Brad Shepherd from the Hoodoo Gurus is on the phone from his home in Sydney. The affable lead guitarist for the Australian rock legends has called in to talk about Under the Southern Stars, but for the past few minutes he and I have been sharing our mutual love for Blue Oyster Cult, US 70s cult rockers by both name and reputation.
“I’m a monstrous Blue Oyster Cult fan,” he says. “I discovered that band through reading an article with Radio Birdman in the very early days – before they even had any records released. Before they even did their EP. I read a review in RAM magazine at the time that name checked [BOC]. They name-checked a bunch of bands – the Stooges, the MC5, the New York Dolls and the Blue Oyster Cult, all being influences on Radio Birdman, and the accompanying photograph of Birdman in this article made me think that they had something to offer that might be interesting to me. They didn’t have any records out, but I scoured the racks at my favourite independent record store searching for some of the things that they had mentioned. I bought a copy of all those bands. The first thing I bought was Secret Treaties by Blue Oyster Cult. I have loved that band ever since.”
Shepherd finally got to share a stage with them in 2013 when they toured together with the Gurus-curated Dig it Up! Festival. He and his guitar idol jammed together a couple of times on that tour, most notably on histrionic versions of “Born to be Wild” and “Kick Out the Jams” the Hoodoo Gurus concluded the final night of the tour with.
“Buck D’harma is still one of my favourite guitar players of all time,” Shepherd says warmly. “It was a tough ask to go on after him! I trust we did not disgrace ourselves.”
Those who have seen Hoodoo Gurus would suggest that has happened rarely, if not at all. The 2007 ARIA Hall of Fame inductees have a long and healthy reputation as a formidable live band, well honed during the Golden Age of pub rock. But they don’t take that prestige for granted. This summer, they’ll be part of the Under the Southern Stars touring festival with You Am I, The Superjesus, British India and Eskimo Joe, among others. While Shepherd talks warmly about the social side of hanging out on tour with his fellow musicians, he admits that when they hit the stage, things get serious.
“We were not privy to the selection of the bands,” he says of the line-up, “but as it turns out, most of those bands are pretty good mates of ours. That’s always good fun. There’s always the social side of it, and then there’s the professional respect that we have for all these other bands… but then there’s always this underlying competitive aspect of playing a festival with half a dozen great bands and we’re all trying to not look band. You don’t want to have a shocker knowing that You Am I have just had a blinder!”
“Every band brings their A-game under these circumstances,” he assures me. “If you’re coming along to these festivals, I will tell you – there is a level of competition. Everyone tries to not look bad, everyone tries to bring their A-game, and we’re at the end of the festival, so we’ve gotta be bloody good that night!”
Constant touring throughout the 80s and into the 90s sharpened the band’s musical instincts. Shepherd explains that during a long haul, there would come a point where he would no longer even need to think about what he was doing up on stage. It would, it seems, just become instinctive.
“There’s something that I can access as a performer onstage when you’re on tour and you’re playing five, six nights a weeks for months at a time – that’s what we used to do in the 80s and into the 90s – and that is that your muscle memory gets so good, with regards to the songs you’re going to perform, that the songs just play themselves,” he explains. “You just get to stand inside the music. It’s like… I presume it’s like surfing. I don’t surf, but I presume it’s something like that. It just carries you, and then you’re on a ride. I don’t have to think about what I’m doing there. And that’s something that can only really occur after you’ve been out on tour five or six nights for a few weeks. By about week three, you can really access that.”
The Hoodoo Gurus don’t play as often as they then did, so Shepherd reckons it might take him until the Nowra show on this tour to slip into that mode. Even so, there is little doubt that they will be on top of their game, especially when they’ll be going on after experienced road warriors like You Am I and a re-energised Superjesus, among others.
“We are still very enthusiastic about what we do,” he promises. “We have more belief now about we do than in the 80s because we have a deep philosophical commitment when we get on that stage to be extraordinary tonight, in the moment, and that, as motivation, has afforded us – perhaps – the reputation of being consistent. It’s extraordinarily rare for us to have a bad show, and I think, having played under those circumstances – being pretty good on the night, every night, year after year – I think folks have realised: if you’re going to drop a ton of cash to go and see a live act, the Hoodoo Guru is a pretty good bet.”
Under the Southern Stars Touring Festival featuring Hoodoo Gurus, You Am I, Eskimo Joe*, The Superjesus, British India, The Getaway Plan and Scott Darlow –
12/1: Hastings Foreshore Reserve NSW
19/1: Broadwater Parklands, QLD
20/1: Sunshine Coast Stadium, QLD
25/1: Port Adelaide SA
26/1: Shoalhaven NSW
27/1: Port Macquarie NSW
*Sheppard replace Eskimo Joe in Queensland