It’s a tough life being a veteran Aussie rocker. TEX PERKINS speaks to SOPHIE BENJAMIN about whooping cough, hernias and his black cattle dog.
They don’t make front men like Tex Perkins anymore. Intelligent, humourous and strangely attractive, Perkins has class and gravitas in spades. Since his noisy entrance onto the Australian music scene with his band The Dum-Dums almost thirty years ago, Perkins has sung with orchestras, hosted television shows and fronted dozens of musical projects, most notably The Beasts Of Bourbon and The Cruel Sea. Cartoonist Bill Leak’s portrait of him won the Packing Room prize, where the gallery staff vote for their favourite paintings in the year’s Archibald entries.
“I’m an absolute veteran!” he enthuses. “In any other career I’d have two gold watches by now.”
But this is the music business and instead of polishing his jewellery, this morning Perkins is battling an attack of whooping cough and nursing the beginnings of a hernia after having surgery for a previous injury earlier this year.
Perkins’ upcoming appearance at the Waterfront Food & Wine Festival is far removed from his adolescent punk beginnings. The event is a day of fine food and dining held at a Gold Coast outdoor arena where Perkins shares a billing with Daryl Braithwaite and MasterChef judge George Calombaris.
“Which one is George?” asks Perkins. “Is he the one with the cravat?” I describe him to Perkins, but there isn’t even the smallest flickering of recognition.
“I didn’t actually watch MasterChef. I’m not saying I chose not to, I have nothing against it, it just wasn’t part of my routine. I’m sure there will be a lot of people happy he’s there.”
There’s nothing like a hectic work schedule to interrupt your weeknight TV-watching plans and Perkins has many special projects on the boil. He’s currently playing the lead role of Johnny Cash in the Melbourne stage show The Man In Black, an all-singing all-dancing production of Cash’s life story. Having spent the first half of 2009 in a white lounge suit crooning covers with Australia’s fifth-best covers band The Ladyboyz, Perkins is keen to cut down on his dry-cleaning expenses.
“I can’t say no to Cash, especially if it’s got a Johnny in front of it. Plus, the black suit’s a lot easier to keep clean.”
It’s not much of a stretch imagining Perkins as Cash. Along with his nonchalant attitude towards both his fans and detractors, his vocal delivery owes more than a little to Cash’s wry tenor and Tex Don and Charlie’s live album was called Monday Morning Coming Down, a reference to the Cash song Sunday Morning Coming Down.
The story is mostly told by his songs, but with a small amount of narration and acting from Perkins and his co-stars. Perkins has recorded voiceovers for documentaries before, but it is Cash’s formidable collection of songs that have given him the most grief.
“I’ve found learning the shitload of lyrics for the songs to be the most challenging part, even though they’re well within my ability. Some of [Cash’s] early stuff like Hey Porter is really rhythmic and The Boy named Sue has ten verses that are all fired out very quickly, so just to get on top of that I had to do a bit of training, stay fairly sober – but that’ll change.”
I point out that Cash himself wasn’t known for staying sober during the early years of his career.
“Yeah but he was Johnny Cash. Don’t worry, I’ll be as drunk as a lord by the time I come to Brisbane.”
At this point Perkins excuses himself to have a coughing fit and resurfaces with a change of mind.
“You know what I told you before? Scratch that. I’m going into rehab next week so I’ll be completely sober.”
Um, right. My polite disbelief must be more audible then I’d anticipated.
He giggles. “Anyway, believe what you want.”
Moving right along, Perkins’ Sounds Of Spring appearance is on the back of his pun-tastically titled back catalogue collection, Songs from my Black Cattle Dog.
The release focuses more on Perkins’ song writing than the sexy showman he was in Beasts Of Bourbon and The Cruel Sea, with the bulk of the release coming from his solo work and his collaboration with Don Walker and Charlie Owen, Tex, Don and Charlie.
“You got the pun? Good on you! I was very surprised at how few people got it. I was talking to Don Walker the other day about it and I asked him if he got it. He was like ‘Yeah, it’s like depression, but Australian depression, like Winston Churchill’s black dog.’
“I did not correct him.”
Many musicians look upon best-of’s as more of a contractual obligation than a bona-fide release. Perkins is somewhere in between.
“I certainly did choose it and it was my idea, but it is very much based on the idea that it is a record company ‘thing’. It’s the end of my contract with Universal and while it fulfils a typical record company kind of function, I’m happy to do it because it gives me a chance to look back over a body of work. It’s a ‘farewell and goodnight’ sort of thing.”
Not that it’s a particularly sad farewell on his part.
“The actual role of record companies is redundant. All musicians need nowadays is a good distributor and a good publicist. Record companies have been allowed to be really wasteful and indulgent, with money going to the wrong people for shit reasons and I’m pleased to see the demise of them.”
For a man who describes his career as one of “many tentacles”, the obvious question is – where to now?
“Exactly. Many places and all sorts of things. I just don’t know what’s going to pop up next and it’s all very interesting to me. I’ve managed to do all these other things and I’m still twangin’ away at my guitar and singing songs.
“A bloke like me’s gotta do somethin’.”
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