I first saw Le Hoodoo Gurus at some shitty little pub in Surry Hills – an inner-city suburb of Sydney – in 1982.
There were probably just over a hundred people crushed into an area the size of a normal living-room, condensation dripping off the walls and ceiling, and a combined smell of sweat, overproof rum and ‘herbal’ smoking substances. There was also a hell of a lot of paisley, both on the “stage” and in the crowd.
While Australia was awash in the early 80s with high-energy 60’s-garage/grunge-inspired guitar-maniacs with names like The Celibate Rifles, The Lime Spiders and The Screaming Tribesmen, Le Hoodoo Gurus were the head boys of the class.
Evolving out of Perth punks The Victims and The Scientists, the Gurus wore their garage rock, trash TV and B-movie influences on their sleeves.
The Victims’ Dave Faulkner and The Scientists’ Roddy Radalj made the trip east to Sydney where they met fellow guitar slinger Kimble Rendall at a New Year’s Eve party.
Recruiting drummer James Baker (who had played in both bands) – but no bassist – Le Hoodoo Gurus was born in the molten lava grooves of Tiki-themed debut single Leilani.
Rod Radalj’s departure in 1983 meant the Gurus were down a guitarist, and new bass player Clyde Bramley (ex-The Hitmen) knew just the man for the job – his housemate Brad Shepherd.
Although Brad was still in The Hitmen, he and Clyde had formed a part-time ’60s bubblegum tribute group called Super K (whose one single incongruously featured Shepherd’s Alice Cooper-styled Recurring Nightmare), and it didn’t take much pushing to get him to jump ship.
Dropping the ‘Le’ from their name and toughening their sound somewhat, the Gurus nonetheless remained rock & roll garbagemen, picking the likes of The Kingsmen‘s That’s Cool, That’s Trash, Nancy Sinatra‘s Lightning’s Girl and Alice Cooper‘s version of the Rolf Harris Dreamtime classic Sun Arise from atop the trash heap, and making them their own.
Be My Guru, which originally appeared on the b-side of their third single My Girl, highlighted their new sound.
With the release of their 1984 debut album Stoneage Romeos, the Gurus were on track to become one of the biggest bands in Australia, as well as firm favourites of the American college radio scene. The album contained classic pop singles My Girl, Tojo, Leilani, and I Want You Back.
With the release of 1985’s Mars Needs Guitars, the Gurus found themselves touring America once again, this time playing arenas as The Bangles‘ opening act. And the band would continue to record and tour successfully for more than a decade, going on hiatus in January 1998 and then reuniting in 2004.
The third album, Blow Your Cool, contained the single What’s My Scene? – a Top 10 Australian chart hit.
Success brought refinement – James Baker was replaced by former Hitmen drummer Mark Kingsmill after the band’s first album and Clyde Bramley left after their third album.
But later tracks like The Right Time and Down On Me were as good as anything they’d ever done, and their farewell live album, Bite The Bullet, recorded in ’97 and ’98, hit like a sledgehammer.
The last time I saw the band play was in front of several thousand people on a stage the size of a small block of flats with a PA system that could probably launch a space shuttle.
The last time I saw Dave Faulkner (having bumped into him in 2001 when he was pissed as a fart at a Sydney North Shore pub) he tried in vain for 20 minutes to order a pizza on the phone and collapsed in a chair in the corner of Ron Peno‘s living room.
The Guru’s were always rock stars – but they still can’t get a pizza in the wee hours of the morning!
Mark ‘Kingsy’ Kingsmill