Welcome to some background on a well known Aussie singer and song writer.
It’s a simple statement, but also remarkable – considering that this is an artist who has sold more than two million albums and written some of the most memorable Australian songs of all time.
But as critic Ed Nimmervoll – who has followed James’ career since it started – remarked when he reviewed James’ 2012 album, Thirteen: “He’s a better singer today than ever, better songwriter, better lyricist. Every track on Thirteen tells you how important all three of those aspects of his craft are to him.”
James Reyne’s songs have provided the soundtrack to endless Australian summers, including “The Boys Light Up”, “Reckless”, “Beautiful People”, “Lakeside”, “Daughters Of The Northern Coast”, “Fall Of Rome”, “Hammerhead”, “Motor’s Too Fast” and “Slave”.
“Lucky for the Australian music industry that James Reyne chose to strut through its door in 1979,” Wendy Milson and Helen Thomas wrote in their 1986 book Pay To Play. “His was exactly the profile … an injection of chutzpah to recharge a listless business burdened with hard-to-market punk acts.”
In her 1992 book Your Name’s On The Door, Tracee Hutchison noted that Australian Crawl “boldly explored an ‘Australian-ness’ that was unique at the time and which broke a lot of ground in the development of an Australian ‘sound’.”
James was a member of Australian Crawl for seven years, releasing four studio albums in five frenetic years in the ’80s. He’s been a solo artist for the past 28 years, releasing eight studio albums, plus two acoustic collections, a covers album and two live albums.
James’ distinctive diction has also attracted attention. Semantics producer Mark Opitz says: “No one else sings like James Reyne. He is unique, and you don’t want to lose that.” While Ed Nimmervoll says it’s a voice “as familiar to us as the taste of Vegemite, as essentially Australian”.
Australian Crawl sold more than one million albums in Australia, placing four albums in the Top 5, including 11 weeks at number one.
Only four local bands – Skyhooks, The Seekers, Savage Garden and Midnight Oil – have spent more time on top of the Australian albums chart.
James’ songs have been covered by Paul Kelly and John Farnham, and he’s had 19 Top 40 hits (seven with Australian Crawl, 12 solo) and 10 Top 10 albums.
Critic Craig Mathieson wrote about the enduring appeal of the chart-topping “Reckless” in his 2009 book Playlisted, calling it “as haunted and impervious an Australian classic as you will ever hear”.
But James has never been interested in accolades or awards. His most treasured musical possession is not a Countdown Award or a platinum album; it’s a photo with John Lee Hooker (the blues legend and James were both signed to the same US label in the ’90s).
James Reyne continues to do things his own way.
“Regrets, you know I’ve had a few,” he confessed on Thirteeen, “but I don’t sweat ’em.”
“James is his own worst enemy,” younger brother David says, “and I’m proud of him for that. He’s unbelievably uncompromising, and all that matters to him is recording, writing and performing.”
“Any day above ground is a good day,” James observed on his third solo album. And every day, he is scavenging, foraging, searching, observing … confident that the next song he writes will be his best.
Clancy's comment: Go, James!