The Rooster Years

Pic: James Croucher

The combination of Charlie Owen, Don Walker and Tex Perkins as the commanding trio known as Tex, Don & Charlie was an unexpected and immersive surprise when they released and toured 1993’s Sad But True album.

The years passed and individual careers took their various turns before 2005 brought in the worthy follow-up, All Is Forgiven, which was equally well received then left to mature until now. A third Tex, Don & Charlie album, You Don’t Know Lonely, has now surfaced, making it a neat 12 years between each of the trio’s well-spaced releases.

“That’s well noticed,” notes Don Walker, erstwhile Cold Chisel songwriter/pianist and solo singer/songwriter. “And it’s not by design at all. I didn’t realise that was the case until the last two days. Tex and Charlie and I have been doing some appearances on radio and television in Sydney and Tex realised that not only not only is it 12-year cycle, but we seem to release albums in the Year Of The Rooster.

“He’s more in tune with the Chinese Calendar than I am (laughs).”

Cock-a-doodle-does it. As Walker says, nothing is quite so planned when it comes to album releases from this particular triple-threat, the protagonists of which started swapping songs for a potential new album as far back as 2010.

“It was like, ‘let’s do another record in the next two years’,” Walker recalls “It’s a combination of factors: there were delays, due to people being busy with other things. So when Tex might have a free six months, suddenly I’ve got a Cold Chisel project. When Cold Chisel gets together that’s like 18 months, and you can’t do something then. That happened twice. And I released a solo record (Hully Gully) in 2013; Tex has his solo stuff and The Dark Horses and the Johnny Cash show he does. Charlie has various projects; he’s just done a year-long project with Paul Kelly. So with these other projects it’s hard to get a window lined up for all three of us.

“And our long-term bass player, Shane Walsh, passed away a few years ago. And that knocked us about a bit, because even though Shane was neither Tex, Don nor Charlie, his spirit, vibe and humour was very much a part of everything we’ve always done.

“So when we’d see each other socially, which we do quite often – most often at the Barnes house for some strange reason (laughs) – the conversation would pretty quickly turn to ‘well wait a minute, who are we gonna get to play bass?’

“And that’s the reason why it’s taken seven years from the first swap of songs.”

Incoming is Melbourne musician, Steve Hadley, who has toured in recent years with Perkins’ band, along with guitarist, Owen. Walker had met him 20 years ago on a tour with Paul Kelly.

“It was very much a last-minute thing,” he explains. “We were going into the studio and Tex and Charlie both said, ‘let’s just bring Steve in’. So Steve did the bass work and it was a revelation. He’s just a great bass player. I didn’t realise how good he was.”

The songs on You Don’t Know Lonely came to the table from a variety of origins within the trio’s songwriting exploits between 2010-2016. Walker notes that as a rule they’re not necessarily songs that are written towards this end.

“Honestly, I just write songs, without a project in mind,” he explains. “For the sake of the song. When a project comes around like Tex, Don & Charlie I look at what I’ve got and try and figure out what Tex and Charlie might like. My definition of a Tex, Don & Charlie song, for me, is a song that Tex and Charlie like.

“There is, occasionally…” he considers, then pauses for a moment. “There’s a song on this album called Summer that I wrote with two guys in Hamburg pretty much 10 years ago. Immediately, as we wrote it, I could hear that this was something that would be very good for Tex to sing. I think that the two German guys I co-wrote it with had that in mind too, because they were very aware of Tex, Don & Charlie and they were very big Tex fans. I did a demo of it and then the German guys did a demo of it after I left, about six months later, and the way they did it was very much geared towards Tex’s vocals. So that was earmarked pretty much from the start as a one-day Tex, Don & Charlie song.”

Even so, Summer was not initially given a warm reception.

“Well I played Tex and Charlie the demo I had made and they felt that they couldn’t really see it happening with this song,” Walker says. “Then I dug up this other demo that the German guys had done and they had done it with an imitation of Tex’s voice. When Tex and Charlie heard that they were like, ‘oh, this song’s perfect’. They just didn’t hear it when I sang it (laughs).”

Another of Walker’s contributions, The Hitcher, talks of life lived across beaten tracks and occasional ill-thought pursuits and wrong-doings. ‘The less said the better…’ it posits understatedly, as the few words chosen elicit so much.    

“About five years ago I was approached by the management of a young country singer whose name I won’t mention,” says Walker of the song’s origins. “He’s a new-generation-young-guy who’s had some success and his management approached me to write with him. I said yes, and he came around and we wrote together and also I wrote a song for him, because he came from near where I grew up and I really cared, you know?

“So I wrote The Hitcher and I said ‘well, we’ve wrote a song together and I wrote this other one that you can have too’. So he went way and he didn’t record either of them (laughs), so that left this song, The Hitcher, which I thought was pretty good. And so I pulled it out for the Tex, Don & Charlie project.”

After all the roads travelled and the paths crossed, the album ends with a song called How Good Is Life? It’s a laconic offering that says something for the people who last, through this long (or longer) game of tones.

“I threw that in the pot and Tex and Charlie really liked it and they wanted to do it,” Walker says. “And they also saw it as a duet song, which we’re always looking for; a song where I can sing a bit and Tex can sing a bit. With most songs you can’t do that. You can’t do that with a love song. A love song to a girl where I sing a bit and Tex sings a bit gets a bit creepy. Look at Michael Jackson and Paul McCartney, that’s just creepy.

“So you have to be careful with your duets, but that announced itself as a perfect duet song. It’s very positive, I said to them, ‘are you sure this isn’t a little bit too syrupy for us?’ But they had in mind, right from the beginning, they saw its potential as a closing song.”

In 1993 Tex, Don & Charlie came together as younger men writing world-weary songs. At no point was anyone expecting the notion of a third album precisely 24 years later – and 12 years after the second one. It’s an entity all its own that benefits in some ways from its initial unlikelihood and its ongoing, unplanned nature.

“When we got together it was to do a one-off thing for triple j’s Live At The Wireless,” Walker recalls “They were doing all this unplugged stuff at the time and a publicist came up with the idea of Tex and I doing something together and I took along Charlie because I’d been working with him (in Walker’s band, Catfish). Tex and I didn’t know each other. I think the reason Tex said yes is because he liked Charlie.

“Tex was then in a little band called The Cruel Sea and he brought along James Cruickshank (RIP). To our surprise, it all came together because we didn’t think it’d last for more than three songs on triple j. From the beginning, it’s been driven firstly by the fact that we looked at each other and said, ‘what the fuck? This sounds good!’ And secondly, while none of us actually knew each other, there was a lot of enjoyment in the company.

“As touring company and working together in the studio, it’s fun all the way. We never spend enough time with each other to get sick of it.”

Tex, Don & Charlie perform at Badlands on September 20-21; The Prince Of Wales, Bunbury, on September 22, and the Wave Rock Weekender, Hyden, on September 23. 

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