I’m not joking when I ask Lee Kernaghan, an Australian country music legend who’s headlined every outdoor festival in the land, how it feels to be playing in some of Australia’s finest theatres, including the Civic in Newcastle, on his Boys From The Bush 25th Anniversary tour that, runs through November.
And Kernaghan, the winner of 36 Golden Guitars, takes no offence.
“I always remember the first show I ever did with The Outback Club ,” he says. “Thirteen people turned up to a corral in Wollongong, including three from the record company and one from merchandise.
“I could never have imagined it would turn out this way, all the albums, all the songs released.”
That first album, The Outback Club, spawned Kernaghan’s first number one hit, Boys From The Bush, and he’s never looked back, selling more than 2 million albums in 25 years.
Boys From The Bush remains an anthem to modern country life in Australia: “been shearing sheep . . . culling out roos . . . spraying the crops . . . drovin’ cattle . . . pile in the ute, dog in the back, foot goes down . . . we’re members of the Outback Club . . . fixing fences . . . choking on dust . . . curse the rain, curse the drought . . . we get high when the sun goes down.”
And that’s all in one song. From the lanky guy in the black cowboy hat.
It remains probably the most requested song at Kernaghan’s shows. And it’s never worn out its welcome.
“That was my first number one,” says Kernaghan, named Australian of the Year in 2008. “Sang it thousands of times, not once have I gotten sick of performing it.”
He’s been in good company, as Australia has enjoyed a class of modern country music stars that rival any music genre.
In 1992, Kernaghan, at age 28, had already been toiling for a decade at the craft before he scored a recording contract.
“At that time, Keith Urban was breaking through, Troy Cassar Daley was on cusp of a record, Kasey Chambers was learning the craft,” he says. “I’m just proud to be part of it.”
His humble beginnings and working-class ethic have always been part of his craft.
“There has never been a day in my career I thought, ‘That’s it, I’ve finally made it,’ I always believe you are only as good as your last show. There’s always a new album to make, a new song to write . . .” he says.
And the road test for his new music is simple: “How’s it going to sound in a ute or four-wheel-drive . . . if someone’s out making a mile, will this be a good companion.”
His 25th Anniversary Album, his 13th studio album, was released in March. It features collaborations with James Blundell, Adam Brand, Adam Harvey, The McClymonts, Kasey Chambers, Troy Cassar-Daley and his sister, Tania Kernaghan.