FRED NEGRO the STUMPY interview[Originally published in Stumpy V, early 1995]
ST KILDA DRINKING LEGEND... COUNTRY & WESTERN STAR... CARTOONIST... EXHIBITIONIST... CHICKEN FUCKER...
He's played in St Kilda bands since 1979, in the likes of I Spit On Your Gravy and Brady Bunch Lawnmower Massacre, and most recently in Shonkytonk and the Fuck Fucks. He's also responsible for some of the vilest artwork the Victorian Vice Squad have ever lain their claws on. Ladies and gentlemen, the Prime Minister of Australia...
Andrew: G’day Fred. Hello Millie.
Fred: G’day. How’s it hangin'?
The Brady Bunch Lawnmower Massacre is no more?
Yep, that's correct. We split up about three weeks ago, had our final ever ever EVER Show at the Prince of Wales.
Why the final ever EVER? What happened?
I don't know. We're just a pack of confused pricks! We always have been.
Millie: Daddy, sing all the bits!
Fred: Nah, I'm not gonna sing the answers!
Whose decision was it?
We all came to the same decision at the same time at different places. After the penultimate gig we decided, "Ah, let's make the last our last one!" "Yeah, OK!” Nobody thought about it too hard!
What was the last show like?
The last one was probably one of the best ones we've ever done. Then people started talking about, “Gee I wish you weren't splitting up an' everything, an' youze were one of the great bands" and all this, and we were goin' "Why the fuck didn't you turn up to any of our gigs in the last seven years?"
No chance of a reunion gig like the Gravies used to do?
Nah, not in Melbourne. But we might do our last ever show in Queensland or Sydney. 'Cause maybe our fans are up there anyway.
Why would you bother going to Sydney anyway? (anti-NSW prejudice starting to show...)
Because every time it was bigger than the Beatles! Bigger than the Gravies ever were.
Tell me about Shonkytonk, how did that come about?
On the last night of the Brady Bunch, we were playing with a band called Teddy Turner and the Bunsen Burners, and I got pissed with the drummer and the guitarist and said, "Hey, why don't we form a band?" And they said, "Top idea, ah's always wanned to work wiv you ... are you gonna root cantelopes?" An' I said "P’raps!” For years and years I've been trying to get a country band together. These blokes can actually play it.
You're getting sick of playing in a rock’n’roll band?
Nah, no way. Every band I ever got together - the Gravies, Brady Bunch - I started out giving a tape to all the muso’s of country songs that I wanted to play. And I thought that'd be a good start...
The Band Who Shot Liberty Valence got pretty close.
Yeah, but they turned into one of the biggest rah-rah bands of all! They were sorta country-rock. Shonkytonk is probably like The Band Who Shot. Nothing at all like the Brady Bunch. The main difference is all the musicians have got their own equipment (laughs), know how to play, and can play hardcore country. Lap steel, stuff like that. They can play rah-rah if they want to - at any given time I could turn around to the band and say, "Crank it up and let's go for it", and they will 'cause I'm the director! (laughter)
What do you get out of country that you don't get from rock n'roll?
You can hear the words! (laughs) It just appeals to more people.
Yeah. You can get more jobs too. I like working a lot. I'll play anywhere. But you
wouldn't be able to play anywhere with the Brady Bunch. Bit too rah-rah. We virtually got one gig every two months or somethin', and then no-one would turn up. An' I just thought, "Well, SHIT!” We were HATED.
So most of your good gigs were interstate.
A few in Tasmania. We knocked that on the head when we toured over there, 'cause we wouldn't play "Achy Breaky Heart". So I just gave them a half-hour rave-on, on how that gives country music a bad name. After about two hours of yelling out for it we finally DID do it, but we did it like a Nick Cave, Birthday Party arty dirge. Slowed down to the max. But they were rapt, they finished their drinks and left after that! (laughs) They're all a bunch of hippies, they sit on the floor and drink water in Tasmania. I couldn't believe it, we were doin' the whole show, three sets, NUDE, the whole band. I was rootin' a (undecipherable - could be a cantelope), they're all still sittin' on the floor crosslegged! They get stoned before they go, and drink water.
What were the Queensland shows like?
It was GREAT. Best gigs I've ever played. I'd do that (boat cruise) every week if I was living in Queensland. It's a really civilized thing too. You can smoke dope if you want to, be as loud as you like.
What about when you toured Brisbane with the Gravies, did you have any problems then?
No, we played one gig in Brisbane, the Outpost. It was a riot! And all these people were saying, 'cause we got there early drinking with them, "Oh, you better watch out, the Vice Squad'll be turning up." Never did!
Did you ever resurrect that Roger Miller set you did on the Brady Bunch boat cruise?
Oh yeah, we did that all the time. We were gonna record that. We were gonna record an album, Shock were gonna put it out, three weeks before we split up. On the Friday night Scotty came into the pub and said, "Shock said they didn't wanna pay for that expensive studio - we're just a shit band, they want us to record in a loungeroom or somewhere, or a cheaper place." Thanks for telling us! And we never got around to rehearsing again.
Didn't you record the first record (CONTACT POOL) in sorneone's living room?
Yeah. 'Stupid Studios', just behind Vic Park in Collingwood. Simon Grounds used to be in a band called Shower Scene from Psycho, and it's just an eight-track that he's got set up in his house. He's a mad scientist sitting up in his engineering room, his living room's just old fuckin' valves and things outta Frankenstein! The first one was better.
The sound was pretty muddy on the new album (DESPERATE FOOTBALL)...
The 24-track one.
You can hardly hear the vocals most of the time.
Exactly. That's ‘cause...I never wanna be there when it's being mixed anyway, sends me to sleep - and I left Paul and Gary, and Gary fell asleep, so Paul pushed up the bass really loud, and - grouse! Kept up the bass and fucked the vocals. I told him that, and he said, "Ah, no-one listens to the words anyway!" How come you can hear the words on other records? The best was probably 'Bourbon Bound", 'cause that was recorded in another session. Somebody actually 'produced' that. And "I'm Sensational", that came out good, the country one.
You mentioned about twelve months ago you were thinking about putting out a solo album.
Well, I was thinkin' about that when the band split up, 'cause Shock still wanted the Bradies only. DESPERATE FOOTBALL sold really well, and it had interest overseas like in England, reviews where they were saying, “Forget Nirvana and the Butthole Surfers, THIS is the party band of the yearl” So I was thinking of approaching them and doin' me with several bands. You could have the best of the songs with the Gravies, the Gravybillies, the Brady Bunch, the new ones, and a bunch of country stuff - like a history sorta thing. At the time a mate of mine who’s been playing in bands for ten years was doing a ten year anniversary thing in the press, and he got all these bands together on the one night. It would've been like a 'History of St Kilda music' night, listening to it. Unfortunately he got headbutted in the Abbo park beforehand and ended up in hospital! I was thinkin' of something like that. Whether they'd go for that or not ... What I wanted to do for the Brady's album was to make it so it was a straight commercial radio show, with ads and things in between every second song, and DJs...
Like the silly shit you used to put on Gravy's records?
Yeah, but a bit more like a complete radio show. You click on the radio, and “our album of the week is the Brady Bunch", blah blah ... p’raps someone's twiddling the dials and they get a country station. With Shonkytonk it's not gonna be a straight country thing.
Yeah. I think you have to be about sixty, you had to’ve gone through a lot of heartbreak to be a true country singer.
You haven't been through the shit yet?
I've had too much of a happy life! And it reflects in the songs in the songs, I think. I wanted to write the "I'm So Fuckin' Happy To Be Living In St Kilda Blues", a straight country song with really positive lyrics... We'll be doin' a few Roger Miller songs in Shonkytonk. "If You Ever Wanna Get Depressed, Come To This Town". Whichever town we're sittin' in, we'll dedicate it to. Our first gig's in Geelong so we'll definitely do it.
How did the Brady Bunch go down in Geelong?
Great! It was like going to Sydney or Queensland. But the last coupla times we played there was about four people. The night we played there with Blowhard and the Fred Band was probably the best gig I've ever seen in my life! There was about twenty people, but jeez it was good.
I heard Coral Outcrop (from the Fred Band, what a chick!) was an honorary member of the Gravybillies with her lagerphone.
Yep. We used to have a pool cue player for years. He went to this pub, got accused of stealing or somethin', decided that this pub was fucked, so he left and hasn't played with any bands since. He's hung up his pool cue.
The Gravybillies are playing after all these years?
Yeah. We never stopped, no real need to. Can hardly get jobs anymore.
Didn't you used to have a residency at the Espy every Friday?
They came down with an attack of good tastel (laughter) Can't think why, 'cause we were drawin' a good crowd. We used to support Frente! (more laughter). Probably got shitted off 'cause we were real arseholes when we got in the bandroom after we'd finished. Alex (Sandy the cue player) used to try and crack onto any sheila who was in any band.
How old is he?
That would've looked pretty!
Nah, shocking! He had his pool cue - “Allo dahlin’!" While the girls were doing their workouts held try to sniff their cunts!
How did you con Polyester into releasing the Gravybillies?
I can't remember - it was his idea, Paul Elliott's.
You reckon it only sold ten copies?
Yeah. I'll tell you an interesting story. Paul from the Brady Bunch went overseas last year, he was in LA at the hippest nightclub there, some grunge band who was spectacularly huge that week was about to play, and just before the sound guy was playing tapes through the PA. And he was standing there with his new-found American friends talkin' shit, and the Gravybillies tape came on! (laughs) He turns around and goes, "Fuck! I left Australia to get away from this shitl” How the fuck did it end up there? The 'Ringy-Poo Song"! It's pretty big at the Hopetown in Sydney too, they always play that over the public bar. But that must be three, there's seven other people that bought it. That was a good night actually, we advertised it that we were gonna record it at like seven o'clock Thursday night when there were never any bands on at the time, upstairs in the lounge. Come about eight o'clock everything's set up, microphones, audience - we said 'People aren't pissed enough, we'll wait until everyone's fuckin' MAGGOTTED!" (laughs) We did a warmup set that was great. We didn't record it - we should've recorded that one!
You sounded pretty...
GONE! By the time we started it was about 11.30.
You can hear the barmaids coming up supplying you with the beer!
A good start was the publican said "Fuck off!" (laughs)
How often do you play these days?
Gravybillies? We played twice this year. And we've got another one at Xmas time.
What was the band you had Sherine and Zan in the early 80's?
It was Sherine - The Editions.
That was you on drums? (“Yeah.”) What sort of music was it?
Bit of everything. It went for four years, and we used to live in Acland St. We were the most hated band in Melbourne! We used to change our set every week. That's all we did - we had no money, and we'd just rehearse, write songs, and we had residences all over the place. Nobody used to come, except half a dozen kids.
With Sherine and a name like “Editions” you'd expect an I'm Talking kinda band.
No way! We had everything. Like on our first gig we opened with a pure country song at a punk venue and pissed everyone off, then did a Ramones song. Like I said, wrote, wrote, wrote, ANY style of music. Then we had bubble machines and smoke machines (laughs) and fuckin' all that shit when it was really uncool to have it. KISS-type stuff.
What happened when it finally fizzled out?
When Sherine left - she got a big offer from the Industry, “I'll make you a star baby, meh meh meh" - they said "What we want is for you and Fred, get rid of the other guys in the band, get a band together." Saw these fledgling talents (laughs). She was just a yobbo like any of us. Still is. When she left we kept goin' for another year with everyone else singing whatever song they'd written. That's when I started writing songs and singing behind the drums ... they said to me after a year of it, the blokes in the band, “You gotta stop kickin' yer drums over and you gotta stop SPITTING!” I said "Fuck youse", hung up me drum sticks! And about six months after that I met these two little kids with mohawks, Scotty and Jason, they said "I liked yew in the Editions, I loved the way you used to kick the drums over and spit, wanna join our band? We've got a drummer already, can you come and punch him out? (laughter) We're called Community Worry.” I said, "How about we call it I Spit On Your Gravy?” They went, "Uh? That doesn't sound like a punk band!” (laughter)
Whose idea was it for you to become the frontman?
It was mine. In the Gravies I used to sing two songs. But it was just like a comedy part, a novelty part, where I'd come out and root a chook (laughs) and sing "Piranha". Then I started writing more songs and Scotty started getting more into the drums. It became a unique band in a way.
The stories about rooting chickens were true!
Oh yeah...I always did that in the Gong Show, that's where that came from. Paul Elliott used to run the Gong Shaw at certain venues. It would be, get up and do any act you want, and then have a panel and get gonged off, fucked off. And I came up with the idea with him 'cause we couldn't get enough acts on certain nights. I'd just do ANYthing. I'd write out little things and get the panel to read ‘em and then I'd act 'em out, like a one-act play. Get a roast chook, and fuckin'... (laughs) there's an act! And that just became really popular, and eventually they started bringing pig's heads on, and the chook was givin' birth to little quails, and I was fucking all sorts of things! Where was it - Horsham? Portland? - they were promoting the Gong Show like a family show, y'know, sit down and have a three-course dinner, bring the family, grannies to kids, and then there'd be whole football clubs, and they'd pay $21. The host was going, "Listen, it's been promoted wrong," just at the start of the show, "If you're referring to any language it gets worse as the show goes alongl” "And don't do the live act!" At that point they were throwing things at the gong, and they were saying to me, "Don't go on! There's grandmothers, there's kids..." I said, "This has to be my crowning achievement' So I went out there in just me jocks, and big dribble hangin' off me chin, with the roast chook. A bloke who’s in Shonkytonk now, the guitarist, he was the narrator, the Butcher From Brighton - he stood behind the gong and read out a beautiful narration. I started rootin' this chook (laughs) and this whole table, they're throwing chairs at me! The whole football team, and grannies are having heart attacks, and grabbing their kids by the ears and takin' them out. Smashing pots everywhere, getting cut to the shithouse ... I didn't care. I just had to do it 'cause THEY NEEDED IT! And then they wouldn't pay us unless we put on a public apology in the paper for all that shit. And the chicken act was deleted from the act everywhere we went after that. But every town heard about it, the whole place’d be packed, all the people would be banging on the table screaming, “We want the chicken act!” (laughter) So I'd go out really quickly, go... (makes rooting gestures) and throw the chicken at them! And everyone was starvin' on the tour, so they'd always start eatin' the chook!
Apart from ST KILDA’S ALRIGHT getting busted by the Vice Squad, how much trouble did you get in while you were in I Spit On Your Gravy?
I didn't...just the band couldn't play for about a year unless we changed the name. When we played at the Seaview Ballroom which is now shut down - that was one of the reasons it was shut down! - a bloke just happened to walk in on a normal Wednesday night, The Gravies were playing with a band called Depression, Mohawk Smeer an' that, and it was a top night full of punk rockers, and we were all having a ball. I organized a 'Dick Competition' with the audience (laughter). This bloke decided this can't be happening in THIS pub, so he went to shut it down. Next day in the papers, page 3 of the Sun, “Band's Act Lewd and Depraved", and it described the whole show. We were supposed to be playing at the St Kilda Festival that week. They just cancelled us, and it became a big snowball. Pubs said “We're not booking you” for about a year at all.
This is after the record (ST KILDA’S ALRIGHT) came out?
Yeah. We played Boomers, and (?) got on the radio and said, "That band will never work in Australia again!” That was a bit of alright. They tore the fence down between the stage and the audience, 'cause we were getting the crowd to get up on stage. The roadies were throwing them off. I said, "Fuck them, everybody get up here!" They tore the fence down and fuckin' got up there. Kym the Crazy Clown was running around with a fuckin' lawnmower, rooting this lawnmower! (laughter) He was trying to run over the cables. The roadie was goin' “This fuckin' band's beserk!" It was raining, there was only 'bout a thousand people standing there. We filmed it from the mixing desk and there was just a huge line of coppers all the way around the whole thing. There were aboriginals tryin' to kill me afterwards - my opening thing, I grabbed the mike and said, "Isn't ‘Boomera’ aboriginal for 'let's have a shit’?" (laughter) They chased me through the park for months there. Coppers were pulling me over on the street and rippin' off me shirt - I had a shirt with the word 'fuck' written on it or something - goin' “Hah, Fred, we got yer again!" Go into court every second week, $200 fine. “You're on the dole?" "Yeah.” "Suspended fine, two hundred bucks.”
What about the handbills you did?
That was around the same time. One had this bloke rooting a sheep up the arse, and a kangaroo standing with a huge erection saying "I'll go slops". The other one was a Christmas party for the Gong Show. I don't know why they picked on this, I've done far worse - that had a sheila straddlin' a bloke, the Unknown Comics, y'know, with paper bags on their heads, no dicks goin' up their twats or anything, just she's holding a bottle of champagne going "WHOOSSH!!” It was called “The Best Fuckin' Xmas Party Ever” but the champagne was hittin' the word "Fuckin’" and covering it up. So “Gee”, I couldn't believe that one. The other one, fair enough. But that's what the bloke wrote out exactly what he wanted on his handbill. And then when I said "That's what they wanted me to do", he denied every-thing, "Oh no...” They should've been charged, not me. The coppers came out to my home, and I was drawing this thing for Melbourne Uni, sorta comedy night called 'Lust Revue', and they had these dicks tapdancing, fuckin' balls an' all. The coppers came to the door and they came in and said, "We’re gonna charge you with obscene handbills blah blah blah”, and he looks over his shoulder and goes, “We'd get you for that one too, but uni's are alright, but these handbills go around all the resident's cars an' things." I said 'Bullshit, ST KILDA!"
Were you a big fan of cowboys as a kid?
Yeah. I used to play Cowboys and Indians, Robbers, all the capguns and little outfits and little outfits and cardboard hats - the same outfit I wore in later years in the Gravybillies! (laughs)
Is there any reason why there's a question mark (on Fred's cowboy hat)?
I'm the Questionable Cowboy! (laughs) This bloke came into the pub about five years ago, this yank bloke, said he was rich. He got pissed, but there was only Alex in the bar, he got pissed with him, then I came in. I used to wear a cardboard cowboy hat. An' he said “Oh, that's not a real cowboy hat!” Alex told him I played in the Gravybillies. This big loudmouth Texan said he was gonna bring me a real one. We were waiting about six months, he comes in, he's got a gold Mickey Mouse watch for Alex and a beautiful stetson for me, this one (points to his head). Which five beavers died for! (laughter) I thought, “Oh, fuckin' beauty”, grabbed me texter and put a question mark on it. He goes "Argh! That’s a three hundred dollar hat, boy!” I said, “It's worth more now, you watch!" It got kidnapped once in Sydney and held to ransom. I had to draw a cartoon of Footy Mouth in a Geelong jumper to get it back. They sent a ransom note cut outta newspapers, y’know, “We have your hat"! And it was gone for six months.
When did you start drawing?
As a kid. About eight years old I was drawing comics. I had Blue Man, he was drawn with a blue biro, Black man was drawn with a black biro - they were all stick figures. There was Man With No Head, a stick figure with no head, he was my favourite character.
You went to Prahran college?
Yeah, for about four years. They told me you cou dn't make a living outta being a cartoonist. I said "Bullshit, I betcha I can!" (laughs) And they said you gotta do other stuff like photography, an’ this and that, airbrushing, painting...use letraset, don't always freehand ... I said “Bullshit!” So I ended up learning how to drink that year. I did everything the night before, the whole year's worth of work.
Wasn’t there a problem you had with Inpress?
Yeah. The printers in Geelong refused to print Inpress if the 'Pub' strip was in it.
'Cause they started reading it, and they started becoming the moral guardians of someone, whereas they're just fuckin' dumb-shit printers! They should do their jobs instead of becoming the editor. So they started whiting out whole panels an' stuff, charicatures of people...
Anything they disapproved of?
Yeah. They didn't like that...It all started with one of Gordon Elliott, Hard Copy: just had his head on the television with little turds floatin' around it, called “Turd Copy”. And they whited it all out. So the week later I did two people in a pub goin' "What was that third panel in Pub last week, I couldn't understand it", with me and Paul (Fraser) coming in and goin' “It's because of those bloody printers in Geelong, they'll probably IZOS@RD...”
You were in a movie...
That was a couple years ago, yeah.
It's only just been released?
Yeah. It was a STUPID film. Made by a Hari Krishna, Dave Boyce (?). Calls himself ‘Loka' nowadays. We filmed lots of funny stuff across the road (from the Esplanade), we made a huge Hell set and I was the Devil. The film was about me bein' the last psycho killer in Australia. Chicken Head, with a chicken head mask, just killin' everyone in St Kilda and draggin' 'em back to my place and puttin' on country music. All the funny bits, like when I go down to hell 'cause I have contract with the Devil and start killing everyone, I end up as the Devil - we filmed all this great stuff like musical bits. He cut all the funny bits out and made it like a propaganda piece for the Hari Krishnas. Stupid. It's real serious and boring. Candy's pretty good.
A female impersonator. It's a bloke doin' a Divine. And good at it too.
He became a Hari Krishna after he filmed it?
No, he's been a HK for a number of years. It was a good way to get off smack or something. That was a sequel, first one was 'Done To Death', and this one was 'Done TWO Death', 'cause the first one was done between ‘82 and ‘84. And it was filmed entirely from money he got from the dole, and the film that he pinched from film shops! That was a much funnier film.
Has that been released again?
No, I think he's embarassed by it, 'cause it's pure comedy. How he's advertising this film is how the first film actually was. Pure trash.
You ever done films yourself?
Every year I make one for the White Gloves. And I have me own camera. I make films with Paul Fraser, about three films. There was 'Debbie Does 3-Dementia', and there's 'The White Pencil' - that's about a pencil sharpener that cracks onto a pencil - and then there was the one we've done this year, 'The Pussy That Shat Popcorn'. (?!?!)
Any last comments?
Yeah - get a REAL job! (laughs)