and hopefully people pick up on it and come on the journey with you.”
“It’s about moving forward. To me, it’s always about moving forward. It’s all very nice to get a pat on the back and ‘Hey I saw you in ’78,’ but I want people to judge me on this album.”
So rolls the Black Sorrows’ undulating landscape of human toil and folly; joy and sorrow; love and loss. It’s a shifting destination Joe Camilleri has been chasing down since he got thrown onstage at a blue light disco in Footscray to
sing some early Rolling Stones number as a teenager back in 1964.
A staggering 55 years on, CITIZEN JOHN drinks from the same bottomless well that made Jo Jo Zep and the Falcon’s Screaming Targets and the late ’80s Sorrows blockbuster Hold Onto Me indelible landmarks in the history of Australian music.
Deep in its grooves lurk the many artists Joe has tipped his hat to, on stage and record: Chuck Berry, Otis Redding, Ray Charles, Burt Bacharach, John Lee Hooker… but “I’m not that guy that I was when I was 20 or 30,” he says. “At 70, my thing is to keep searching for what’s next.
“I’m not a heritage act. I’ve never been a heritage act. I’ve always been a constant player. The Sorrows exist not because we’re an ’80s band, or a ’90s band, or any other kind of band. We exist because of the now. Just treat me
like a new act,” he says. “This one’s just got a very old face.”
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