Tumbleweed, Jay Curley and a chunk of Oz rock history

Tumbleweed bassist Jay Curley.
Tumbleweed bassist Jay Curley.

OK, so this is what you do. Seal all the doors and duct tape all the windows. Take the phone off the hook, lock up the kids and tie down the dog. Clamp down all loose objects. 

Next, get yourself a copy of Tumbleweed’s monster single “Stoned” and whack it on the stereo. Now, using all your audio engineering nous, isolate Jay Curley’s bass track, crank it up to 11, grab onto your favourite armchair and hold on for dear life.

This is the purest example of the sickening, low-end gut-churn that a bass guitar can provide. The kind of drone that almost makes you want to vomit in pure ecstasy. Yet, the bass line in this particular song remains refreshingly melodic with a fantastic pop hook. Jay Curley was the perfect exponent of this juxtaposing blend. He did it for many years with aplomb, restraint and great success.

It was with great sadness to learn of his sudden death, August 25, 2014. He was still a young man, only 42. His death, like so many deaths, be it family, friend, movie star or musical hero, got me to reminiscing about the great memories I have of the early 1990s, witnessing brilliant Aussie bands like Tumbleweed live and thinking “F**k America. Australia is where the real shit is at.”

Here is one such memory.

Our hair was long and our flannel shirts were excellent. Oh and we smelt really bad. We certainly were not cool and, to be honest, we certainly did not give a flying f--k. We were on our way to see Nirvana. This is really all that mattered.

It was early 1992. We were dirt poor and could barely afford the tram ticket from Brunswick to St Kilda let alone the 20 dollar golden ticket that would so graciously grant us entry to The Palace music venue to bear witness to the greatest rock act of our generation. This was our Beatles, our Zeppelin, our… Duran Duran? Anyway, it was huge.

So, regardless of lack of funds, we made the necessary pilgrimage. Yours truly, a certain editor of a certain football, sport and pop culture online magazine and a bunch of other low-life, riff-raff degenerates who were actually a lovely bunch of guys but scared the crap out of old ladies everywhere.

The inevitable line-up outside was tedious and kind of tense. I happened to notice that there were a lot more little girlies in the crowd than at a normal gig. 1992’s version of the screaming, idiot Beatle fan it would turn out.

Local Melbourne favourites The Meanies came on first and as usual they were entertaining in their Ramonesy, cartoon punk way. Short, sharp bursts of pop-punk laced with moronic humour and the occasional more comical than intimidating gargly scream of singer Linky Meanie. The sort of band that you now listen to at 40 years old and think, “Yeah, they were OK I guess. Kind of stupid though.” But I loved them then. They were the perfect opening.

What happened next was in my opinion a chunk of infamous Oz rock history. Wollongong’s Tumbleweed. I had been listening to them and their previous incarnation Proton Energy Pills for a couple of years prior but I had not seen them live before. I was not prepared.

The first thing I noticed was that one of the guitarists had a Mosrite guitar, the fuzziest sounding of the fuzzy guitars. In my books, this was cool. MC5’s Fred “Sonic” Smith played one, as did some guy named Johnny Ramone. All the band members had hair longer than us! They looked stinkier, pastier and way more stoned out of their heads than we could ever be. These guys were the real deal. Like psycho hippies from hell. Or something. 

Next Jay’s bass kicked in. And there it was. That disconcertingly nauseating pulse in my stomach. As Jay powered through the intro to early Tumbleweed classic “Space Friends” I, for the first time live, experienced the gut-churn. It was such an uneasy feeling yet melodic to the point of saccharine sweet. Such a bizarre juxtaposition, yet brilliantly effective. The little girlies in the crowd that were there to scream at their precious Kurt had no clue what was happening. They had all only just graduated from EMF or C&C Music Factory or some lame crap like that. They were lost.

The rest though is history. Tumbleweed that day played one of the most blistering sets I have ever seen. Everyone was on that day. Richie (lead vocals) was at his long-haired finger-snapping best with the rest of the band sounding like an even fuzzier Blue Cheer crossed with Monster Magnet laced with every cool '60s garage band that ever existed. They were loud, fast, full of drone, super tight and most importantly, damn entertaining.

Anything post Tumbleweed that day was a let down. Nirvana had nowhere to go and, if I was to be honest, I would say that they left without a whimper. Don’t get me wrong, I love Nirvana and always will but that day they were Scunthorpe United to the 'Weed’s Real Madrid.

Tumbleweed enjoyed some mild chart success that lasted most of the 1990s and forged a reputation as a highly respected live act around the world, becoming kings of the festival and a live favourite among many. Ask anyone that was there and they will tell you, it was all due to that day, when the giant killers from the 'Gong slayed Goliath, leaving him a whimpering, drug-addled, impotent mess.

So remember, listen loud, hold on for dear life.

RIP, Jay Curley.

This post appeared first on the online magazine Shoot Farken.


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