From mean streets to soul stage 

Movies don’t get more brutal than “Chopper,” the 2000 biopic of the notorious Australian convict Mark “Chopper” Read, played by Eric Bana, who earns a lockup reputation by slicing off his own ears.

Sure, it’s violent, says Melbourne-bred, blue-eyed soul singer Daniel Merriweather, who opens for Corinne Bailey Rae in San Francisco next week. “But I love ‘Chopper’! And that’s the way I keep my Australian accent — my girlfriend’s American, so I have to constantly watch ‘Chopper’ to keep it in shape.”

Thinking back on his own street-savvy past, he quietly adds, “But I myself was never quite that vicious.”

It’s unbelievable, but true: The Mark Ronson-produced stylist who croons the chart-climbing “Red” was a hooligan Down Under who nearly followed in Read’s larcenous footsteps.

The trouble started in his teens, when he moved from his parents’ house into a camper on their front lawn. “That was where I took home my first girl, and I thought the seclusion was great,” recalls Merriweather, 28. “But what I didn’t realize was, the suspension in this thing was so squeaky that when I started getting down to business the whole bloody neighborhood could hear what I was doing. So that didn’t last long.”

Soon he was running with a gang of hoods.

“There was always one person with a gun on him, and always somebody else doing some dodgy drug deal, and I was just in the mix, I guess,” he says. “So I was in and out of court a lot, and probably close to going to prison at one point, but that was just how it was back then. Anything that helped me get a couple hundred extra bucks in my wallet was definitely what I was going to do.”

Money, however, is no longer a problem.

Merriweather — a violin virtuoso as a child — realized he had a great set of pipes. That became his Melbourne exit strategy. Ronson heard one of his demos, invited him to New York (where he still resides), and featured him on his own hits, such as “Stop Me.”

Now, the team has produced “Love & War,” Merriweather’s official debut, which includes “Red” and tough-times reminiscences like “Change” and “Cigarettes.” It’s a real survivor’s story.

“That’s one of the things I’m adamant about — sincerity,” says Merriweather, whose R&B-smoky sessions were fueled by copious amounts of whiskey. “But I’ve just started recording my next album, and I’m going do this one sober.”

The “Chopper” era was fun while it lasted. But, Merriweather says, “I don’t want to be another casualty of the music business.”


If you go
Daniel Merriweather

Opening for Corinne Bailey Rae

Where: Regency Ballroom, 1290 Sutter St., San Francisco
When: 8 p.m. April 15
Tickets: $27.50 to $30
Contact: (800) 745-3000; www.ticketmaster.com

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Staff Report

Staff Report

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A daily newspaper covering San Francisco, San Mateo County and serving Alameda, Marin and Santa Clara counties.
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