Aussie Rock Legends: An Interview With Richard Clapton

Rebecca Varidel
11th Jun 2016
"If America has Jackson Browne and Bruce Springsteen, and the U.K. has Van Morrison and Paul McCartney, then we are proud to confer similar prestige on Richard Clapton. Songs like 'Deep Water' and 'Capricorn Dancer' are touchstones on the Aussie rock landscape, without which we wouldn’t really know who we are or where we’re going.”
It's hard to know where to even start when you talk to a rock legend like Richard Clapton. He had perhaps the biggest influence on Australian rock music of the Seventies and helped Australia form its musical identity, and has gone on to perform continually over five decades, recording in every one of them and notching up an incredible 20 albums. His latest 'The House Of Orange' recorded in the iconic epicentre of music Nashville, was released in digital format this year. I caught him this week for this chat. There were so many more questions I could have asked him and these just scratch the surface of an amazing career.
In 1999 you were inducted into the ARIA [Australian Recording Industry Association] Hall Of Fame. How did that feel?
It’s always nice to receive this sort of acknowledgment because it validates what was, at that stage 27 years of work.
Richard your debut album was 'Prussian Blue' but you were younger when you first performed. How did it all start?
I actually started out playing in bands in England, but soon after moved to Berlin in Germany which is where I really began serious song-writing. So although that album was recorded in Sydney in the early Seventies, more than half the songs had been written in a big empty house in Berlin. Hence the title, 'Prussian Blue'.

As a singer-songwriter what comes first the music or the lyrics. Where do you get your inspiration?

In my early days I wrote hundreds of lyrics, which were, ostensibly poetry and set the words to music. Ten years into my career I started to work with INXS as their producer, and went through an artistic metamorphosis where I became fascinated with more sophisticated musical ideas and then I started to write the music first and my words became more like aural pictures.

40 years on, 'Girls On The Avenue' is still getting airplay. Is it true it started as the B side on a single?

 Yes the record company rejected it several times because they couldn’t understand what the chorus was supposed to be. Radio didn't agree and took the record to number one.

Do you have a favourite album?  And do you have a favourite guitar?

Ohh geeze - I have so many favourite albums, but I think I’ll pick 'Little Criminals' by Randy Newman.
My Gibson Hummingbird was purchased off the rack in 1972 and is now a beautiful acoustic; and I have a 1959 surf green Strat but my best known guitar is the blond Telecaster Thinline with the hippie rainbow sticker which has served me well for 40 years.
Richard you're not only a singer-songwriter, but you mentioned before you've also produced records, is that right?
Yes - I produced INXS’ second album 'Underneath The Colours' which included 'The Loved One' and 'Stay Young'. I also produced a band called Red Not Blue and a couple of tracks for Troy Newman in the Nineties.
Life can have its challenges. You've not only created a body of work that includes writing and performing on your 20 amazing albums but you've kept recording during every decade of your career. How do you keep going through the hard times?
I simply love music and I believe real musicians are born not made, so maybe music is in my DNA. The music business is a roller coaster ride of extreme highs and lows so you have too be prepared for that. But if music is simply your raison d’être you just have to keep writing songs and producing new material  and learn to live with the constant climb up the mountain and then back down again.
Lately I've grown into a new respect for acoustic. What place does acoustic hold in your music and heart?
I always wanted to write and play in the rock format so I don’t do a lot of acoustic work. However, my audience really like to hear my songs played acoustically so I find myself playing more acoustic gigs than I would have done last century.
Last year you spent two months staying in a house where rock luminaries such as Robert Hunter (The Grateful Dead) and Brian Setzer (Stray Cats) also once stayed. What was that all about?
It’s pretty simple really. I asked the producer to find me a house to rent in Nashville which would be as close as possible to his studio, and The House of Orange was only three blocks from Mark’s place so I could walk around there every day. The owner, Charles Orange, told me a lot about the history of the house and it was pretty amazing to spend a couple of months there - it was very conducive to creativity.
Can you finish with a bit of what the future holds for Richard Clapton?
I am still touring Australia constantly and I doubt whether that’s going to change. I went to Nashville to record the album because I had never been there and I think most Australian musicians hope to make that pilgrimage. It’s really the last bastion of real music in the world. So I would like to be able to travel back and forth although at this point I have no desire to leave Australia altogether. I’ll just have to see what happens over the next year or two.

Richard Clapton is performing has annual sell-out show at the State Theatre in Sydney on August 13th. Be quick to get your ticket.