Tuesday, July 1, 2008

Break Out The Six Shooters. It's Time For A 'Showdown'!

Though never scoring a top 30 hit, Australian ‘cow-punk’ band The Johnnys left their mark on the Australian music scene with a unique image and some of the more memorable Aussie rock songs of the mid ‘80s. The quartet of Spencer P. Jones (vocals/guitar/), Roddy Ray’da (AKA Roddy Radalj - guitar/vocals), Graham ‘Hoody’ Hood (bass/vocals) and Billy Pommer Jr., took the whole rock-star cowboy theme to the limit, their image replete with every clichéd notion of the old time wild west cowboy, from genuine Stetson hats and leather chaps to wielding imitation six shooters. When they played live they often did so amidst a stage set consisting of bales of hay (which led The Johnnys to being banned from playing in Christchurch, New Zealand following, of all things, a hay fight with the audience in 1985).

Musically The Johnnys infused thrashing guitar driven punk rock with elements of traditional down home country honk, from twangy guitar to the archetypal western drawl, leading to them being sometimes labelled as the Sex Pistols meets Marty Robbins - quite a combination. The group started life in 1982 as the trio of Ray’da, Hood and Pommer Jr., all three bringing with them considerable band playing experience - Ray’da a one time member of the Scientists and Le Hoodoo Gurus, Hood ex of the Allniters, and Pommer formely of Cry. Within a year they had added New Zealand born Spencer P. Jones (ex Cuban Heels/Olympic Sideburns) to the line-up. Quickly gaining a cult following on the live circuit, The Johnnys released their debut single ‘I Think You’re Cute’ in October 1983. The song climbed to a respectable #51 on the National charts (#27 in NSW), and was released with a limited edition picture cover featuring the catch phrase ‘The Johnnys are Regular Little Monsters’, an appropriate précis of the band’s ethos.

Radalj left The Johnnys’ ranch in early ‘84 and was replaced by Paul ‘Slim’ Doherty, with Jones switching to lead vocal duties. Soon after they released an eponymous EP which featured the mischievously titled ‘My Buzzsaw Baby (Really Cuts Me Up), produced by Steve Nieve, keyboard maestro from Elvis Costello’s Attractions. Australia’s premier recording label Mushroom Records then signed The Johnnys which led to the band’s most lucrative period in commercial terms. The single ‘Injun Joe’ was released in late ‘85 and peaked on the National charts in early ‘86. The follow up single ‘(There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown’ (my favourite Johnnys track) also sold well, peaking at #46 during May ‘86 (it was backed by a very cool promo clip). ‘Bleeding Heart’ was the next single but it missed the target for The Johnnys (#71). All three songs were included on The Johnnys debut album ‘Highlights Of A Dangerous Life’, produced by the legendary Ross Wilson, the album leaning more toward a straight guitar rock approach in places.

Two more single releases over the ensuing 18 months failed to chart, indicating that The Johnnys rule over the ‘wild west’ was waning. Ross Wilson was also at the production controls for the band’s second and last album ‘Grown Up Wrong’. Released in August ‘88, it yielded two final singles, including The Johnnys cover of the old Chris Spedding hit ‘Motorbikin’. Still featuring the Aussie larrikin take on country tinged rock ‘n’ roll, the album sold poorly. Bassist Hood left soon after (replaced by ex Paul Kelly Band member Michael Armiger), but The Johnnys posse broke up in 1989. A live album ‘Live At La Dolce Vita’ was released in 1990.

Spencer P. Jones then turned his attention fulltime to the burgeoning group Beasts Of Bourbon, along with Tex Perkins, and has contributed his talents to numerous other projects. One of Australasia’s rock journeymen, Jones released his own solo album in 1994, titled ‘Rumour Of Death’ which celebrated many of the stylistic elements he had brought previously to The Johnnys. In 2004 The Johnnys hit the range again for a series of live shows, proving they’d lost none of the showmanship of 20 years previous.
Below is the promo clip for The Johnnys‘ (There’s Gonna Be A) Showdown, featuring a cameo as a rogue cowboy from none other than Angry Anderson of Rose Tattoo fame:

No comments: