Joe Camilleri Does It His Way

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Joe Camilleri, writer of milestone Australian songs such as So Young, Hit And Run, Shape I’m In, Hold On To Me, Harley and Rose, Chained To The Wheel and Never Let Me Go, has given his life to making music in this country. Leader of two of Australia’s most successful bands, Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons and The Black Sorrows, Joe’s music has become part of Australian music culture. Joe was inducted along with other members of the Falcons, into the Australian Recording Industry (ARIA Hall of Fame) in 2007

Joe  was born the third of ten children in Malta in 1948. The family migrated to Australia when he was two.  He  grew up in Port Melbourne and listened to rock music on the radio.  His mother called him Zep and he became known as Jo Zep. Camilleri began his music career in 1964 when literally thrown onstage to sing with The Drollies.  He played blues and R&B in the mid-1960s with The King Bees, and was then a member of Adderley Smith Blues Band.  In 1968, lead singer for the band, Broderick Smith had been conscripted for National Service during the Vietnam War. Joe lasted a year with Adderley Smith, and enjoyed working with the band including guitarist Kerryn Tolhurst (later in The Dingoes with Smith).  According to Australian music journalist Ed Nimmervoll, Joe was sacked for sounding too much like Mick Jagger and upstaging other band members.  After Adderley Smith, he was a member of various bands, including The Pelaco Brothers during 1974–1975.

In 1975 Joe, a self taught musician from Melbourne’s western suburbs, formed Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons, a band who swung from R’n’B to reggae, power pop and ska. Over a period of 8 years The Falcons amassed enviable sales and radio airplay and ultimately epitomised the era. Jo Jo Zep and The Falcons toured the country relentlessly and became one of Australia’s finest live outfits. The band also toured the USA.

In the early ‘80s Camilleri and friends started up a new band, The Black Sorrows. Originally a ‘just for the fun of it’ outfit, The Sorrows have released 18 albums over three decades and sold over two million albums world-wide. The Black Sorrows has always been an elastic band and over its life has been home to some 32 of Australia’s finest musical talents. Vika and Linda Bull, Jen Anderson, Stephen Hadley, Michael Barker, Peter Luscombe, Nick Smith, Ross Hannaford and James Black (just to name a few) have all been part of the fertile Joe Camilleri/Black Sorrows fold and all have gone on to play with the best of the best in this country.

The Black Sorrows continue to be one of Australia’s most successful touring bands. They have played all round Australia and all over the world. In 1990 The Sorrows won the ARIA Award for Best Band. The Black Sorrows albums Hold On To Me (1988), Harley and Rose (1990) and their greatest hits compilation The Chosen Ones (1993) each amassed triple platinum sales with the bands’ other releases collecting gold and platinum sales.

Over the years other greats have admired the Camilleri’s songwriting. Elvis Costello and John Denver are just two who have recorded cover versions of Joe’s work.

Joe’s next hobby band, The Revelators, released their stunning debut CD, ‘Amazing Stories’ in the early 1990’s. A tribute to the players’ favourite music, ‘Amazing Stories’ expressed the width and breadth of Joe’s love for all types of music. The Revelators released their second disc ‘The Adventures of The Amazing Revelators’ in late 2000 to superb public and critical acclaim. In Oct 2002 came their self-titled third album consolidating the outfit as a serious touring and recording act.

In Sep 2003 Joe released his first ever acoustic album, Bakelite Radio. With the stripped down trio line-up Joe has found the freedom to approach some of his favourite songs in a more intimate manner. The press are raving, describing Bakelite Radio as ‘warm’, ‘relaxed’, ‘classy’ and ‘sublime’.

2000 saw the reformation of The Falcons and the release of their brand new album, Ricochet. Joe toured with both the Bakelite Trio and The Falcons in the latter part of 2003.

In 1996 Joe and partner, Andrew Walker formed the Jazzhead label, a label that is now reputedly the hottest contemporary jazz label in Australia. Enabling young contemporary musicians to release their work, the label has been instrumental in expanding the jazz scene in Australia and collected the ARIA Award for Best Jazz Release in 1998 with Ian Chaplin and Scott Tinkler’s ‘The Future In Today’. Joe’s invlovement in Jazzhead, as creative director and producer, is part of his aim to share his experience with young musicians; an ongoing commitment to new talent in Australia.

Joe is also highly regarded as a producer having produced all The Black Sorrows records and more recently albums for Tiddas, Overnight Jones, Renee Geyer and many more. He also owns and runs one of Melbourne’s best recording studios, Woodstock Studio.

Joe Camilleri is one of the most committed and successful musicians Australia has ever produced – a man who loves and lives music.

Gerry Cinnamon

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