The boys from the bush are back in town - James Blundell plays with Lee Kernaghan in Canberra on May 5

The boys from the bush are back in town - James Blundell plays with Lee Kernaghan in Canberra on May 5

We were both so young.

It was in the country music capital of Tamworth. A department store appearance. I'm thinking the great Tamworth store Treloars but probably more likely Grace Bros.

James Blundell is performing in Canberra on May 5.

James Blundell is performing in Canberra on May 5.Credit:Clive Fox

The year was probably 1992.

James Blundell was a massive star. The young cattle hand from Queensland had achieved instant fame after winning the Star Maker talent quest in 1987.

Reporter Megan Doherty and James Blundell in Tamworth in about 1992.

Reporter Megan Doherty and James Blundell in Tamworth in about 1992.Credit:BARRY SMITH

He'd only turned to music after hurting his back as the result of being pummeled by a bull.

His album, This Road, released in 1992, would be the most successful of his career, including the hit duet with James Reyne, Way Out West.

​And his matinee idol looks meant he had a massive female fanbase.

I was a very young reporter with The Northern Daily Leader in Tamworth sent down to the main street to interview Blundell. Nerves would have been a-jangling.

Now aged 52, James Blundell has been in the entertainment industry for 30 years.

Now aged 52, James Blundell has been in the entertainment industry for 30 years.Credit:Sam Shotton

But what I remember most about that day was being splattered with cow poo.

A cattle truck had stopped at the lights outside the Leader office - at the top of a steep incline - sending slop slurping out of the truck as the photographer and I crossed the road. "Oh, well," I thought. "At least, I smelt country". No, I'm sure that's not what I was thinking. I would have been fretting like mad. But if Blundell minded the unusual aroma, he never let on.

Blundell is supporting Lee Kernaghan's 25th anniversary tour around Australia.

Blundell is supporting Lee Kernaghan's 25th anniversary tour around Australia.Credit:Gareth Gardner

Fast-forward 25 years, Blundell is still singing and I'm still reporting and here we are in another interview, this time on the phone ahead of his appearance with Lee Kernaghan at the Royal Theatre in Canberra this Friday, May 5.

This year marks the 25th anniversary of Kernaghan's launch into the country music stratosphere with the release of his iconic Boys from the Bush album and he is celebrating by taking his friends, including Blundell, on a tour of Australia.

(And, so, 1992 was actually a very important year for Australian country music. Blundell says three mainstays from that era - Kernaghan, Garth Porter and Colin Buchanan, have even written a song called Back in '92 which will be released soon.)

In any event, Blundell doesn't seem to remember that first meeting of ours (sob!) but why should he in a life that has been, if anything, very full? From country music star to bankrupt recluse to making headlines because of his relationships to standing as a Senate candidate for Katter's Australian Party back to performing on stage.

"We were both probably younger and slimmer and I had more hair," he says, with a laugh.

So enough of my self-indulgent reminiscing, how does Blundell process a career that now spans 30 years?

"Quite often it's very hard to get it into perspective because there has been so much that's happened," he said.

"I'd say 70 per cent of it has been absolutely, amazingly wonderful; 30 per cent of it absolutely, amazingly horrible.

"And I still can't believe it's three decades."

Now 52 and still living in country Queensland, Blundell has no doubts what he'd be doing now if that bull in Papua New Guinea hadn't got him and he hadn't entered Star Maker.

"I reckon the world would have been blissfully unaware of me and I would have been with cattle somewhere in northern Queensland," he said.

It must have been an incredible ride to get so much fame, so quickly, from such an otherwise quiet place.

"I had the accident and, as far as I was concerned, it was the end of life as I knew it," he said.

"I was on a fantastic wage at the age of 22 managing a cattle station in a wild part of the world and having a ball.

"I would have never have considered music as a profession except it was the only skill I had to create revenue for 12 months of my life.

"Everything was circumstantial. There was a gap in that sort of genre. I was befriended and championed by Ray Martin at a time when The Midday Show was the biggest conduit for music and entertainment in the country.

"My first tour was as a support act for The Delltones who were touring 35 weeks of the year and playing 90 per cent houses, so I effectively played to more people in that first year than I did in the next four or five.

"I'm very aware now that I was too naive to be frightened. I would never have had the courage to pursue the art as a choice of my own volition."

Performing is still a love. And he goes way back with Kernaghan.

"He's actually one of the first people I met in the industry," Blundell says.

"The year I won Star Maker, we were both 22. Lee actually said to me, 'You should come on the road with us and get some experience' but his mother said, 'No, I'm not putting you two in the same band'.

"And Lee did play in my band some years down the track and I did, in fact, sack him because we had the same manager and it was a direct conflict of interest.

"I tried to have that conversation with Kevin Jacobson who was the umbrella management for [our manager] Jeff Chandler and that went down like a lead balloon. They said, 'Oh, you're just jealous'.

"I said, 'That's not what I'm trying to address. I'm trying to work out how you have two people doing exactly the same thing under the same umbrella - it's good for you; bad for us.

"At the time, I said to Lee, 'It's a situation that's been forced on us outside our control and it's not doing us any favours every time we're put up for everything, there's two of us in contention'."

The sacking turned out to be a good thing for Kernaghan. "I think I did the greatest favour of his career and he went from strength to strength there on," Blundell says, with a laugh.

"We have a very high regard for each other both professionally and personally.

"If someone said to me at the start of my career, the artist I would have the most involved with, writing for, writing with and performing, I probably would have said Paul Kelly or someone else a little bit left-of-centre. But, no, the facts are there.

"Lee and I have done a lot of work together and it's great fun to be on this tour."

Blundell branched out into politics by standing for the Senate in Queensland for Bob Katter's Australian Party at the 2013 federal election. He got 4264 votes.

Will he put his hat in the ring again?

"What I do know is never say never," he says.

"We came out of that one pretty bruised. We got absolutely annihilated by Clive Palmer. There are so many similarities between the music industry and politics.

"The biggest danger comes from the Johnny-come-lately who gets all the plaudits and then fades away, which is exactly what's happened.

"Personally, the day I knew I didn't have to move to Canberra was one of the greatest of my life. But because I have such a high regard for Bob and the integrity he imbues in his politics, I just felt the public was gypped really, really badly.

"They've annihilated the man who had a great deal to offer with a forward plan, in favour of the circus. And the circus has disappeared."

Blundell's latest musical work is Campfire, an album of covers of beautiful songs, in a project pitched to him by Red Rebel Music head Karen Waters.

"She said to me, 'How would you like to forget about the writing and do something just for the joy of singing?' And that sounded wonderful, like diving into a cool pool," he said.

"The criteria for all the songs were those we thought would benefit from having the production stripped away and allowing the words to come forth."

It includes duets with Bec Lavelle singing the Cyndi Lauper hit Money Changes Everything and a mesmerisingly simple version of Madonna's True Blue with Tania Kernaghan, Lee's sister.

Blundell is now a father of four - three boys aged 18, 15 and five - and a little girl, aged three. His younger children are with former partner Jesse Curran, the couple since spilt up. But he says he is still involved with raising his children.

Blundell recently announced his engagement to a Toowoomba girl Kristal Padget and says he has a feeling of deep peace.

In every house he's lived, he's always displayed a copy of the Rudyard Kipling poem, If. It sums up his resilient attitude to life and not begrudging anything, even the hard times.

"It just makes so sense," he says. "I know I've been the happiest when I've had the least. I know I've been the most miserable when I've had the most.

"So there's a real peace with not needing material things and being able to communicate to people in my everyday work.

"I wouldn't change any of it. There's been not one boring moment.

"In fact, I'm actually looking to having a vegetable garden and raising some border collie puppies at this stage in my life." A long way from 1992.

Megan Doherty is a reporter for The Canberra Times

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