Over the course of 13 years, numerous permutations and six albums, Beasts of Bourbon have proven themselves to be masters of uncompromising gutbucket blues and hard-edged rock'n'roll. Red Eye label manager John Foy has been quoted as describing Beasts of Bourbon as `the closest thing this country has ever come to a band like The Rolling Stones, at their peak, with genuine roots and an incredible range'.
Gregory `Tex' Perkins formed his first band, psychobilly/cow-punks The Dum Dums, in Brisbane during 1982 when he was 16 years old. The band's influences included The Cramps, The Me-teors, The Birthday Party, Johnny Cash and Merle Haggard. As Tex Deadly and the Dum Dums, the band moved to Sydney before breaking up in July 1983. When Perkins had to fulfil a couple of Dum Dum gig commitments, he called on Spencer Jones and Boris Sujdovic to help out, and Beasts of Bourbon were born.
The band was named Beasts of Bourbon in honour of the drunken party atmosphere generated. By September 1983, Kim Salmon and James Baker had expanded the line-up. The Beasts cut their debut album, The Axeman's Jazz, in one drunken, eight-hour session with engineer Tony Cohen during October 1983. Legend has it that the session was fuelled by 72 cans of beer and one bottle of Scotch, and that it only ended when the band members began passing out! In January 1984, a Beasts line-up of Perkins, Salmon (replaced by Jones), Sujdovic, Tony Thewlis (guitar; Scientists) and Brett Rixon (drums; Scientists) played a round of gigs in Perth. A month later, Perkins and Salmon, plus The Church drummer Richard Ploog, found time to play gigs in Sydney as Salamander Jim before Salmon left for the UK with Scientists in March. Perkins formed a permanent line-up of Salamander Jim that same month.
The Axeman's Jazz came out in July 1984 on the GREEN label. With tracks like `Evil Ruby', `Lonesome Bones', `Drop Out' and a cover of Creedence Clearwater Revival's `Graveyard Train', it remains a classic of Australian garage/swamp rock. It was the best-selling Australian alternative album for 1984. It also went on to sell over 30 000 copies in Europe. The single, Leon Payne's `Psycho'/`Good Times', `Sometimes Goodguys' (also issued in July), was the best-selling Australian alternative single for 1984. The Beasts' line-up of Perkins, Baker, Jones, Stu Spasm (bass; ex-Zulu Rattle, Salamander Jim) and Brad Shepherd (guitar; Hoodoo Gurus) came together for the Sultans of Swig tour in order to promote the release of The Axeman's Jazz. The good-time nature of the event was disturbed when Baker was unceremoniously sacked from Hoodoo Gurus; in response, the Beasts sacked Shepherd. Spasm moved to rhythm guitar and Graham Hood (from The Johnnys) joined on bass for the remainder of the tour.
For the next four years, the individual members pursued their own projects. Perkins worked with Salamander Jim, the abortive Fur Bible in the UK (with ex-Gun Club guitarist Kid Congo Powers), The Bush Oysters, Thug, Hot Property and The Butcher Shop. Spencer had The Johnnys, Salmon and Sujdovic Scientists. Baker recorded a one-off single for Red Eye, `I Can't Control Myself'/`Born to be Punched' (June 1985), as The James Baker Experience (with Perkins, Stu Spasm and Roddy `Ray'da' Radalj).
With the return in April 1987, and subsequent break-up of Scientists, Baker, Sujdovic and Ray'da formed The Dubrovniks. Salmon formed Kim Salmon and The Surrealists. In March 1988, the Beasts (Perkins, Salmon, Jones, Baker and Sujdovic) decided to reconvene and cut Sour Mash with engineer/producer Phil Punch. Sour Mash (December 1988) virtually redefined the parameters of guitar-based rock'n'roll. The Cramps-influenced swamp- rock of old had been discarded for a more adventurous slab of gutbucket blues and avant-garde weirdness. Perkins' voice had matured into an authentic blues growl that showed the influence of Howlin' Wolf, Captain Beefheart and Tom Waits. The thundering cover of the Jack Nitzsche/Ry Cooder song `Hard Work Drivin' Man' backed with `Elvis Impersonator Blues' and `I Love You Because' (November 1988) became a #1 independent hit single, as did the double single `The Hate Inside' (August 1989).
The Beasts toured Europe and then recorded a third album, Black Milk. Issued in July 1990, the album yielded two singles, the double 7-inch set Hound Dog Taylor's `Let's Get Funky' (June) and `Words from a Woman to Her Man'/`I Hope You Find Your Way to Heaven' (November). For the band's Kick Arse Australian tour of February/March 1991, The Surrealists' rhythm section of Brian Henry Hooper and Tony Pola had replaced Sujdovic and Baker. The Tony Cohen-produced The Low Road (December 1991) consolidated the Beasts' position as one of the country's pre-eminent rock bands. It was an album brimming with urgency, surrealism, atmosphere, myth, illusion and honesty, but above all, hard-nosed rock riffs. Among the album's nefarious delights were the blistering `Chase the Dragon' (about heroin smuggling), a cover of AC/DC's slow and insinuating `Ride on' and the Hendrix-flavoured CD EP `Just Right' (January 1992).
The Beasts took part in the inaugural Big Day Out (BDO) on 25 January 1992 and then toured Europe for the third time. The double live album/ video From the Belly of the Beasts came out in January 1993 to coincide with the band's appearance on the first national bill of BDO. Two months later, the music/lyric book 10 Years Behind Bars appeared, complete with a bonus CD EP which contained two cuts from the Belly album and two previously un-issued live tracks. The Beasts went their separate ways during 1993, and did not work together again until September 1996. In the interim, Perkins fell in with The Cruel Sea, recorded and toured with Don Walker and Charlie Owen as Tex Don and Charlie and issued a solo album, Far be It from Me (August 1996).
Salmon remained with The Surrealists when the Beasts reconvened in September 1996. His place was taken by journeyman guitarist Charlie Owen (ex-Louis Tillett and The Aspersion Caste, New Christs, Divinyls, Tex Don and Charlie). Spencer Jones produced Owen's 1994 solo album on Red Eye, Vertigo and Other Phobias. The Beasts' sixth album, Gone, came out in January 1997, in time for the band's third appearance on the Big Day Out national bill. The band had broken up again by the end of the year.
With the various members of Beasts of Bourbon engaged in their own projects, there was no indication of a reunion. Nevertheless, the Grudge label (through Universal) issued the comprehensive Best Of collection, Beyond Good & Evil, in September 1999. Comprising 20 tracks (from ‘Psycho’ and ‘Drop Out’, through ‘Words from a Woman’ and ‘Chase the Dragon’, on to more recent fare like ‘Fake’ and ‘Makem Cry’), the collection proved to be an excellent primer for the band’s oeuvre. The initial pressing contained a Limited Edition, bonus live disc recorded at The Esplanade Hotel, St Kilda in 1997. Beyond Good & Evil was part of the Grudge label’s set of four anthologies released simultaneously (alongside The Clouds’ Favourites, The Cruel Sea’s The Most and Dave Graney ‘n’ the Coral Snakes’ The Baddest).