….. but his first love is the guitar. The youngest of six sons Brendan grew up in the northwestern Sydney suburb of Eastwood. His mother Kitty was an accomplished pianist with an L Mus A diploma earned under the stern tutelage of the nuns of the Little Company Of Mary in rural Goulburn NSW. Before she married she was a popular accompanist at wartime dances in and around Sydney. Brendan’s dad Kevin played cello in a classical trio with his brothers in the ‘30s but later in life became a devotee of theatre organ – he kept a Thomas organ in the office of his suburban Ladder Shop so he could practice when business was a little slow.
Brendan picked up the guitar, literally, by accident. Home in bed with a heavy flu at age twelve he commandeered older brother Bob’s nylon string guitar to see what it was all about. He was a natural. By the end of the week he had The Beatle’s Let It Be album on high rotation, picking out the melodies as he played along. When he got better he was sent off over the Xmas break to learn at the feet of Maestro Juradavich, the resident teacher in Eastwood at the time. The four lessons he had in the hallway of the eccentric teacher were the last formal guitar training he ever received. Mother new better.
Next year Brendan started violin lessons at his new school St Patrick’s Christian Brothers College at Strathfield - the strong arm of Catholicism. He hated it, he wanted to rock. After leaving the violin on the train one too many times and skipping lessons Brendan got his wish and he set to teaching himself the guitar with the aid of a good ear, an extensive family record collection and a Coles guitar chord book.
He was fortunate that he grew up in a house full of music. All his brothers were music fans and avid record buyers – Beatles, Led Zeppelin, Brother Jack McDuff, Kinks, Stones, Doors, Manfred Mann and later Cat Stevens, Leon Russell, The Who, Joe Cocker, CSN&Y et al. Mum and dad were old school – Bing Crosby, Peggy Lee, Louis Armstrong, Henry Mancini and Mitch Miller. It was a heady mix for someone about to pick up a guitar. But the first big influences were Jimmy Hendrix and the Puerto Rican guitar prodigy Jose Feliciano. The former was drawn to Brendan’s attention when one day a thirty-something Marist Brother walked in to class at his school in Eastwood and announced resignedly “…I’m not teaching today, Jimi Hendrix is dead”. Feliciano had become a regular visitor to Sydney in the early 70s and his latin guitar fireworks and singing were made popular by live concert recordings played on prime time TV.
At his new school at age 13 Brendan teamed up with two classmates, another guitarist and a drummer, and formed his first band. They played at school formals, rehearsed a lot and by all accounts were dreadful. By now Brendan had acquired a new rig, an Ibanez SG copy guitar and a Fender 10 watt amp, a birthday present from his dad - nice one Pa! When older brother Tim bought a drum kit they formed a band and set about teaching themselves to play drums. They would sit with their favourite Beatles and Stones records and figure out by trial and error what it was that Charlie and Ringo were doing. How hard could it be?
Meanwhile Brendan set about teaching his mates from up the road, Bill James and Mark Clayton, how to play bass and guitar respectively so he would have someone to play with. They rehearsed in the family home’s de facto music room which by now housed mum’s ancient but lovingly restored upright piano and dad’s new Hammond L100 organ and Leslie speaker. Around this time Brendan started to transpose guitar chords onto the piano and organ and gradually stated to learn the rudiments of keyboards. Beethoven’s Moonlight Sonata was an early favourite on the piano and Billy Thorpe’s Most People I Know Think That I’m Crazy, the first single he bought, were fleshed out on the Hammond, complete with bass pedals. Major influences at this time were Deep Purple, BB King, ZZ Top, Leon Russell and Dr John and Aussie contemporaries like Daddy Cool, Carson, Lah De Dahs, Billy Thorpe & The Aztecs, Lobby Lloyd & The Coloured Balls, Band Of Light and Skyhooks.
When local football star Terry ‘Tex’ Murphy joined as vocalist the band took on the name Joe’s Dinah and started doing gigs. They played local dances, youth clubs, school functions, friend’s parties…. anything. The line up changed dramatically over a short time and the band became a three piece with the two brothers and local bass player and sports champ Mark ‘Con’ Pennings. With Brendan singing this line up stayed together for the next two years.
One night watching the short music segment GTK (Get To Know) which screened before the 7pm ABC TV news Brendan encountered a live-in-the studio recording of Ry Cooder - it was a revelation. Ry was a direct link to the bottleneck slide players of the delta and Tex Mex music of the American/Mexican border region. But Ry presented it in his own style with guitar chops to burn. Brendan would name Ry as the most influential player in his musical life and instigated the beginnings of his interest in slide guitar, open tuning and ethnic music.
Always fascinated by sounds Brendan started experimenting with recording. Armed with two cassette recorders he learnt the basics of overdubbing and arranging not to mention the generational tape noise of accumulative analogue recording. Tim and Brendan saved up and purchased a 2-track open reel tape recorder. Now out of school aged 17 and sharing a flat with Tim and Con the band spent the days working in menial jobs and all night rehearsing and recording. They sent demos out to various agents and after an audition at the legendary Whisky Au Go Go in Sydney were taken on by Premier Artists agent Arthur Ross. The band were playing the inner western suburbs at the same time as glam band Hush and a nascent AC/DC. It all looked pretty good… then disco hit and the gigs disappeared almost overnight. Brendan went surfing. After five years playing semi professionally and professionally he was burnt out so he bought his first car and hit the waves. Besides the punk thing was just starting to raise it’s angry head in Sydney and it seemed to him there were a lot of people out there playing who couldn’t actually play. He didn’t fit in, didn’t want to anyway and so he just stopped.
But occasionally he ventured out and did solo gigs. In early ’78 he met and played a show with a new band called Mental As Anything and ended up playing a set with the guys while singer/guitarist Martin Plaza had a ‘lemonade’ break. The band encouraged Brendan to come and spend some time playing and jamming at gigs in town that were now part of the burgeoning inner city independent music scene.
But he new better, the music business was going nowhere and he was heading north to go surfing…. famous last words. While Brendan spent six months shooting the curl on NSW mid north coast the Mentals were having huge success with debut single The Nips Are Getting Bigger. Bored with the torpor of the surfing lifestyle on the north coast and envious of the Mentals’ success Brendan headed back to his parents house now in suburban Beecroft mid 1980 and picked up a full-time job as a fettler on the NSW Railways. After hours he went back to writing and playing mum’s old piano and concentrating on acoustic guitar.
He caught up with old chum Con Pennings and together went about forming a new band called Manifesto with drummer Michael Quiggs and keyboardist Doug Coster. Rehearsing at Now Studios in Rushcutters Bay brought him into contact with recording engineer/manager Adrian Williams who eventually took the band on and recorded and mixed an EP of original songs in 1982. By now Pennings had moved on and the band became a three piece with Coster playing keyboard bass. The band played a lot of shows in and around Sydney for eighteen months or so but ultimately dissolved due to lack of interest from record companies. When Brendan’s parents went overseas in early 1983 Brendan took a two week holiday from his then job as a truck driver and moved back in to the family home with a hired 8 track tape recorder and a bunch of new songs.
All sorts of artists were floating through the door at Now Studios – Cold Chisel, Duran Duran…. around this time while at Now Brendan was asked wether he could fill in at the last minute as guitarist/keyboardist for a touring show that legendary comedian Spike Milligan was embarking on. But he knew better, he’d been planning his home recording venture for some time and didn’t want to put it off to play with some crazy old bugger doing show tunes… famous last words.
The recording sessions yielded some new songs that got some encouraging play on Triple J radio in Sydney in late ’83 early ’84 and led to contact with other musicians like Brisbane drummer Mark Dawson (Ed Kuepper, The Black-Eyed Susans) and Barry Turnbull (Jackson Code, Love Me). There were initial rehearsals and some recording but things stalled mid 1984 when Brendan decided it was time for some higher education. He successfully applied for a place at University of Technology Sydney in the BA Communication Degree. So in early 1985 he began full-time studies, started driving a taxi at night and moved in to a flat in Bondi with long time girlfriend Lee-Anne Johnson (they married in 1986).
While at uni he met a lot of like-minded artists who worked in other disciplines – filmmaker Sean Kennedy, cinematographer Simeon Bryan, musician/performance artist Brett Jackson and assistant director Liam Brannigan – people who became fellow travellers in Brendan’s career. Ambitious young filmmakers need ambitious young music makers for soundtracks. Not only was Brendan a musician but also he knew his way around recording equipment and the university had just built a recording studio in the basement with a 1” 8-track tape machine. So Brendan spent many hours in the studio banging out music for this and that and his own projects as well – it was an education. For several years after graduating in 1988 he would still sneak in after hours and use the studio for demos.
In the last year of uni Brendan joined zydeco/blues band The Stumblers. The band boasted original Backsliders members Dom Turner on guitar, drummer Pete Burgess and harmonica player Rex Hill. Rounding off the band was veteran bass player Rob Dames (Purple Hearts, Bulldog) who had toured with the Rolling Stones on their first Aussie tour in 1966. Harmonica legend Jim Conway replaced Hill a year later. In 1989 Brendan contributed three original songs and produced the band’s debut album You Got To Move (Sandstock) recorded at Electric Ave in Sydney by Phil Punch.
Around the same time Brendan formed The Leisuremasters with Brett Jackson and Damon Davies. The membership varied – at one time it included Backslider’s Dom and Pete, then veteran drummer Rob Souter (Dynamic Hepnotics, Silk and the Slatterns, Slim Dusty) and ultimately drummer Liz Smith – as did the music. Initially the band played mainly instrumentals – film music by Ry Cooder and others – and would sit while they played, something quite unusual then. Then they started playing and singing originals. After Davies left they briefly played as a three piece and recorded a 7 track EP. In 1991 they volunteered as sonic guinea pigs for an audio experiment with Phil Punch and his customised Studer 1” stereo tape machine. The band set up in the round and did live to tape performances recorded on a single stereo microphone. They also tracked at Albert’s, the home of AC/DC, with Kathy Naunton engineering. Their debut Unhappy Hour was released independently in 1992.
In the same year Brendan and Brett formed The Raindogs with Pete Burgess and singer/trumpeter Kath Wemyss (Jackson Code, The Drunk, The Monk & The Spunk) to fill in the Monday nightspot at the Sandringham Hotel in Newtown vacated by the legendary Paris Green.
As the name suggests they played a lot of Tom Wait’s songs as well as tunes from Dr John, Los Lobos, Jimmy Webb etc – their favourites.
In early ’94 Brendan and Brett decided it was time for a break and disbanded Rain Dogs and Leisuremasters and went their separate ways. While minding older brother Tim’s second hand tool shop Brendan wrote the outline for his Open Tuning Chord Book For Guitar which was published in December 1994 (now in it’s third edition). After a brief spell away from music, he bought a 1/2” 8 track tape machine, a mixing console and some mics and moved into a bigger place in Bondi with a view to setting up a little project studio.
Around this time Brendan was introduced to the music of One Head Jet. A friend had taken him along to a gig at the Sandringham Hotel one night and he was smitten. It was like hearing a lost Beatles record. The band was led by the eccentric Appel brothers Greg and Steve. Older brother Greg had already had some success in the ‘80s with The Lighthouse Keepers and now the younger Steve was starting to flex his muscles as a singer/songwriter. When MC/percussionist Wayne McAlister went off trekking in India, Brendan volunteered to fill in and so joined the band. After a few months though his guitar prowess was discovered and he moved on to guitar - around the same time Wayne came back to resume toasting and shaking things.
Brendan co-produced and recorded the lion’s share of the band’s second album Chains Of Water at Karma County, his newly named Bondi workspace. Around the same time he began work on his solo album as the Sheriff Of Karma County, a project he envisioned to be entirely a studio venture with no public performances. When he happened upon bassist Michael Galeazzi all that changed. Michael had been drafted to mime double bass on a clip for the song She Never Loved You by director Sean Kennedy. When Brendan discovered he could actually play he recorded Michael on a few tunes for what ultimately became the Karma County album Last Stop Heavenly Heights.
Michael convinced Brendan to go out and play the songs live. So reluctantly one Monday evening in September 1995 the duo jumped up at The Feature Wall at the Annandale Hotel in Sydney, a songwriters open night hosted by former Clouds and Whitlams drummer Stuart Eadie. After a few tunes Stuie joined in on tambourine and a band was formed. A month later Karma County played their first show as the opening act for The Java Quartet’s debut album launch. Six weeks later they had set up a makeshift studio in the Blue Mountains west of Sydney to track some songs for their first album.
After getting no joy from Australian record companies for a release of the band's album Brendan sought out overseas labels. Through the good offices of Kath Wemyss he struck a deal with a small label operating out of Kansas City, USA called Laughing Boy. Last Stop Heavenly Heights was released there in late 1996. The band imported 100 copies and sent them out to Australian labels, street press and radio. The penny dropped. Former Festival Records executive Jon O’Rourke was smitten as was Triple J radio DJ Richard Kingsmill who had it added to rotation when O’Rourke’s label TWA released the album locally in March 1997. The band toured with a vengeance for the next twelve months, picking up new fans, awards, supports with the likes of Dave Graney, Tex Perkins, Morphine and others all the while working on tracks for a new album.
In January 1998 KC began mixing their second album with much admired English mixer Jeremy Allom (Massive Attack et al). Olana was released on TWA in April and became Triple J’s Album Of The Week the same month. Nominated for a best album ARIA, Olana received across the board radio play and saw KC making regular live appearances on TV and at music festivals like Homebake, Livid and Big Day Out.
Meanwhile Brendan was branching out as a producer. After the demise of One Head Jet he and Steve Appel holed up in Brendan’s Bondi studio in the dead of winter (somewhere there is a photo of Steve playing piano in mittens) to record tracks for the debut King Curly album with help from J Walker (Machine Translations) and Jonathon Nix (Gadflys). Around the same time Brendan happened upon legendary Aboriginal performer Jimmy Little singing in a small club in Sydney. The then 59-year-old singer and 38-year-old producer struck up a unique rapport. The time was right, Brendan had an idea and Jimmy was looking to re-connect with his adoring public.
Over the next three years the two friends worked together at Brendan’s studio re-interpreting classic Australian songs by the likes of Nick Cave, Crowded House, The Church and othersl for Jimmy’s 28th album. Released in 1999 Messenger went gold, won the Best Adult Contemporary Album ARIA and saw Jimmy elevated to the ARIA Hall Of Fame. Significantly it returned Jimmy to his rightful place as a much loved elder statesman of Australian music – he was invested as one of Australia’s 100 Living National Treasures and awarded a swathe of honorary doctorates from leading universities.
A chance meeting with UK uber producer Marius De Vries at a post ARIA awards party led to a career highlight. De Vries, in Sydney working as musical director on Baz Luhrmann’s Moulin Rouge, had been commissioned by David Bowie to re-mix a song from his latest album Hours. He needed a guitarist and a week later Brendan found himself in Festival studios playing along to the dulcet tones of The Thin White Duke. Survive was released as a single in Europe, USA and UK (where it went top 20) in January 2000. Later in the year he was back at Festival with the Cruel Sea rhythm section of Jim Elliott and Ken Gormley laying down the backing for Kylie Minogue and Jimmy Little’s duet of The Triffids’ classic Bury Me Deep In Love.
Early 1999 found Brendan with KC and engineer Tim Whitten (Powderfinger, The Necks) recording in a big old house overlooking Gerroa Beach on NSW south coast. Again mixed by Jeremy Allom Into The Land Of Promise was released locally on Warner Music and overseas on True North (Canada) and Rough Trade (UK) in late 1999 and saw the band undertake an extensive national and international tour in 2000 with gigs in Italy, Germany, UK, Canada & USA - in their own right and as Jimmy Little’s backing band. A stand out was headlining with Jimmy at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre in London.
Around this time Brendan encountered a then 19-year-old singer/songwriter Lyall Adonis. Much like Jimmy Little, Brendan was bowled over by Lyall’s beautiful voice and mesmerising stage presence. So began a special music relationship with Brendan initially producing an EP in 2001.
On return from overseas in August KC took a well-earned rest before kicking around some new songs. In October KC picked up the Best Adult Contemporary Album ARIA award making it two in a row for Brendan as producer. In December the band began recording again with Tim Whitten at Sony studios in Sydney. These sessions yielded the band’s fourth album Happy Birthday Dear Customer which was released independently through Shock Records in August 2001 and was followed by two extensive Australian tours. But the road was catching up with KC and in March 2002 the band decided to have an indefinite break.
Brendan turned his hand to some other ventures – soundtracks, Lyall Adonis’ debut album Stranger and a revised edition of his chord book. Easter 2002 saw him launching the book with some shows around the country with special guests like The Go-Betweens’ Grant McLennan and esteemed guitarist Shane O’Mara. At the end of the year he teamed up again with Jimmy Little to record a new album – interpretations of songs by artists like Chilli Peppers, Springsteen, PJ Harvey. Life’s What You Make It was released mid 2004. Meanwhile Brendan composed and produced music for TV documentaries and short films… and wrote some songs. KC reconvened in early 2003 and resolved to track some new tunes in Byron Bay where drummer Stuie was relocating with his young family. So in June Michael, Brendan and Tim Whitten trekked to BB to record at the new 301 studio complex.
Returning to Sydney Brendan completed the album at his home studio in Bondi. Simultaneously he began work on a new project with a couple of old friends, singer/songwriter Bernie Hayes and Front End Loader’s Bow Campbell – The Dead Marines. Together they recorded a slew of simple, original songs with acoustic guitars and three part harmonies but didn’t release the results until early 2005 as their debut album New Day.
KC’s fifth album Pacifico was again mixed by Jeremy Allom in Perth in early 2004 and released in September on the new Littoral label formed with independent music entrepreneur Al Jones. It featured a guest appearance by Aussie acting legend Bryan Brown on Dexter & Sinistra as well as a film clip for the song. KC embarked on a national tour in late 2004 and followed up with an east coast tour in early 2005.
In april 2005 Brendan teamed up with young colleague and friend Gareth ‘Gigpiglet’ Stuckey to build a studio at Gareth’s newly acquired basement ‘penthouse’ space in a former hotel-motel in Sydney’s Redfern. After ten years of working in the spare room of his Bondi flat it was time to make some magic somewhere new and special. There were new Lyall Adonis songs to work on and a solo album too so with the aid of some acoustic design tips off the internet and some half remembered building skills they set about building a project studio… how hard could it be?
In August 2006 Brendan released his debut solo album On Eve St. Co-produced by drum wunderkind Felix Bloxsom it was voted one of the top 25 albums of 2006 in the Australian Music Prize (AMP). In 2007 he produced and recorded THE MILLIONAIRE$ album Sentimental Horses with band mates Dave McCormack (Custard) Jim Elliott (Cruel Sea) and Michael Galeazzi. In Decemeber 2008 Brendan signed an international publishing deal for his Open Tuning Chord Book with Music Sales/Wise Publications. The book is now published worldwide and is available as an eBook on Kindle and iTunes for iPad & iPhone.
Over the summer of 2008-09 Brendan composed and produced the soundtrack for Aussie feature film Subdivision by director Sue Brooks (Japanese Story). In 2009 Brendan released his 2nd solo album Tooraloo & Tender which ended up on the top 10 list of of several critics and radio presenters for that year. In 2010 he was appointed an APRA Ambassador, an honourary position to promote the work of Australia's peak performance collection society.
In 2011 he joined 7 piece blues band THE PINKS featuring a who's who of Australian music - Reg Mombassa, Peter O'Doherty, Continental Robert Susz, Jonathan Zwartz, Rob Souter & Doug Nairn (the men behind the music of Dynamic Hepnotics, Slim Dusty, Mental As Anything, Jimmy Little, Mighty Reapers, Dog Trumpet, Karma County, Starfish Club and more). Rob Souter died in April 2017 and the drum seat now is variously filled by Mick Skelton, Hamish Stuart and Jim Elliott (Cruel Sea).
In 2013 Brendan released his grand opus, double album Wine Island. In 2014 he was elected as a Writer Director on the board of APRA. In 2016 he became Vice Chair of Asia Pacific Music Creators Alliance (APMA) and in 2017 was elected as an Executive Councillor on the International Council of Music Authors (CIAM). In 2016 he released a 6 track EP Sonofobituary. Around this time Brendan took up the position of music director of Buried Country, the travelling music roadshow of Clinton Walker's ground breaking book and film of the same name about the untold story of Aboriginal country music. In 2018 he followed with an album recorded in Italy with The Magnolia Orchestra - Aldo Betto (guitar), Giacomo Da Ros (bass) & Youssef Ait Bouazza (drums).
In recent years Brendan has been building a live following in Australia and Europe. He currently lives in Sydney.