Don Walker (born 29 November 1951) is an Australian musician and songwriter known for writing many of the hits for Australian pub rock band Cold Chisel. He played piano and keyboard with the band from 1973 to 1983, when they disbanded. He has since continued to record and tour, both solo and with Tex, Don and Charlie, and worked as a songwriter for others. In 2009, he released his first book.
Richard Clapton describes Walker as, "the most Australian writer there has ever been. Don just digs being a sort of Beat poet, who goes around observing, especially around the streets of Kings Cross. He soaks it up like a sponge and articulates it so well. Quite frankly, I think he's better than the rest of us."
Walker is considered to be one of Australia's best songwriters. In 2012 he was inducted into the Australian Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
Donald Hugh Walker was born in Ayr North Queensland to a farmer father and schoolteacher mother.
Walker's father, who had served in Papua New Guinea and the Middle East in World War II, owned a cane farm on Rita Island on the Burdekin River, where Walker lived until the age of 4. His family later moved to Grafton, where a local piano teacher taught him, "a little bit of Chopin.....a lot of Fats Waller repertoire, and also Winifred Atwell." Later, he, "got into organ and the main influences were Stevie Winwood's 60s stuff and Ray Manzarek."
Having completed a degree in physics in the 70s, Walker was working for the Weapons Research Establishment, modelling airflow for F-111s, when he formed Cold Chisel.
Walker moved to Kings Cross in Sydney in 1976, and stayed there for three decades. Kings Cross locations (including Springfield Avenue, Forbes Street, Sweethearts and the El Alamein Fountain) are mentioned in many of his songs.
From the earliest days Walker was the creative songwriting force for Cold Chisel. He became known for his passionate and raw lyrical observations on the Australian society and culture of the time. His songwriting credits include the hit singles "Flame Trees," "Saturday Night," "Choirgirl," (a teary ballad about abortion) "Breakfast at Sweethearts," "Cheap Wine," and the Australian Vietnam war song "Khe Sanh" (voted the 8th greatest Australian song of all time by the Australian Performing Rights Association in 2001). Many of these songs still receive airplay on Australian radio to this day and have become ingrained in Australian music culture.
During his time with Cold Chisel he produced his first work outside the band, the soundtrack to the Australian movie "Freedom", directed by Scott Hicks. The soundtrack was released as an album and featured members of Cold Chisel and Michael Hutchence. The Age described it as, "the best rock music written for an Australian movie."
After Cold Chisel disbanded in 1983, Walker had a five-year hiatus before resuming recording and performing using the name "Catfish." Ostensibly a band, Catfish was in effect a solo project, featuring Walker on vocals, keyboards and penning all the songs. Catfish featured various backing musicians, such as Charlie Owen, Ian Moss, Ricky Fataar and harmonica player David Blight. Performing as a singer live for the first time, Walker recalled it initially being, "so hard I had to get half-happy on alcohol to manage it."
The first album, Unlimited Address, released in 1989, showed a jazzier, Eastern European side to Walker's songwriting, reflecting his travels during the previous years. Despite being critically lauded, sales were moderate, the album reaching number 49 in the national charts. The next album, "Ruby," was a return to Australia in sound and lyrical subject matter. Again, it was well received by critics but sold relatively poorly. The track "Charleville" was later to receive country music awards when covered by Slim Dusty.
In early 1992 Don performed an acoustic live performance for alternative radio station JJJ with Charlie Owen, James Cruickshank and Tex Perkins. In 1993 Tex, Don and Charlie released their first album, "Sad but True" on Red Eye Records. The record, an acoustic country-tinged affair, returned Walker to some level of popular awareness and received rave reviews in magazines like Australian Rolling Stone. About half the songs were written by Walker, including "Sitting in a Bar." The band toured strongly on the back of the album, later releasing a live album "Monday Morning Coming Down," featuring tracks from "Sad But True" plus some covers of standards. Walker says, "There are recording warts that are all over every record but most producers clean them off; we love 'em so we leave 'em."
1994 was the year of Walker's first full release under his own name, "We're All Gunna Die." He stated that it was the first album to carry his name as, "it was the first record that finished up how I wanted it." Rehearsal sessions were held over four afternoons in Walker's lounge room, and all songs were recorded in 3 takes or less.The band featured David Blight, Garrett Costigan on pedal-steel guitar and Red Rivers on guitar. The music is a ragged mix of country, Chicago blues and balladry, and features the song "Eternity." It would be another 12 years before Walker was to produce another solo recording, the well-received "Cutting Back." From 2005 to 2014 he toured Australia occasionally with his backing band, The Suave Fucks.
2005 saw the release of a third Tex, Don and Charlie album, "All is Forgiven," similar in style to the first. Again, Walker wrote about half the songs, including "Harry was a Bad Bugger", described by Chris Johnston as, "the Australian song of the year", and by Mess & Noise as, "one of the finest Australian compositions of the last 20 years." The album was shortlisted for the inaugural Australian Music Prize.
Walker published his first book, Shots, in 2009. It was an autobiographical collection of smaller pieces, rarely more than a few pages in length. The subject matter was mostly recollections of rural Australia or life with Cold Chisel before they became widely famous. A separate piece by Walker had previously been included in The Best Australian Essays collection for 2007.
Shots received a number of positive reviews:The Age described the memoir as "a whip crack across a landscape of rural Australia, lonely highways and endless gigs;" in the Australian Book Review it was called "a quite wonderful book that blasts away every last vestige of the crude, boozy, foot-stomping, flag-waving Australiana that has until now enveloped the Cold Chisel story like a filthy smog, leaving behind only the simmering highways, the trashy motels, the dank pubs and the monotonous suburbs of a nation slouching apathetically through the remnants of the 20th century." Readings from Shots, as performed by Walker, were aired on Radio National throughout late 2009.
Live in Queenscliff, Walker's first live album, was given a digital-only release in early 2011. It features a performance with The Suave Fucks at the 2006 Queenscliff Music Festival.
In 2013, Walker released the album Hully Gully. It was recorded with the Suave Fucks over a decade. Joe Henry was asked to mix the album because Walker was impressed by his work on the Allen Toussaint album The Bright Mississippi, saying, "it sounded like Duke Ellington produced by Jimmy Page. I just fell in love with the record." Named after a simple 60s dance, it was thought by some to be his best album to date, but failed to chart.
Walker has worked with many other artists, most notably with song writing credits on Ian Moss' hit album, Matchbook and Jimmy Barnes' top ten single "Stone Cold". He has written with or had songs recorded by TOFOG, Jimmy Little, Kate Ceberano, Wendy Matthews, Troy Cassar-Daley, Graeme Connors, Anne Kirkpatrick, Mick Harvey, Missy Higgins,Busby Marou,Melinda Schneider, Sarah Blasko, Katie Noonan, Jeff Lang, Normie Rowe and Adam Brand. Two Walker-penned songs appeared on The Very Best of Slim Dusty, which sold over 350,000 copies and stayed in the Australian country charts for over 15 years. He also produced Moss' album Petrolhead.
He is the brother of the Australian novelist, Brenda Walker and son of Australian novelist Shirley Walker. He is a Brisbane Broncos supporter.
Awards and nominations:
2008 Country Work of the Year APRA Award win for "Everything's Going to be Alright", co-written with Troy Cassar-Daley, was presented by Australasian Performing Right Association.,
2012 Song of the Year APRA Award nomination for "All For You", performed by Cold Chisel,
2014 Blues and Roots Work of the Year APRA Award nomination for "Luck", co-written with Thomas Busby and performed by Busby Marou.
Text from this biography licensed under creative commons license