“Like beads on a rosary”: Joe Camilleri and The Black Sorrows

Joe Camilleri will perform at the Mundi Mundi Bash. PICTURE: TANIA JOVANOVIC

Legendary singer, songwriter and saxophonist, Joe Camilleri, will be taking to the stage with The Black Sorrows at the Mundi Mundi Bash and he is still surprised by how much his music moves people.

When Camilleri co-wrote Chained to the Wheel with Nick Smith, he thought “We can leave it off the record” but the song resonated with truck drivers, taxi drivers and anyone tethered to responsibility.

“Sometimes you don’t know you’ve got a hook that means something to someone,” said Camilleri. “That’s the great thing about poetry.

“You find something that even the poet doesn’t realise.”

When Camilleri walked into a third world bookshop in the 1970s, he didn’t know he was also walking into a world of reggae. He “took a chance” on buying a few records and, after listening over and over, co-wrote four or five songs reggae-style with Wayne Burke for his band, Jo Jo Zep and the Falcons. The compelling guitar riff of his 1979 hit single, Hit and Run, is unforgettable.


The ARIA Hall of Fame inductee just released his fourth single off his fiftieth album, Saint George’s Road, and he believes that everybody would relate to the title track.

“It’s pretty much your book on your memories,” he said.

“You lose people too soon but you celebrate their life in a kind of way.

“Though it’s a sad tale, it’s a true tale.

The Weekend Australian’s music critic, Phil Stafford, called it “a poignant rumination on mortality.”

Influences for Camilleri’s prolific song writing include jazz greats, such as Duke Ellington from Tin Pan Alley, Coltraine and Miles Davis.

For Camilleri, song writing is about learning and working within the language of each genre.

“Jazz, reggae, folk are a different language and someone invented it,” he said.

“You’ve got to be prepared to be in it, to go through the frustrations.”

Undaunted, Camilleri loves the challenge and is always trying.

“Writing 25 songs with co-writer, Nick Smith, I got four good ones,” said Camilleri.

“It’s going somewhere we haven’t been before.”

He believes that song writing becomes hard when you are trying to edit everything as you write it.

“Some think every line has to be a Maserati,” he said.

“Let it go and write from the heart.”

A song isn’t a continuous strand of ideas and the power can be in the spaces.

“Like comedians, where the jokes are like a string of beads on a rosary,” said Camilleri.

“In a show, they do the jokes, then there has to be the ‘Y,’” he said, referring to the junction in Catholic rosary beads where there are no beads and the string divides.

“Sometimes it’s the change between the pearl and the next pearl that does it.”

Camilleri starts song writing by finding some rhymes.

“They could be bad rhymes,” he said.

“What matters is the concept of the song, that the idea is valuable.

“It could take 10 minutes or 10 years.”

Camilleri had a jumpstart on the process when he found old lyrics on Thursday that he had forgotten about and he is keeping the ones he likes.

“Instead of starting with nothing, I had the title,” he said.

“I can make a protest into a love song or make it universal, where it rings true.”’

Camilleri is also a producer, including for his own Jazzhead label, and he holds his bands in high esteem for the ways they bring his song writing to life. He believes It’s not about how good you can play.

“You can do that at home,” he said.

“Every instrument has to bring joy.

“You get to feel it from your soul.”

Joe Camilleri and the Black Sorrows are touring Australia and will be performing at the Mundi Mundi Bash on August 18.

At age 73, Joe Camilleri is working on his 51st album.

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