Lee Kernaghan. The boy from the bush is visiting Port Macquarie this month, as one of the stopovers on his Pubs, Clubs and Car Parks tour .
Going right back to your early years, how much of an impact did growing up in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains – and later in the Riverina – have on your life and music today?
Well, it has a huge impact, because my grandfather was a drover of sheep and cattle. So many weekends were spent out around the droving route, the campfires and of course, mustering. Songs such as Hat Town, Three Chain Road and The Outback Club would have never been written without that experience.
Which people would you say have had an inspiring effect on you over the years?
Seeing Garth Brooks in the early ‘90s was a revelation for me, because he took Country Music and crossed it over. It wasn’t so much a Country Music show, as it was an event. So he had an impact on me … Also, touring with James Blundell and playing in his band in the early ‘90s. Watching what James was doing: he was taking his Country Music show and putting Rock ‘n’ Roll around it. That really changed what was going on here in Australia and it happened at a great time for me, because I had just released The Outback Club.
You certainly went through the usual ups and downs when you were first becoming established as a performer. What was the feeling like when you had your first number one single, ‘Boys from the Bush’?
Before I got to that first number one with Boys from the Bush, there were about 10 years of flogging it out around the pubs and clubs in New South Wales and Victoria. A number of failed record deals, plenty of good ‘kicks in guts’ along the way – it got to a point where I thought I had no chance on earth I’d crack a hit record, let alone a platinum selling album. When Boys from The Bush went to number one … well, it was just incredible – it was a dream come true. I’ll always remember the Country Music Awards in Tamworth in January 1993; not only did I win my first Golden Guitar, but I took home three that night – for Male Vocalist of the Year, Album of the Year and Song of the Year. Nothing will ever feel quite as incredible as that first Golden Guitar in the hand.
Of all your achievements – 27 Golden Guitars, 3 Arias, 26 Number one hits – what are you most proud of?
At the moment I am putting together The Ultimate Hits album; in fact, it’s just been released. It’s a double CD with 42 tracks. Picking the top 42 songs over the last 19 years really helped put it in perspective for me – what were the highlights and the songs I am most proud of. Some of the highlights for me: definitely Boys From The Bush, as my first number one single; Hat Town is an album I am really proud of; singing Goondiwindi Moon with Trisha Yearwood, which is something I still enjoy listening to. Looking back on all the albums I have made, I believe Planet Country was the probably the best record, but it’s not for me to judge! That record is one that I hope will stand the test of time. Looking back on the entire career, singing in the studio with Slim Dusty on Wind in the Long Yard and winning that Golden Guitar that year for the song we did together will remain a cherished memory.
Of your ten hit albums, are there one or two that are especially close to your heart – and if so, why?
The one that stands out for me is by far Hat Town. I was making this record at the same time that I met a girl (laughs) who was to go on to become my wife and the mother of my two boys. The kind of magic of meeting her is permeated throughout the Hat Town album. It’s a special one to listen to; it sort of captured that moment in time.
Why is supporting Australian rural culture so important to you?
There is nobody I admire more than Australia’s quiet achievers, and there are a lot of them throughout rural and regional Australia, working both on the land and in the towns. Putting themselves and their safety on the line to take care of the rest of us; I am talking about the people I write about in my songs; the volunteers, our servicemen and women, people out in the bush who have battled on through droughts, floods and bush fires. I believe they are the real Australians, and that is what I write about. They put their safety on the line to take care of the rest of us, and that’s who I write my songs about.
We hear you’re working on a new album, which will hopefully be released next year. How is this shaping up – how does it compare to previous albums?
Well, something sort of happened for me on the Planet Country record; we hit a new gear. Getting out on the road now and singing songs like I Milk Cows and Scars, which I recorded with Dierks Bentley, it sort of opened up a whole world of possibilities for me. I just want to continue on making really good music and writing some interesting songs along the way.
The shows on your current tour, Pubs, Clubs and Car Parks, will all be staged in these three types of venues. Why did you choose these venues specifically?
Because I got hounded on Facebook! (Laughs). Please come to Port Macquarie! I put the tour together based around the feedback I’ve had from people online. Facebook is the number one way, when I’m not on the road, that I interact with people who come and see my shows. It’s kind of like a big family for me; I feel like I know these people I’m talking to on Facebook, because it is a regular thing, and then they turn up at the shows … and all I can say is there ain’t nothing like a country crowd!
How far around the country will this tour take you, and how long will you be travelling for this time around?
We will be touring through until March 2012 and playing in a lot of places we haven’t played before. At Port Macquarie we are at the club, but we are also playing in car parks. It has been so well received by people, just seeing us in a different environment. We aren’t doing any theatres on this tour – just Pubs, Clubs and Car Parks.
You’ll be visiting us in Port Macquarie on July 15. What can we expect to see at your show?
The show will be at Port Macquarie Panthers, and I’m really looking forward to catching up with everyone there and turning on a great night. Anything and everything happens at my shows: there are no real rules; I encourage people to bring their cameras, video cameras or any other battery operated appliances they would like. It’s all ok by me!