For a while in the late ’80s The Beasts of Bourbon had a mythical status — this band made up of select pieces from the crème of Sydney’s inner city music scene that blew through town every couple of years, made a racket and then disappeared again. The Beasts at the time were nothing more than a side project for all concerned. An excuse to get liquored up and muck around playing country and blues covers. Like Nick Cave was to the Melbourne art-punks, so too was Tex Perkins to the Sydney crowd, this statuesque ladies man come raging shit-kicker, who mixed his blues with his reds, depending on which side of the 45 you were playing.
Their debut The Axeman’s Jazz in 1984 is still widely regarded as a cult classic, its mix of grim gothic country and skeletal swamp rock is reminiscent of The Cramps B-grade shuffle but the Beasts solid rhythm section and the creaking guitars of Spencer P. Jones and Kim Salmon outclassed that of Lux Interior and Co, allowing Perkins to seamlessly shift between murder ballads (“Love and Death”), garage rock (“Drop Out”), country tearjerkers (“The Day Marty Robbins Died”) and choice covers, including Creedence’s “Graveyard Train” and Leon Payne’s “Psycho”, a track in which I used to take great delight in torturing my mother with. Recorded in one day, fuelled by slabs of beer and speed and later cleaned up for the improved audio generation, the axe is still sharp as ever. (9/10)
Followed up with the brawling rock of Sour Mash in 1988, the Beasts evolved into a more menacing incarnation losing all the comic subtleties that made The Axeman’s Jazz such a thrill. The twin attack of “Hard Work Drivin’ Man” and “Hard for You” hit the high road, Perkins giving bent-over-double vocal performances that would define the Beasts sound for years to come. Salmon and Jones throw down squeals of slide guitar and blues riffs that occasionally hit the mark, like on “The Hate Inside” and “Elvis Impersonator Blues”, but too often Sour Mash quickly descends into a sour mess of rambling jams and tune-seeking expeditions. Like Perkins sings on the groaning stomp of “Pig”, “I made this bed of shit and I’m gonna lie in it”, with Sour Mash you can take it or leave it. (6/10)
Reconvening again in 1990 for third album Black Milk solidified the standing of this phantom band and broke them into the mainstream. The title track epitomised this period, a loose Rolling Stones groove, Perkins giving the track his indelible drawling stamp that drew you back into their fold once more. Like Sour Mash, Black Milk suffers under the weight of trying to be their own Exile On Main Street. At sixteen tracks its too damn long with too much filler. Still, The Beasts could easily turn a simple riff into a good time in the rakish “Let’s Get Funky”, with Perkins stepping up to show off his soft side on “Words From A Woman To Her Man” before turning supper club jazz singer on “Cold Fire”. Were you to ditch the mawkish “Finger Lickin” and a couple others, Black Milk could’ve trumped them all. (7/10)
The Beasts strengths as a band were largely down to their individual influences. A common love of country and ’60s rock and roll brought them together, but Perkins, with his fingers in any number of musical pies (seek out Thug’s “Fuck Your Dad”), knew he was onto something worth coming back to. With Spencer P. Jone’s country derivations and Kim Salmon’s swamp twang, they were prone to take the Beasts in any direction, under any influence, both musical and chemical to bring together this exciting, unhinged, flying by the seat of your pants rock and roll. Sometimes even the most accidental of births can bring forth the most unexpected of packages. The Beasts of Bourbon were the perfect example.