In the pantheon of Australian hard rock, Rose Tattoo stands as one of the most revered bands of all time. The Tatts played peerless, street-level heavy blues with the emphasis on slide guitar and strident lyric statements. The band's hits, like `Bad Boy for Love' and `We Can't Be Beaten', became anthems for disaffected suburban youth. After establishing themselves in Australia, the band members went on to earn an international reputation on the heavy metal touring circuit.
Bass player Ian Rilen is credited with the original concept for the band: blues and boogie played with passion, fire and at terminal volume, street clothes, dyed and (pre-punk) cropped hair and each member to be indelibly stamped (i.e. tattooed), all of which established a sense of group solidarity. Rilen also wrote much of the band's early material like `Rosetta' and `Bad Boy for Love'. The band tried out singer Tony Lake before recruiting Gary `Angry' Anderson (ex-Buster Brown). The tiny but terrifying Angry was the perfect focal point for the band's aggressive approach. Mick Cocks also replaced original rhythm guitarist Leigh Johnston early in the piece.
Rose Tattoo made its live debut on New Year's Eve 1976. The band's early repertoire consisted of quality group originals fleshed out by suitable covers like The Rolling Stones' `Street Fighting Man'. In mid-1977, the band entered Albert Studios with producers Vanda and Young to record its debut single. By that stage, Dallas `Digger' Royal (ex-Buster Brown) had taken over the drum stool. Live favourite `Rosetta' had been earmarked for the single A-side, but `Bad Boy for Love'/`Snow Queen' eventually emerged in October. By that time, founder member Rilen had left the band. He went on to form infamous punk outfit X.
Mick Cocks switched to bass, until the band could recruit a new bass player. Ex-Buffalo member Chris Turner appeared as a guest guitar player until the band recruited another ex-Buster Brown alumnus, Geordie Leach, on bass and Cocks returned to guitar. The barnstorming `Bad Boy for Love' peaked at #13 nationally and #10 in Sydney, and Rose Tattoo became a solid draw on the Australian pub rock circuit. By that stage, the band was competing with other Oz rock favourites like Cold Chisel, The Angels, Dragon, Kevin Borich Express, the reconstituted Skyhooks and Finch on that ever-expanding pub circuit.
Rose Tattoo completed its debut album with Vanda and Young. Rose Tattoo appeared in November 1978 and it remains one of the classic Australian rock albums. Heavy on the slide, heavy on the aggression and heavy on the atmosphere, the album was brimming with consummate street anthems like `Bad Boy for Love', `Rock'n'Roll Outlaw', `Remedy', `One of the Boys', `Astra Wally' and the epic tale of gangland rivalries, `The Butcher and Fast Eddy'. The album's second and third singles, `Rock'n'Roll Outlaw'/`Remedy' (August) and `One of the Boys'/`TV' (October), missed the national chart.
Rose Tattoo contributed two tracks, `Bad Boy for Love' and `Rock'n'Roll Outlaw' to the live Various Artists album Canned Rock recorded at Parramatta Gaol. Geordie Leach left Rose Tattoo in May 1979, to be followed by Cocks. The band went off the road, re-emerging in October with the new line-up of Anderson, Wells and Royal plus Oz rock legend Lobby Loyde (ex-Purple Hearts, Wild Cherries, Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs, Coloured Balls, Southern Electric) on bass guitar. The band's only record for 1980 was an independent single issued to promote the legalisation of marijuana. The Tatts' `Realise Legalise' was combined with Colin Peterson's Bong on Aussie' (March 1980).
That year, Rose Tattoo travelled to Los Angeles and recorded an album that has never seen the light of day. By the end of the year, the band had signed international deals with Mirage in the USA, German WEA in Europe and Carrere in the UK. By September 1980, Loyde had left the band, and the line-up reverted to Anderson, Wells, Cocks, Leach and Royal. The band left for the UK in April 1981. By that stage, the `Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw' single had already reached #5 in Germany and #2 in France; it peaked at #60 in the UK during July. Upon arrival in the UK, the press and public viewed the Tatts as a punk band, which—while not entirely accurate—did add to the band's considerable appeal and mystique. As well as two sell-out gigs at London's famous Marquee Club in late April and an appearance at the Reading Festival (alongside Midnight Oil, Girlschool, Gillan, Budgie, Chicken Shack, Alex Harvey and Wishbone Ash), Rose Tattoo spent most of 1981 on tour across Europe and the UK (including support slots to Ritchie Blackmore's Rainbow).
In the meantime, the band's fourth single, `Rock'n'Roll is King'/`I Had You First' (August 1981) and second album Assault and Battery (September) came out in Australia. Both Rose Tattoo (retitled Rock'n'Roll Outlaw for the European market) and Assault and Battery reached #1 on the UK heavy metal charts. The band also garnered positive reviews in the UK rock press, with descriptions like `Swaggering rock'n'roll desperados with hearts of gold' and `Rose Tattoo make Motorhead look like the chorus line in a ballet' being two of the most colourful raves.
In September 1981, Robin Riley (ex-Redhouse, Dallimore) replaced Cocks (who joined Heaven) on guitar. The band returned to Australia in December. Assault and Battery (which had peaked at #28 in Australia during October) produced a second single, `Out of this Place'/`Manzil Madness' (February 1982). The band's third album, Scarred for Life (November 1982), produced three singles, `We Can't Be Beaten'/`Fightin' Sons' (#28 in December), `Branded'/`Dead Set' (February 1983) and `It's Gonna Work Itself Out'/`Sydney Girls' (June). The album peaked at #14 on the national chart and #4 in Melbourne. It went on to sell 70000 copies. In the meantime, Rose Tattoo had embarked on a three-month American tour which took in support dates to Aerosmith and ZZ Top.
In early 1983, Peter Wells, Dallas Royal and Robin Riley all left the band. The Tatts re-emerged in June (for a tour with Choirboys and The Angels) with a new line-up: Anderson, Leach, Greg Jordan (slide guitar), John Meyer (lead guitar; ex-Fatty Lumpkin, Everest, Saracen) and Robert Bowron (drums). Scott Johnson (ex-Jimmy and the Boys) replaced Bowron on drums at the end of the year. In 1984, Rose Tattoo issued its fourth album, Southern Stars (November), which produced the singles `I Wish'/`Wild One' (August), `Freedom's Flame'/ `Never Too Loud' (October) and `No Secrets'/`Let Us Live' (February 1985).
Long-serving member Leach left the band in November 1984 (to join Illustrated Men), to be followed in the new year by Jordan. The new line-up of Anderson, Meyer, Johnson, plus newcomers Tim Gaze (slide guitar; ex-Tamam Shud, Kahvas Jute, Ariel, Tim Gaze Band) and Andy Cichon (bass) signed a record deal with the Mushroom label. The new line-up's first single was a cracking cover of Steppenwolf's biker anthem `Born to Be Wild'/`Sun's Gonna Shine' (October 1985), which reached #21 on the national chart during December. That same year, Anderson moved into feature film work. His first acting role was a bit part in Bullamakanka. He then took the part of Ironbar Bassey in the Kennedy-Miller film Mad Max III: Beyond Thunderdome, alongside Mel Gibson, Tina Turner and Frank Thring.
With Rose Tattoo on hold, Meyer returned to his hometown of Perth (WA), where he rejoined his old band Saracen. The line-up featured Meyer, Jon Ryder (vocals, bass, keyboards; ex-Everest, Trilogy) and Pete Thompson (drums, vocals; ex-Trilogy). Saracen issued one accomplished hard rock album Saracen (1986) which sold well in Europe via a release on the French label Axe Killer. In late 1986, Saracen reverted briefly to the name of Trilogy, but Meyer left the band in the new year to join blues legends Chain.
The final Rose Tattoo album Beats from a Single Drum (November 1986) had started out as an Anderson solo album when American producer Kevin Beamish (REO Speedwagon, Starship) was brought in to oversee recording. Featuring the line-up of Anderson, Gaze, Cichon and Johnson, the album was a more polished affair than previous Tatts records. It reached #20 on the national chart in December. The album produced four singles, `Calling'/`Win at Any Cost' (September 1986), `Get It Right'/`Michael O'Reilly' (December), `Falling'/`Winnie Mandela' (March 1987) and `Suddenly'/`Falling' (August). The plaintive ballad `Suddenly' was issued as an Angry Anderson solo single. It was used during the wedding of Charlene Mitchell (Kylie Minogue) and Scott Robinson (Jason Donovan) in the Ten Network's popular soapie Neighbours. It reached #2 on the national charts the same week that Minogue's first single `Locomotion', sat at #1 (August 1987). The two singles swapped places a week later, with `Suddenly' at the top and `Locomotion' at #2. Newcomers Jake Landt (who replaced Cichon on bass) and Rick Mellick (keyboards) were used for a 1987 tour, but by the end of the year Rose Tattoo had broken up. Mushroom reissued Beats from a Single Drum as an Angry Anderson solo album in 1988. The legend of Rose Tattoo did not end there.
American heavy metal giants Guns N' Roses included a cover version of `Nice Boys (Don't Play Rock'n'Roll), on their debut EP Live Like a Suicide (1987). The band members had always confessed their adoration for the Oz rock legends. When Guns N' Roses toured Australia in early 1993, they insisted that Rose Tattoo re-form and act as support band for their two gigs (Sydney 30 January and Melbourne 1 February). Accordingly, the line-up of Anderson, Wells, Cocks, Leach and new drummer Paul DeMarco (who replaced the late Dallas Royal) re-formed. As well as the Guns N' Roses tour, Rose Tattoo undertook a successful Australian pub tour (which saw Gunners Slash and Duff McKagan jamming with the band). In July, the Tatts played a one-off concert supporting Oz rock legends Billy Thorpe and the Aztecs at Jail House Rock held at Brisbane's infamous Boggo Road Gaol (closed down in 1992).
Aside from the compilation album Nice Boys Don't Play Rock'n'Roll (November 1992) and the CD EP `Bad Boy for Love' (January 1993) issued to coincide with the re-formation tour, there was no new Rose Tattoo product forthcoming. Castle Communications announced that it was set to issue the band's legendary Reading Festival set from 1981 on CD, but nothing eventuated. Anderson returned to his television career, Peter Wells concentrated on his solo albums and Leach joined The Giants.
In July 1998, Rose Tattoo reformed, with the line-up of Angry Anderson, Peter Wells, Mick Cocks, Ian Rilen and Paul De Marco, in order to undertake the national All Hell Breaks Loose! tour with fellow veterans, The Angels. It was the first time the two bands had played together since 1983. The tour’s title came from a previously unreleased song that the Tatts had recorded in 1981, called ‘All Hell Broke Loose!’, which appeared as a bonus track on the July 1998 CD reissue of the 1993 compilation, Nice Boys Don’t Play Rock’n’Roll. After that, Geordie Leach took Rilen’s place again, for another Australian tour and a trip to Germany during July 1999.