Hoodoo You Love?

24 March 2012 | 12:16 pm | Staff Writer

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Birthday milestones are always a time for reflection, especially once a decade when you hit of the big ones with a zero on the end. Some people rue the passing of time and mourn the end of an era, while others take a more holistic approach and accept the moment for what it is, perhaps even see it as an opportunity to celebrate what has gone before. Thankfully the members of Aussie rock royalty Hoodoo Gurus are strict disciples of the latter approach and now – as they celebrate the passing of three decades since the release of their first ever single, Leilani, back in 1982 when they were still known as Le Hoodoo Gurus – they're throwing a massive nationwide party for all of their closest fans and acquaintances.

“It doesn't add up, does it? Thirty years – it's hard to get your head around that,” Hoodoo Gurus' guitarist Brad Shepherd puzzles incredulously of the milestone. “When I was a kid in the '70s you'd think that World War Two was thirty years ago, you know? It's really hard for me to get my head around it. Oh well, we just plod along. It keeps me interested – I still love listening to electric guitar. I still love listening to myself play electric guitar! I just love electric guitar period. It's always been deeply resonant with me; I loved it when I was a kid listening to the Stones and The Beatles. I loved hearing the sound of Ritchie Blackmore's guitar and Tony Iommi's guitar and I still love it – it still gives me a huge thrill to put on the second Television album and all that fantastic articulation of the notes. It just doesn't let up! Thank Christ, because I didn't have a Plan B really!”

These days it's difficult to imagine an Australian rock landscape without the Hoodoo Gurus and their swag of songs that have become ingrained in the national psyche. But back in the early '80s they were new kids on the block and it wasn't until 18 months after Leilani dropped that their debut album, Stoneage Romeos, was released, complete with its iconic cartoon artwork and slew of catchy radio fodder such as My Girl, I Want You Back and Tojo. Now, all these years later, the band are celebrating their birthday by playing this classic debut in its entirety – as well as all the other hits they've accumulated over the years – and they've invited some of their favourite bands from across the globe to help them blow out the candles. But for true Gurus fans, it's this trip back down memory lane to 1984 that will be the real highlight of the Dig It Up! concert extravaganza.

“I think maybe we did that once before and that was completely unofficial – we didn't announce it, we didn't exploit it at all, it was just something silly that we did in Melbourne once,” Shepherd explains of playing Stoneage Romeos from start to finish. “I don't think we even made a particularly big deal about it to the audience – we played at The Corner once and I think we did Stoneage Romeos and [1985 follow-up] Mars Needs Guitars! and that was our set! We may have even done it backwards... But it's not something that we've ever really done to any great degree at all and it will be interesting for us as much as anybody there, just to see what happens when we do that and how it's going to feel. It's been nearly thirty years since our set was predominantly those songs from our debut album – and it was a typical debut album; it was just what we were playing in the set at the time. So that's what we're going back to. It will be very interesting.”

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As an album, Stoneage Romeos is up there with the best rock'n'roll debuts in the history of Australian music, alongside such classics as Radio Birdman's Radios Appear, You Am I's Sound As Ever, The Saints' (I'm) Stranded and AC/DC's High Voltage. Many iconic bands such as Midnight Oil, INXS, Powderfinger and Hunters & Collectors (to name but a few) didn't really find their feet until their second or third long-players, but the Gurus hit the ground running.

“Again, I think it was a typical debut in that we were able to work the songs up over a couple of years, so it wasn't like, 'Ooh, we've got an album to do so let's go into the studio and see what we come up with.'” Shepherd reflects. “Those songs had been around a couple of years, so we'd had time to work out our parts on those and we pretty much knew what we were doing. A lot of it was more or less live in the studio.

“And we're blessed to have Dave Faulkner in the band – he's deeply entrenched in the notion of classic songwriting and I think that's our secret weapon. Not only that, but when you're influenced by '70s glam rock and '50s rock'n'roll and '60s psychedelic and garage rock and '70s punk rock and then you mix that together with a songwriter that's listening to Irving Berlin and Hoagy Carmichael – that's actually what he grew up with, so he learned a deep appreciation of classic songwriting because that's what his parents were playing in the house – that in itself is a unique mixture and I think that that stuff is evident a lot on that first album.”

Along with their great tunes the Gurus had considerable visual appeal as well – all long hair and paisley shirts – but despite their tender years at the time, they also had the advantage of having been in relatively successful punk bands, particularly Shepherd's stints in Brisbane bands The Fun Things and The 31st before relocating to Sydney to join The Hitmen. Then there's Faulkner's time fronting The Victims.

“We'd certainly had some experience before that in the studio,” Shepherd concedes. “I'd probably had the most experience actually, because I'd done two albums with The Hitmen prior to that, the other guys not so much even though they'd made fantastic records. We'd all made pretty well-regarded punk rock singles – although they were all done on the cheap – but [the studio] wasn't an unusual environment for us. We were excited too – we were still kids and it was exciting for me to go and record at Trafalgar because that's where Radios Appear had been recorded. So there was certainly an energy of excitement when we made that first album, but we also felt comfortable and confident because it wasn't completely foreign to us; (a) the songs weren't foreign to us, we were very confident playing them, we'd been playing them for years and (b) we'd had some experience in studios anyway.”

And the songs on Stoneage Romeos have stood the test of time remarkably well – try and put on nearly any other album from 1984 without cringing or wincing with pain.

“We were out of time anyway back in 1984; we were competing with the Thompson Twins and bands like Real Life, I guess,” Shepherd laughs. “It was ludicrous but it actually worked in our favour, because it was a real alternative to what was the conventional wisdom for record companies as to what would make them a quick buck. The first album did come out on an obscure indie label – Big Time Records probably became more well known after the Hoodoo Gurus, they were really a small label here in Sydney – the larger multinationals were just not interested in the Hoodoo Gurus; we were laughable to them. Once we started selling some records they became more interested, but we were just on an independent label for that first album and that was as good as it was going to get for us at the time.

“We were amazed in fact that we could do anything – we were so completely against the grain of what was popular in music then that it was remarkable to us that anyone paid us any attention at all. I don't know what I was doing – I mean I left The Hitmen and on paper it just didn't look right; it didn't seem like the Hoodoo Gurus had a hope in hell! But I loved the band – they poached me from The Hitmen because they had lost a couple of members, Roddy Radalj and Kimble Rendall left within about a week of each other. It was a tough decision. I didn't know what I was doing and I felt that there was a real possibility that the band would just fall flat on its arse, but I loved Le Hoodoo Gurus and I just felt that there was a real magic in the songs.”

All these years later there's plenty of life in the old dog yet – the new Gurus retrospective, Gold Watch, features crackingly sardonic new single, Use-By Date, which addresses this matter both figuratively and literally – but a milestone such as this is as good a moment as any to look back and take stock of some of the high points of a wonderful career.

“Oh God, there's just countless highlights,” Shepherd marvels. “There's always that nice thing of meeting your heroes and they say complimentary things about your band. Iggy Pop came up to me at a party and told me how much he loved the band and Joey Ramone used to come and see us every time we played in New York. We've become good friends with the guys from The Dictators and they were huge heroes of mine when I was struggling with learning to play the guitar in the '70s. It's amazing to me that I've been able to stand on the same stage as The Beatles and The Rolling Stones and where Creedence and Led Zeppelin played. It was a huge thrill for me to play at Festival Hall in Brisbane, because that's where I would go and see bands as a kid – it's pretty mindblowing. It's the fan in me I guess. And the thing that excites me when I'm playing is still the show I'm going to play on any given night – that excites me too.”



For their 30th birthday celebrations Hoodoo Gurus have pulled out all stops, inviting some of their favourite bands from across all periods of time from all over the globe to party: all capital city lineups are different, but the bands involved include such names as The Sonics, The Fleshtones, Redd Kross, The's and many more fine acts. Brad Shepherd offers the following sage words:


“It's pretty amazing. Honestly it's doing my head in – it's too good to be true. People are just going to overload. We just wrote out our ultimate wishlists and started approaching people and a lot of the people at the top of the lists said, 'Yes!' – I'm amazed that it's going to happen.”


“I've never seen them, but people who have seen them just rave about them, saying it's incredible. Gerry Roslie is seventy this year and he's still got that amazing scream! I really can't get my ahead around the fact that I'm going to see The Sonics playing stuff like He's Waitin and Cinderella and Psycho and The Witch! It's blowing me away! I would pay to go to see that – I would pay to go to my own show!”


“They are exciting to me those bands, that next crop. They get it. Bands like Royal Headache and The Lovetones and Belles Will Ring, they're all fantastic. There are so many bands around who seem too many generations removed from real rock'n'roll, like it's just their interpretation of what rock'n'roll is. Some bands don't get it, but those bands get it – they're really deeply connected to it. It's exciting that it's sort of gone underground – they're not even attempting to get on radio or anything, they're just expressing themselves. It's very cool.”