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Some of My Best Work: Jimmy Barnes on ‘When Something Is Wrong With My Baby’

In the latest podcast episode of ‘Some Of My Best Work’, Jimmy Barnes tells the story of his classic duet with John Farnham.

Jimmy Barnes

Jesse Lizotte

This is an edited transcript from Some Of My Best Work, a Mushroom podcast hosted by journalist Jane Rocca where artists nominate one track that they feel represents a career and creative high point. Jimmy Barnes’ album Soul Deep 30 is out now and the artist is touring Australia with a full band in June 2022. 

Sam Moore, who is the Sam of Sam and Dave, is one of my favourite singers.

Whenever it was singalongs, with my brother or even once I joined Cold Chisel, I was always singing the Sam Moore parts because they were higher.  

Chisel were on tour, and I would carry a Sam and Dave cassette around with me. And every single time I get in the car and bang it on, we’d all be singing “Soul Man” and “You don’t know what I got” and all that sort of stuff, all the way across the Nullarbor.  

The idea (for Soul Deep) really came from the fact that we were locked away, we were mid-tour, and we all decided we’re all going to go back to my house for Christmas. I had a recording studio in my house, but rather than us just hanging around all day and getting under each other’s feet, we decided it’d be good if every day we try and record a song or two. 

So we decided that we’re going to record our favourite songs from radio, favourite songs growing up, that sort of thing. It became apparent very quickly that all the songs we were doing were soul songs. We said, “this is going to be a soul record”. We still had no intention of really releasing it. 

And over the 10 days, we made this album, Soul DeepNormally when you’re recording and you’re under a deadline – this is a contractual album, you go in there, you’ve got to make the best record ever or your career is over and all that sort of stuff. There was no pressure with this. Every single song on the record was like a smash hit.  

But towards the end of making that record, we had a couple of songs that we thought needed to be duets. One in particular, the song that I’d sang for years with Mossy (Ian Moss) – Sam and Dave (“When something is wrong with my baby”). 

Don Gehman (producer) said to me, “if you could get anybody in Australia, who’s your favourite singer that you’d like to work with?” I said, “Well, actually there’s a guy called John Farnham.”

So I had just got ahold of his number through Michael Gudinski, and I gave John a call. Two days later, he flew up. He must have flown into Sydney the night before he came down. He arrived at my studio door about 10 o’clock in the morning. We’re all a bit bleary eyed and weary, and John looked like he’d had reasonably large night. 

I said, “What can I get you?” You know, I’m thinking hot water and honey and what singers do. And he said, “Oh, can you get me a large brandy?” I picked the best cognac I could find and I took it in and John said “nah it’s too good” and “I need sort of something bit rougher”. “Fighting brandy,” he called it.  

I went up and I found Jane’s cooking brandy in the kitchen, I poured a big glass and he said “ah that’s perfect.” And he went outside, stood outside my studio with a glass of brandy and a cigar at 10 o’clock in the morning.  

He finished that, came in, opened his mouth and sang like a demon. It was incredible. People thought that I was sort of the wild guy of he Rock & Roll scene and John Farnham was a nice quiet one – they had it all wrong.


I’ve got to tell you the story of how we made the film clip.  

John, he loved the song, and I said, “Look, I think it’s going to be a single John. We’re going to make a film clip.” We found like a little town hall (in Melbourne) and John got a limousine in from his place. The premise of the film clip was a couple of old mates getting together in a club after a gig, reminiscing and having a quiet drink together.  

But they had these fake bottles of booze – a fake bottle of brandy for John, at that time I drank vodka so a fake bottle of vodka for me. We did a couple of takes and I said, “You know what, it’s going to look a lot better if we just actually drink.” We weren’t going to get out of hand, it was just going to be fun. So they foolishly said yes, and of course we just got hammered. 

The director said, “we’ll send you home, John, and we’ll keep Jim for some additional shots. He had the limo drive him home, the same guy that drove him there. When we go back to work about an hour and a half later, we get a phone call from the limousine driver, who says “John doesn’t know where he lives.” He’d forgotten where he lived!  

As most people in this country will know, John Farnham is a powerhouse of a singer.

Whether it’s on record or on stage, the guy knows how to deliver. The first time I sang with him I remember standing on the side watching him sing, and he got better and better and better and better. By the time the seventh song came in, and I’m going to start singing on the eighth, I was absolutely panicking. He’s such a great singer. Every time I’ve sung with John, I’ve had to be on top of my game. I don’t know many people in the world who have a tone that pure, who have a range like that, and have a feel that he does. It’s just unbelievable. 

That album (Soul Deep) went on to become the biggest album I’ve ever had, and I’ve got to say a large part of that was just the sheer joy of singing with John Farnham. 

When I started making this record, Pierre (Baroni) was like my library.

I’d go to Pierre and ask him about songs. And you’d say, “Pierre, when did this song come out?” And he’d tell you not only when it came out, but also what studio it was written in, what time they recorded the vocal, who played the horns, who went and made lunch, he knew everything about every song. 

Pierre was one of my dearest dearest friends and people in Melbourne who listen to PBS in Melbourne will know him from his soul shows. Pierre had the biggest collection of original soul 45″ that I’ve seen in my life and knew more about soul music than anybody else I knew.  

We lost Pierre last year, unfortunately, a dear, dear friend of ours, and Pierre did all the artwork for the record.  

One of the funniest things I’ve ever heard, that will ever happen to me, was when we were making the film clip with John, I could see Pierre was there. I could see the director and him chatting away, and they were obviously trying to cover their mouths so I couldn’t see.  

I thought I was maybe doing something wrong, but they said, “no, no, you’re right, keep going.” We’d do it again and then they’d start having a little huddle again and chat. Eventually they came up to me and I could see they were absolutely freaked out.  

In those days, my ear stuck out like a taxi with the doors left open. What happened was, the lights that were backlighting the film clip were shining through my ears. And so my ears were glowing red! They asked me if they could stick sticky tape on the back of my ears so light didn’t shine through so much,  

I was mortified. I’m going, “Are you serious?” They showed me the run and I could see my ears glowing in the dark. And so I thought, “Oh my god. Alright, do it.” So it was me facing one of my biggest fears, and in the public forum. It was a shocking moment and also an enlightening moment, to coin a phrase. 


When we came around to the 30th anniversary (of Soul Deep), and they said, “do you want to add some tracks to it?” I thought that was a good opportunity for me to tip my hat to at least a couple of the singers that I’ve grown up and learned to sing with. 

The first guy that I that I wanted to reach out to, of course, was Mossy. So we did the song “Reflections”When Mossy came in he said, “you’ve been singing the wrong words for years!” I’m notoriously bad at getting lyrics together. There’s a couple of lines on the song that Mossy straightened out so I now know what the words are. 

Another one who was as instrumental, but in a different way, was Sam Moore (Sam and Dave). I’ve listened to him since I was a young singer.  

We sent an email to him. I just wrote, “Sam, you’re one of my favourite singers of all time. I’m a rock and roll singer from Australia, who’s admired you for a long time, would you consider doing a duet?” And he wrote this lovely letter back saying he knew exactly who I was, and he would love to have a go. He’s 86 years old, still singing really great, and he’s still touring. It’s inspirational.  

I looked at the record, and I thought there’s a lot of the influences from the past. I thought it’d be really nice to pay homage to the way soul music is going in this country. So I had a look around and Josh Teskey is hands down the best soul singer of his style in the country at the moment.  

Once again, it was in the thick of COVID-19, but we managed to do it, with Josh from home in Melbourne and me in Sydney.  I love singing with Josh anytime, so much so that when the record was finally being put out, and we were deciding to go on tour, I couldn’t think of a better way to package the tour together than with myself, Josh, and my beautiful daughter Mahalia. 

Find Some Of My Best Work on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or wherever you listen to podcasts.