James Dixon Swan was born in Glasgow, Scotland on 28 April 1956, the son of Dorothy and prizefighter Jim Swan.
In 1962, his family emigrated from Glasgow to Australia, settling in a close-knit Scottish community in the Adelaide suburb of Elizabeth. His parents divorced shortly afterwards with Dorothy remarrying a clerk named Reg Barnes. Jimmy adopted his stepfather’s surname.
“Barnesy” joined the band Cold Chisel (formerly named ‘Orange ‘) in 1973 when he was just 16. The group left Adelaide in their van and moved to Melbourne in August 1976, and then three months later shifted base to Sydney.
Signing to WEA, the band released five studio albums between 1978 and 1984 and gained a reputation as Australia’s premier live band, while Barnsey’s onstage drinking antics were legendary.
Barnes broke away from Chisel in December 1983 at the height of their popularity, furious at not seeing enough of the profits for his liking.
He released his debut single No Second Prize in August 1984, peaking at #12 on the Australian charts. His debut solo album Bodyswerve was released in September and debuted at #1.
Barnes’ second album For the Working Class Man was released in December 1985, also debuting at #1 and remaining there for seven weeks. Titled simply Jimmy Barnes in the US, the album was issued in February 1986 to tie in with the release of the Ron Howard film Gung Ho, which featured the single Working Class Man.
In October 1987, Barnes released the single Too Much Ain’t Enough Love, which became his first solo #1 single. A third album, Freight Train Heart, also hit #1 on the Australian charts in December 1987.
The 1990s saw the singer succumb to increasing drug and alcohol addiction (he said later that he took enough cocaine to “finance the Bolivian revolution”) which eventually led him to a rehabilitation centre in Arizona.
Throughout his career, Barnes has sold over 12 million albums and has been inducted into the ARIA Hall of Fame in Australia twice. His childhood memoir, Working Class Boy, became a #1 bestseller and won the Australian Book Industry Award (ABIA) for Biography of the Year in 2017. His sequel, Working Class Man, won him a second ABIA for Biography of the Year in 2018 (the only author to win back-to-back ABIAs for a non-fiction title).