Barnsey’s best Gudinski memories
On reflection, Jimmy Barnes says 2020 wasn't all bad. Sure, he couldn't tour, but he adapted quickly. Barnes and wife Jane turned their house into a television studio and started singing on social media.
"I know it was a tough year for most people, but for Jane and I, we got to spend a year in our house," Barnes tells SMARTdaily.
"We haven't stood still for more than three months, let alone a year, in the 40 years we've been married."
Jane, who had been dabbling in guitar, virtually learned to play the instrument on camera.
"It was a really great year of growth for both of us," she says.
"Playing the songs online brought joy to a lot of people, and while it helped us connect to the world, it also helped us connect to each other."
More than ever, Jimmy Barnes has family on his mind. He and Jane are finishing a cookbook which drops at Christmas, he's writing two different novels and also a children's book, Rosie and the Rhinoceros, inspired by his granddaughter.
And while his family were in lockdown last year, Barnes got them to help write and perform on a new album, Flesh and Blood, a kind of sequel to 1993's acoustic effort Flesh and Wood.
"I did write the songs on acoustic guitar, but I don't know if it was something to do with the times but it's become the most aggressive acoustic record ever made, the loudest acoustic album of all time," he says.
The first single is the title track, written with brother-in-law Diesel, that is an ode to seeing "the best and worst of me" in his own children. The lyrics touch on some of the demons Barnes documented in his first autobiography, 2016's bestseller, Working Class Boy.
"Writing that book has given me the ability to be much more honest. I can look at the darker side of myself and not try to avoid it or sugar coat it," Barnes says. "I think my songwriting has gotten a lot better since that book.
"And it was in the process of writing that book that I managed to get on top of a lot of things I struggled with for a long time.
Barnes admits he's transparent with his kids about his mistakes, and steering them on their own paths.
"They've seen me floundering," he says.
"They still see the ongoing battles I have with myself. It wasn't like when I wrote that first book I was suddenly cured of all these demons. I think it made me finally bring them out in the open and look at them, but the process of dealing with them is a lifelong struggle. They see that.
"There's obvious traps in the business I give them advice on, but all you can really do is take all the information you've gathered and the things you've learned - good and bad - and lay them out there and let the kids take what they need. That's what I've tried to do."
Barnes launched Flesh and Blood at Michael Gudinski's state memorial on Wednesday night. He'd played the song to his lifelong friend, record company boss and former manager a week before he died. Gudinski loved it instantly.
"He loved new music," Barnes said.
"He was pounding desks apparently, playing it to everybody. So I'm really proud to put this song out. Michael may not have been my flesh and blood but we were family."
Barnes, who instantly flew to Melbourne after Gudinski's passing to be with the family, knew his friend would want him to seize the opportunity to showcase a new song.
Matt Gudinski, now ready to take over from his father - just earlier than expected - agreed.
"I remember in the hazy days after he died, everything was a bit of a blur," Barnes says.
"I sat with Matt Gudinski and we talked about this State Memorial and he said 'My dad would kill us if you didn't sing this new song'. So I had no problem doing it. I know it was the right thing to do, Michael loved it so much. Everything he did with music was about moving forward, and I'm moving forward but I'm seriously looking back at all the great work he and I did together."
Barnes admits it's bittersweet getting ready to release an album without Gudinski at his side or on the end of a phone for the first time in over 40 years.
"It's been a tough time," Barnes says.
"I've had a chance to think of all the memories. When I left Cold Chisel, I was floundering. Michael and I built a career for me, brick by brick, by ourselves. He was my closest confidant. He inspired me.
"We fought, we laughed, we chipped our way into the music industry. I wouldn't be where I am today without Michael Gudinski. Of course, I miss him desperately, but rather than feel lost all I can do is look at the positives and think of the great times. He really lived a life; we lived a life together."
As well as Flesh and Blood, at the Memorial Barnes played one of Gudinski's favourite songs Little Light (with his daughter Mahalia - Gudinski's goddaughter) and a cover of Cold Chisel's When the War Is Over, as well as an all-star version of Easybeats' Good Times, which was released on Mushroom.
Barnes says Ed Sheeran doing quarantine to attend the State Memorial speaks volumes.
"It's just amazing. Ed doesn't need to do that. He meets promoters every day all over the world, and the best of them, but Michael was in his heart. It's a credit to the love and the passion he had for music and that he shared with everybody."
After the Memorial a bottle of 707 Penfolds cabernet was opened, Gudinski's favourite, with the performers toasting "MG".
Barnes is proud Gudinski was still at the top of his game.
"In 2020 everything in the Australian music industry ground to a stand still apart from Michael Gudinski. All of us have been saying for years we need a music TV show in Australia on prime time, playing local music from all eras, and Michael managed to get that up and sell it to the ABC and produce a show with The Sound. And people thought he'd just put acts from his label on it and it wasn't that at all, it gave young acts and older acts a chance. I sit back now and I am so proud of the great work that he did, right until the end.
"There's a gaping hole in the Australian music industry the day he left us. I know Matt and all the people who worked with him are going to step up and fill that. Australian music needed Michael Gudinski."
Barnes is currently on the road headlining the Red Hot Summer Tour with a line-up that includes Chris Cheney from the Living End - the pair are working on a rockabilly album with Slim Jim Phantom.
"Right now a lot of the conditions are tough," Barnes says.
"People have to sit down, do this, do that - but they all seem happy to just be out. If they stand up and get carried away I just have to say 'Sorry, it's COVID times, you have to sit down and keep your distance' and they just do it. But you can see in their faces they're so enthusiastic. Every band on the (Red Hot Summer) tour is just so happy to be out playing music. That's what we do. That's what we missed doing."
This November marks the 30th anniversary of Soul Deep, Barnes's highest-selling album and one of Mushroom Records' most successful releases.
He was already planning a tour for the milestone. It will now take on greater significance.
"We'll do some soul shows towards the end of the year, maybe remix some of the tracks," he says.
"I want to celebrate that record, tip my hat to Michael."
Flesh and Blood single out now, album out July 2. Jimmy Barnes plays the Red Hot Summer Tour nationally between March and November and Bluesfest in Byron Bay on April 1. Tickets and details jimmybarnes.com
Originally published as Barnsey's best Gudinski memories