Rose Tattoo began as a dark, brooding vision conjured up by Peter Wells, the imposing figure who had played bass with Sydney street punks, Buffalo. What he wanted to create was the loudest, most aggressive rock 'n' roll outfit the planet had ever seen. Inspired by Ry Cooder's work with Frank Zappa associate, Captain Beefhart, Peter switched to slide guitar and set about forging a brutal, slashing style.
This move created a vacancy in his monster band vision for a bass player and Ian Rilan was drafted. A tiny howler of a vocalist from Melbourne by the name of Angry Anderson who had fronted the notorious Buster Brown - which featured later AC/DC drummer, Phil Rudd and bass player Geordie Leach who would end up on Tattoo's rank - and a young guitarist, Mick Cook's were looking for just the sort of band Peter was working on.
On one of Angry's recruiting trips to Sydney he and Mick got together with Peter and Ian and blasted out in a basement in Petersham and Rose Tattoo was born.
The band were round off with another Melbourne dweller, Dallas "Digger" Royal on drums. The band's first "official" show was on New Year's Eve 1976 at Sydney's Bondi Lifesaver and it wasn't just the volume and aggression that drew attention.
For the first six months or so their existence, Tattoo were a sullen glare of cropped fluoro pink and orange hair in denim and black with tattoos that gave them an almost tribal look. Guns 'n' Roses took on a similar look almost a decade later. The police force who were yet to hear of the Sex Pistols reckoned they had stumbled across a gang of aliens and kept the band under close...er...scrutiny. Pub owners were terrified that booking the band would just invite rioting and violence. For sometime their only two haunts in Sydney were the Bondi Lifesaver and Chequers.
Soundwise, Tattoo played a skull crushing mutation of Litte Richard, The Rolling Stones, The Faces and Chuck Berry all driven by Wells' gutteral slide, Angry's field holler vocals and a ferocity that made audiences as pals as the skin of the band themselves.
Bon Scott and Angus Young regularly joined the band on stage and it was on their recommendation that former Easybeats and production legends for the famed Albert label, Harry Vanda and George Young first went to see them. The pair liked what they witnessed and produced the band's first single for Alberts, the 1977 true classic, Bad Boy For Love. Ian Rilen who wrote the song left just after the release of the single which much to everones surprise was a hit.
By the time the band recorded their first album in 1978 which was filled with living, breathing and often bleeding tales of street gang violence, drug dealers and the simple, soul saving joy of rock 'n' roll, Geordie Leach had been recruited to consolidate the linup.
Guns 'n' Roses later recorded the album's Nice Boys and subsequent single were Rock 'n' Roll Outlaw and One Of The Boys which got the band banned on the Countdown programme after Angry and Mick Cooks "kissed" during the song (they were on fact swapping chewing gum).
A version of The Kinks' You Really Got Me was recorded but never released. Around 1979, Mick and Georgie took leave of absence and the band continued on as a tour piece with guitar godfather and the early seventies' leader of Melbourne's infamous Coloured Balls Lobby Loyd on incredibly loud bass.
That lineup went to went to the U.S. in 1980 and recorded in the Hollywood studios of expatriot Australian hard rock king, Billy Thorpe. Those sessions which included the use of synthesisers and backward guitar techniques were the advance blueprint for the 1982 album. Scared For Life have never been released and remain in the vaults. In 1981, the band regrouped, recorded the Assault And Battery album and carried out a search and destroy mission on Europe and the U.K. to capitalise on the glowing response imported copies of the first album had received in those parts.
The Tatts were greeted as metal's new gurus despite the fact they were closer to the Stones then to Judas Priest. They played at London's legendary Marqee (the club's manager reportedly reakoned the only band to eclipse Tattoo's volume was Led Zeppelin), terrified a television studio audience in Bremen, Germany with their onslaught and made it into the cover of the then prestigious music paper, Sound. The tour highlight had to be an unforgettable set at the Reading Festival during which Angry headbutted the amp stacks until blood poured from his forehead. Mick Cooks left the band during the tour and mountainous former Dallimore guitar beast, Rockin' Rob Riley was hastily flown to Europe.
Back in Australia in 1982, the band recorded the Scarred For Life album once more with producers, Vanada and Young, before heading off to America for dates with Aerosmith and ZZ Top. When they returned the band again hit the Australian traps but Peter Wells, Dallas Royall (who died of cancer a few years ago) and Rob Riley left soon after, Angry carried on with Georgie Leach and recorded the slightly more reflective Southern Cross album in 1984.
Since that time the Rose Tattoo legend has expanded to massive proportions. From Texas with a band called Poison 13 who not only sounded like the Tatts but looked like them as well to Mexico and of course Los Angeles with the likes of Johhny Crash and Guns 'n' Roses, the spirit of Rose Tattoo is a magical aura. I never expect to see the like of them again.
Linernotes for the "Nice Boys don´t play Rock´n´Roll" Compilation 1992 by Murray Engleheart