The latest thrilling incarnation of master rock'n'roll storyteller Tex Perkins and the Fat Rubber Band began with a Link Wray record.
Perkins and his respected musician, songwriter, producer and bandmate Matt Walker share a mutual admiration of the American electric guitar innovator, whose iconic power chords in his signature 50s rock'n'roll instrumentals, had a profound influence on the evolution of rock guitar. The pair have enjoyed countless musical conversations over the decade while hanging out backstage and on the road with Perkins' award-winning The Man In Black - The Johnny Cash Story, with Walker playing guitar in the Tennessee Four band for the theatrical production.
When Perkins enthused about his partner finding him a rare vinyl copy of Link Wray’s Beans and Fatback album, recorded in 1971, Walker’s response initiated a flurry of creative endeavour which would ultimately result in the formation of the Fat Rubber Band.
“There’s a couple of albums he recorded in a chicken shack on his brother Vernon’s farm, known as the Three Track Shack recordings - one was a self-titled album and the follow-up called Beans and Fatback, which is a little more rare. My partner Kristyna knew I was a fan of that record and she’s an eBay ninja and she found a vinyl copy. After I immediately hugged and thanked her for it, I took a picture of it and sent it to Matt Walker. And the fateful words came back: ‘Awesome, let’s make an album like that.’ And that was it. We were on!”
Throughout his four-decade career as a captivating performer, compelling songwriter and dexterous vocalist, Perkins has sought collaborators who both shared his passion for music and challenged his creativity. From his first band Tex Deadly and the Dum Dums, through the fertile tension of Beasts of Bourbon and chart-slaying The Cruel Sea, his musical bromances with Tex, Don and Charlie and TnT side hustle with Tim Rogers, and myriad bands - Thug, Dark Horses, The Band of Gold, The Ape and yes, the Ladyboyz - Perkins extraordinary adaptability has allowed him to explore and push the boundaries of traditional music forms from hard rock and heavy noise to country folk balladry and blues grooves. All with his unmistakable baritone and sly sense of humour.
But the Fat Rubber Band was clearly destined, with Perkins and Walker quickly trading songs for the project like a song-writing tennis match perpetually swinging back to deuce. Walker offered the debut album’s opening track, the wide-screen drama of Pay The Devil’s Due; Perkins responded with the plaintive blues of My Philosophy. Walker replied with the album’s fuzz driven debut single Danger Has Been Kind and Perkins countered with the glacially-paced, intimate Poor Simple Minded Fool.
The pair road-tested their works in progress as a duo before enlisting bassist Steve Hadley, drummer Roger Bergodaz and Evan Richards on percussion to complete the Fat Rubber Band line-up to record the album’s ten tracks at Walker’s Stovepipe Studios in Victoria’s Dandenong Ranges.
“At Matt’s studio - you open the door to the studio and nature floods in,” Perkins says. “We wanted it to sound rural, to feel the dirt and the grass and the leaves.”
Even after all these decades, when you think you know that gravelly baritone inside out, Perkins finds new emotional tones in the service of the Fat Rubber Band’s songs vivid narratives, with their characters wrestling, but sometimes dancing, with the tougher, darker qualities of the human condition. This is truly existential blues. Bubbling underneath those upfront vocals and raw harmonies are intricately entwined guitar conversations and unexpected percussive flourishes.
“Another aspect that we wanted was for the sound to be sometimes a collision and sometimes a marriage of acoustic and electric instruments. We wanted that tension between mandolins and bouzoukis meeting fuzz guitars. We also considered percussion to be a vital element of the sound we were going for; we noticed in the recordings we loved from the 50s and 60s that often the tambourine hit, or the maracas, or whatever percussion, was right up there in the mix, right next to the vocal,” Perkins says.
“The last characteristic of the music we wanted to pursue was harmonies, vocal harmonies. Not only have Matt and I discovered we can weave instinctively around each other’s singing, really well, we also have three other great vocalists in the group, so five part harmonies is what we end up with on songs like Love Long Gone and Trouble Goodbye, it can be breath-taking….literally.”
This is end times existential electric country funk folk rock swamp witch blues, its way out there, but it’s here right now.