sacred cowboys - The I-94 Bar
Headliner Kim Salmon: No fish out of water. Campbell Manderson photo
Every time I go to Melbourne, something elbows me in the ribs and, somehow, things don’t go according to plan. The last few weeks have been short pay weeks, so I didn’t have quite enough dosh as I expected.
Of course, I had also completely forgotten that hotels now want a deposit against impromptu extra day stays and so forth, just in case you take the toaster into the shower or, to settle an argument, see how just far down the emergency stairs you can surf on the bed.
So, somewhat impoverished, I set off for St Kilda, a once-magical place of genteelly-crumbling art deco, dread gangsters (the real kind), assorted equally impoverished students, musicians, dealers and migrants and so on and so on. The event is the 16th A Day By The Green, a long-running Melbourne rock and roll institution.
Now I have to be upfront here. During the early '80s I was a huge Sacred Cowboys fan. I only saw them twice in Sydney but felt they were The Real Deal: a band in this territory of cool, alternative cowboy/Delta punk be that was coming from USA via people like The Gun Club and Wall of Voodoo, yet with a savage savage edge that was a nod to the "Blood River" period Scientists.
“Nothing Grows in Texas” simply was one best Australian singles of the '80s. Of courses Molly Meldrum slagged them off on TV on "Countdown". So we all knew they had so much going for them. At the centre was Garry Gray and his sneering vocals, somewhere between Alex Chilton and Jonathan Richman with a belly-full of hard, home brewed liquor.
These are quite remarkable recordings. Yes, you've heard rehearsal tapes and demo recordings by garage bands before, but these are different. It's all about the timeframe, the intensity and the fact that they're Australian and were recorded in relative cultural isolation.
“Dumb-World” is a serious collection of raw demos and rehearsal tapes from future Sacred Cowboys leader Garry Gray and his early bands between 1974-1978, featuring Judas and the Traitors, The Reals and The Negatives.
To place this in a historic context, the Australian musical landscape was fairly frigid. The local artists’ soundtrack was blaring from commercial AM radio, but it that was drab even though the live scene was flourishing and there were so many gigs for local musicians to play.
Corporate con or well-meaning act of benevolence? History tends to deliver a verdict of the former. for "Lethal Weapons", the 1978 compilaiton album of Australian "punk".
"Lethal Weapons" was a product on an offshoot of major Australian label Mushroom (the same people who brought you Chain, Skyhooks and the Sunnyboys) and it was clearly a cynical attempt to commercialise underground music scenes then burgeoning in Melbourne and Sydney, especially.
Compiled by would-be A & R man Barry Earl, the album was notable for its eclectic cast which included The Boys Next Door (soon to become The Birthday Party), JAB, The Survivors, whose members would go onto Sacred Cowboys, The Moodists, Radio Birdman, Teenage Radio Stars and the Bad Seeds.
Trevor Block went in search of many of the original protagonists in bands that signed to Suicide. We're reprising his article to mark 40 years of "Lethal Weapons", and the decade since its CD re-issue.
Sacred Cowboys on St Kilda Beach with the SS Minow.
“Sydney audiences can expect to hear much of the ‘Diamond in the Forehead’ album and a number of songs that will comprise our second album. Expect rock and roll out of the early 1970s, expect high volume in the guitar department, expect Nobel Prize-winning freak flag songs”
Garry Gray wrote this to me, and I visualise him, pounding the keyboard with pride about his forthcoming shows in Sydney in mid-November.
Gray has been making music for 42 years. I imagine by now he knows when he has a killer album ("Diamond in the Forehead") and a killer live band (The Sixth Circle) locked in. As I wrote a few months ago who when I caught The Sixth Circle live at the Tote Hoteland was blown away by a great, pure rock, street-level band:
All that dark and shade in this set; theatrics and drama. The tempo pulls back with “Club Siren”. “Our God hangs #6” is wild rock beat and with the guitars blues-based. Gray’s menacing vocals howling: 'I got hung without a trial'. "Cadillacs” has that proto punk rawness and a blues progression. There are elements of deep soul with raw gritty urban blues, and a solid rock 4/4 backbeat. Live, it is a no-nonsense rock monster.