Mark Lizotte is the greatest singer-songwriter-guitarist of our time! Yes that’s a big statement, but I defy anybody to propose someone who is better? Someone who is more the complete musician. An artist who can sing, play and write with equal brilliance. As a front man and vocalist his soaring voice could stand on its own. As a guitarist; effortless and innovative matching it with any “legendary” blues player I’ve ever seen and listened to. Apart from having hit songs, his writing is melodic, diverse and always interesting. At each show you go to you’ll get to hear a new variation or arrangement of his songs.
Who else can put all these three elements together?
Mark was born in the USA and moved to Perth when he was young. One of seven kids he was playing in Perth pub bands as a teenager. His first prominent band was the The Innocent Bystanders. I think I first saw them or what was to become them, in the 1980’s at an under-age punk band gig in Northbridge. My brother Carlo had been jamming at school with some of the guys from the band. So we went to check them out at this gig where they were supporting some punk band.. or it may have even been a band comp. I’ll never forget, we were the 3 “trendies” (relatively speaking) outnumbered 200 to one by mods/punks. I’ll also never forget how the punks/mods streamed out of the venue in protest once the “rock” band hit the stage. Actually as I write this I remember we were also there with friends from school who had a band playing that night which would become Cinema Prague.
Mark became “Johnny Diesel” in Johnny Diesel & the Injectors which was the band in which he first tasted national success with top ten singles “I Don’t Need Love”, “Soul Revival” and “Cry In Shame”. Their self titled album being the highest selling record in Australia in 1990. Mark then went solo and moved to the USA for extended periods and wrote and recorded a further 5 albums.
In 1999 he released Soul Lost Companion which was a totally different style of record to anything he had written previously. A more mellow tone to his voice – sometimes barely recognisable – but still equally as good. Since about 2006 with the release of his album Coathanger Antena, Diesel has been back playing more regularly around Australia with bassist Ritchie Vez and drummer Lee Moloney. The album “Days Like These” (2008) was written with Ritchie and Lee. They have been the core of Diesel’s lineup on records and out playing live. Diesel has never sounded so good!
This year they have been touring supporting Diesel’s blues record – Project Blues – Saturday Suffering Fools, I expected Friday night’s show at the Fly By Night Club in Fremantle would be similar to shows he did early this year – “Blues & Hits” which was a combination of songs from the newer albums (blues) and some older songs. The Fly By is my favourite venue to play at and see bands in Perth so I was looking forward to hear how big the 3 piece Diesel sound would be on the Fly’s system.
First up was a nice surprise – a cover!! Jimi Hendrix’s “Spanish Castle Magic” which in the mix to me had bigger drums. Probably because Lee seemed to add more drive by playing less “ghostling” snare hits. I like Diesel’s voice better than Jimi’s so hearing him sing and play it was by no way the let down you sometimes you get when someone does a cover – let alone a Jimi Hendrix cover!! Diesel’s sunburst Fender Strat got a good first up workout, I hadn’t seen him play this guitar before. He kept the Strat going for “Love Junk” which has a cool slap bass part for Ritchie on his white American Fender Jazz.
Out came the beautiful White Gretsch Falcon for one of my favourite old Johnny Diesel songs – “Looking for Love”. We sometimes cover this song in Stellas Kitchen. This song is old school Diesel rock. Diesel stays on the Falcon and makes it really sing and soar in “Please Send Me Someone to Love” a Percy Mayfield blues ballad which Diesel overdrives his voice almost Louie Armstrong style. Ritchie switches to the electric upright bass which adds that extra percussive see-saw blues authenticity.
Next was “I Don’t Need Love” which was Diesel’s first ever hit song. Diesel brings out his small bodied 2nd hand Stella 6 string acoustic which he proudly exclaims he bought on ebay for $75. The song is also scaled back to a half-time Rock-a-billy slide guitar version – nothing like the raw rock guitar slamming original recording. The Falcon comes out again for another cover, this time of Neil Young’s “Cinnamon Girl” giving Diesel and Ritchie a chance to vocalise the nice poppy harmonies of the song. By about half way through the song which although played a little quicker than the original (dragged less) I started to lose interest.
Thankfully Diesel got back into more of his own songs with “Never Miss Your Water”, “Come to Me”, “Whiskey & Weed”, “Tip of my Tongue” and “Dig”. “Whiskey & Weed” is a new song off his blues album which has again a great rock-a-billy blues feel to it. “Come to Me” and “Tip of My Tongue” always get new arrangements and extended treatment with plenty of crowd singalong participation. With Diesel using his acoustic also to great percussive effect (unlike hippy-mafia lame arse pretender John Butler – *shudder).
Next was “Parisienne Hotel” , an old B side Johnny Diesel & the Injectors song played on the little Stella guitar was a great revisit to the old days of pub band touring. Played with a slide I really enjoyed hearing this song live for the first time. I really always love hearing the melodic “Dig”. Its melodic all the way through it from the catchy guitar theme intro, the vocal – particularly in the verses and guitar solo-ing ending. Songwriting awesome-ness!!
This all brought us to the encore in which lead off with a “new” song which I’m not sure if it was actually a cover or one of his own? It was based around a somewhat familiar sounding guitar riff which made me think it was a cover – but I still couldn’t pick the chorus. I will have to do more research into this one. “Cry In Shame” – another crowd singing favourite got a mid song “Reggae-ish” treatment with a roaring cascading ending.
It all becomes hard to believe just how good and better musos like these guys are. I’ve walked out at the end of Diesel gigs being both inspired and then devastated in just how far off the mark I am as a player. If the Hondo II was still alive I’d kick it and set fire to it some more. But in a crazy world where it seems so much mediocrity is exalted especially in popular music, for that two hours or so at a Diesel show I remember why I love guitar and music.
Even for a short time I get to believe all is not lost and good music is still alive. And music is only about music. There is no trashy take your shirt off leather pant wearing jumping off or swinging from scaffolding supposed “showmanship”. No open sexualisation gimmickness or hiding behind backing tracks or “dancers” or laser light shows! The man who owns the store, runs the store! Songwriting, singing and performing brilliance. I’ll keep going back for more, I don’t care if you don’t!!