If a band were going to resurrect a former hit, in an effort to inject a new lease of life into their own career, what better choice of song to make than ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ - well in theory anyway. Australian pop-rock band Cattletruck, had been working away on the fringes of big time success, and always seemed just one major hit away from breaking, not just nationally, but internationally.
The origins of Melbourne band Cattletruck lay in a one time St. Kilda bar band going by the name Caught In A Cattletruck. Paul Janovskis (vocals/guitar), Tony Dennis (bass), Charles Todd (saxophone), and James Martin (drums), started out playing a basic acoustic brand country-blues, born of their mutual affection for the roots music of Johnny Cash, Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, and pre-Army Elvis Presley. Having shortened their moniker to the more manageable Cattletruck, in early 1985 Janovskis and Dennis decided to do a Dylan and electrify their sound. Keyboardist Phil Viggiano and trumpet player Peter Knight were brought on board to both expand the line-up, and give them a bigger sound, whilst original sax player Todd was replaced by Nick Cross. Cattletruck recorded the single ‘Never Is’ and had it produced independently (a big call in those days). They gave away copies of ‘Never Is’ to fans who attended one of Cattletruck’s headliner gigs at the Prince of Wales Hotel, Melbourne, in December 1985.
Cattletruck’s lively, pulsating brand of rock and blues, soon had them filling support gigs for A-list Australian acts like Hoodoo Gurus, The Saints, Australian Crawl, Models and a number of high profile international acts, such as Los Lobos, The Violent Femmes and Lloyd Cole & The Commotions (see Oct post). With so much big venue exposure, and a growing repertoire of original numbers, Cattletruck were a natural to be signed to the respected Regular label.
By the time Cattletruck pulled into the studio in 1986 to record tracks for their debut album, the line-up on board was Janovskis, Dennis, Viggiano, Knight, Cross, and new drummer Bruce Coombs. The band’s first single hit the stores in October ‘86, but ‘Change’ only skirted around the lower reaches of the Australian chart (#81). The follow up single ‘Leave Me’ left the record store shelves at a reasonable enough rate to give Cattletruck their first top forty hit (#39) in May ‘87. English producer Dave Courtnay was flown over to produce Cattletruck’s debut album. Courtnay brought a degree of rock pedigree to the table, having a C.V. that included Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton and Three Dog Night. He basically let the lads in Cattletruck have their head to unleash their effervescent, vibrant brand of performance. Several tracks on the album also benefited from the sublime vocal harmonies of Vika and Linda Bull (The Black Sorrows). A mix of rock, pop, country, R&B, and traditional blues amalgamated to form the album ‘Ready To Believe’ (OZ#58). No doubt the diversity of music satisfied the interests of band members, but possibly proved to be a little too diverse for record buyers, making the album a tad difficult to categorise. The next single ‘Rain’ (OZ#56) didn’t exactly create a downpour of demand, but the band had their best offering laying in wait.
Cattletruck’s version of ‘Resurrection Shuffle’ was released in November ‘87, and within weeks was stampeding the national charts. The song was a cover of the 1971 hit by Ashton, Gardner & Dyke (US#40/UK#3/OZ#16). Whilst Cattletruck’s version (OZ#33) didn’t ascend to those heights, it was a kick arse, high energy take on a rock and roll classic. The surging brass backing, and driving rock beat, were perfectly matched to Paul Janovskis raucous vocals. Every time I hear the track it brings to mind something that current Australian punk rock powerhouse The Living End would take on.
‘Resurrection Shuffle’ proved to be the highpoint on the road for Cattletruck. The next two singles ‘Ready To Believe’ in March ‘88, and ‘(It’s Not Such A) Bad Life’ in June ‘88, both drove on past the charts without making a stop. At the end of 1988 vocalist/guitarist Paul Janovskis left Cattletruck, dealing a body blow to the band. They toured throughout 1989 with a new line-up, which added vocalist Gary Young, guitarist Scott Kingman, and saxophonist Steve Colebrook to the remaining members Tony Dennis, Peter Knight and Bruce Coombs. Over the course of the year the crowds dwindled and the venues became smaller. With little prospect of recording more material, Cattletruck pulled over to the side of the rock and roll highway, and its members duly disembarked for good.
Whilst Cattletruck was coming to a slow and steady stop, former front man Paul Janovskis had changed his name to Paul Dean, and formed a new band called Gas, with guitarist Brett Kingman (brother of Cattletruck’s new guitarist Scott Kingman). Kingman, of the Brett variety, was ex of Uncanny X-Men and the James Reyne Band, so there was no doubting his credentials. Completing the Gas line-up were the jazz-trained Tailby brothers, Greg (drums) and Rick (bass). They provided an effective jazz-swing rhythmic counter balance to Dean and Kingman’s hard rock drive out front.
Gas was connected at the Mushroom label, and issued their debut album ‘Burn So Bright’ in June 1990. The album spawned the title track and ‘Empty Dreams’ as singles, but none managed to light up the charts. The Tailby Brothers and Kingman all left in 1991 (Kingman went on to join Bigger Than Jesus), and were replaced by bassist Brett Goldsmith (ex-Chantoozies), guitarist Peter Dickson, and drummer Brett Luton (ex-Geisha - see previous post). But the new line-up didn’t settle, and before long Gas had evaporated into Australian rock history.