Singer/songwriter James Reyne (b. 1957) first came to public attention as frontman for popular rock band Australian Crawl. As the charismatic larrikin with the good looks, acerbic wit, nonchalant demeanour and idiosyncratic, clipped vocal style fronting a bunch of guitar slinging surfers, Reyne made quite an impact on the Australian music psyche. As well as his seven-year tenure with the Crawl, Reyne moonlighted with covers bands The Party Boys and Rocking Love Gods.
In 1983, he starred with Rebecca Gilling and Wendy Hughes in the television miniseries Return to Eden which was screened in September 1983. Reyne appeared in the role of playboy tennis professional Greg Marsden, and later declared he was not very good in the part, declining many acting offers since. His other acting roles to date include the part of Australian manager Roger Davies in the US telemovie Tina based on the life of singer Tina Turner, and in the drama series State Coroner. In April 1985, he issued a duet single, `R.O.C.K.'/ `Under My Thumb', with Electric Pandas' Lin Buckfield.
Three months after the break-up of Australian Crawl in January 1986, Reyne travelled to Los Angeles in search of an American deal. He spent the next 12 months in limbo before expatriate Australian Roger Davies (former manager of Sherbet and then handler for Tina Turner and Olivia Newton-John) put him in contact with Capitol Records and producer Davitt Sigerson (David and David). Reyne's debut solo album, James Reyne, boasted state-of-the-art American production values, and the cream of LA session players like Jesse Ed Davis, David Lindley and Billy Payne. Newton-John contributed backing vocals to the anti-drug song `Hammerhead'. Reyne's core band on the album sessions comprised American Jef Scott (guitar), David Faragher (keyboards) and former Crawl drummer John Watson.
James Reyne (September 1987) reached the national Top 5 (#4) and sold over 210000 copies (triple platinum). It yielded five singles, including three Top 10 hits, `Fall of Rome'/`Traveller' (#3 in August 1987), `Hammerhead'/`Coin in a Plate' (#6 in October) and `Motor's Too Fast' (with three live cuts, `Counting on Me', `Mr Sandman' and `Heaven on a Stick') (#7 in July 1988). `Rip It Up'/`Love will Find a Way' (November 1987) also reached #21 in January 1988, while `Heaven on a Stick'/`Submarines' (February) went Top 40. Reyne's newly formed touring band at that stage comprised Scott, Brett Kingman (guitar, ex-Uncanny X-Men), Simon Hussey (keyboards), Andy Cichon (bass; ex-Rose Tattoo) and John Watson (drums; ex-Australian Crawl, Kevin Borich Express). Following the national Rip It Up tour of December 1987, Reyne supported Tina Turner on her February 1988 Australian tour. Capitol issued James Reyne in Europe and the USA, and the singer toured those territories.
Reyne recorded his second album, Hard Reyne, in London with producer/mixer John Hudson. The album continued his collaboration with brother-in-law Simon Hussey, who also co-wrote a number of the songs on Reyne's debut. Hussey was known for his production work on Daryl Braithwaite's breakthrough debut album, Edge. Issued in June 1989, Hard Reyne was a strong, diverse rock album and repeated the success of the debut album. It reached #4, and produced the singles `House of Cards'/ `Walking in the Dreamtime' (#11 in June 1989), `One More River'/`Jim Dandy' (#22 in August), `Trouble in Paradise'/`I'm an Old Cow Hand' (October) and `Harvest Moon'/`Five Miles Closer to the Sun' (December). Reyne embarked on a national tour (June/July 1989) with a new James Reyne Band line-up comprising Kingman, Cichon and Watson, plus Americans James Ralston (guitar, vocals; ex-Tina Turner Band) and Ollie Marland (keyboards; ex-Tina Turner Band).
Reyne was quiet for over a year before emerging in June 1991 with a new deal through Virgin and a new album, Electric Digger Dandy. With its colloquial pun on the Jimi Hendrix appellation `Electric Nigger Dandy', the album was Reyne's most eclectic collection to date. It mixed the usual sophisticated guitar rock with pop, country and swamp influences (Reyne co-wrote `Outback Woman' with American swamp king Tony Joe White). The album made its debut on the national chart at #2, and its first single, `Slave' (co-written with Jim Vallance), peaked at #10 the same week. The next two singles, `Any Day Above Ground' (July) and `Some People' (September), were not successful.
One of the album's tracks, `Company of Stran-gers', lent its name to a studio collaboration between Simon Hussey, Jef Scott, Daryl Braithwaite and James Reyne. Hussey and Scott recorded an album in December 1991 with assistance from Reyne and Braithwaite in between their own career commitments. Sony issued Company of Strangers in August 1992. The album contained commercial pop rock and produced the singles `Sweet Love' (June 1992), `Motor City (I Get Lost)' (October), `Daddy's Gonna Make You a Star' (January 1993) and The Beatles' `Baby You're a Rich Man' (June 1993).
In 1992, Reyne collaborated with Australian country idol James Blundell on a cover of The Dingoes' classic `Way Out West'. The song appeared on Blundell's third album, This Road, and when issued as a single (backed with Don Walker's `Long Yard Rider') it reached #2 on the national chart (April). To further the country connection, the James Reyne Band played the 1992 Tamworth Country Music Festival to a positive response. Reyne's backing band at that stage included guitarists Brett Goldsmith (ex-Chantoozies) and Paul Gildae (guitar), plus Lee Borkman (keyboards).
In 1994, Reyne signed a new deal with rooArt, and during April returned to Los Angeles to commence work on his fourth solo album, The Whiff of Bedlam, with high-profile producer Stuart Levine (Anita Baker, Simply Red, B.B. King). Reyne described the album as more focused and laid-back than Electric Digger Dandy. Indeed, the songs were based heavily around the keyboard work of former Al Jarreau sideman Neil Larsen in favour of the gritty guitar rock of Reyne's previous efforts. The album's first single, `Red Light Avenue', reached #32 in October 1994. The next two singles, `Day in the Sun' and `It's Only Natural', were not successful. Reyne slipped from view again, re-emerging in May 1996 with the album Live in Rio.
The Live in Rio album had yielded one CD single in 1996, ‘Oh No, Not You Again’. Reyne issued a new CD single, ‘Not Waving, Drowning’ (February 1998), on Roadshow/Warner. It was the first single from Reyne’s seventh solo album, Design for Living, which finally appeared in February 1999. Originally titled Funland, Design for Living produced a second single, the summery jaunty pop of ‘Wonderful Today’ (November 1998).
The album saw Reyne acting as producer, writer and performer. It was a mix of styles, bouncing from playful rockers (like ‘Not Waving, Drowning’) to ballads and blue-eyed soul. Also included was an updated, re-recorded version of ‘Beautiful People’, with Reyne rapping the vocals. The singer toured as one of the supports to John Farnham for his 50th birthday celebration, the national I Can’t Believe He’s 50 tour throughout April and May 1999 (alongside Kate Ceberano, Merril Bainbridge, Human Nature and Ross Wilson).