Pierre Baroni

The Australian Music Vault is proud to honour 2021 Music Victoria Hall of Fame inductee, Pierre Baroni.

Pierre Baroni was a much-loved member of the Australian music industry whose work as a talented musician, art director, photographer, DJ and broadcaster influenced the visual aesthetic of artists as diverse as Tina Arena, Archie Roach, Straitjacket Fits, The Angels, Kylie Minogue, Vanessa Amorosi and Jimmy Barnes. Following his death in early 2021, he was remembered as an artist of extraordinary talent who approached his work with integrity and passion whether that was capturing arresting photographic portraits of artists or sharing his passion for soul music as a DJ and host of the PBS Radio program, Soulgroove’66.

Born in the Melbourne suburb of Kew in 1955, Baroni grew up in the working class suburb of Glenroy as the eldest of six children born to migrant parents. One of his earliest musical memories was exploring a neighbour’s record collection as a child. While all the adults were busy talking in the kitchen, Baroni rifled through the record collection and came across a 45 by The Beatles. He played the record and fell in love with the B-side, ‘Strawberry Fields Forever’. From that moment on his life revolved around music, and in particular what he described as his “left-handed love of B-Sides."

"I realised early on that not all good records were hits, and sometimes bad records were hits. It started my digging career. Digging for records and discovering that usually sometimes you have to look a little bit further than the hit parade to discover other things.”

As a teenager, Baroni funded his new passion by doing odd jobs around the neighbourhood, saving his earnings to visit the local record store and dig records out of the sale bin. These early purchases marked the beginning of a massive collection of primarily 1960s soul music.

During his last few years of high school, Baroni worked nights at a petrol station to pay his school fees when times were tight for the large family. A brief career as a sign writer followed but music beckoned, and in the early 1970s he started playing drums before swapping to guitar. He started singing and songwriting for a number of bands including Carmine followed by new wave group The Aliens. Records were never far away, however, and in the 1980s, Baroni started DJing at club nights including a regular spot called Delirium at Chasers nightclub.

By the mid-1980s, he had returned to the stage with the band The Pony formed with Dale Hamilton, John O’Bierne and his brother, Dean Baroni. The band’s debut album Thorns and Cutlery (1987) was recorded at home, released via independent record label Cleopatra and published by Mushroom Records. Baroni designed the band’s album covers using Letraset type setting and a glue stick.

Four men dressed in black pose in a full body shot against a black background. One of them is holding a guitar.

Cover of Thorns and Cutlery by The Pony designed by Pierre Baroni, 1987.

The Pony entered a Battle of the Bands and made it to the finale which was held at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, with Crowded House as special guest headliners. The Pony won, and the prize was a coveted appearance on Countdown. On the strength of the Countdown performance, the band’s single ‘I Lied’ was picked up by commercial record station EON FM, a feat almost unheard of for an independently released track. The single rocketed to No. 1 on the local charts but unfortunately The Pony would not have a second hit. Having started out as an alternative band, and “RRR darlings”, the band’s sudden commercial success confused fans as Baroni recalled in a 2020 interview with the Australian Music Vault: “We fell in the cracks. We were too alternative to be commercial and too commercial to be alternative.”

When The Pony broke up in 1990, General Manager of Mushroom Records, Gary Ashley, offered Baroni a casual job in the Mushroom art department for a few weeks to help fill a gap in staffing. During this time he developed the skills needed to design an album cover before the arrival of computers, developing photographic bromides, ordering typesetting and assembling cut and paste artwork with wax, spray adhesive and a scalpel.

“When I started at Mushroom I didn’t know what I was doing. Literally, mechanically. They taught me how to do bromides, which was how everything was done… when I started it was still cut and paste… a scalpel, a ruler and grid board. And you tried to finish the day with all 10 of your fingers.”

But Baroni picked up the skills quickly and showed a remarkable talent for creating striking album covers as seen in some of his early work for Flying Nun Records bands Bailter Space, The Chills and Straitjacket Fits. What began as a temporary job soon turned into a career-defining gig when three months later he was promoted to the role of Art Director.

From there he would go on to influence the creative direction of some of Australia’s biggest names. The challenge he enjoyed the most though was working on an album where the musician had no preconceived idea about what they wanted for the cover: “If the artist had no idea, had no title, had nothing, you know, I'd go, yes! I'll take that one…”

Baroni’s creative input also extended to naming albums. Often a band came to the art department without a title for their album, so Baroni would go through their lyrics and make suggestions. One such album was Chris Wilson’s double album Long Weekend. Wilson gave him a massive file of lyrics for the 22 songs on the album: “I looked at the file and said “Man, it’s gonna take me a long weekend to read all of this. And then I just stopped and handed him back the file. He goes, “What? You don’t want to read them? And I said “Nah, I’ve got the title… Long Weekend. He goes: “Perfect.”

Chris Wilson

Chris Wilson, photo for The Long Weekend, 1998. Photo by Pierre Baroni.

Of all the albums Baroni designed, one of his most iconic covers was Archie Roach’s landmark album Charcoal Lane. The cover features a portrait of Roach looking directly at the viewer, done in charcoal on a black and green background. After loving the covers that Baroni had made for both the album and the single ‘Took The Children Away,’ Roach asked to meet the person who had created such a beautiful portrait. This was the beginning of an artistic collaboration and friendship that would span many decades. Baroni went on to create a number of album covers for Roach including Jamu Dreaming (1993) and Looking For Butterboy (1997) and Sensual Being (2002).

Roach remembers, “When I first saw the front cover of my 1990 debut album Charcoal Lane, I thought it was so deadly. I wanted to meet the artist behind it. It was such a privilege to meet Pierre. Through the years we became great friends. Pierre went on to take the photos for my next three albums… Not only was his art beautiful, Pierre was a beautiful person too. Thank you, my brother, for capturing the essence of me, my spirit. I don’t believe anyone else has been able to do that.”

When I first saw the front cover of my 1990 debut album Charcoal Lane, I thought it was so deadly... Not only was his art beautiful, Pierre was a beautiful person too.

Archie Roach
A charcoal portrait of Archie Roach presented on ripped paper. Original artwork for Archie Roach’s Charcoal Lane album cover, designed by Pierre Baroni, 1990.

Original artwork for Archie Roach’s Charcoal Lane album cover, designed by Pierre Baroni, 1990.
Kindly donated by Pierre Baroni.
Australian Performing Arts Collection, Arts Centre Melbourne

Baroni’s creative relationship with fellow soul fan Jimmy Barnes also shows the extent of his artistic flair.

Barnes recalls, “I started working with Pierre back in the early nineties. Pierre came on board as art director at Mushroom Records and we soon found out we liked a lot of the same music. So when I told Pierre I wanted to do a record of 60’s classics called Soul Deep he was over the moon. He became involved not only in the art direction but heavily involved in the song selection as well. You see, I found out quickly that Pierre knew more about soul music than anybody I had ever met. I would ask him about a song and not only did he know who sang it first, he knew who played on it, where it was recorded, when out came out and what the artist wore on the LP cover. He was like an encyclopedia. We went on to make four records together and I couldn’t have made them without his help. He was one of my favourite people in the world and I miss him dearly.”

I would ask him about a song and not only did he know who sang it first, he knew who played on it, where it was recorded, when out came out and what the artist wore on the LP cover. He was like an encyclopedia.

Jimmy Barnes

In addition to assisting with the song selection on Soul Deep, he also recommended a complete image change for Barnes to better match the tone of the album. Just in time for the shoot, Barnes chopped off his iconic long curls and Baroni had him styled with a slicked-back 1960’s look with some tailored suits. Soul Deep would go on to become Barnes’s sixth consecutive No. 1 album and helped his audience see him in a new light.

“I was really proud of that actual job, and that made me realise…. just by doing the cover and coming up with an idea and… art direction. It could… really turn it around into something and make it something new.”

Jimmy Barnes, an older man with short dark hair, moves to the music with headphones on and a music stand in front of him. There are candles lit on either side off him and a microphone on a mic stand.

Jimmy Barnes in Bowral for the Flesh and Wood sessions, 1993. Photo by Pierre Baroni.

It was during his time as Art Director at Mushroom Records that Baroni took up photography. He described it as a necessity, when urgent jobs came up he would use borrowed cameras to do impromptu shoots. Increasingly, however, his photographs were chosen for album covers over those of professional photographers that the department had commissioned. One day, Michael Gudinski went down to the art department and said, “Why don’t you just take the photos?” When Baroni responded that he didn’t know if he could, Gudinski replied: “Apparently you can… you couldn’t do graphics either.”

In 1991, on a trip to New York, he bought his first camera – a small Olympus Stylus, which he called his spy camera because it was so small in comparison to the big cameras that professional photographers used. He quickly became Mushroom’s primary photographer and started shooting photos for artists’ album covers. Over the course of his career, Baroni estimated that he took photographs for over 100 album covers including David McComb’s Love Of Will (1994), Wilson Diesel’s Short Cool Ones (1996), Weddings, Parties, Anything’s Riveresque (1997) and Vanessa Amorosi’s The Power (2000).

For over three decades, Baroni captured the portraits of many of Australia’s music industry legends including Ruby Hunter, Deborah Conway, Kate Ceberano, Jimmy Little and Chris Wilson. He developed a very distinct style, almost always shooting in black and white. His images were often grainy and out of focus but had his subjects staring directly at the viewer.

“I really only have one focus when I’m shooting a portrait… The eyes have it and the rest takes care of itself. I shoot with the lens ‘wide open’ so my depth-of-field is very shallow.”1

Ruby Hunter, an older lady with long curly hair and a colourful headband, poses, smiling, with one elbow leaning on a surface and the other hand cupping her chin.

Ruby Hunter, c.2005. Photo by Pierre Baroni.

As Art Director for Australia’s leading independent record label, Baroni built up the Mushroom art department to be one of the best in the country and at the 1992 ARIA Awards, Mushroom received three out of five nominations for Best Cover Art – Soul Deep by Jimmy Barnes, String of Pearls by Deborah Conway and Tribal Voice by Yothu Yindi (which won the award.) In 1994, Baroni won for the cover he designed for Bitch Epic by Deborah Conway.

After four years at Mushroom, Baroni left to start his own freelance studio. His first client was Tina Arena and in 1994, he worked with her to create the cover for Don’t Ask. The final photo for the album is a black and white close cropped portrait of the singer. Of the photo, he said: “It’s actually out of focus and it’s super grainy… there’s a look… a Mona Lisa thing about that cover. You can’t tell if she is crying or if she is happy.” Arena remembers the album cover for Don’t Ask as one of her favourites.

“One of the most interesting people that I had the privilege of collaborating [with] back then was a gentleman by the name of Pierre Baroni, who I think is probably one of Australia’s [best] Art Directors… he had such an exquisite eye with everything. And he looked at me and he just went “You’re too complicated, Tine”… he totally stripped everything back and went “Simple. Let’s work with your features. Your clothes should never speak louder than you or what it is you are doing… He was responsible for creating this incredible neutral landscape, which I really loved. It was feminine, it was androgynous, it was a little bit of everything. And I am eternally grateful to him, because I can still look at that record cover and go: “There’s a lot of integrity in that photo.”

And I am eternally grateful to him, because I can still look at that record cover and go: “There’s a lot of integrity in that photo.”

Tina Arena

The album went on to be a huge success with six hit singles including ‘Chains’, ‘Sorrento Moon’ and ‘Wasn’t It Good’. As a result of that album cover, Baroni was also asked to do a treatment for the video clip to ‘Sorrento Moon’. Although he had no experience making videos he learned on the job just as he had when he started working at Mushroom. Drawing on memories from his own childhood days spent swimming at the back beach in Sorrento, Baroni noted: “I love the sun. I love the sand. I love the sea water. So that sucked me into doing this Sorrento Moon video. So I just kind of used a lot of my memories and made them Tina’s.” The pair would go on to work together on a number of videos including ‘Wasn’t It Good’ in Rome and ‘If I Was A River’ in Egypt.

This was the third major career shift for Baroni. “I liked it when new lives would start up… Between 1990 and 1995, this whole life had changed three times. After me thinking I was just going to be a musician forever.” In the years that followed, he produced over 30 video clips for a number of artists including ‘Alien Invasion’ by Archie Roach, ‘Sister’ by Sister2Sister, ‘I’m Not In Love’ by Deni Hines and ‘Pash’ by Kate Ceberano.

Deni Hines - I'm Not In Love (Official Music Video)

In 1997, Baroni returned to his love of records and started doing weekly guest spots on Saturday afternoons for Vince Peach’s show Soul Time on local community radio station PBS. After six years as a regular on Soul Time, Baroni was offered the time slot when Soul Time moved to a midweek slot, and on 9 May 2003 he hosted his first Soulgroove’66 program where he played records from his own extensive collection, and presented a meticulously researched history on the artists and the genre. He couldn’t decide on a theme song for his show, so he wrote and recorded one himself: ‘Soulgroove’66, Pt.1’ by The Cobras featuring Australian soul legend Renée Geyer.

Pierre Baroni and Vince Peach at PBS radio station.

Pierre Baroni and Vince Peach at PBS radio station. Photo by Owen McKern. Courtesy PBS FM.

His encyclopedic knowledge of the genre and his passion for soul music presented to audiences on PBS earned him a loyal fan base, as did his long-running regular DJ gig Soul in the Basement on Thursday nights at Cherry Bar. He and Peach would do DJ sets comprised of original soul and R&B 45s from their own personal collections, as well as hosting performances by local soul bands.

“Pierre was a key part of the resurgent interest in classic soul music, and his passion and enthusiasm for these musicians on PBS and in Melbourne’s clubs helped make our city a great centre for soul and classic rhythm and blues.” – PBS FM2

Many people encountered Pierre's work without realizing he was the artist behind it, on album covers, on music video shows like Rage, and on the radio. He was a behind the scenes figures who played a huge part in how we experience and interact with Australian music. Pierre is remembered by friends and loved ones as an artist with integrity, an infectious passion for music, and as someone who cared deeply about the people around him. Ginger Light reflects: “Pierre Baroni was very talented and loyal. His eye for beauty and his ear for sound were truly incredible. He was self-taught, and a natural. The photographs he took of people were their favourite photos because he knew how to bring out our true essence in his portraits. As for the music, his taste was exceptional over a wide range of genres. He always had the dance floor heaving. Pierre is dearly missed and has left us all with his timeless art and wonderful memories.”

For over 17 years, Baroni bought soul music to Saturday afternoons on PBS. He was very proud of his show and said that he would continue to do it for as long as he was able. On 6 March 2021, he presented what would turn out to be his final Soulgroove’66 show. On 9 March 2021, Baroni passed away after an 18-month battle with cancer.


Read more

Pierre Baroni in conversation with Archie Roach
PBS Tribute to Pierre Baroni


The Music Victoria Awards is an annual celebration of Victorian music featuring industry and publically voted categories. Kylie Minogue and the late Pierre Baroni will be inducted into this year’s Music Victoria Hall of Fame with the event being held on 9 December 2021 at the Melbourne Recital Centre. The event will also be live streamed on YouTube and broadcast on Channel 31.

You can find out more about the awards here.


Unless otherwise attributed, all quotes are from an interview that Pierre Baroni did with Australian Music Vault Curator Olivia Jackson on 26 June 2020.

1 http://blues.gr/m/blogpost?id=1982923%3ABlogPost%3A269189

2 https://www.pbsfm.org.au/news/tribute-pierre-baroni


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