During the 1990s, Canadian-born Wendy Matthews (b. 1961) was hailed as one of the finest singers in Australia. Matthews has cited her influences as the likes of Peter Gabriel, Daniel Lanois, Bobby Womack and Robbie Robertson. Her extraordinary, crystal-clear vocals also displayed a soulfulness that was the mark of a truly gifted singer.
Matthews left her hometown of Montreal, Quebec at 17 and spent the next two years busking across Canada, the USA and Mexico before landing in Los Angeles. There she sang with a number of local bands and scored work on the session circuit. In 1983, Glenn Shorrock invited Matthews to sing back-up vocals on his Australian solo tour. Smitten with Australia, she decided to stay. Initially Matthews became one of the most in-demand session singers in Sydney, appearing on dozens of commercials (L.J. Hooker, Coca-Cola, CCs, David Jones, Aus-tralian sugar, Qantas, etc.). In 1985, she contributed backing vocals to Models' breakthrough album Out of Mind Out of Sight and became a semi-permanent member of the band. She also sang on albums by Jimmy Barnes, Tim Finn, Richard Clapton and -Icehouse.
In 1987, Matthews collaborated with Kate Ceberano on the soundtrack to the ABC-TV drama series Stringer. The album You've Always Got the Blues (April 1988) was a mix of torch song standards and new songs contributed by a variety of writers like Don Walker and Steve Prestwich (`The Girl in the Picture') and the album's producer, Martin Armiger (`Stringer'). It reached #4 on the national chart, and produced the singles `You've Always Got the Blues'/`3=2+1 (Shame)' (March) and `Guilty (Through Neglect)'/`Danger Zone' (May). She then assisted Rockmelons and Peter Blakeley on their respective debut albums, and helped form and define the sound of Absent Friends. Matthews sang on Absent Friends' soul-stirring #1 hit single, Eddie Floyd's `I Don't Wanna Be with Nobody But You' and the best-selling Here's Looking Up Your Address album.
With the completion of Absent Friends' touring commitments in mid-1990, Matthews went into the studio with long-time friend and producer Ricky Fataar (ex-Beach Boys, Rutles) to record her debut solo album. Helping out in the studio were the likes of Absent Friends members Sean Kelly, Roger Mason, Garry Gary Beers, James Valentine, Mick King and Andrew Duffield, plus Tim Finn and Peter Blakeley. The resultant album, Emigré, defined the journey the singer had taken since leaving Canada 13 years previously. Highlights included the traditional ballad `Goin' Back to My Roots' and `Long Way from Home', plus the hit singles `Token Angels' (#18 in November 1990), Bobby Womack's `Woman's Gotta Have It' (#34 in February 1991) and `Let's Kiss (Like Angels Do)' (#14 in June). As well as winning Best Female Artist and Best Debut Single (`Token Angels') at the 1990 Australian Record Industry Association (ARIA) Awards, Matthews was voted Best Female Singer in the 1990 Rolling Stone Readers' Poll.
Matthews assembled a touring band that included Paul Abrahams (bass), Robbie James (guitar; ex-GANGgajang), Michael King (guitar; ex-Danglin' Brothers, Absent Friends), Amanda Brown (oboe, violin; ex-Go-Betweens), James Valentine (sax; ex-Models), Mark O'Connor (keyboards), Lisa Maxwell (backing vocals) and Mark Meyer (drums; ex-Mark Gillespie Band, Moving Pictures). In October 1991, she issued the live mini-album The Way It Has to Be and toured as support to overseas visitors The Neville Brothers. Matthews ended a busy 1991 by recording her second full-length album Lily with American producer T-Bone Burnett. The album appeared in October 1992 which co-incided with her support slot to UK visitors Simply Red. Lily initially reached #6 on the national album listing, but eventually went as high as #2 in May 1993. By that stage it had sold double platinum (140000 copies).
It produced the hit singles `The Day You Went Away' (#2 in November 1992), `Friday's Child' (#15 in February 1993) and `If Only I Could' (#41 in May). Matthews scored well in the 1992 ARIA Awards by taking out Best Female Artist and Best Single (`The Day You Went Away'). She won Best Female Artist for the third time at the 1993 Awards ceremony. The Witness Tree appeared at the end of 1994 and included the minor hit single `Standing Strong' (#37 in December). Two further singles were lifted from the set, `Love will Keep Me Alive' (March 1995) and `Say a Prayer' (August), but neither reached the national Top 40. Since that time Matthews has continued to tour both locally and internationally. She issued a new CD single, `Then I Walked Away', in June 1997, followed by her fifth album, Ghost (September). The second CD single, `Big', came out in August.
Wendy Matthews issued a new CD single in January 1999, an epic reading of Kris Kristofferson (via Carly Simon) ‘I’ve got to have You’. It was lifted from her next album, the compilation Stepping Stones: The Best of Wendy Matthews (March 1999). The 18-track collection included the likes of ‘I Don’t Wanna be with Nobody but You’, ‘Token Angels’ and ‘The Day You Went Away’. It took her to #4 on the national chart, and sold over 40 000 units.
Matthews was back with a new single in February 2000, a cover of ‘Day by Day’ which was from the Australian Cast Album of the stage production, Godspell. The singer had joined the cast of the new Australian version of Godspell, alongside Angry Anderson, Jimmy Barnes, Deborah Byrne, Marie Wilson, Fiona Horne, Belinda Emmett, Paul Mecurio, David Dixon and Terrence Trent D’Arby. Rehearsals commenced in February 2000, but the production ran into financial difficulties and was never staged.