the ugliest band on earth
PREFACE FROM THE BEASTS OF BOURBON SONGBOOK
TEN YEARS BEHIND BARS: FROM THE BELLY OF THE BEASTS,
PUBLISHED BY MUSIC SALES IN 1993
There was something ugly about this band from the very first. I remember more recently, when their fourth album, The Low Road, was in the can and due out, and though I hadn't actually heard it, I'd heard about it: Red-Eye Records' John Foy reckoned, inevitably, that it would break the band ("they'll be the Nineties' Cold Chisel," he said); front-man Tex Perkins described it as "A blistering rock album," with the emphasis on the word 'rock' - and so maybe it was indeed a more commercial, palatable Beasts...
I happened then to be on the low road myself when I lurched into a two-star hotel room late one night, and - as one is wont - turned on Rage. The sound and fury with which I was confronted made me sit-up, which was extraordinary for two reasons - one, music videos almost never leap out at you, and two, my head was already on the floor. But here was this visage of a man wrestling a rubber membrane like it was a rapist's full body-stocking, bellowing, around an inordinately bludgeoning riff, about smuggling heroin, stuck up his arse, out of Cambodia. It didn't take long to figure out who it was, and I managed a wry smile. Yeah right, guys, sure, I thought. "Chasin' The Dragon" - more commercial? more palatable? What a band..!
The Beasts Of Bourbon have been the runaway graveyard train of Australian rock'n'roll for nearly a whole decade now, the band that can't be tamed but which, paradoxically, is perhaps so successful by virtue of its very hard resolve. What makes the Beasts great is that while they are unequivocably a rock band in a neo-classical tradition (which puts Captain Beefheart on a par with the Stones), with their sheer abundance of ideas (unlike so many other modern rock bands), their individuality extends the tradition, and in a fashion which, so often teetering on the edge, is explosively dynamic, and equally frequently absurdly comic. All these heavy-metal bands wearing spandex and big hair, not to mention orthodox hardcore bands who only preach to the converted, or goths, have totally devalued the idea of 'danger' in rock. The Beasts Of Bourbon have forgotten more etc etc; but however ugly or threatening, messy or cruelly sardonic they might get, they are utterly compelling, impossible to turn away from...
Tex Perkins used to be openly contemptuous of this inner-city- swamp-rock-super-group because initially, he saw it as purely an exploititive venture. The psychobilly kid fresh down from Brisbane, Perkins got together with Johnny Spencer Jones (guitar), Hoodoo Guru James Baker (drums) Scientists Kim Salmon (guitar) and Boris Sudjovic (bass) in Sydney sometime in mid-1983, just to play a couple of gigs for fun and great profit. At least I think that's how the story went - the facts, lost along with all the brain-cells fried at the time (we were so much younger then), have since become obscured by myth and legend. Like the recording of The Axeman's Jazz, the first Beasts album - it was put down in a single afternoon with only the aid of engineer Tony Cohen, and how many cartons of beer and bottles of bourbon and lines of speed is it now, Roger? At any rate, even while everyone involved concentrated on their original bands (Perkins' 'real band' was the now-forgotten Salamander Jim), the Beasts sort of snowballed, and remained an occasional thing. The band would play scattered live gigs, with different musicians filling-in whenever the Scientists were overseas (then based in London), among them Hoodoo Guru Brad Shepherd and Johnny Graham 'Hoody' Hood, not to mention Stu Spasm, the man behind the Lubricated Goat, when he was still most frequently fully-clothed, and still freely walking the streets. Who remembers those nights at the Trade Union Club, or the Chevron? Not me (I must have been there).
The band continued on this basis, even after The Axeman's Jazz had been released overseas, and re-released in Australia. It wasn't until 1988 though, that the Beasts got back together again, with both the Scientists and the Johnnys in their death-throes, James Baker long having left the Hoodoo Gurus, and Tex Perkins taking the iconoclasm of Salamander Jim right beyond the pale with Thug. The album they immediately cut, Sour Mash, was so awesomely impressive, so much of an advancement on The Axeman's Jazz, that the band had to start taking itself seriously (well, sort of - the Beasts' wicked and self-effacing sense of humour may never fade...). A third album, Black Milk, followed a brief two years later, and so with a fan-base growing in Europe as well as Australia, the Beasts - boasting no less than three songwriters, Perkins, Salmon and Jones - found themselves functioning almost like a 'real band', if one whose members still happened to double-up in other bands (the Surrealists, the Dubrovniks, Hell To Pay and the Cruel Sea).
With Sour Mash, Black Milk and more recently, The Low Road - recorded after Baker and Sudjovic had thrown-in their lot with the Dobrovnics, and were replaced by Pola and Hooper, from Salmon's Surrealists - the Beasts Of Bourbon mark a charged meeting of two stale Australian traditions, mainstream blues/boogie-based pub rock, at its best in AC/DC and Rose Tattoo, and indy post-punk rock. They have dug deep down into the universal roots only to open a Pandora's Box, to become posessed by the ghosts of all the outlaws and demons of post-War popular music.
The Beasts realise that rock, as such, can only be of, by and for white trash. At the same time, while they scorn the dullardry of redneckdom, the last thing they want to be is some pious wet liberal like Bono or David Byrne to whom an untramelled - uncensored, politically incorrect - imagination is anathema. And so there are no easy readings of a band that might be all our worst nightmares. How can there be when they can assume, variously, the voice of a black slave, a snotty-nosed young Bostonian, a murderer (or several), a child molester, an international drug trafficker, a rent boy or, daresay, a narcissistic rock star, and carry them all off with equal convinction?
This is the best rock'n'roll band in the world.