Thirty years in the ute

Lee Kernaghan - still a boy from the bush.

By Tania Phillips

Lee Kernaghan may be in his late 50s now but he is still a “Boy From the Bush” and still one of Australia’s best-known country music stars.

Despite that, it is still kind of hard to believe that it’s thirty years since he released his debut album Outback Club, an album that went on to become a classic. An album recorded, after he learned his trade in the pubs and the clubs along the Murrumbidgee and Murray Rivers.

To mark the occasion, Gold Coast-based Kernaghan has released a milestone album, “The Very Best of Lee Kernaghan – Three Decades of Hits”.

Curated by Lee himself, it marks the 30th anniversary of his 1992 classic debut album, “Outback Club”.

“There’s been quite a bit of water under the bridge, so to speak, since I stepped into the studio as a 27-year-old kid from Albury, from the Riverina and made that first album The Outback Club,” he said when we sat down for a phone chat. It was strange experience for both of us – two Riverina kids who both moved north to the Tweed in our teens and first spoke more than 30 years ago.

“I don’t think I really ever stopped and smelt the roses all the way along, and there were some times when I probably should have. But looking back it’s been a heck of a ride – three decades of touring and making records. I feel so grateful to everybody who helped make that possible. I’m talking about songwriters, musicians, record producers and record companies and that type of thing but ultimately it’s the people who came out to the shows and supported me from the early days all the way through to the Back Road Nations Tour, I owe a huge debt of gratitude.”

Packed full of hits, fan favourites and some special treats, this 3-CD, 62 song set documents three decades of dedication to his craft – a decade per CD – a journey which has ensured Lee remains one of the biggest names in Australian country music.

But through all that Lee hasn’t lost sight of his country roots, of playing early gigs out west and driving in his ute.

“My inspiration for songs definitely comes from the people that I meet, often randomly and usually out West – there’s some incredible characters and it’s that odd turn of phrase – like “what do you do for a living – oh I milk cows”. When those words are spoken to you, you just know it’s gotta be a song,” he laughed.

“So lots of inspiration from the places I’ve been and the people I’ve met.

“There’s been many circumnavigations of Australia and criss-crossing my way through a lot of it as well. I’ve got a ’79 series Landcruiser ute which is my pride and joy. I love it. I just give it’s head and let it take me and you just never know where the next song is coming from.”

Though he doesn’t do circle work down the back paddock any more does he?

“No,” he laughed. “But if there’s a saltpan and a rush of blood………..the burnouts and circle work – I’m a little more conservative than I used to be, once you put a Landcruiser up on two wheels, you learn restraint.”

With 14 studio albums under his belt, Kernaghan has sold more than two million albums in Australia and had 40 number one hits on the Australian Country Charts. He has won 37 Golden Guitar Awards, four ARIA Awards and was a recipient of the Outstanding Achievement ARIA Award in 2015. In 2004 Lee received the Order of Australia Medal and in 2008 he was named Australian of the Year. Kernaghan has been nominated for Best Vocal Collaboration at the 2022 Toyota 50th Golden Guitar Awards, taking place in Tamworth on Wednesday, 20 April.

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