Relentless touring is a punishing experience and can take a physical and mental toll on a band but veteran Australian pub rockers, The Johnnys, thrived on it.
“Oh mate, we were maniacs!” says The Johhnys' founding member, and Kiwi ex-pat Graham Hood, “we absolutely loved it.”
“We were the hardest working band in Australia one year. We did something like 265 shows, sometimes three a day.”
In the van which they nicknamed ‘the rubber room’ - he doesn’t explain why - the band would play jokes on each other, drink, and “take speed so we could drink more.”
“It was one hell of a ride, I can tell ya,” Graham laughs.
And one that almost cost them their lives when they were driving back from Bendigo at three in the morning.
The driver, possibly annoyed at the boys calling out for a ‘piss stop’, told everyone to put on their seatbelts before suddenly pulling the handbrake while they were driving at about 130km/h, causing the van to roll, and sending it skating down the highway on its roof.
Despite manager Roger Grierson missing the memo about the safety belt, everyone managed to crawl out the smashed windows unscathed.
“No one was hurt – it was amazing,” he says as though it was a minor incident on the road.
The band is heading to New Zealand to play five shows this week, where they’ll knock out their high-energy repertoire and pay tribute to their bandmate, Kiwi guitarist Spencer P. Jones who passed away in August.
Formed in Sydney in 1982, The Johnnys are described as a cross between country singer Marty Robbins and The Sex Pistols.
They recorded eight singles and three albums, relentlessly touring Australia and earning a reputation as the indisputable rough riding champions of self-styled ‘cowpunk’ (cowboy-punk).
Graham says the band met Kiwi Spencer P. Jones when he was playing in bands in Melbourne: “We went down there to tour as a three-piece. He saw us and liked us immediately.”
“About two days later he turned up in Sydney with his guitar. Got him into the rehearsal room, drank a lot of beer (of course) ... He just sort of turned up and started playing and never went back to Melbourne.”
Although The Johnnys drew massive crowds and frequently appeared on television, they never hit the big time like fellow pub rockers Cold Chisel.
Not that they really cared.
“We didn’t give a toss about any of that. We were just four cowboys coming into town a’hooping and a’hollering and drinking the liquor cabinet dry and moving on.”
It was an attitude that likely led to their demise: “Not only were we out of control, I still had a punk ethic and I didn’t particularly want to get involved in record industry politics.”
Besides that, Australian audiences didn’t really “get” the cowboy aesthetic they were going for which, he explains, was a joke they thought was “hilarious”.
Graham reckons things might have been different if the band had worn the “uniform” of those heady pub rocking days.
“There wasn’t enough black t-shirts with the sleeves cut off and the wraparound black glasses,” he says.
The Johnnys tour details:
- Wed Sept 26: The Cook, Dunedin (with Bulletproof Convertible)
- Thurs Sept 27: Blue Smoke, Christchurch (with Lindon Puffin)
- Fri Sept 28: San Fran, Wellington (with The Rubberneckers)
- Sat Sept 29: Galatos, Auckland (with The Bads)
- Sun Sept 30 (twilight show): Sawmill, Leigh (with The Bads)