He’s a long way from the city lights and rockstar lifestyle he once lived, but the legendary guitarist Kevin Borich, once described by Carlos Santana as Australia’s Jimi Hendrix, couldn’t be happier.
HAVING BEATEN a particularly aggressive form of cancer, Kevin is now fighting fit and is back on the road playing live shows and recording a new album.
Relaxing in his stately Curramore home with sweeping views of the Conondale valley, he is in good spirits. He cracks jokes, reminisces about the good old days of Australian rock pre-poker machines, shows off his recording studio and plays ‘air guitar’ to a vintage juke box stacked with old blues and rock records.
It’s the kind of life many would envy: a beautiful family, a home in the country and a music career spanning 40 years – a life he resolved was worth fighting for when he was diagnosed with nasopharyngeal squamous cell carcinoma (cancer of the nose) in 2005 and decided to undergo radiation treatment and chemotherapy.
Kevin recounts the day he was told how aggressive his cancer was: “The oncologist said, ‘If you don’t treat it, it will be in your brain within six to eight months, so I’m going to throw the kitchen sink at you’. You’re going to lose your hair, eight teeth and your salivary glands. And you’re also going to lose some feeling in your fingers and some hearing’. I said, ‘Hey! Is this designed for guitar players?’.”
After the initial shock and confusion wore off, Kevin and his wife Melissa, a yoga and meditation teacher, chose to combine conventional treatment with complementary therapies. They followed a program detailed in Ruth Cilento’s book, Choose Your Own Survival Path, which involved drinking six organic juices a day, eating a predominantly organic diet with no processed foods or sugar, and practicing daily yoga and meditation. They also worked with cancer educator Ian Gawler and visited the Relaxation Centre in Brisbane.
Says Melissa: “It was intense but I felt very empowered, as did Kevin, by having all these things in place so that when he went to see his radiotherapist or oncologist he was on his own healing journey and could marry the two together. By doing it that way we could deal with the side effects of mainstream treatment more easily. Ian Gawler says you do the best you can with what you’ve got.”
Kevin believes it was the radiation therapy that saved his life, but he takes issue with what he sees as the medical establishment’s negative attitude towards alternative therapies.
He says he was “incredibly lucky” to have Melissa’s support, especially when his treatment was so harrowing he felt he couldn’t go on. Melissa taught him yoga and led him through guided meditations. He used positive affirmations and during chemotherapy he visualised his parents pruning their fruit trees on the farm where he grew up in Huapai, New Zealand.
“I imagined the chemotherapy killing the cancer cells to make way for the healthy cells to grow back, just as my parents would prune their trees to remove the rot and let the new growth begin,” he says.
“Chemotherapy doesn’t just destroy your cells, it destroys your will. The deflation of my will was something I’d never experienced before. You almost start giving up.
“I was in bed and I was thinking, ‘this could be it, I’ve had a really good life’. I was in this deflated, confused state and then I saw my children and my family and thought, ‘hang on, I can’t go anywhere, there’s too much ahead of me. I’ve got this beautiful family, I have to get back on the horse’.
“When I was able to, one day I sat on the couch and picked up a guitar that my son Lucius (from the bands Cog and Floating Me) had left and I played a riff that was really dramatic and heavy. I used that riff and built a song around it, which is kind of a scary and aggressive song called “Fight On”. It’s not only about freeing yourself from cancer, it brings awareness to the erosion of our societies’ freedoms.
If there’s anything Kevin gets fired up about, it’s social and environmental justice. He shakes his head in dismay as we discuss ‘fracking’ and the banking system: “Wall Street’s got a lot to answer for man. Guys are making money out of nothing – hire the DVD called Inside Job, it documents all the reasons for the financial crisis, and shines light on the perpetrators.”
He channels this emotion into his music, having recently written a song called “Soapbox Bitchin’ Blues”, with the line: “I’m mad as hell, ruling bankers have poisoned our well, politicians weasel and worm, watch Obama be another pawn.”
At 63, playing the edgy rock, funk and blues grooves he became famous for in the 1970s is still what “floats his boat”. He happily shares stories about career highlights like playing with Carlos Santana in front of 60,000 people at the 1979 Rock Arena concerts in Sydney and Melbourne, as well as Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple, Bo Diddley , Ron Wood and friend Joe Walsh, among others.
Having found success with three bands, The La De Das, the Party Boys and the Kevin Borich Express, he won a string of awards including Best Guitarist in the Australian Rock Music Awards in 1977 and 1978, and he was inducted into the Australian Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 2003.
It was his Aunty Joni who introduced him to the blues at a young age. She played boogie-woogie piano and gave him his first LP, a blues compilation that he immediately loved. He taught himself to play guitar and recorded his first song at 12 with two girls from the farm next door who “sounded great, like the very cute chipmunks”.
“When I was young music wasn’t considered to be a profession and my parents would have liked me to take over their farm,” he says. “I’m the only son so I had that on my shoulders. I was always going to go back when I was 30 and take over; I always felt guilty that I didn’t. The road and the music took me away, but I was incredibly lucky to have such wonderful parents who could see my love for music and they supported me all the way.”
While he never made it home to take over the farm, Kevin’s hinterland home is where his heart is now. As the saying goes, you can take the boy out of the country, but you can’t take the country out of the boy.
Kevin is the Patron of the Maleny and Hinterland Relay for Life, an annual fundraiser for the Cancer Council. The relay will be held at Maleny Showgrounds on October 8 and 9.
Note: Melissa Borich’s meditation course advertised in the August issue of the Hinterland Times is now beginning on Friday October 7, 12pm – 1pm. Call Melissa on 0417 200 192.