From the Beginning
Formed originally as The Farriss Brothers in 1977, coming out of Sydney, Australia, the rock band INXS demonstrated early on that they were something truly special and unique. However, their journey to stardom was not an easy one and they would have to prove themselves to both fans and critics alike. The band consisted of founding members, Andrew Farriss, main composer/keyboardist, Jon Farriss, drummer, Tim Farriss, guitarist, Garry Gary Beers, bassist, Michael Hutchence, lead singer/main lyricist, and Kirk Pengilly, guitarist/saxophonist.
For twenty years, INXS was fronted by Hutchence, whose sultry good looks and magnetic stage presence made him the focal point of the band. Initially known for their new wave/pop style, the band later developed a harder pub rock style that included some funk and dance elements.
Stars on the rise:
In the very beginning, the band began with Andrew Farriss convincing his fellow school classmate, Michael Hutchence, to join the band, “Doctor Dolphin”, along with classmates, Garry Beers, Kent Kerny, and Neil Sanders. But in 1977, Tim Farriss and Kirk Pengilly (who had been playing together since 1971) invited Andrew, Michael, and Garry to join them. Jon Farriss would also be added to the mix, forming The Farriss Brothers. They began touring as the opening band for Midnight Oil among others, and the band would go by the name “The Vegetables” for a very brief time before the manager of Midnight Oil would suggest the name change to INXS in 1979, which stuck.
Right place, right time:
By early 1980, the band had signed a five-album record deal with Sydney independent label, Deluxe Records. Initially, the band would be mildly successful in Australia, with their early records demonstrating their new wave/ska/pop style. The release of those albums was followed by near constant touring with almost 300 shows during 1981. While certainly a grueling schedule, the touring allowed the band to perfect their live act. Released in October of 1982, their fourth album “Shabooh, Shabooh” would be the one that sparked interest in the US and UK at the end of 1982 into 1983. The singles “The One Thing”, and “Don’t Change” would receive airplay in the US, opening new doors for the band. Additionally, in 1982, they would also attract the attention of music lover and very successful promoter Rockin’ Ron Woods. Woods was instantly passionate about the band and brought key music people along to their gigs. From that point on, interest in the band started to increase by leaps and bounds, finally bringing them to the US in early 1983. The band remained on the road in the US for most of the year supporting fellow artists such as Men at Work. By mid-1983 INXS was headlining smaller venues such as The Ritz in New York City. 1984 would see them on the road non-stop once again, but still not getting the interest they worked so hard for, despite extensive exposure in the U.S. market.
Recording and Touring:
In March 1985, the band would record their next album, this time with producer Chris Thomas. As the band was finishing the recording sessions, Thomas felt that the album wasn’t good enough, and stated: “it still had no killer track”. Andrew produced a demo tape of a funk song he had been working on initially called “Funk Song No. 13”, which evolved into “What You Need”. The resulting album “Listen Like Thieves” was released in 1985, receiving raves from the critics. The band toured extensively again ahead of the release of the album, and then took a very much needed few months off. The song “What You Need” was released in 1986, and this would be the song that would finally garner them a receptive worldwide audience, bringing the band to the forefront of rock music with both critical and popular acclaim.
While everyone either took a break totally or pursued other side projects, Hutchence would be featured in “Dogs In Space”, a film by Richard Lowenstein, which achieved critical acknowledgment but was not a commercial success. He would also try his hand at modeling, which he continued until his death.
Beginning in May 1986, the band joined together after their break and performed 32 European shows, 42 U.S. shows, and 12 Australian shows. This would include supporting Queen for their “Live at Wembley” concert, all of this resulting in influential Musician magazine calling INXS “the best live band in the world.”
Their Big Break:
After the success of “What You Need” and “Listen Like Thieves”, the band knew their new material for their next album would have to be even better and wanted every song on the album to be good enough to be a single. The band went back into the studio to record “Kick”. Despite their label’s initial protests that it wasn’t “good enough”, “Kick” was released in October 1987 and provided the band with massive success and worldwide popularity, proving their label had misread the market. As per their usual, it was time to hit the road with the band touring heavily in support of the album throughout 1987 and 1988. The album would ultimately become INXS’s best-selling album of all time.
After taking another well-deserved break in 1989 to again pursue side projects, the band would return to the studio starting in 1990 through 1997 to record 5 more albums, but none with the massive success of “Kick”. The band also continued to tour extensively during this period.
Then on November 22, 1997, tragedy would strike the band. Lead singer Michael Hutchence was found dead in his Sydney Ritz-Carlton hotel room, apparently of a suicide. In February 1998, Coroner Derrick Hand presented his report, which ruled that Hutchence’s death was indeed a suicide while depressed and under the influence of drugs and alcohol. Despite the official coroner’s report, there was continued speculation that Hutchence’s death was accidental, and to this date, the rumors still surround the mystery of his exact cause of death. Auto-erotic asphyxiation has long been rumored to be part of the reason for his death but has never been conclusively proven.
The remaining members of INXS would take most of the next year off to grieve Michael’s loss, and try to regroup to determine how to proceed. Even then, they then only made a few single performances with different guest singers until 2000, until finally settling on Jon Stevens in 2002. This would be very short-lived, and Stevens left the band in October 2003 to pursue a solo career.
INXS returned to the news in 2004 when they announced that a new reality TV program titled Rock Star: INXS would feature a contest to find a new lead vocalist for the band. The show, which debuted in July 2005, featuring 15 contestants vying for the position of the lead singer.
The “FORTUNE” years:
In September 2005, J.D. Fortune won the eleven-week competition, which culminated in his singing the Rolling Stones’s “You Can’t Always Get What You Want” and INXS’ “What You Need” in the finale to become the new lead singer of INXS. Fortune would continue to front the band until September 2011.
The band would also record an album in memory of Michael Hutchence titled “Original Sin”. Released in November 2010, the album featured well-known singers from Australia and around the world, including Patrick Monahan (Train), and Rob Thomas (Matchbox 20).
After Fortune’s departure, INXS continued with other fill-in lead singers before abruptly announcing that they would no longer be touring during a concert on November 11, 2012. Kirk Pengilly stated that it was appropriate to finish where they had started 35 years earlier. Jon Farriss admitted that he was “getting teary” before the band performed their biggest hit, “Need You Tonight”. They have never officially “broken up” but no new material has been written or recorded, and they have no plans to do so currently.
In recent years:
Post-dormancy, there was an Australian television mini-series about the band released in 2014. The band also issued a tell-all history of INXS in an Australian television interview special, “The Story Behind INXS”. During the interview, Jon Farriss made the statement, “Never say never” regarding the possibility that the band could record and perform more music in the future, and giving all fans hope. Also – as of this writing, there are talks of a biopic in the works – we are beyond excited to see that one.
While researching this article, I listened to “INXS Greatest Hits” and “KICK” and marveled at the uniqueness and originality of their music. And of course, I once again fell in love with Michael Hutchence’s haunting lyrics and vocals, and the mastery of the way the band performed behind him. I will always be sad that Michael died on my mother’s birthday. Such a tremendous loss. As you can tell, I am forever a fan.