WHEN frontman Tex Perkins corralled all the members of The Beasts of Bourbon’s various incarnations together at Melbourne’s Soundpark Studio last winter there was a sense of urgency in the air.
Bassist Brian Hopper, 55, had just died of lung cancer, a week after performing at his own benefit gig, and the band’s legendary guitarist Spencer P. Jones was battling his own long-term health problems that would end his life two months later aged 62.
The session began initially as a Beasts Of Bourbon reunion. There was no promise that anything would be achieved other than a welcome catch up over beers and war stories.
But it was as if the black clouds hovering over the bunch of old friends revitalised and refocused the infamously ferocious hard rockers.
Soon the ideas flowed from various members – Perkins, Kim Salmon, Charlie Owen, Boris Sujdovi and Tony Pola – and the end result was Still Here, the band’s first studio album since 2007’s Little Animals.
However, after Jones died in August the decision was made to drop “Of Bourbon” and simply call the band The Beasts.
What is obvious, however, is The Beasts have lost none of The Beasts Of Bourbon’s trademark rock’n’roll growl in what is a fitting tribute to Hooper and Jones.
“There had to be some energy there for it to just happen,” Salmon says.
“We weren’t a band on their third album struggling to find material, it was like, ‘what you got? Alright let’s do this’. We were brimming with inspiration, ideas and energy.”
The show-stopping moment of Still Here is undoubtedly Jones’ final song, At The Hospital. Due to his deteriorating health, the influential six-stringer only managed to perform the one song for the album.
The slow bluesy track illustrated Jones’ black humour about his fast-approaching mortality and his knack for observation in the lyrics, “There’s a clean waiting room, there’s a sense of pending doom, at the hospital.”
Salmon says it was fairly obvious to everyone that At The Hospital would be Jones’ farewell.
“Spencer made it onto that one track and directed it and played acoustic guitar on it,” he says.
“He wasn’t in much shape to be physical with how he performed it and directed it, but he managed to make it known how it should be and what he wanted. We’re very happy for him to have made it on there.”
An old Hooper solo song What The Hell Was I Thinking was also re-recorded for the album as a tribute.
Drummer James Baker contributed Drunk On A Train, Sujdovic offered Don’t Pull Me Over and Perkins wrote On My Back and Just Let Go.
Salmon’s Pearls Before Swine was also finally recorded after it was initially written for The Beasts Of Bourbon years ago to poke fun at the band’s supposed bad boy image, with the lyrics, “They like to call me the magnate of decadence and depravity/But shit has me drowned because I’m just a magnet and it works like gravity.”
“I’m so happy about that because I always thought it was a theme song for the band and that was my intention to write one, even though I’d left,” Salmon says.
“To do a song like that you can’t just approach it as a boast, you have to be a bit self-deprecating.
“It’s easy enough to interpret it the wrong way, but I talked them through it and now it’s bit of a favourite, so I’m very happy about that.”
The Beasts were so impressed with Still Here they’ve decided to reform and tour the new material and their greatest hits.
It will mark Salmon’s first full-time involvement with the band since 1993, barring his handful of appearances in 2013 which included shows at Bluesfest and All Tomorrow’s Parties.
The Beasts Of Bourbon could be an notoriously volatile band. Asked if everyone within the band had mellowed, Salmon says with a laugh: “We’ve perhaps all learnt to give each other space.
“It’s up to everyone to be who they are. It’s not that anyone is easier to get along with, it’s we’ve all learnt to accommodate more.”
Salmon, who also fronts post-punk stalwarts The Scientists, can even see The Beasts recording more albums and continuing to tour beyond their upcoming run of dates.
“It’ll probably happen,” he says. “There’s a good chance. I can see a way of it working.
“I can understand how to get everyone involved and make stuff happen. It’s one thing you get with age.”
The Beasts release Still Here next Friday and will perform at Newcastle’s Cambridge Hotel on March 9.