Jimmy Barnes Reflects on Making Chart History, Surviving and Living the Good Life

Photo credit: Gary Heery
Jimmy Barnes

Jimmy Barnes is Australia’s working class man. He’s a rock ‘n’ roll legend, twice inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame, his unmistakable vocals blended into the fabric of Australian society. He’s also a survivor.  

Barnes documented his decades-long battles with drink and drugs in his award-winning 2017 memoir Working Class Man, the sequel to Working Class Boy, from 2016. It’s an eye popping account of a hard life, lived hard. 

In it, Barnes details his rise, his descent, his brush with death. His recovery. It’s a wonder the Scotland-born singer is upright today to continue telling his story. But he’s not just sharing tales, he’s setting lofty new standards.

On the weekend, Barnes made history with his new record My Criminal Record, which bowed at the summit of the ARIA Albums Chart, marking his 12th solo No. 1 and 16th overall, including the four he landed at the top with his iconic rock group, Cold Chisel

Since the official charts were launched in 1983, no other artist has bagged as many No. 1s as Barnesy, as he’s known in these parts. Not even Madonna, or U2 (with 11 each). 

“Mate, it’s pretty bloody good. It’s pretty special,” he tells Billboard. “It’s pretty amazing for a start that I’m still here and to still be making music and connecting with people is incredible. The fact it’s gone to No. 1 is a real bonus. More importantly it’s the fact that we’re still telling stories, still getting airtime, we’re still making music after all these years, and that is worth celebrating. I don’t take it lightly, it’s really incredible.” 

My Criminal Record, released May 31 through Bloodlines, a label of Michael Gudinski’s Mushroom Group, is the veteran rocker's first new set of original material in almost a decade (the last, Rage And Ruin, peaked at No. 3 in September 2010). Kevin Shirley produced the LP, which has its roots in Barnes' absorbing autobiographies and was co-written with Cold Chisel keyboardist Don Walker.

Barnes laughs when he’s reminded of his muted celebration when, in 2014, he was recovering from back surgery as his covers album 30:30 Hindsight hit the top slot. “Well, I’m a lot healthier these days. I get the odd pain here and there because I work hard.”

These days, Barnes lives the good life. The 63-year-old is keen on gardening, eating right and spending time with family at their getaway in the New South Wales Southern Highlands. As he chats over the phone, he spots platypus swimming in the Wingecarribee River.

“Life is good,” he confesses, “but you know what…I don’t think I’ve peaked. As opposed to this being the peak of something it’s just the start of a new journey. I honestly believe my best work is still to come. And I can feel this is a good launching paid.”