December 2009.

Powderfinger’s Ian Haug catches up with Hoodoo Gurus’ legendary guitar player Brad Shepherd

bradby tony mott_119Since 1982 Brad Shepherd has been the archetypal lead axeman with iconic Aussie rockers the Hoodoo Gurus. Powderfinger’s Ian Haug has always been a fan of the band and caught up with Brad for a chat about his long and colourful career in music.

After Explaining to Brad that I was a virgin at interviewing anyone, let alone a respected axeman such as himself, and that I only just worked out how to record the conversation … I got settled and asked how he has gotten to where he has as a player … he re-assured me to “give it the ol’ college try”.

I  also attempted to write the thing up myself, so any complaints should be directed to me, and not the editor of this magazine. I should preface the interview by saying Brad is a remarkable bank of music trivia in general, and his memory of names and dates, frankly freaks me out.

In an effort to find out what first got Brad into rock’n’roll I remembered a conversation we had years ago.

IH: I remember years ago, you told me that the first gig you ever saw was Slade!

BS: That’s quite true and if memory serves me correctly, that was Feb 14, 1974. That was the first proper show I saw. I used to watch a lot of bloody television though.  In the late 60s and early 70s there was plenty of great rock and roll TV. There was a great show on Saturday afternoon. Four hours of rock’n roll!

See these days, there is endless opportunity to see things on demand on the net or repeated videos on cable TV, but it’s my belief that it would have been a magic time, waiting for Saturday to discover something new. I can hear the excitement in Brad’s voice when he tells me of the shows like ‘Uptight’, or ‘Happening 70’, ‘Happening ’71’.  Ian ‘Molly’ Meldrum used to be on the show, and he was a journo that worked for a magazine called ‘Go–Set’.  Brad’s Dad would bring him a copy of the mag home on Friday arvo.  The Masters Apprentices, The Zoot, and Axiom,  were local bands he loved.

B: I loved the Beatles, and was profoundly influenced by my parents’ music. Lots of Dylan, Peter Paul and Mary, Donovan, and the Byrd’s. Half a dozen albums really. Joe Cocker’s ‘Mad Dogs & Englishman’ made a big impact.

I: Did The Byrd’s make a big enough impact to want to have that chimey sound?

B: I still keep a 12 string Rick kicking around … just in case! They’re just a bitch to restring. I am a fanatic of the Byrd’s. I have all the albums … with the exception of ‘Byrd Maniacs’. That all stems from my folks having a copy of ‘Mr Tambourine Man’.

I: What was the first band you got into? Was it AC/DC?

B: I was fortunate enough to see them at Festival Hall in ’76, but I just loved live music in general.

Brad then went on to tell me about a live rock TV show he used to watch called ‘Rock Show’, hosted by a 4IP DJ  Lee Cornell, who looked like he was from the Doobie Brothers, with a droopy mo, and a denim shirt. Very Cool! It was filmed in Brisbane, and Brad‘s mum used to drive him up to the studio to watch it being filmed. He would go and see everyone! Air Supply … whoever…

I: You were playing guitar at this stage?

B: At home I was playing Alice Cooper songs … Black Sabbath songs … Deep Purple, but I was too young to see many bands. Although ’74 was a good year … Sabbath … Suzi Quatro,  Slade.

I: Are you a big fan of Ritchie Blackmore?

B: He is a fiery player, with almost a punk attitude. He made a Strat sound tough.

I: Being so young at these gigs, was the volume a big part of it?

B: I still joke that my ears are ringing from Slade. It was disorienting. A massive bank of amps behind them. I was leaning on the stage, and in my memory the amps were 15 feet high. In Festival Hall, they hadn’t done any sound engineering.

I: It was designed for boxing.

B: There was a blistering dissonance, and you couldn’t tell what was going on with the music. My understanding was that all bands were like that. It was extraordinary.

I: That’s making me want to be there!

With supportive parents, dropping him and his brother off to the show, they would have been 13 and 10  or so…  

I: So not long after all of this, you got your first band together with your brother?

B: Me, my brother and John Hartley.

I: This was at the same school I went to? Did you take lessons? Were they encouraging?

B: Not at all. It was considered to be extra curricular. One day I could hear some music near the oval in an old building and they were having a jam. There was this guy, Ian Taylor, who had a Les Paul. It was the first time I saw one close up.

A ’68 Black Beauty. Hundreds of those appeared in Australia. That was the LP you would see in shops. The other fellow was Leroy Bath.

I: Ah, I know them … they did our first EP… at Broken Toys studios.

B: Good Lord! It was a life changing moment. Leroy had a SG shaped bass and Ian had this LP. How did guys at school get one of these? I was astonished! I couldn’t believe it.

I: Did they let you get on the gear? Did you jam?

B: I didn’t even have an electric guitar at that stage. It was at this point that I started to hassle my parents for extra jobs to save for my first guitar… to raise the 120 bucks to buy my Ibanez SG copy from the Australian Academy of Music.

I: Do you remember your first amp?

B: 10 watt Coronet.

I: I thought you were going to say a Vase.

HOODOO GURUS ÔUSED BY DATEÕ 2.58mins MUSIC VIDEO CLIPB: No! You would dream of having a Vase. They were hardwired. You have to go and see Tym Brennan if you want one of them now. He has them all. It’s crazy going in there. He has all the stock from the Australian Academy of Music back then I think.

Note: Tym’s Guitars in Brisbane has an awesome collection of older, and unusual guitars, amps, and pedals.

I: So after  you got your gear, what happened?

B: There were a couple of defining moments that … flipped my wig. I used to read RAM  magazine. I remember one copy I got,  there was a guy with a snakeskin shirt, shades, and playing a white guitar, and the singer was thin, had white hair down to his arse, and black make-up running down his face.

I: New York Dolls?

B: No Radio Birdman! What an insane name. And they were talking about the music they were into like The Stooges’ ‘TV Eye’,  the MC5’s ‘Kick out the Jams’, Blue Oyster Cult … OD’d on life itself. My head is starting to spinning around. I can’t take in all this secret information. I had to hear all this new music! My Brain could not cope. It was like witnessing the Arc of the Covenant or something.

I had to seek this music out immediately. And then shortly after I saw the Sex Pistols on Countdown. The people on Countdown were laughing at it. They were all saying it was terrible, and I didn’t know how to relate to it, but I knew I had to investigate it. I had read about the Ramones and everyone dumped on them saying it was the dumbest music ever. The only person who didn’t dump on them was Greg Macainsh from the Skyhooks. He said it was so dumb it was brilliant. That was the goal to break the format down to the bare essentials. All this stuff happening at the same time turned me in a new direction. We played at friends’ parties, the Gap scout hall,  St Johns Wood scout hall. Scared the parents, got noise complaints. We played Led Zep and Sex Pistols.

I: So scoot forward to the first Fun Things recording.

B: We were kids. No money. No management. We had done maybe 8 gigs. Put on our own shows … the Bardon kindergarten, the Silver Dollar. We were embracing the American thing, and 60s punk stuff … like The Seeds’, ‘Pushin Too Hard’ …’Psychotic Reaction.’

I: You weren’t listening to these on Nuggets Records? They were discounted cut out records.

B: I would go to Sydney to seek out records. The Record Plant, or Phantom Records. The import stores. There were stores in Brisbane too. Rocking Horse. Bless Warwick! Bruce Anton used to work there as did Phil Smith from Wizard and Discreet records. They are responsible for my knowledge and albums. I still have all those records I bought.

We put out the Fun Things record after we had broken up. And then I went to London, and frankly it was a drag. It didn’t work for me. I wasn’t in the heart of punk rock like I hoped. It was all over by then. I did see the Clash at the Hammersmith, which was great. I saw Doll by Doll at the Hearn Hill Hotel, a European version of Television.

I remembered thinking … this is a drag, and came back with my tail between my legs. I came back to Brisbane. I was very fortunate. I came back and inserted myself into Ron Peno’s band the 31st. Mick Medew , Tony Robertson, and Chris Welsch. That was great fun, and we went to Sydney to try and get gigs. The first day, I met Clyde Bramley. Within a couple of weeks I had moved into a house, that Richard Burgman lived in too.
I loved high octane rock n roll. Sunnyboys were like a 60s one.  Opportunities that I hoped to find in London, I found in Sydney. I got some lucky breaks. One time I had seen the Hitmen at the Jindalee Hotel in Brisbane  and Chris had blown up their amp. I had out of dumb luck, a 100 watt Wasp amp in the boot of my mum’s car and I went up and offered it to them … saved the gig and they were obliged to talk to me when I got the amp back. Within 2 weeks when I went to Sydney someone said … you… you are the guy. They are looking for you,  they need a guitarist.

I: That’s right … there was no Facebook! It really was more about getting out and about.

B: I did that for a couple of years (The Hitmen). Still good mates with Clyde. He had found himself rehearsing with le Hoodoo Gurus. Three guitars. They lost a couple of members quickly. Kimble wanted to be a filmmaker, The band was formed at a party. They were all guitar players. They didn’t want 5 people, so it ended up being four. Once Kimble left, they replaced him with Clyde. Rod wasn’t crazy about the idea, so he left to do his own thing within a week of Clyde joining.

I: This is after their first single was released.

B: That’s right. I had bought it and I loved it.  They had embraced a shit load of crazy influences that I loved. They were sort of in the shadow of Birdman and Detroit stuff, and had an incredible palette that they drew from. Singing about girls that jumped into volcanoes … it was all extremely appealing to me.

I: So ladies jumping into volcanoes?

B: Seemed like a good idea. They had a crazy mish-mash of glam rock and 50s rock and roll and New York punk as opposed to  strictly Detroit punk rock, which they loved too … as they loved the Stooges and stuff.

I: So you became fast friends and it all happened…

B: Actually I had this side project (from Hitmen) with Clyde called Super K which was a bubble gum tribute act. We were working in a similar realm to Hoodoo Gurus. Clyde had this notion to do a bubble gum tribute act where we would play songs by the Ohio Express and the 1910 Fruit Gum Company and The Archies. I was into this and was a huge fan of this stuff. Dave wasn’t a Hitmen fan and came along mildly hostile …came  to see us rehearse. He came to see Clyde really, who was in the running to be in the Hoodoo Gurus at that stage, but he saw me singing ‘Galveston’ by Glen Campbell, and ‘Cherry Cherry’ by Neil Diamond,  and some Monkees and that was resonant to Dave … and that wasn’t that far off a leap. Basically they just put it on me. I was having difficulties with the Hitmen and I felt that my future lay with the Gurus.

I: Good choice.

B: Just lucky really.

I: So a lot of the songs had parts already?

B: That’s true. The songs that ended up in the live set for the intervening two years from when I joined the band till the release of Stoneage Romeos, were more or less in place already. They had spent a year writing all these other songs from when they decided being a band to actually playing them. A lot of the songs on Stoneage Romeos are credited to all these other people.  Not just Dave … Rod Radalj, Kimble Rendle, James Baker, Darcy Condon,  other friends living in their scene… sharing houses etc.

B: Dave would write a couple of guitar parts upfront, way before he even thought about lyrics. He may have a melody, then it’s me trying to get my head around that and do my own take on that. I recall, I had to work out how we were going to turn the three guitar parts into the two guitar parts. It seemed to come together pretty quickly.

I: Was Dave always the Telecaster guy?

B:  No he didn’t even have one at that stage. He had two main guitars up until 1985, a Gretsch Country Gentleman, and a 1957 Les Paul Junior. The Junior was stolen in the US and the CG was stolen in Adelaide. So he was short on guitars all of a sudden. Then he bought the Tele. He really loved the  ’57 Junior, and he still gets the shits when he thinks about it. It was a killer guitar. He was born in that year.

I: So when you did record the album, what were your favourites?

B: The boisterous ones. The rock ones. ‘Kamikaze Pilot’, ‘Echo Chamber’ … we don’t play that enough these days.

B: We loved all those great punk rock singles that had non album b-sides and the notion of getting something extra.

I: It’s a shame that doesn’t exist anymore.

B: We liked having picture covers and stuff. We just loved it. Loved having the Clash and Buzzcocks ones. That’s what we liked, so it seemed like the right thing to do.

I: It’s sad. Now times have changed.

B: Yes now it’s value added. Content.

I: So at the time, I’ve heard you weren’t convinced by the production on Stoneage?

B: No, it was almost made in dribs and drabs. We did a single, then another… then another, then filled in the gaps to make an album really. At the time we had to fight with the engineer, and record company about how we wanted it to sound. It didn’t seem tough enough. It seemed overproduced. I remember being mildly embarrassed at the time that it had been polished up a bit to shiny for what we had hoped to do. We wanted to make a Cramps album you know. It sounded like a pop group or something. But I think  of any of our early ones, that one stands up on its own two feet now.

I: So you’ve come around?

B: Yes. In hindsight Stoneage is live and brash and clearly energetic.

I: In a live set, there are still lots of Stoneage songs?

B: It depends. Invariably ‘I Want You Back’, ‘My Girl’. Fairly often ‘Kamikaze Pilot’.

I: ‘Tojo’?

B: Yes ‘Tojo’. I had forgotten … I don’t know how I forgot about that. I don’t know why but it’s still fun playing those songs. Dave at that time hadn’t fallen into an ease on the guitar. It was counter intuitive a lot of the time. So till this day, they are strange parts. Because it’s so odd… it’s refreshing to play.
I:  You were successful overseas, and still are …

B: Yes we are still able to head over and play to lots of people and make a profit. It’s great.

It was at this stage of the conversation that I realised I am not a journalist, and I have no focus. I am just enjoying the chat. This isn’t meant to be a history lesson. We can all go to a trusted source like Wikepedia for that.  So I thought I would ask some really hard questions.

I: So what are your favourite songs off each record to play live now? Mars Needs Guitars? ‘She? ‘Bring the Hoodoo Down’ … another b-side, ‘Hayride to Hell.’

B: Country is very fashionable on the indie rock scene now. But I am very proud that we embraced it early. In fact, we recorded it for Stoneage, but we thought there was so much going on, on Stoneage, if we throw country in as well, it’s going to completely fuck people up. Too much perspective!

I: ‘Like Wow’?

B: I’ve fallen in love with ‘Bittersweet’ again. Getting into the solo a lot. I’ve finally tapped into a sort of John Coltrane thing. Like the Byrd’s doing ‘Eight Miles High’, which was sort of Coltrane influenced.

I: ‘Blow Your Cool’ … which songs do you love playing now?

B:  ‘On My Street’. I love playing that. ‘Where Nowhere Is’. We really get in the MC5 quotient of that these days. Which I love coz I have been in the Monarchs since then.

I: ‘Magnum Come Louder’?

hoodoo-gurusB: ‘Death in the Afternoon’, ‘All the Way’…which we don’t play often enough …’Come Anytime’. Some people say ‘Blow Your Cool’ is their favorite … that it’s the Gurus sound. It wasn’t the album that we wanted to make.  Magnum Come Louder, I think we got the sound right. To make it sound like the band. We produced the album.

I: So the line-up has been the same since this album? With Kingsy and Rick?

B: That’s right. Rick joined in mid ’88,  so he’s still the new boy.

I: He’ll never live that down will he?

B: Yeah it’s only been 21 years.

I: Kinky? Your faves to play?

B: ‘Place in the Sun’.

I: ‘Miss Freelove’?

B:  We can’t not play that. That’s in every night.

I: Crank?

B: ‘The Right Time’. Often the highlight of the night. Always love playing that.

I:  I just noticed you’ve done a version of ‘Little Drummer Boy’?

B: Came up with a sitar version. Like surf instrumental meets raga rock. That appraisal will stop anyone listening to it!

I: ‘Blue Cave’?

B: ‘If Only’, ‘Big Deal.’ Don’t play nearly enough. ‘Waking Up Tired’…

I: ‘Mach Schau’?

B: Where do we put new songs in the set list? ‘Chop’, ‘The Good Son’. We had a layoff for several years. I feel it’s an under-appreciated record. It’s kind of ferocious. Came back re-invigorated. Sick rock and roll shit going on. ‘Bite the Bullet’ was just that.  We had to finally do a live CD of what was at the time our last tour, ’97 .

I: I went to one of those shows. It was awesome … at the Palais in Melbourne.

B: Well that was our last show for 6 or 7 years.

I: So did you intend that to be the last gig ever?

B: We really did. We were breaking up.  It only took a couple of months to realise  that was pretty stupid. We could have just had a holiday!

I: People start to say you are breaking up after you have been together for ages. They’ve been saying that about us.

B: We did feel a lot of pressure from the media. You just hear it. People say you’ve been around for a long time,  it’s about time you broke up. After a while you start to believe it. Around that time, in ’97, post grunge,  there was a new vanguard, and people were saying there’s no room for old fogies in rock anymore. It’s a crazy way to look at it. It’s like saying there’s not enough room all for the stars in the sky. But there’s always room for it if you are doing good music. It was a preposterous notion. But it caught us at our lowest ebb, so we acquiesced, and then realised it was foolish.

I: But during your break you got things out of your system…

B: Yes the Monarchs, Antenna, and the Persian Rugs, which was basically a Guru’s record anyhow. It was the 4 of us anyhow. When we toured, Rick had other things going on and he couldn’t participate. We got Kendall James in, but that could easily be a Guru’s record. Any of that material could easily slot into a Gurus set.

I: Do you think you will ever find the perfect guitar sound?

B: Yeah its tough isn’t it! I am a real sucker too.

I often hear something as a fluke. I walked into my favourite record store the other day and saw Freddy King live in 1966 playing a 345, and thought ‘I got to get one!’ Just on a whim … I could immediately be out of pocket $5000. It takes me weeks to work it out of my system … to rationalise that I already have a mid 60’s Epiphone Casino, some Gretsches kicking around.

I: You can never have enough can you?

B: Well I would love to pair it down to one guitar eventually. I haven’t found out which one guitar yet. I don’t know which one. It might be a 335. I dunno, I love my Les Paul Junior?

I: It would have to be two. I think you need a Tele or something.

B: I could get rid of my Tele. I do have a Strat I could never get rid of. It’s a killer.

I: I don’t think you need to make that decision yet.

B: Mind you Angus Young probably has 1000 SGs … that doesn’t help either.

I: Have you ever been one to practice scales?

B: I took classical and jazz lessons for 7 years. I was pretty crap at it. I think I can still play a major scale.

I have a vague idea of how it works

I: Can you read?

B: No, I could always fake it during lessons, coz I had a pretty good ear.  Really what I was doing was listening, watching fingers, and doing everything apart from reading the music.

I: So what should we encourage the kids?

S:  I would encourage them to do that. Invaluable skill in rock n roll.

I: Okay, can you tell me one touring anecdote?

B: Now you’ve put me on the spot.  I always think I’ve been very fortunate to meet a lot of my heroes.  I met the blokes from Radio Birdman … Iggy Pop came up and said you guys were awesome! Joey Ramone used to always come to gigs in New York. Jimmy Page nearly fell off a balcony when he saw us in 1984, when we were doing a Yardbirds rave up. But the one that caught me off guard was when Steve Jones came up in Lawrence, Kansas when we were playing in an amusement park in a shed. He stuck his head in and said “’ere, you blokes are fucking brilliant… I come ‘ere to look at the Bangles, coz I thought I might want to shag one of ‘em, but you blokes fuckin’ kicked my arse”.

I: That’s brilliant.

B: It totally caught me off guard. You may expect to see Iggy Pop in New York, but you don’t expect to see the guitar player from the Sex Pistols in Kansas.

I: It’s been lovely to speak to you. Thank you.

B: Alright. Good talking to you.

I just want to thank Brad for his time, and also want to point out that the Hoodoo Gurus are extremely excited  about their new record “Purity of Essence”, which  is completed, and due for release in early March next year.