Peter Blakeley (b. 1960) is recognised as one of the most unique Australian singers ever. His sweet, versatile vibrato is equally at home around soul standards, country ballads, upbeat dance tunes and even rock and blues songs. The founder of Atlantic Records, Ahmet Ertegun, called him `the best white soul singer I've ever heard'. Writer Clinton Walker wrote that Blakeley was `simply the most beautiful singer I'd ever heard up so close, and I wasn't alone in my opinion'. For someone with such high accolades, Blakeley is vastly underrated in Australia, with only two hit singles to his credit.
Blakeley's first band was Peter Black and the Reds, but he came to wider prominence while singing with Sydney bands Rat Tat Tat, Paris Green and Rockmelons. Blakeley sang on Rockmelons' second single `Sweat it Out'/`If Tomorrow Ever Comes' in 1986. He formed his own band, The Resurrection, in 1986 and signed to True Tone Records. True Tone issued the singles `Must be Chemical'/`When I was a Little Boy' (March 1986), Marvin Gaye's `Ain't That Peculiar'/`Ain't Nothing Like the Real Thing' (May), `Caterina'/`Cattle Train' (March 1987) and `Bye Bye Baby'/`One of the Family' (August), plus the mini-album Vicious (April 1987). The Resurrection comprised Chris Abrahams (bass, piano), Jim Benjamin (drums), Mark Punch (guitar; ex-Renée Geyer Band) and Wendy Matthews (backing vocals).
The Resurrection recorded an album for True Tone which was never issued, and Blakeley was without a record deal. By 1988, Blakeley had signed an American deal with Capitol Records and was living and recording in Los Angeles. That resulted in the acclaimed Harry's Cafe de Wheels album which was issued in March 1990. With production duties shared by one-time 1960s British pop singer Peter Asher (10,000 Maniacs, Linda Ronstadt) and Stewart Levine (Simply Red), and featuring the cream of Los Angeles session players, the album was a confident and contemporary release.
The jubilant `Crying in the Chapel'/`Caterina' reached #3 in February 1990, and Harry's Cafe de Wheels made its debut in the national Top 5. Blakeley's gorgeous reading of Ewan MacColl's `First Time Ever I Saw Your Face'/`Bye Bye Baby' was issued as a second single and made #17 in April. Two other singles, `Quicksand' (May) and the upbeat `You Never Heard It from Me' were minor hits. `Crying in the Chapel' attained platinum status (over 70000 copies sold) and was the 18th biggest selling single in Australia during 1990; Harry's Cafe de Wheels eventually attained triple platinum status (over 210000 copies sold) and was the 21st biggest selling album for 1990. Blakeley also won Best Australian Single for `Crying in the Chapel' at the 1989 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards.
Blakeley toured Australia with a band comprising Junior Baillie (drums), Hopeton Hibbert (bass), Mabon Hodges (guitar), Roger Mason (keyboards, ex-Models) and Deni Hines (backing vocals). `Crying in the Chapel' was to be Blakeley's commercial peak in Australia. He spent the next couple of years fighting Capitol in order to get out of his contract.
Blakeley recorded his next album, The Pale Horse, at Prince's Paisley Park Studios with producer David Z. The Pale Horse was a more sophisticated and polished release but it failed to match the success of its predecessor. Likewise, the album's two singles, `God's Little Elvis' and `I've Been Lonely', failed to reach the national Top 40. Nevertheless, Blakeley's own psychedelic-soul gem `Through the Looking Glass', his beautiful interpretation of Curtis Mayfield's `Ain't No Love Lost' and the punchy, rhythmic funk of Johnny `Guitar' Watson's `A Real Mother for Ya' demonstrated the maturity evident in the singer's voice.