This year, Beasts of Bourbon turn 30. However, as guitarist Spencer P. Jones is quick to remind me, “half the band are over 50 now.” It all started back in August 1983, when their frontman Tex Perkins had booked a run of shows for his then-band, Tex Deadly & the Dum-Dums, but was left high and dry.
Forced to find replacements at the last minute, he did pretty well – rounding up Jones as well as James Baker from the Hoodoo Gurus and two members of The Scientists, Kim Salmon and Boris Sudjovic. That version of the Beasts had their debut album The Axeman’s Jazz in the can by October the same year, a swampy Australian take on American blues and country that’s still among the best records ever to come out of this land. Although they’ve been through plenty of changes in the years since, two things have remained constant: Tex Perkins growling the words and Spencer P. Jones making his guitar churn.
“We’ve had our ups and downs over the years, like everyone else,” Jones says with a little understatement. “I think I was gonna quit the band one time, and then I thought about it and I rang everyone up a few days later [and] said, ‘Look, uh, I’m not gonna quit the band.’ I had my moment but I didn’t stick to my guns, I decided to go back to the group and I’m glad I did, because there were more adventures to be had.”
Jones puts the band’s longevity down to the fact that though many years have passed since their formation, there were plenty of side projects and gaps along the way. “We didn’t [continuously] exist for any long period of time. We always – when we got together and played, it was always very briefly and that’s kept it all interesting for everybody. Each time we got together there’d be fresh ideas, new material; that kind of thing.”
To celebrate their 30th birthday, three different incarnations of Beasts of Bourbon will play songs from different eras over three nights – the original crew, the version of the band who recorded The Low Road in 1991, and the current lineup. That original version got together earlier this year for their re-formation gig at All Tomorrow’s Parties, a well-received set overall though it did include one surprise in the middle. Their thudding, discordant ‘Playground’ had people “cringing and white-knuckle gripping the chairs,” as Jones relates with glee. “It’s our big industrial number. People were like, ‘That was a really great set but there was one song in the middle I really hated,’” he says, barely able to keep himself from laughing at the memory. “And I’m thinking, ‘This is great, this one tune that has this effect on people.’ They really dislike it! We’ve always enjoyed confronting people like that, so that song stays in. I’m looking forward to playing that one in fact; looking forward to seeing the disappointment and annoyance on people’s faces.”
The ATP gig was originally slated as a one-off reunion, but the Beasts are still together seven months later. Jones says that there’s no plan to stop now, although it’s just the current lineup that will carry on. But whether or not they’ll record again is another matter. “That depends how creative everyone gets, you know? I’ve always been able to pull a couple of new songs out of the hat. If you give me a date that the Beasts are supposed to be in the recording studio I assure you that I will turn up with six songs, no problem.”
BY JODY MACGREGOR
Beasts of Bourbon plays the Factory Theatre on Thursday August 22 (original lineup), Friday August 23 (Low Road lineup) and Saturday August 24 (current lineup). Three-disc live album 30 Years Of Borrowed Time will be available at the concerts.