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For Diesel, the blues are never far away. From Come to Me to last year’s Days Like These to his blues-based 1996 collaboration with Chris Wilson, Short Cool Ones, he’s always infused the spirit and the sound into his music.
But Diesel’s blues have never been as blues-to the-wall as they are on Project Blues: Saturday Suffering Fools, a loose-limbed, fired-up trawl through the music that inspired one of Australia’s rock legends. “The album is like an encyclopaedia of what blues is to me,” Diesel says. “You’ve got your Chicago style from the 50s, you’ve got the 70s funkier blues, the feral mountain blues, and there’s an Australian tinge too, that colonial, convict blues.”
Rather than continuing down the same road as Short Cool Ones, the new album Project Blues: Saturday Suffering Fools takes a sharp left turn. “Having done the harmonica and guitar thing, I thought about the whole thing with horns,” Diesel recalls. That thought led straight to Bernie Bremond, erstwhile Johnny Diesel and the Injectors saxophonist who now lives and plays in Darwin. “He’s been down or I’ve been up there and we’ve jammed, but officially, we hadn’t done any recording since 1991, when I left the band,” Diesel says. “It was really cool, it was like we picked up where we left off, but it was still obvious we’d done an awful lot in between – some things stay the same, some things change.”
With Bernie on board, another thought occurred – building a horn section around him. Enter Hank, Mike and Brian Lizotte – Diesel’s father and two brothers. “My Dad had a lot to do with it, he kept saying ‘When are we gonna do that blues album? I’m not getting any younger!’ So I thought I better do this pretty soon, ’cos you just never know.” So Dad flew up from Tassie, and with drummer Lee Moloney and bassist Richie Vez anchoring proceedings, Diesel’s Project Blues was go.
Choosing the songs wasn’t hard – these are tracks Diesel has lived and loved for years, mixed with five off-the cuff originals inspired by the vibe of the covers he was picking. Then it was just a case of throwing the boys in the studio and letting rip. “It’s not a manicured blues album by any means,” Diesel laughs. “Everything’s blaring into everything, the guitar’s coming through my vocal mic and vice versa, but that’s how they were doing it in those original recordings.” It was fast – 15 tracks recorded in eight days – and it was fun. As Diesel says, “If you’re not having fun, then chances are no one else is going to have fun when they’re listening to it.”
The album’s title, Saturday Suffering Fools, is taken from one of the originals in the Project Blues set, Walkin’ the Blues – “The line says ‘They say Saturday night was meant for suffering fools, but Sunday comes just like a kick from a mule’,” Diesel explains. “It’s about going out like a squirrel trying to find a nut on a Saturday night. Every musician knows Saturday is the night everyone goes out and plays but you have to suffer idiots. It fitted with the album – you have to suffer to play the blues… especially on Saturday nights.”
So, has Diesel now done enough suffering for the blues to go another thirteen years between drinks? “I don’t tend to stay on anything for too long – attention deficit disorder,” he admits. “I don’t think it’s ever left the building, but this has rekindled a want to infuse the blues in with my music again in a more obvious way.”