Midnight Oil’s beloved bassist Bones Hillman dies aged 62, farewelled with a #1 album
It was the iconic band’s fifth Australian chart-topper on the albums charts.
“He was the bassist with the beautiful voice, the band member with the wicked sense of humour, and our brilliant musical comrade,” the Oils said in a joint tweet.
Born Wayne Stevens in Auckland in 1958, he had been battling cancer.
He began in the Auckland pun scene with Suburban Reptiles, The Masochists, Thunder Downunder and Coconut Rough’ and then The Swingers in 1977. He moved with them to Australia in 1980 after which they signed to Mushroom and had the #1 hit with ‘Counting The Beat’.
He even landed a cameo in the 1982 musical movie Starstruck playing himself.
After The Swingers broke up there was talk he would plug in with Crowded House. In 1987 he was sharing a house in Melbourne with Neil and Sharon Finn, and working by day as a house painter.
He would recall: “One night when I got home from work, Neil told me that Rob Hirst from Midnight Oil had called, and that they were looking for a new bass player.
“Of course I thought he was pulling my leg. Luckily for me, a few nights later Rob rang back again wondering why I hadn’t returned his call.
“He was actually quite serious. He offered to send me the Oils new album Diesel And Dust, and asked if I could learn a few tracks and come up to Sydney for a bit of a play.”
Hillman journeyed to Sydney three to jam with the Oils in their “damp cell-like rehearsal room”.
After the third time, they asked him to wait outside: “Decision time. I shook hands and said thanks. I knew then that I had the gig – it was just one of those moments.”
He was told by ex-manager Gary Morris he was only hired for the Australian and Canadian tour.
His live debut with them was at the Brisbane Entertainment Centre before 10,000 rowdy fans.
Hillman stayed with them for 15 years, five studio albums starting with 1990’s Blue Sky Mining and a number of live records, and countless gigs.
The son of a truck driver, he would join the Oils’ crew on their overnighter drives to the next gig.
When Midnight Oil called it a day in 2002, when Peter Garrett went into federal politics, Hillman returned to New Zealand to work on long time friend Dave Dobbyn’s 2005 album Available Light.
He moved two years later to Nashville to play sessions, appearing on records by Sheryl Crow, Donald Reid, Matthew Good, Annie McCue, Jonas Woods, Rebecca Del A Torre and Ange Boxall.
When the Oils reunited in 2018 for a world tour and last year for sessions for The Makarrata Project, Hillman returned to his bass role.