'Lee Kernaghan: Boy From The Bush' is in cinemas from Thursday
To say Lee Kernaghan is a legend in the Australian country music industry would be an understatement. Across his 15 studio albums, he has sold over 2.5 million albums in Australia and has had 38 #1 hits on the Australian Country Charts. In addition, the singer-songwriter has won 37 Golden Guitar Awards and 4 ARIA Awards.
Now, he’s about to reach another milestone when Lee Kernaghan: Boy From The Bush hits Australian cinemas nationally on July 28.
The concert documentary celebrates the life and career of the iconic artist and live performances (including a brand-new song), stunning landscapes, plus remarkable people and amazing stories that have inspired him throughout his 30 year career.
The film being played in cinemas has surprised many, including Kernaghan himself.
He says, “I had no idea that it was going to be in cinemas until about three weeks ago. I went to the cinema to see Top Gun and lo and behold, they were showing all the trailers to Boys From The Bush. It spun me right out. I gotta say, I couldn't have been more surprised.”
Although Kernaghan admits he didn’t have as much input into the production and creation of the film as he would have liked, he made it clear with director Kriv Stenders and producers Chris Brown and Diana Le Dean that he wanted the film to be about Australia, the people and the towns that have inspired his expansive catalogue of songs.
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Kernaghan describes the film as ‘part road trip, part concert and part documentary’ that ‘takes people on a real journey.’ The film itself features archival footage, including some of his most poignant moments of his career and his relationship with rural communities, as well as early interviews, home movies and his wedding to Robby X, with whom he shares sons Rock and Jet.
He jokes, “I really liked the old stuff because I was a lot better looking back then!” before continuing, “it brought back a lot of memories being able to utilize some of those archives that were probably going to end up locked in some vault.
Kriv Stenders spent a lot of time going through those through that footage. We went out to the Diamantina track, filmed around Winton, and revisited a lot of the towns that I did the fundraising tours at and caught up with locals that impacted on my life and my career in music.”
The son of country music singer, Ray Kernaghan, Kernaghan spent his formative years growing up in the Riverina country of Southern NSW. He joined his father to release the album Family Tradition in 1985. His sister Tania Kernaghan is also a successful country music artist.
The release of his first solo single seven years later made him a household name in Australia.
Boys From The Bush featured on his debut solo album, The Outback Club, which won the ARIA Award for ‘Best Country Album of the Year' – which was the start of things to come. Other notable achievements include receiving the Order of Australia Medal in 2004, being named Australian of the Year in 2008 and recipient of the Outstanding Achievement ARIA in 2015.
His most recent album, Live At The Deni Ute Muster, demonstrates exactly why Kernaghan is one of Australia’s most revered artists. It features 23 tracks performed live at the Deni Ute Muster in his headline set at the iconic event’s 21st anniversary.
Speaking of his impressive career, he says, “I think time flies when you're having fun. The wick was lit the day I recorded Boys From The Bush. That was the song that really exploded across Australia, and I've been on the road it ever since the release of that record back in 1992. It's been an incredible ride.”
Something I learnt from watching the film was that Boys From The Bush was written on the piano, an instrument that he learnt to play at just nine years old.
He says, “I'd grown up listening to Slim Dusty, and by the time I was 13, I was hardcore country music fan. When The Outback Club came out, my record producer Garth Porter said, ‘Hey, Lee, you're gonna have to ditch the piano and start playing the guitar, son.’"
He adds, "I still get to play the piano on stage. In the movie, one of my favorite moments is Flying With The King. We brought in a special string section to accompany the band and I on that song, and I always feel right at home, sitting behind the keys.”
In the film, Kernaghan describes music as a spiritual thing. I enquire further, as some critics argue his music and persona often rests on outdated country clichés, so what’s his secret?
“Over my left shoulder, there's a piano where a lot of great songs have been written,” Kernaghan says over zoom. He’s wearing his trademark black Akubra hat in his home studio with walls adorned with his numerous awards. “It's almost like a portal. It doesn't happen every time, but when it is special, like a Spirit Of The Anzacs or a Love The Time Of Drought or a Flying With The King… when music like that arrives and the Goosebumps go up my arms, all I can say is that it didn't come from me, there's something of a higher force or higher hand at work here. I feel it.”
“That's why I say it's like a spiritual thing because it comes out of nowhere. It comes out of the ether, and suddenly, it's something real. It’s not unlike the birth of a baby, it feels like a miracle.”
There’s no doubt of Kernaghan’s strong connection to the land. His grandfather was a third-generation driver of sheep and cattle and his father, as well as being a country singer, was a truck driver. His songs, such as Boys From The Bush, The Outback Club, Hat Town, and She’s My Ute, have also become anthems for outback life.
But with the film playing nationwide in Australia, it’s a sign that the country genre continues to further expand into mainstream cities. Does Kernaghan think you need to have a greater level of understanding and/or connection to the land to appreciate his music on a deeper level?
He replies, “For me, it comes back to storytelling, and it doesn't matter what kind of production or mix you put on it, it's connecting with people and connecting with their hearts and their minds and their emotions. That's the hallmark of the great country songs – whether they're written about falling in love in some big city or battling the drought out west – it's about real people and real experiences. That's what makes our country stand out from all the other kinds of music. I think George Jones said it best three chords and the truth.”
The film will play in cinemas next to showings of Elvis, the Baz Luhrmann musical – a recent Hollywood trend, following the success of musical biopics about the likes of Elton John (Rocketman), Queen (Bohemian Rhapsody) and Jonathan Larson (Tick, Tick… Boom!).
“I reckon Eric Bana would do alright,” he laughs on who would play him in a biopic. “There was a called Full Frontal many years ago and they would often parody songs on the radio, and it happened to me. I had the piss taken out of me real good by Eric Bana pretending to be Lee Kernaghan. He had a massive hat on, and massive ears - point taken. I thought it was hilarious.”
Lee Kernaghan: Boy From The Bush is in cinemas from Thursday. Find out more here.
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