The life and fast times of rock legend Tex Perkins
Tex Perkins stands sneering and snarling on stage, taunting a boozed-up crowd at Melbourne’s Lava Lounge.
It’s 1997 and the Beasts of Bourbon frontman is angry and drunk.
The band has come from a Japanese restaurant in the city where they have been throwing down sake, getting “a special kind of drunk where anything can happen”.
And it does.
Mid-gig the riled up crowd is starting to lob rubbish and bottles on stage and they’re coming dangerously close to bass player Henry Hooper. So Tex takes control.
“Don’t throw bottles at the band — throw them at me!” he yells.
Well, he asked for it. On cue, a well-placed bottle comes flying from the back of the room and hits Tex right in the middle of the forehead.
There’s blood everywhere but, as Tex recounts to News Breakfast, it all added to the flavour.
“I was like, ‘Ha, ha! NOW we’ll have a show!’,” he said.
“You know, I’ve always felt that the audience could become my adversary at any second.”
Twenty years after that night — which ended in a trip to the emergency room — the Australian rock master has released a searing, honest memoir of his life in the industry.
Covering his years fronting some of the most intense rock ‘n’ roll bands like The Cruel Sea and The Dark Horses, the book — simply titled Tex — revels in the mayhem.
But it also reveals a softer, shier side to the sometimes angry young man who played out that infamous set covered in his own blood.
And it may help to explain why Tex says he’s finding this current stage of his career one of the most fulfilling.
The origins of ‘Tex’
The Tex of today seems slightly different to what you might expect, given the stories.
The 52-year-old appears more relaxed and humble, as though the accolades and fanbase kind of happened by luck rather than through skill and a certain force of will.
The passing of time, he says, gives you perspective.
“You get enough distance and you look back at horrible things and you have a chuckle about it,” he said.
“I go to some grubby places, some dark places [in the memoir] and if there wasn’t a gag or a joke on every page … that’s what life should really be about, you know?”
Born Gregory Stephen Perkins to a “white, lower middle-class, Labor-voting Catholic” family, Tex grew up on an eclectic music diet.
His dad liked country and western singer Marty Robbins while his mum favoured the likes of Perry Como, Val Doonican and “those kind of light crooners”.
It’s not surprising, then, that Tex and the Beasts of Bourbon would have their big break with 1984 album The Axeman’s Jazz and with it the wildly popular crooner single, Psycho.
It was the start of something big for Tex in particular.
Over the next two decades he would join The Cruel Sea and start his own projects like Tex, Don and Charlie.
By 1993 he was playing alongside Iggy Pop and Nick Cave and in 1995 he and The Cuel Sea were touring with The Rolling Stones.
“People saw something in my ability to create a spectacle and that was a good element to have in a front man,” he says.
“I got into bands for that reason, before they knew anything could come out of my mouth.”
Coming down the mountain
It was 1993 and Tex was big business.
He’d flown into New York where his manager had lined up for him and partner Kristyna to go along to the filming of Saturday Night Live where Nirvana was the headline music act.
Milling in the hallways were the Red Hot Chilli Peppers and Sonic Youth. In the dressing room Courtney Love was fussing over Kurt Cobain.
For Tex, it was too much.
“It was the most popular band in the world, on the most popular American television show, and I don’t know, it was just like, ‘What the hell am I doing here?!'”
“I’d been invited and accepted by these ultra cool A-listers but I’d never felt like more of a jerkoff B-grader in my life.”
When the show ended, Tex was invited to the after party but instead mumbled some excuse about jetlag and fled to his hotel room where he instead watched a Twilight Zone marathon on TV.
Was it nerves at meeting his rock idols that made him leave? Was the mood off? Or did he feel like the outsider in the rock world, despite his impressive record to date?
“You know, Kurt Cobain was gone less than six months from that moment. So maybe I felt that, maybe that vibe,” he said.
“Once you get to the top of the mountain, the only way is down.”
Finding joy after the mayhem
Most musicians are fortunate if they can make an impact with one band. Or even one song. The many iterations of Tex, however, can be put down to what he calls “playing the long game”.
“We’re workers in song,” he says of his bandmates. In other words, his “kind of people”, as he puts it, are about substance, not just style.
When asked if he has a favourite stage of his career, Tex simply says he’s “pretty happy right now”.
“I love the fact that I can still work after all these years without having to be at the top of the charts or [worry about] all that sort of supposed success,” he said.
Tex, Don and Charlie have just released a new album and plan to tour soon. Tex also found success and joy channelling Johnny Cash in the acclaimed Man In Black theatre show.
And throughout it all there are the family ties.
Having fathered five children — his first at age 25 — Tex has been a parent for more than half his life.
He admits there were struggles at first, but says now he couldn’t be prouder of his kids.
“I’m still at the coal face, I’m still right there, you know, up to my elbows in it and loving it,” he said.
In fact, he took his son on tour recently and put him to work with the crews each night. But does he expect his kids to follow in his footsteps and mimic his exploits?
The dedication written at the start of his memoir might answer that.
“To my beautiful children. Stop reading right now. Seriously.”
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