Latest release: Still Here
Initially a pick-up band for its singer and ringleader Tex Perkins, Beasts of Bourbon rumbled and lurched their way across the Australian rock landscape in various incarnations and time periods for 25 years. Drawing members from Hoodoo Gurus, the Johnnys and the Scientists, their swaggering booze-fuelled swamp-drenched blues sound was the epitome of the locally-bred wildman rock that was still ruling the pubs in the early- to mid-1980s. Their shows and tours were legendary and their string of albums topped the national independent record charts throughout the 80s and into the 90s. They were a major act on the first Big Day Out in Sydney in 1992, splitting apart and reforming again and again into the new century until finally calling it quits during a European tour in 2008.
Decades of hard living and hard rocking leaves casualties. The Beasts of Bourbon lost two of their own last year: founding guitarist Spencer P. Jones and long-serving bass player Brian Hooper were both taken by cancer.
In mid-April last year, Hooper’s friends did a benefit to raise funds for his medical care. Original Beasts member Kim Salmon did a set with his band the Scientists, and the Beasts of Bourbon played what would be their final show. Hooper performed in a wheelchair and using a respirator.
“There was a whole bunch of us that were involved and one of the bands that were there was the last line-up of the Beasts of Bourbon – him, Charlie [Owen], Tex, Spencer, Tony Pola…,” Salmon recalls fondly. “That was a very emotional thing to witness. You could look at that as kind of an important gig. It was one of those things, even more than The Last Waltz or something like that. It transcended something more than five guys playing. It was loaded with a lot more than that.”
He wasn’t the only one who felt that way. On his way to the airport the following day, Salmon got a call from Tex Perkins. With all the Beasts alumni together in the one place, the singer had experienced a moment of clarity.
“‘I just realised last night while we were playing that this could be the last time we could all be together’,” he recalls Perkins telling him. “‘We’ve got to hold onto something.’ I don’t know if urgency’s the right word, but he wanted to make the best use of the time while we were all still around.”
Perkins wanted to get everyone together one more time in a studio. There was to be no plan. No agenda except to have a good time: “It might be a recording comes out of it,” Salmon says. “It might be just a piss-up!”
Kim Salmon talks warmly of time spent in the studio with the Beasts. Other bands, he argues, may see the studio as a daunting place. A pressure cooker. Some are more fond of the touring experience, the time spent on stage. He even admits to being less enamoured of studio time with his regular crew, the Scientists. But each band is different.
“Some of our best memories occured in the studio. Axeman’s Jazz was a wonderful time. The subsequent albums with that line-up was a really fun time. It wasn’t the work of being on the road, which can be gruelling at times. [That] can be fun too, but there’s endless driving and it’s a lot more taxing… Being in the studio is a creative time where you can let your hair down, there’s no one looking at you. If something happens, it can go down – well, that’s how it is with the Beasts of Bourbon and The Beasts. It always was like that. It seemed the thing to do.”
The results of their studio time turned out to be Still Here, 11 tracks that were recorded even as the band was still working through them, in typical Beasts fashion. Hooper died on April 20, only a week after his benefit show, but his song ‘What The Hell Was I Thinking’ made the cut. Jones could only contribute to one track, ‘At the Hospital’. He was literally staying in hospital at the time, suffering the final stages of liver cancer, and passed away on August 21, 2018.
With the death of its hellraising guitarist, the Beasts of Bourbon had lost half of its spiritual heart and the decision was made to release the album under a different name. The Beasts of Bourbon had become The Beasts.
“I think we all understood that if it’s not Spencer and Tex, that’s part of what makes it the Beasts of Bourbon. It’s sort of the lynchpin,” Salmon says, struggling for a moment to find the right descriptor. “Their collaborative process underpinned the whole thing. Or it did for me.”
While being just as important to the band during his time with them, he humbly underplays his contribution to their recorded legacy.
“I used to feel that I was the wildcard to that process. They’d be doing that and I’d be trying to take it wherever it could go, to see where we could go with it. But if you look at those records, a lot of those songs are collaborations between Jonesy and Perko. So I was there to just make sure it was more than just one kind of thing on the menu.”
With the book now closed on Beasts of Bourbon, Still Here either serves as an epilogue for one of Australia’s most storied music acts, or the beginning of a new chapter. The Beasts – Salmon, Perkins, Pola, Owen and original bass player Boris Sujdovic – will be heading out on the road at the end of the month. The guitarist refuses to rule out the possibility that it might not be the band’s one and only tour.
“There’s a touring agency in Europe that Boris has teed up, but it probably won’t be this year. Maybe next year. I’ll never say never. I would never have said this would be happening! Who would have predicted it?”
His biggest hope for this tour is that people come along and check it out. With a wry chuckle, he observes that a lot of their followers are not as young as they used to be. Fortunately for The Beasts, there are new audiences still tuning in to their music, audiences that don’t mind coming along to catch a gig and maybe hoping to see some of the legend for themselves.
“The oldies go to about two shows a year, and that’s gotta be a sit-down affair. A show and a dinner, and it’s usually got Tex Perkins in it,” Salmon says drily. “I found that you need young people, people who need to get wasted and are into rock n roll or whatever you call it. God help us if they weren’t doing that. This one will be the oldies’ dinner and a show, but they’ll be kind of disgruntled because they’ll be sardined in with a whole bunch of millenials. That’s my hope!”