By Cameron Adams
Nathan Cavaleri was first introduced to Australia aged just seven, when the Today show covered his meeting with one of his guitar heroes, Mark Knopfler of Dire Straits. This came about after Nathan was diagnosed with leukaemia aged six, a year later (while still undergoing treatment) he was granted his wish to meet Knopfler through the Starlight Foundation.
By age eight Nathan was playing guitar on Hey Hey It’s Saturday, in front of millions. While it may have been a novelty to see a kid playing guitar, before long it was clear this was no gimmick.
Nathan started playing guitar at three, playing along with his favorite blues records – Stevie Ray Vaughn and Albert Collins, before his dad Frank started to teach him the basics. He was playing electric guitar by five and had his first gig aged six – busking outside his mother’s coffee shop and pocketing $270 in just ninety minutes.
Daryl Somers’ had an open door policy for Nathan on Hey Hey, and he would regularly appear on the program to plug albums or showcase his work in the US. Australian rock legend Jimmy Barnes swiftly took note. Before long, Nathan signed his first record deal and went on an epic five week tour supporting Barnes and Diesel.
“What an educational tour for myself and my parents,” Nathan says now. “My band was two bricklayers (one being my father) and a drum tech! I had just turned 10 at the time. Throughout that time, mum and dad were trying to shield me from seeing drunken blood baths whilst trying to preserve my belief in the Easter Bunny. Literally!”
By age 12 Nathan was basically a veteran. He’d toured around the world and befriended another hero, blues legend B.B King. In 1995 King asked Nathan to perform for him with Bonnie Raitt, Dr John, Etta James and Joe Lewis Walker at his Presidential Award ceremony in 1995. That also meant Nathan got to meet Bill and Hillary Clinton at the White House.
Given the all clear health-wise at age 13, Jimmy Barnes, Emmanuel and Diesel guested on his 1993 debut album Jammin’ With the Cats. A year later, Nathan was in the US being wooed by George Michael, Prince, Madonna and Michael Jackson to sign to their record labels.
“I was fortunate enough to meet a lot of amazing people but being a kid prevented me from understanding the musical mark they made on the world. But maybe it’s because I walked into these meetings without starry eyes, that I received such great responses from them.”
In the end, he signed with Jackson’s MJJ Records, who released his first US album. Nathan almost performed with Jackson in public – however at a final dress rehearsal during the song Black or White Jackson collapsed and face planted on the stage.
“With how theatrical his set was, I thought it was part of the act until the bodyguards came running. He was rushed to hospital and the gig was cancelled.”
After TV appearances in the US to promote his album (Conan O’Brien, Arsenio Hall) came a Disney movie (Camp Nowhere) and more records. By the time he was 15, Nathan had one last tour with BB King and decided to step away from the limelight.
“I was in year 10, things had changed,” Nathan said. “My parents wanted to give me the opportunity to re-calibrate and work out what I wanted to do. It’s a weird age, it’s going into adulthood through puberty. I didn’t like being in front of the cameras at that age.”
Nathan transitioned into adulthood with some musical experimentation that morphed into blues/rock outfit Nat Col and the Kings in 2010 with his mate Col Hatcham from The Screaming Jets. They released three albums and toured extensively. After developing Adrenal fatigue and anxiety – first noticed when he passed out mid-set one night and struggled to regain his usual energy – Nathan took an indefinite hiatus from the band.
Two years ago, Daryl Somers called Nathan out of the blue to ask him to help out with a charity request. It turned out to be a bit of a lightbulb moment for the guitarist as he began to embrace his past.
“He ended up sending me a DVD of all my appearances on Hey Hey,” Nathan says of Daryl. “That was a real moment. I started thinking ‘Why am I not reflecting on this stuff? This is cool’.
“After watching the DVD I had the awakening that my past is definitely something to be proud of. I can talk about conversations I had with BB King and absorb it, and I understand it better than I did when I was a kid. I was more excited about meeting Pamela Anderson back then.”
During his 4 years away from the stage, Nathan researched the causes of his anxiety and fatigue and channeled this knowledge into a weekly blog. He reached out to his artist friends for advice, turning these often intimate converstions into a 10 part series which featured on themusicnetwork.com. Artists such as Kasey Chambers, Ash Grunwald, Deep Purple, Diesel, Suze DeMarchi opened up publicly to support his vision.
Whilst the performing came to a halt, his song writing developed a far deeper level of expression with a diverse range of influences. This love of music offered him a similar type of therapy it had when he battled Leukemia as a child. Motivated by his passion to play and write, he stared down the fear of live performance and determined that it was time to make a record.
This will be Nathan’s first solo release since he was signed to Michael Jackson’s label in 1994 and features songs that are a culmination of the diverse life Nathan has lived. B.B.King calling Nathan “the future of blues” is definitely an appropriate quote for how he has expanded beyond his roots.
“This time around, I wanted to express more than blues would allow. Each track throughout the writing and production process conformed to no specific genre and called upon an array of my favourite artists. From J.J.Cale and B.B.King to Bowie, Lana Del Ray, and Mos Def.”
Nathan’s new EP was co-produced between Sydney and Los Angeles with ARIA nominated Tony Buchen (The Preatures, Montainge, Asta and Mansionair) and will be released as a series of consecutive singles approaching 2019.