Clinton Walker (born 1957) is an Australian writer, best known for his works on popular music but with a broader interest in social and cultural history and theory. Sydney's Sun-Herald has called him "our best chronicler of Australian grass-roots culture." Books he's published like Inner City Sound (1981), Buried Country (2000) and History is Made at Night (2012) have had a seminal impact on the Australian music scene. Similarly, while he found best-selling success as Bon Scott's biographer (Highway to Hell, 1994), Walker's non-music books like Football Life (1998) and Golden Miles (2005) have offered an appreciation of subjects hitherto hardly deemed worthy of serious consideration. More recently, in early 2018, he courted controversy when his book Deadly Woman Blues was withdrawn from sale to be pulped after only a couple of weeks on the shelves.
Born in Bendigo, Walker dropped out of art school in Brisbane in the late 70s to start a punk fanzine with the late Andrew McMillan and to write for student newspapers. In 1978 he moved to Melbourne where he worked on-air for 3RRR, and with Bruce Milne on the fanzine Pulp, and wrote for the fledgling Roadrunner magazine. Moving on to Sydney, where he still lives, he commenced a career as a freelance journalist. Over the next fifteen years he wrote for a wide variety of magazines and newspapers, including longstanding associations with both RAM and Australian Rolling Stone; he also wrote extensively for Stiletto, The Bulletin, The Age, New Woman, Playboy, Inside Sport, the Edge and Juice.
He published his first book, Inner City Sound, in 1981. It documented the emergence of independent Australian punk/post-punk music, and itself became an icon of the movement. A revised and expanded edition was published in 2005, at the same time as a CD anthology with the same title.
In 1982/'83, he lived in London, where he worked at the Record & Tape Exchange and served as a stringer for Bruce Milne's pioneering cassette-zine Fast Forward. Returning to Australia, by 1984 he was back on the freelance treadmill, had published his second book (The Next Thing) and got a job cleaning toilets at Pancakes on the Rocks.
Walker's third book, Highway to Hell, a biography of Bon Scott (1994), was widely acclaimed and a best seller in Australia. It has since been translated into French, Spanish, Italian, Bulgarian, and Finnish. He then published Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977-1991 (1996) and Football Life, a personal history of minor league Australian Rules culture.
His sixth book, Buried Country, a history of Aboriginal country music, was published in 2000 and spawned a documentary film and soundtrack CD with the same title. It was hailed as a pioneering and monumental work of music historiography, and still stands as the closest thing Australia's ever produced to the efforts of a Harry Smith or Peter Guralnick. A new updated edition of the book was released in 2015 along with a rebooted version of the CD called Buried Country 1.5, and as a result of their even greater success than the first time around, a touring live stageshow adaptation premiered in 2016 and continues to play on the festival circuit.
Walker has also worked at ABC Television on the two documentary series, Long Way to the Top and Love is in the Air, as well as co-hosting the live music program Studio 22 and hosting the short-lived Fly-TV show for record collectors, Rare Grooves. He has contributed to many literary anthologies, from the 1995 best-seller Men-Love-Sex to the 2012 collection of journal Meanjin's 'greatest hits'; he has also produced and/or annotated a long list of CD anthologies, and appeared as a talking head in countless other rockumentaries.
In 2005, his seventh book, Golden Miles: Sex, Speed and the Australian Muscle Car, was published. Once again it was widely praised for its innovation, irreverent humour and beautiful design/presentation, and when its original publisher, Lothian, went bust, it was re-released, in 2009, by Wakefield Press, in an expanded, updated edition.
In 2012, he published History is Made at Night, a polemic on the endangered Australian live music circuit. In 2013 he published his ninth book, The Wizard of Oz, about the ill-starred Australian speed ace from the 1920s, Norman 'Wizard' Smith, as well as co-producing the CD Silver Roads, an anthology of Australian country-rock from the 1970s.
Walker’s tenth book, Deadly Women Blues, a graphic history of black women in Australian music that he illustrated as well as wrote, was published in February 2018 but then withdrawn to be pulped amid a storm of controversy when five of the 100+ performers profiled in the book protested that Walker had failed to consult them and inaccurately misrepresented them. The book undoubtedly damaged Walker’s reputation, but at least it prompted some discussion around the fault-line it revealed between the ideology of identity politics and the principle of editorial independence that’s fundamental to a free press.
Walker has also worked as a cook, graphic artist, a DJ and a bookseller, and he was a member of the country-grunge band the Killer Sheep, who in 1987 released the single "Wild Down Home" on Au-Go-Go Records. An outspoken, colourful character, he has himself often appeared in other works, from Peter Lawrance's teen crime novel Family Affair to walking through numerous music videos, to making a cameo in John Birmingham's book He Died with a Felafel in His Hand to getting namechecked in the Go-Betweens' song "Darlinghurst Nights".
He lives with his family in Sydney's inner west and is currently working on a range of other projects that cut across mediums and stages of development, including two new books and a stage musical.
- Inner City Sound (Wild & Woolley, 1981; revised and expanded edition, Verse Chorus Press, 2005)
- The Next Thing (Kangaroo Press, 1984)
- Highway to Hell: The Life and Times of AC/DC Legend Bon Scott (Pan Macmillan, 1994; revised edition, Verse Chorus Press, 2001)
- Stranded: The Secret History of Australian Independent Music 1977-1991 (Pan Macmillan, 1996)
- Football Life (PanMacmillan, 1998)
- Buried Country (Pluto Press, 2000; revised and expanded edition Verse Chorus Press, 2015)
- Golden Miles (Lothian, 2005; expanded edition, Wakefield Press, 2009)
- History is Made at Night (Currency House, 2012)
- Wizard of Oz (Wakefield Press, 2013)
- Deadly Woman Blues (New South, 2018/WITHDRAWN)
Discography (as Producer)
- Buried Country (Larrikin-Festival, 2000/Warner Music, 2015)
- Long Way to the Top (ABC, 2001)
- Studio 22 (ABC, 2002)
- Inner City Soundtrack (Laughing Outlaw, 2005)
- Silver Roads (Warner Music, 2013)
Videography (as Writer)
- Notes from Home (ABC, 1987)
- Sing it in the Music (ABC, 1989)
- Studio 22 (ABC series, also as co-presenter, 1999-2003)
- Buried Country (Film Australia, 2000)
- Long Way to the Top (ABC, 2001)
- Love is in the Air (ABC, 2003)
- Rare Grooves (ABC series, also as presenter, 2003)
- "A high-revving romp through time – Books – Entertainment". Sydney Morning Herald.
- "News Store". Newsstore.fairfax.com.au. 19 August 2000.
- "Australian Public Intellectual [API] Network". Api-network.com. Archived from the original on 15 December 2013.
- "Howe-written...BURIED COUNTRY (2002)...Four Decades of Country Music Journalism". Bobhowe.com.
- from Currency House Plus 2 years ago Not Yet Rated (7 August 2012). "Clinton Walker 'HISTORY IS MADE AT NIGHT' on Vimeo". Vimeo.com.
- rortydog's channel (26 February 2008). "Clinton Walker interview". YouTube.