Jimmy Barnes is the heart and the soul of Australian rock and roll. His name evokes the sound of ear-splitting rock classics plus signature readings of soul standards. He has enjoyed nineteen #1 albums here – more than The Beatles – and sold more records in this country than any other local artist. For well over 40 years he has delivered some of our most intense and iconic live performances and sung unforgettable hits like Working Class Man, Flame Trees, No Second Prize, Khe Sanh and Shutting Down Our Town. From a wild youth fronting the legendary Cold Chisel to his more recent years as a beloved family man, Jimmy has been through it all, and literally lived to tell the tales. He is truly in a league of his own, having been inducted into the ARIA Hall of fame … twice.
In 2016, Jimmy’s self-penned childhood memoir, Working Class Boy, was a #1 bestseller and won the Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA). His 2017 sequel, Working Class Man, also topped the charts and won the ABIA, making him the first person to ever win “Biography Of The Year” twice. The two books have sold over 500,000 copies so far making them the most successful biographical series in local publishing history. HisStories & Songslive production based on these memoirs sold out over 100 shows and attracted unanimous critical as did the related documentary film Working Class Boy which topped the box office in late 2018. Clearly Jimmy’s life story holds a unique fascination for Australians of all ages.
In June 2019, Jimmy released My Criminal Record – his first new, original album in almost decade. It picked up on many of the themes in his books and was written by Jimmy, with significant collaboration from his lifelong sparring partner, Cold Chisel’s Don Walker. It topped the chart and was followed by another #1 album over the summer of 2019/20 when Cold Chisel released Blood Moon and toured outdoor venues across Australia.
Jimmy’s book of short stories, Killing Time, was released in late 2020. Written largely during the Covid19 shutdown, the book featured tall tales, out-takes and B-sides from one of Australia’s finest storytellers. Never one to slow down, Jimmy unveiled two more books in 2021 – a children’s title, Rosie the Rhinoceros, and a cookbook with his wife, Jane, titled Where The River Bends.
Flesh And Blood, Jimmy’s twentieth studio album, was released in July 2021. Borne out of the live-from-home performances that comforted millions via social media during their pandemic isolation, these ten brand new recordings featured multiple contributions from Jimmy’s extended family. The title track was debuted at the State Memorial Service for Jimmy’s close mate, Michael Gudinski and went on to be nominated for an APRA Award as Australia’s “Most Performed Rock Work”.
Adding to Jimmy’s record-breaking cache of #1 Albums, in June 2022 his reimagined and remastered Soul Deep 30 debuted at the top spot on the ARIA chart, taking his career total to 14 solo number ones plus five with Cold Chisel. The accompanying Soul Deep 30 arena tour received glowing reviews.
Jimmy has also been made an Officer of the Order Of Australia (AO) for “distinguished service to the performing arts as a musician, singer and songwriter, and through support for not-for-profit organisations, particularly to children with a disability”.
James Dixon Barnes of Glasgow via Adelaide was just 16 when he joined the band Cold Chisel in 1973. Raised on tough soul music and gutsy rock, Jimmy bought his monumental passion and a versatile vocal style to this five-piece band who would eventually become the most powerful live act in the heyday of Australian pub rock.
A big part of Cold Chisel’s appeal was the fury, wit and danger that Jimmy brought to the stage every night. Fuelled on drugs and vodka, he was capable of anything and audiences flocked to experience the mayhem firsthand at gigs around the country during the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
Cold Chisel released a series of classic albums over these years including, East, Circus Animals and Twentieth Century. Many of their songs – Khe Sanh, Choirgirl, Cheap Wine, You Got Nothing I Want, Flame Trees, When The War Is Over – are now virtually national anthems.
When Jimmy went solo in 1984 his debut Bodyswerve topped the charts, as did his 1986 album, For the Working Class Man, which gave him a signature tune and cemented his place at the centre of a generation. He spoke directly to and for them.
The #1 hits kept coming through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s with Freight Train Heart, the live set Barnestorming, Two Fires, Flesh and Wood, and of course Soul Deep – an album of R&B classics that sold almost a million copies.
The rewards were great but the booze, drugs and an out of control lifestyle eventually started to take their toll. The wildness that Jimmy brought onstage was nothing compared to what was happening inside his head although it would
be decades before he finally revealed the demons that propelled him through these high octane years.
By 1993 Jimmy felt burned out. He and the family moved to Europe where he tried to regroup. These were challenging years, struggling with his career and raising a young family of four with the love of his life, Jane who he had married back in 1981.
The Barnes’ came back to Australia in 1996 and returned to the charts with a Best Of set (Hits Anthology) that featured a hit single, Lover Lover, co-written with Jane. A Cold Chisel tour and #1 album (The Last Wave of Summer) followed in 1998 but that reunion was short-lived as Jimmy’s offstage demons continued to haunt him.
There were two intense rock albums (Psyclone and Love And Fear) around this time and a second soul album in 2000 (Soul Deeper) but it was 2005’s Double Happiness, featuring duets with family and friends that put Jimmy right back on top.
Since then, Jimmy’s career has gone from strength to strength with more successful and acclaimed solo releases. Then in 2009, Cold Chisel reformed again. Their Light The Nitro Tour in 2011 remains the biggest grossing tour ever by an Australian-based band and they continued to fill stadiums with more shows across the next decade bringing their music to new generations of fans. The band also released three new albums across these years including No Plans (2012) and The Perfect Crime (2015). Their enduring appeal was proved once again when their ninth studio album, 2019’s Blood Moon, landed loudly and proudly at #1 on the ARIA Album Chart. It was their fifth chart topper joining Swingshift (1981), Circus Animals (1982), Twentieth Century (1984) and The Last Wave of Summer (1998). They now hold the record for most time between their first #1 and their most recent – 38 years from 1981 until 2019.
Meanwhile Jimmy’s 2014 release 30:30 Hindsight celebrated his 30 years as a solo artist and featured collaborations with international artists including ‘Miami’ Steve Van Zandt, Keith Urban, and Journey alongside local chart-toppers such as Bernard Fanning, The Living End, Tina Arena, Troy Cassar-Daley and many others. The following year Jimmy travelled to Tennessee where he recorded an album of lost soul classics called Soul Searchin’.
Then in October 2016 he released the first volume of his memoirs – Working Class Boy. If a book could be rawer than Jimmy Barnes in full flight onstage, this was it. Working Class Boy told the harrowing story of his childhood in Glasgow and Adelaide surrounded by booze, domestic violence and abuse. The book revealed Jimmy as a writer of unfettered honesty. He leavened his dark story with humour and, ultimately, love. In these evocative and emotional pages readers finally discovered the fuel that had fired this singular performer across the decades.
The hugely anticipated second volume of his memoirs, Working Class Man landed a year later. The book was a searingly honest reflection on success, music, family, love and addiction. But beyond the combustible merry-go-round of fame, drugs and rehab it was also a story about how it’s never too late to try to put things right. Like its predecessor, Working Class Man went straight to the top of the Bookscan Charts and held that position for 10 consecutive weeks while Jimmy’s collaboration with The Wiggles, Och Aye The Gnu – a kid’s book and album inspired by one of his Grandchildren – won the 2017 ARIA Award for Best Children’s Release.
But the story doesn’t stop there. The Working Class Boy documentary film premiered in cinemas in 2018 to rave reviews, and the companion soundtrack went on to win the 2018 ARIA Award for Best Original Soundtrack / Cast / Show Album.
It was followed by three more chart topping albums – My Criminal Record (2019), Flesh & Blood (2020), and Soul Deep 30 (2022) – which all saw Jimmy headlining major arenas once again. More than 40 years after he first exploded into the national consciousness he is at the very top of his game, creatively, commercially and personally.
Few Australian lives have been bigger than Jimmy Barnes. His story filled three books. His music is our national soundtrack. There is literally nobody else in this country who has ever experienced such a successful, enduring and multifaceted career. Lots of things have changed over his decades in the public eye but the one constant is his powerful connection with live audiences across more than 10,000 gigs. Night after night. Year after year. It’s enough to make anyone scream but these days it’s the wildness of it all that keeps Jimmy Barnes grounded.
“My job,” he says, “is to turn every night of the week into Saturday night for people. It’s the best job there is.”
- Fourteen #1 solo albums and five #1 albums with Cold Chisel – a combined total that is more than any other artist.
- Inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame with Cold Chisel in 1992 and as a solo artist in 2005.
- Only Australian to win the ABIA Award for Best Biography twice-Working Class Boy in 2017 and Working Class Man in 2018.
- Officer Of The Order Of Australia (2017)
Cold Chisel Studio Albums:
Cold Chisel (1978)
Breakfast At Sweethearts (1979) East (1980)
Circus Animals (1982)
Twentieth Century (1984)
The Last Wave Of Summer (1998) No Plans (2012)
The Perfect Crime (2015)
Blood Moon (2019)
Solo Studio Albums
For the Working Class Man (1985)
Freight Train Heart (1987)
Two Fires (1990)
Soul Deep (1991)
Flesh and Wood (1993)
Love and Fear (1999)
Soul Deeper… Songs From the Deep South (2000) Double Happiness (2005)
Out in the Blue (2007)
The Rhythm and the Blues (2009)
Rage And Ruin (2010)
30:30 Hindsight (2014)
Soul Searchin’ (2016)
Working Class Boy: The Soundtracks (2018)
My Criminal Record (2019)
Flesh And Blood (2021)
Skin and Bone (The Flesh And Blood Demos) EP (2021) Soul Deep 30 (2022)
Working Class Boy (2016) Working Class Man (2017) Och Aye the Gnu (2017) Killing Time (2020)
Rosie the Rhinoceros (2021)
Where the River Bends – Jane and Jimmy Barnes (2021)