In May 1978, following the split of The Victims, James Baker formed The Scientists with singer-guitarist Kim Salmon, who had previously founded Perth’s first punk band, The Cheap Nasties, in August 1976.
From the outset, The Scientists combined the energy of punk with a ’60s pop sensibility: the proclamation ‘Rock & Roll in the tradition of the Groovies and The Heartbreakers‘ on one of their early posters said it all.
Driven by Baker’s beaty slugging and Salmons’ Johnny Thunders-style guitar, they had killer original material in spades and great taste in covers: the Flamin’ Groovies‘ Slow Death, The Troggs‘ With A Girl Like You, The Undertones‘ Teenage Kicks, The Ramones‘ 53rd & 3rd, The Searchers‘ Walk In The Room and The Boys’ See Ya Later were all featured along the way.
The early Scientists are best heard on their two 1979 recordings – the Frantic Romantic 7″ and the raucous EP (simply called The Scientists EP) from which Last Night is taken.
By mid-1980, reduced to a three-piece, they had begun overplaying their pop hand: their LP, posthumously released in 1981, contains some great songs, but the production is crap and the energy waning.
The Flamin’ Groovies/New York Dolls-inspired incarnation of The Scientists had hit the wall in Perth in January 1981, at which point James Baker split to Sydney and Le Hoodoo Gurus. But the posthumous release of their album inspired one last gasp.
Mainman Kim Salmon pulled together a new radically different line-up, which included long-absent original bass-player Boris Sujdovic, drummer Brett Rixon and wild child guitarist Tony Thewlis. Their first show was in Sydney on New Year’s Eve ’81/82.
Early sets were peppered with old Scientists tunes including the mutant Bo Diddley beat of Shadows of the Night and Drop Out (later recorded by Salmon, Sujdovic and Baker in their all-star side project The Beasts of Bourbon), together with crowd-pleasing 60s punkers like The Standells‘ Sometimes Good Guys Don’t Wear White, and new Cramps-inspired originals like Monsters In The Back of My Mind and Mindless Blob.
A big fan of the faux-swamp rock of Bayou Country-era Creedence, Salmon also had a song called Swampland, which was passed over by every label in Sydney, before finally being snapped up by Melbourne-based label, Au-go-go. Swampland became a surprise indie smash and was the first in a series of records which saw The Scientists reinventing themselves every step of the way.
In 1984, having progressed from swamp-blues grunge to a pulsating Suicide-inspired minimalism, The Scientists quit Australia for London, where they found a small but dedicated cult following that saw them as The Stooges reincarnate.
They returned to a slightly more traditional form (Standells and Heartbreakers covers had started re-appearing in their set) with the mighty You Get What You Deserve album, as well as the overlooked but effective collection of re-recorded ‘greatest hits’ called Weird Love . . . and then they broke it all down again with the lo-fi primitivism of The Human Jukebox.
At this point, Salmon and Thewlis were the last of the original quartet remaining. Unable to shake the ‘cult’ tag and going nowhere fast, they split in 1987.
Salmon eventually reunited with Sujdovic in Sydney in a reformation of The Beasts of Bourbon and formed his own Kim Salmon & The Surrealists, while Thewlis formed the Syd Barret/Alex Chilton-inspired Interstellar Villains before moving back to London.
Rixon – disconnected from the music scene for years – sadly passed away in the mid-90s.
The Scientists’ legacy was profound. Seattle grunge godfathers Mudhoney were unabashed fans, as was Jon Spencer, whose bands Pussy Galore and Blues Explosion took The Scientists’ sullen hipster-delinquent look and sound to new extremes.
Salmon, Thewlis and Sujdovic reformed for a highly successful reunion tour in February 2002 and The Scientists continued to record and tour sporadically.