Author: Denis Brown
Lob a rock into the air in any Australian city and chances are it will land on someone who’s seen the Hoodoo Gurus perform live at least once. In a career spanning 15 years, nine studio albums and a plethora of anthemic singles, the now-defunct Sydney-based group toured the country an estimated 30 times.
Despite this stint at the coalface, the Gurus’ blokey brand of hi-octane meat-and-two-veg pop did not tickle everyone’s taste buds. Your average true-blue rock fan can invariably recite the lyrics of What’s My Scene or Come Anytime, but the band never managed a Number One single. Despite commanding the unwavering support of a legion of diehard fans, the dogmatic Gurus, like their contemporaries the Hunters and Collectors, remained in the pub rock circuit.
“I suppose there’s still a lot of people out there who go (groans), the Hoodoo Gurus, I hate them,” says Gurus’ guitarist Brad Shepherd.” In many respects we were our own worst enemies; we weren’t the sort of band that crossed over like Midnight Oil or INXS, and I don’t think we ever had a Number One album either.
“If there’s one thing I’m really proud of us as a band, it’s that we didn’t really buy into that rock-star lifestyle, even though it was there for the asking. I saw a lot of other bands living it, but I just thought it was quite preposterous,” he says.
Having decided to pull the pin late last year, the Gurus released a double CD greatest-hits package Electric Chair/Armchair Gurus – and embarked on a final Australian tour.
Obviously the band did not share the sentiments of Gurus’ nut H.G. Nelson, who on hearing the band’s final studio album Blue Cave in 1996 said there “was still a lot of life in the corpse”.
“We felt that if we stuck it out for too much longer we might experience the downside of it and then our legacy would be an embarrassment, rather than getting out while we could, and kinda leave a good looking corpse,” Shepherd says.
But just one year later, Mushroom Records is releasing a CD (Bite The Bullet) of highlights of the band’s swan song tour, plus a special three- CD edition (Director’s Cut) with other live material, B-sides and oddities. Although from a marketing perspective it’s possibly wise to strike while the Gurus’ corpse is still warm, could this be a little hasty?
“I don’t care really, we just wanted to go, here it is, this is all we’ve got left. And you know, I think we just I wanted to put the band to rest without it lingering in the back of our minds, both as ex-members and as people trying to get on with our lives.
“We pretty much used everything we had, so there’s nothing left in the vaults we can release at some later date. So no, there’ll be no re- mastered box set, a la Bruce Spring- steen, somewhere down the line, that’s it,” Shepherd says.
Live albums are notoriously dodgy, rarely capturing atmosphere and energy effectively, and Shepherd says the Gurus had resisted repeated requests to produce one. Every effort was made to ensure Bullet hit the spot, from song selection down to remixing.
It shows: cranked up, the raw power almost pins you to the wall. It’s the sound of an airtight rock band firing on all cylinders, a slick yet still passionate live act so finely tuned that a 1-2-3 or drumstick count-in – vital for most bands, even the Rolling Stones – only features on one song, Miss Freelove ’69
Even non-fans will find it impossible not to sing along to underrated but perfect pop such as Down On Me, already part of our rock heritage. On the other hand, it’s hard to imagine any but the most diehard fan being turned on by a painful live Ramones medley or some of the duller B-sides on Bubble & Squeak. Ditto Doppelganger, a collection of tracks recorded for Triple JJJ’s Live at the Wireless between 1983 and 1994. Except for covers and a few Shepherd compositions – including his bikie movie soundtrack homage, End Of The Line – Concerto For Choppers the songs are head honcho Dave Faulkner’s, indicating he gets the lion’s share of royalties. “Yeah, he doesn’t have to work again, unlike the rest of us. It was always Dave’s band; that’s OK, we’re still all good mates,” Shepherd says.
Admitting he still feels weird about not being on the road, 38-year-old Shepherd nonetheless sounds content with his life in Bondi.
“I’ve actually enjoyed living a normal life this last year; I’ve met somebody wonderful and I’m getting married in February. I had a lot of catching up to do. I think a lot of my personal life I’d put on hold and, subconsciously or otherwise, suppressed for a long time,” he says.
Meanwhile, Shepherd, critical of the current “superficial” music scene, is rehearsing with his so far nameless and unsigned band, featuring his brother Murray on drums and ex-Glide bassist Andy Kelly.
“We’re just going to take it from square one, just go out and start opening for the Living End or something.”
Huge howls of laughter.
“Please kill me if I’m actually on the same bill as the Living End,” he says – then, “oh, I’m just a cranky old bastard, I don’t like anything.”
Bite The Bullet and Director’s Cut are out now