Tangled up in blues

RAY PURVIS, The West Australian November 27, 2012, 9:23 am
Tangled up in blues

John Hood with the Elks.

It was an early exposure in 1963 to the primal sounds of the Rolling Stones - "something to do with the harmonica, the slide guitar and the rhythm" - that lured Mosman Park schoolboy John Hood into a lifelong obsession with the blues and guitar playing.

Inspired by the pervasive sounds of British R&B - as well as live performances by Bay City Union (whose lead singer and harmonica player was Matt Taylor) and Jeff St John and the Id - he started learning blues guitar and harmonica in 1967.

Soon he immersed himself in hard-to-find blues albums by such seminal figures as Mike Bloomfield, Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Jimmy Reed.

Hood's engrossing musical autobiography, For the Love of Music, traces his formative years with local bands My Grandfathers Blues and the Jellyroll Bakers. These bands were the start to his mid-60s and 70s association with such Perth Blues Mafia characters as Reg and Ivan Zar, Steve Tallis, Peter Walker, Scott Wise and Rob Searls. Many of these amazing players are still active on the music scene today.

Perth clubs and nightspots such as The Hole in the Wall, Anzac House, The Gaslight Cavern, Firecracker and The Troupador are all affectionately remembered. There's even an interesting passage about the guitarist's struggle with National Service. At his conscientious objection trial at the local court in Beaufort Street his lawyer was young Perth barrister (and later premier) Peter Dowding.

The book details such highlights as his early success in Sid Rumpo, the blues-rock band that earned a name with consistently powerful live performances. They won the 1972 Perth Hoadleys' Battle of the Sounds, signed with Mushroom Records and played at the historic 1973 Sunbury Rock Festival.

Hood helped start 78 Records - Perth's first import record shop, well known for its distinctive Blind Lemon Jefferson logo - that is still going strong today. He left the partnership at the height of the shop's success in 1977. Included with the book is a 13-track CD of highlights from the blues musician's varied past.

The cuts include such artefacts as the Jellyroll Bakers' recording of Off the Wall (only 6 acetate pressings exist), Sailing, as performed live at the 1973 Sunbury Rock Festival, and previously unheard tracks by bands like Bitch, the Units and the Roosters. Interspersed between the book's chapters are thumbnail portraits of such legendary blues players as (his two favourite blues guitarists) Otis Rush and Freddy King, Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Little Walter.

The author's name is probably best associated with the blues-rock band the Elks, that featured the Zar brothers, guitarist Dave Brewer and singer Terry Serio.

The band formed in 1976 after a private party in Cottesloe and they initially drew on covers of songs by Chicago electric blues legends Waters, Wolf and Williamson before expanding their repertoire with self-written compositions. The Elks became local legends as a result of their performances at hotels. Bassist Howard Shawcross (now with the DomNicks) later joined the line-up. The band toured the Eastern States, issued the 3RRR-FM radio broadcast cassette FM Live and in 1978 recorded the Taylor-produced album Refer to Drawer, which was recorded at the Will Upson Studios in North Fremantle.

After their split in 1982 all members went on to pursue careers in music: Terry Serio starred in the Seven Network's mini Series Shout! The Story of Johnny O'Keefe and Dave Brewer joined the Dynamic Hepnotics and the Catholics. He now plays in Don Walker's backing band, the Lucky Strikes.

After a stint in the Roosters and Steve Tallis & the Opposition, Hood formed the view that "the authentic Perth blues scene had ended for him".

Regrettably, the autobiography skates across his latter musical years and doesn't do justice to his solo career - which includes the release of 2002 albums Blue and Oceans, reflecting his broad music interests.

The book also falls short in failing to include a discography and an index of all the amazing local characters - from Alistair Norwood (of Jeans West fame) to Jeff Hudson, David Zampatti, Billy Rogers, Linda Nutter, Dave Hole and Diana Warnock - who appear in the pages.

Despite these omissions, this is an enthralling and informative read for everyone interested in the Perth blues scene in the 1960s and 70s.

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