Jimmy Barnes – Aussie gambler and rocker chose a quieter married life

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Photo by Adrian Trinkaus

As a 1970s wild child, Scottish-born Australian singer Jimmy Barnes led the archetypal rock and roll lifestyle of partying, drinking and gambling. Then a change of perspective saw him adopt a new lifestyle and a new faith. 45 years on, the former Cold Chisel lead singer is still rocking, but off-stage he has never looked back. 

Difficult beginnings from a Scottish slum to the Adelaide suburbs

Jimmy was born into difficult circumstances. His mother had barely turned 21 and was trying to look after Jimmy and three others, and his father, a prize fighter, was as violent at home as he was earning his living. The family, like many others, opted for a new life in Australia, arriving in 1962, when Jimmy was five. 

Jimmy’s parents separated soon after arrival, but when his mother remarried, to an office clerk called Reg Barnes, life took a turn for the better. Jimmy adopted his stepfather’s name and keeps it to this day. 

Fame and fortune beckon with Cold Chisel

At 17, Jimmy had the opportunity for an apprenticeship in a foundry working for South Australia Railways. At the same time, he and elder brother John (better known as Swanee) had joined a band called Fraternity. When lead singer Bon Scott left the bad, Jimmy took his chance, stepping out from behind the drum kit to take on lead vocal duties. 

All ideas of a career as a metalworker disappeared as Jimmy moved on from Fraternity to form a new, harder-edged band in 1975. Accompanied by guitarist Ian Moss, Don Walker on keyboards and drummer Steve Prestwich, the band initially went under the name Orange, but soon changed its name to Cold Chisel. 

You need to have been around in Australia in the late 1970s and 80s to understand just how big a deal both Jimmy Barnes and Cold Chisel were. Success did not come overnight to either, and the mid 1970s were fractious, but just when Jimmy was on the verge of leaving the band to try a new project with brother Swanee, Cold Chisel were signed by Warner Bros and the big time beckoned. 

A typically Australian love for casino games 

Jimmy had already been through a lot of life experiences when that magic contract arrived from Warner’s, so it is easy to forget that he was still only 22 at the time. For the first time in his life, Jimmy had money in his pocket, and he could scarcely wait to squander it. 

Jimmy might have still had a Glaswegian edge to his accent, but he had become a true Australian at heart. That meant just one thing – gambling. Jimmy became a regular face in Australia’s gambling hotspots in Sydney and Melbourne. Of course, in those days, gambling opportunities were not as plentiful or convenient as they are in the digital age. 

In fact, opportunities were so limited that Jimmy regularly flew to Las Vegas to soak up the atmosphere and, of course, lay down his bets. Jimmy is the first to acknowledge that in those heady times around 1978, his gambling went out of control. Today, he is in a more tranquil place. He still places the occasional bet using any one of Australia’s numerous online casino sites (see australiaonlinecasinosites.com for more details) and he even organises the occasional celebrity poker tournament in Las Vegas. But these days, it is affordable wagers, placed just for fun.

 A change of attitude through love and belief

It’s not a case of Jimmy having gained wisdom through age now that he is in his 60s. In fact, he turned his life around in the early 1980s, when he was still in his early 20s and his most famous and successful period as a solo artist was yet to come. 

It all began in November 1979, when he met Jane Mahoney, the Thailand-born daughter of an Australian diplomat. As a young, handsome rock star, Jimmy was no stranger to beautiful women, but as he said in his autobiography, “I loved her from the minute I saw her. Jane would change my life.”

Despite having ongoing “on/off” relationships with at least two other women at the time, Jimmy and Jane soon got serious and moved in together. They married in 1981, went on to have four children together and have remained devoted to one another ever since. 

That’s not to say Jimmy entirely left his wild days behind him. In the 1990s, at the height of his fame, he was fighting a daily battle against alcoholism. It was at this point that he started to take a serious interest in Buddhism, having been introduced to the faith by Jane. 

A loving family and an exciting future 

Having seen life from every angle, Jimmy is in no doubt as to what really matters. “Family,” he says without a second thought, when asked what is most important in life. Jimmy has seven children, including three from prior relationships in the 1970s. Three of his children also have showbiz career. These include eldest son David Campbell, who is well known as a TV presenter as well as a singer, plus session singer Mahalia Barnes and session drummer Jackie Barnes.

As for the man himself, turning 67 earlier this year has shown no signs of slowing Jimmy Barnes down. Last year, his first ever Christmas album, Blue Christmas, became his 15th chart-topping solo album. Earlier this year, he announced what could be his most exciting project to date. He has teamed up with some other true legends to form supergroup The Barnstormers, featuring legendary pianist Jools Holland, guitarist Chris Cheney and former Stray Cats drummer Slim Jim Phantom.

The band released its self-titled debut album a few weeks ago, and have tentatively planned several festival gigs. These will be contingent on Jimmy continuing his excellent recovery from back and hip surgery that took place last December. With his new hip in place, Jimmy is looking forward to taking to the stage again with renewed energy. We can’t wait to see him.


Richard Owens
Richard Owens
Richard is a Editor-in-Chief at DatingCelebs. He loves Hollywood gossip, entertainment, and celebrity dating news. Follow him at @rowens13.