Beasts of Bourbon are currently being reappraised with the release of remastered versions of their first three albums as a box set. The Axeman’s Jazz, Sour Mash and Black Milk are widely considered the essential triumvirate in the band’s history that now stretches back 25 years.
With fluctuating membership over the years the classic line-up of Tex Perkins (The Cruel Sea), Spencer P. Jones (The Johnnys), Kim Salmon and Boris Sudjovic (The Scientists) and James Baker (The Scientists, Hoodoo Gurus) recorded swampy garage rock n roll that soaked up the darker side of jazz and country and spat it out as a unique creature.
The term ‘supergroup’ is often bandied around when talking about The Beasts and Spencer P. Jones recalls that the street press at the time were quick to label them as such. “Beat and Inpress gave us a bit of groundswell. By the time Kim joined there was a photo of Tex that had a caption that said ‘the beloved singer of the Dum-Dums is now playing with an inner city supergoup featuring Kim and Boris from The Scientists and James Baker from the Hoodoo Gurus’, and nothing about me at all!” he laughs. “Thats why I remember it. The first press we got said inner city supergroup.”
Jones was born in New Zealand and left his homeland at the age of 19 to travel to London. “I decided to go to the UK and be a rock star and bought myself a Gibson SG and decided to have a brief working holiday around Australia on the way. That was ’76 when I came over and I liked Australia and stayed here,” remembers Jones.
The dream of playing music in the UK was realised years later but not quite with the romantic expectations that the guitarist may have had. “I finally ended up playing there in 1991 so it took 15 years to play the UK. It was hilarious as it was at the Borderline and packed out but they were all homesick expat Australians. I finally got to play the UK and they were all Australians,” Jones laments with a chuckle.
Jones settled in Melbourne where he played in a number of bands and established himself on the fertile local scene. “I played in The Emotional Retards and Cuban Heels featuring Paul Kelly’s guitarist the late Steve Connolly. Then I started The Olympic Sideburns and was playing with Conway Savage’s brother Frank, so it happened here before I went to Sydney,” he says.
“The Johnnys set eyes on me and so I moved to Sydney at Easter ’83 to join them. One of the first people I met when I got there was Tex Perkins who had arrived from Brisbane the week before, so as far as my memory is concerned that’s how the Beasts started up. The Dum-Dums and Johnnys were doing shows together frequently and we were doing a show and Tex’s band failed to show up except for the drummer. We found out that they (as a gay couple) had eloped to Brisbane and that was the end of the Dum-Dums and the start of The Beasts.”
Throughout the life of Beasts of Bourbon the band has always been perceived as a side project due to the busy schedules of the members’ other bands. Jones takes a more philosophical viewpoint. “I think like Charlie Owen who says that there is no such thing as a side project, either you’re a musician or you’re not. Everything is a project. When you make music you make music and that’s it. I prefer to keep moving and busy, it keeps your head in the right place,” he adds.
The current state of the band is somewhat up in the air after things fell apart during a European tour last year. Spencer takes the blame for the incident but is reluctant to say whether or not it was the final curtain for the band. “That was entirely my fault, I seem to have a torrent of storm clouds around me whenever I travel. We had a falling out and I took a bit of a walk. We should wait and see, there is no point speculating now, if nothing happens then nothing happens,” he says.
The 80s may have been written off as superficial times but scratch the surface and there was a lot going on. Beasts of Bourbon were doing similar things to bands like The Gun Club and The Birthday Party; mixing up genres, infecting them with attitude, treating them with both respect and disdain and in the process creating a template that many rock n roll bands over the ensuing years have sought to emulate. One gets the feeling that we may not have seen the end of The Beasts just yet.