NEVER in a million years did Lee Kernaghan imagine himself and his music sharing a cinema screen with Tom Cruise.
Even after he agreed to appear in a Universal Pictures production celebrating his life and career, the grandson of a sheep and cattle drover and son of a truck driver only expected the documentary to go straight to TV.
"It took me by surprise that it's actually in cinemas," Kernaghan says this week over Zoom, wearing his trademark black Akubra hat.
"I went in to see Top Gun: Maverick last weekend and when I went into the theatre they were showing all the trailers from Boy From The Bush. I had no idea it was gonna be all over the place."
The forthcoming national cinema release of Lee Kernaghan: Boy From The Bush is testament to the enduring popularity of the 58-year-old.
Over more than 30 years Kernaghan has built a legacy in Australian country music that is only comparable to the legendary Slim Dusty.
Much like Dusty's classics Duncan, Pub With No Beer and Lights On The Hill, Kernaghan's hits Boys From The Bush and The Outback Club have woven their way into the DNA of rural Australia.
He's won 38 Golden Guitars - a record he shares with Dusty - and four ARIA Awards and in 2008 Kernaghan was Australian Of The Year.
While critics would argue Kernaghan's music and persona often rests on outdated Australian country cliches - utes, drinking, and so forth - there's no doubting his affinity with the bush.
In late 2019 director Kriv Stenders (Red Dog, Slim and I) approached Kernaghan about making a film that captured the musician's relationship with rural Australia.
The result was a film Kernaghan explains is "part doco, part concert, part road trip", complete with stunning cinematography of outback Queensland.
"I wanted it to be then and now," he says.
"The big thing for me, and I said this to the director Kriv Stenders, 'I don't want it to be about Lee Kernaghan. I want this to be about Australia and the people and the towns that have inspired so many of my songs over the years'.
"Kriv was into that, so we embarked on a pretty big road trip and found ourselves on the Diamantina Track and out around Winton and Texas on the banks of the Dumaresq River sitting around a campfire."
Besides the concert scenes with Kernaghan playing with country-rockers The Wolfe Brothers, some of the most poignant moments involve exploring the Order of Australia recipient's relationship with rural communities.
"For me it's just about the people," he says. "A part of the movie takes you around Australia in those fundraiser events that we did nation wide.
"When you see communities coming together to help bushfire victims or people effected by drought, or to raise money for a local bush medical clinic and going above and beyond to help their mates out - and sometimes people they never even knew - that sense of community spirit, I've found it incredibly inspiring."
Due to the pandemic, Kernaghan hasn't toured Australia in two and a half years and he admits it has stifled his creativity.
"During the pandemic I had so much more time on my hands, but because I was pretty well stuck at home, I wasn't getting out there and feeling the heartbeat of the country," he says.
"The songs pretty well dried up. The inspiration dried up. It was not a good time."
However, there's water in the well again. Kernaghan expects a new album in 2023.
"Just recently that spring has opened up again and the inspiration has started to flow and the music is coming now with these new songs."
Lee Kernaghan: Boy From The Bush is in cinemas next Thursday.
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