Cold Chisel are the classic Australian pub rock band, playing a tough breed of rock and blues inspired by '70s bands like Free, Deep Purple, and Led Zeppelin, but characterized by the storytelling skills of their main songwriter, Don Walker, whose personal influences came from Bob Dylan.
Between 1978 and 1983, Cold Chisel ruled as Australia's most popular band on record and on-stage. They sold over six million records in Australia alone, most of that number after their 1983 breakup and 1998 reunion.
They came together in Adelaide during September 1973 on the initiative of guitarist/singer Ian Moss. In the beginning, the band used a different name for every performance. After they used the name of the Don Walker song "Cold Chisel" for one particular performance, that name stuck. Keyboard player Walker gradually came up with a strong catalog of songs to match the group's tough rock reputation on-stage, centered mainly on their raw-voiced, vodka-swilling, dripping-with-sweat singer Jimmy Barnes. Bass player Phil Small replaced original member Les Kaczmarek in 1975, and at the start of 1977 Cold Chisel resettled in Sydney, hoping to land the record contract that had eluded them for more than a year.
In the era of Fleetwood Mac, ELO, and the Eagles, Cold Chisel's sound was not deemed commercial. However WEA Records took the chance and their self-titled first album was released in April 1978 without setting the world on fire. The first single, "Khe Sahn," about an Australian Vietnam veteran, was banned from airplay over part of the lyric. It has since become one of the most played classic rock tracks on Australian radio. The second album saw Cold Chisel enter the Top Ten, less raw than the band on-stage, but concentrating on the songs. Filled with localized lyric references, Breakfast at Sweethearts earned the band its first platinum record. June 1980's East album took the band over the top, tougher than Breakfast at Sweethearts but still stacked with strong songs, this time with other bandmembers joining in the songwriting, and guitarist Ian Moss taking lead vocals on two songs with his strong soul voice. They followed East with the number one live album Swingshift while supporting the U.S. release of East with tours across the country. The next album was aimed at the world market, but its title said how out of place they felt. They called it Circus Animals. Tours of Europe and the U.K. followed.
Disillusionment set in when the band's music failed to find favor in America, adding to the internal tensions created by various members' songwriting ambitions and singer Jimmy Barnes' volatile personality. On innumerable occasions throughout the band's lifespan, he had quit the band and rejoined. But now, after ten years together, Cold Chisel decided to call it quits with a farewell tour ending at the Sydney Entertainment Centre in December 1983. Barnes immediately launched an incredibly successful solo career, accumulating seven Australian number one albums. Guitarist Ian Moss took five years off before releasing a number one album of his own, reuniting him with the songs of Don Walker. Walker started his own low-key recording and performing career, forging relationships with a varied assortment of Australian music-makers, both rock and country. Drummer Steve Prestwich joined Little River Band for two years. Throughout the rest of the '80s and into the '90s, Cold Chisel albums kept selling and fans vainly hoped for a reunion.
Then, after almost two years of secret discussions and jam sessions, a reunion album and tour were assembled in 1998. The Last Wave of Summer topped the album chart in Australia, and the band played to sold-out arenas across the country. They released a live music soundtrack to a documentary about the tour titled Last Stand less than a year later. Over the next decade, Cold Chisel regrouped for touring and a few one-off shows, then in 2010 Moss revealed that they were working on a new album. Sadly, Prestwich died early the next year after brain surgery for a tumor. The group enlisted Charley Drayton (the Divinyls, the Cult) to play drums and hit the road again beginning in 2011, releasing the album No Plans, which featured the drumming of both Prestwich and Drayton, in the spring of 2012. The album reached number two in Australia. Successful album reissues, compilations, and high-drawing tours led to an eighth studio album, The Perfect Crime, in the fall of 2015. A series of archival live releases also began in 2011, including Live in St Leonards Park 28.5.78, which documented a show from 1978. ~ Ed Nimmervoll, Rovi