Balmain, Sydney.Late 1980s.
I lived in the western suburbs of Sydney at the time, in various share houses, and was getting into playing harmonica and singing. Often I would travel down Victoria Road and head to the Balmain area. It was a busy road then and one wonders what it would be like now.
The Balmain and Rozelle part of Sydney was a Mecca of blues and R&B music at that time, making that trip was paramount to my music development, hearing and seeing the top Sydney blues bands. Names like the Fore Day Riders or The Hippos come to mind, I remember going to the Riders and seeing them on their 20th anniversary at the Cat and Fiddle Hotel and then making the trip with friends to their 40th at Windsor in Sydney’s far north west, all those years later.
The band that holds a special place in my heart was The Mighty Reapers of Vengeance. They would drop the Vengeance tag later but it didn’t have any effect on the brand of soul-drenched blues they played. The band came flooding back to me recently as I was writing about my extended stay in hospital in the winter of 2018.
I was allowed home for a visit, with an occupational therapist and a physio looking at how I would cope with life back at home. Somewhat excited to see our cat Mishka again as I had been away a couple of months by then, her indifference to me was a little understandable. I would have smelled like the hospital and I certainly sounded strange, not being able to speak properly. But it didn’t stop her rubbing up against the physio’s leg. Jess, the physio, later told me that she wasn’t too keen on cats and it made things all the more harder.
I remembered a song the Mighty Reapers did, sung by their amazing guitarist Dave Brewer. It was an old Robert Johnson song – Stop Breaking Down. The lyrics were changed a bit, making it more palatable and less violent than the original.
I don’t believe you really love me, you just like how the music sounds.
That line has stuck with me all these years and with our Mishka’s behaviour, it rang true for cats as well.
To YouTube I ventured, as you do these days, looking for the Reapers. Was there anything of them up there? I have a few of their albums on my computer but hadn’t looked for them online. There is a bit to be explored and well worth a listen and look. I found a song that I loved, and the band always performed, Good Time Charlie, an old Bobby Blue Bland tune.
The Mighty Reapers did a wonderful version with Continental Robert Susz on vocals and harp. It was very cool. The rhythm section, really pumping along as they always did.
The Mighty Reapers of Vengeance were formed out of the ashes of the Dynamic Hepnotics, and in my thinking were way better. A mix of soul and blues that I hadn’t encountered live before, it had a big impact on me.
I think it was the Blacktown RSL or Workers club, we had a memorable night, when the Dynamic Hepnotics and Mental as Anything were on the same bill. I was thinking about taking playing the harmonica more seriously so getting to see and hear Robert Susz and Andrew ‘Greedy’ Smith on the same night, both playing some great harp was an inspiration.
Along with my date, who spewed into a schooner class and kept right on dancing, that has also stayed in my mind.
I think Good Time Charlie is a wonderful example of a sound you don’t hear a lot these days from Australian blues bands. Perhaps I’m wrong and finally nostalgia has crept into me, too. By the way, the cat has gotten used to me again.