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Cold Chisel is 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 story-telling 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. The band sold over three million records in Australia alone, two-thirds of that number after their bitter breakup.
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. At the start of 1977, the band resettled in Sydney hoping to land the record contract that had alluded 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 the first self-titled 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 into 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 October 1998, but The Last Wave of Summer project proved to be a shadow of Cold Chisel's glorious past.