It all began in Australia back in 1975 when Johnny Kannis and Chris Masuak were playing together in a band called The Jackals. Masuak went on to join the legendary Radio Birdman, as did bassist Warwick Gilbert.
Meanwhile, Kannis continued playing the pub circuit in Sydney – with a band whose line-up seemed to change weekly – and recorded an obscure solo single, King Of The Surf.
When Radio Birdman disbanded after their abortive English tour, Masuak joined The Hitmen, whose line-up at that stage also included former Saints drummer Ivor Hay.
The band continued working the pub circuit and signed with WEA, recording a single, Didn’t Tell The Man, which gained solid airplay and respectable sales.
The Hitmen supported The Stranglers, The Members, Cold Chisel and Tom Petty on concert tours and recorded a second single, the Gilbert composition I Want You, complete with galvanizing KISS-style riffs.
By ’82, Warwick Gilbert had quit the group for a career in animation and had been replaced by Tony Robertson, late of Brisbane’s The 31st.
Hoping to enlist Stooges guitarist Ron Asheton to produce their second album, they were lumped instead with unsympathetic local team Brown and Dunlop, and the resulting album It Is What It Is, was sadly unrepresentative of their power.
Still, a belated Masuak remix later fixed that, and it contained some killer songs, including Brad Shepherd’s crunching Bwana Devil – the strong jungle vibe of which perhaps telegraphed Shepherd’s next move, which was to defect to The Hoodoo Gurus before the record was even released.
In July 1983, lead vocalist Johnny Kannis suffered horrific injuries in a car accident while travelling to a gig with his R&B/soul-style revue Night Train. His condition was so bad that ambulance drivers thought he was going to die before he reached the hospital.
Johnny had massive internal injuries, multiple fractures and a smashed hip.
But after more than 12 months of treatment and therapy, he returned to the rock scene for a farewell Hitmen tour in June ’84 (which produced the mighty Tora Tora DTK live album) and later played with The Johnny Kannis Experience.
Kannis and Masuak would eventually revive The Hitmen at the end of the decade under the name Hitmen DTK, cutting an album, Moronic Inferno, in Texas with Deniz Tek sitting in.