DEAD LIVERS 40th Anniversary

May 12 – Velvet Room, Thornbury Theatre.


The Schackettes, Brenda Joy, Texas Tom, Michael Meeking, Jane Hilson & Twilight In Tulsa, Kenny Joe Blake, Merrijig Prunes, Paul Hicks, Bill Jackson, Danny Walsh, Leo Tellefson.


“Fast women and hard liquor/ well, they've given me a dead liver/ well, I started drinking when I fell out of bed/ now it's nearly 12 o'clock and I'm wishing that I was dead/ my friends say that it'll kill me/ and my doctor says to quit/ but that don't worry me/ because I don't give a shit.” - Ballad Of A Dead Liver - Brendan Mitchell.

It was one of the best examples of life imitating art in the colourful history of the most under-rated Australian music genre.

Veteran outlaw band The Dead Livers celebrated 40 years on the cutting edge, so to speak, after pedal steel guitarist Brendan Mitchell and bassist Michael Schack acted out the sentiments of their signature song Ballad Of A Dead Liver by having liver transplants almost two decades apart.

And, of course, they boomeranged from sick bay to the Velvet Room stage at Thornbury Theatre for this reunion and launch of their re-mastered Greatest Misses CD.

In days of yore Mitchell replaced Sydney musician Mike Tyne - brother of Grand Junction bassist Dave Tyne - in the Victorian version of The Best Little Whorehouse In Texas.

The father of three was featured in the Herald Sun when he booked himself out of the Austin Hospital after his liver transplant to perform at the band's 22 nd anniversary and launch of their second CD, Reaching To The Western Sky , at the Bush Inn Hotel in West Toorak.

Mitchell, a welder by trade, was promoting organ donation in the aftermath of the death of 52-year-old Nu Country FM midnight to dawn DJ Peter Cresp-Gerrard - a retired secondary school teacher and heart transplant recipient.

Cresp-Gerrard, creator of an internet organ donor support group, died at 5 am on July 9, 2001, just five hours after he was due to kick off the station's 31st broadcast from its new studios at Harley House at the Paris, Texas, end of Collins Street.

I received an eerie email sent shortly before midnight from Peter on the eve of the broadcast.

His last literary note read - “it's because I was crook we didn't start on time.”

Little did we know it may have also been his final words.

It was also déjà vu for Peter who was set to go on air at 10 pm on June 26, 2000, to host a bluegrass show when the station's studios at Beer Can Hill in Northcote burned down.

Suddenly there was silence on the line as Cresp-Gerrard, fellow announcer and musician Red Smith and a desk volunteer fled down the stairs from the flames, clutching a brace of their CDS.

There was more déjà vu when Schack, now 68, had his liver transplant in February, 2016, and was featured in a major three page feature story in the Warrnambool Standard.


“Country bands sure like fine in their silk and golden suits/ flash guitars and cowboy hats and diamond studded boots/ but that kinda side don't cut with us you see/ we're just human beings/ hate a smoke and a toke and a joke and a ten ounce pot of beer/ playing country music up and down the line/ was a time I thought we'd make it but that's passed us by/ and we play that country music, till the day we die.” - Up And Down The Line - Marty Atchison.

Tonight more than 300 fans flocked to the Velvet Room of the Thornbury Theatre in the inner northern suburb of Melbourne to celebrate this medical and musical miracle and resurrection with former Nu Country DJ and TV host Red Smith returning in his alter ego as musician.

There was no sign of lead guitarist and latter day Aquinas College music teacher John Berto's ambulance, emblazoned with Emergency Dead Livers in the destination box that once transported the band to concerts up and down the east coast.

It scored headlines in the now defunct Sydney Daily Mirror when it broke down in the inner western Sydney suburbs en route to gigs at sin city country music HQ the Lone Star Café and Tamworth.

A Good Samaritan - the late butcher Bob Baillie - organised a tow truck to deliver the ambulance to dry dock while he hosted the band at a pig on a spit BBQ at his Stanmore home.

Bassist Schack and fellow singer-songwriter Marty Atchison, formed Dead Livers embryo band The Dogs at Monivae College in Hamilton near the western district launch pad of late Prime Minister Malcolm Fraser.

They found alternative transport for a memorable Seven Network Saturday morning Sounds show hosted by Donnie Sutherland.

Schack, clad in a Lone Star Café tee shirt, exuded customary droll humour, when he explained the ambulance “died in Ryde.”

The duo upstaged fellow Melbournian Peter Cupples of funk soul group Stylus when Atchison , a secondary teacher by profession and humourist on stage, urged the camera crew to zoom in for his Hello Bubba message to his newly born daughter Claire.

Atchison , son of a wool classer and life-long Hawthorn supporter, chose a woolly Sydney Swans jumper for his TV appearance - a sibling of sorts to their appearance on John Singleton's nocturnal TV variety show.

The duo's interview, made even more memorable by Donnie's delight at recalling their front page grabbing song I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie, preceded their appearance with Mississippi born latter day Texan Charley Pride at the Penrith Country Music Festival on the Sabbath.

It could have turned the outlaws into in-laws but cemented Hamilton as a fertile font when the late Prime Minister Fraser's grand-daughter Hester chose country music as her calling under the name of Goldheist.

Malcolm had to be content with being subject of the Peter Caulton-A.P. Johnson song I'd Love To Have A Smoke With Malcolm - sibling song of Dead Livers classic I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie.

Yes , the front page grabbing parody of the late Slim Dusty No 1 hit I'd Love To Have A Drink With Duncan .

Sadly Slim and Duncan songwriter Pat Alexander (then head of the ABC mail-room in Sydney ) were in absentia for the 40th anniversary at the Velvet Room.

So were Caulton, who died shortly after his 71st birthday in March this year, and old A.P. who died of pneumonia at 49 in October, 1995.

But Slim, singing spouse Joy McKean and daughter Anne Kirkpatrick, did attend the Dead Livers 1982 Lone Star Café gig.

So did late legendary music writing pioneer and latter day columnist-feature writer James Oram.

Oram almost upstaged the Livers, performing on a balcony, when his hair caught on fire downstairs while leaning on the bar.

Garrulous Jim, famed for his nose for news and passion for the Dead Livers in his writing, said to this fellow columnist “something's burning.”

Oram's police rounds mate and latter day TV reporter Steve Barrett, armed with a cigarette lighter - a handy tool on early morning crime scene visits - advised his bemused colleague that it was his grey bouffant.

It had apparently been blocking Barrett's view of the band.


“He told me his son worked for the shire/ lost his old house in that 83 fire/ his daughter nurses old folks in some country town/ he's had lots of troubles but he don't wear no frown/ gets dizzy spells from smoking too much/ uses wishing wells just searching for luck/ doesn't drink any more, doesn't drink any less, just a happy in life, a survivor, I guess.” - Old Man On A Bar Stool - Michael Schack.

That was then and this is now - a stormy Saturday night in the suburb named country music HQ of Australia long after the Nu Country Beer Can Hill studio burned down and earned SBS and ABC documentaries.

It was fitting the proceedings were opened by the third generation of a country music family raised on western district soldier settler Jimmy Schack's farm near Glenthompson.

Jimmy's grand-daughters Hannah and Rebecca who debuted many moons ago with poppa Michael as Behind The Mike and The Schackettes , kicked the dew off the glass with their organic version of their sire's Old Man On A Bar-Stool .

The song, inspired by a Glenthompson Hotel habitue who survived the Ash Wednesday bushfires, was on the band's second album Reaching To The Western Sky.

They were followed by Texas Tom Burgess and North Melbourne supporter Michael Meeking of Lost Souls fame whose most recent album was aptly titled Saturday Night Sunday Morning .

With brief breaks between solo artists requiring pithy patter from the MC it was a fitting entrée for drummer magistrate Richard O'Keefe's jokes.

Statuesque chanteuse Jane Hilson and Mitchell, who perform as Twilight in Tulsa , chose The Band song The Weight.

This enabled the MC to announce a Google search revealed a Jane Hilson operated the Bellbird Sports & Spinal Clinic at Blackburn for different weight adjustments.

But she would not be massaging her message tonight for dancers who trebled their Texas Two Steps into a video for recently deceased Texan DJ Sammy Allred's Geezinslaw Brothers classic Help I'm White And I Can't Get Down.

That video was a crowd favourite on Nu Country TV, ironically on air during the concert.

Google searches for bluegrass ace Hamish Davidson of the Gippsland reared Davidson Brothers also landed viewers on his Bendigo Chiropractic Clinic.

Maldon singer-songwriter Kenny Joe Blake - writer of the late Peter Caulton's crowd pleaser Who Drove The Mystery Train - didn't need an introduction.

But he got one anyway for hosting a memorable midnight to dawn show on Nu Country FM where he sensibly locked the Beer Can Hill studio doors and turned off the phones so access to medication would not suffer from any distractions.

Kenny Joe did not suffer the fate of Gary Turner - another midnight to dawn DJ - who ventured into the chilly night air of downtown Geelong for a breather.

The nocturnal news reader, believing Turner was still on air, removed the building door stop as he exited and caused dead air - not dead livers - when Turner was locked out of K-Rock, nee 3GL.

It must be made clear Gary is not related to former Geelong footy captain and champion Michael Turner who joined the Dead Livers on stage at his 40 th birthday party at his Ocean Grove poolside mansion on the hill.


“Of all the hotels that I've ever been/ and all of the motels that shared those crazy scenes/ there's one that impaired my memory the best, its Ronnie Wearmouth's Star of the West / started out gently one Saturday night, managed to avoid anything like a fight/ drifted into Sunday feeling quite poor, listening to Ron knocking on heaven's door/ if ever there's a place to be a guest/ it's down at Port Fairy at The Star of the West / all of the barrels and all the beer taps, all of the old men with eyes like road maps/ all of the young dudes put us to the test/ at the 5 am session at the Star of the West .” - Star Of The West - Michael Schack.

The Merrijig Prunes youth and regularity enabled them to perform Star of The West - the saga of 5 am sessions at the Port Fairy pub operated by former Collingwood footy stars Ronnie Wearmouth, Ricky Barham, Wayne Richardson and some silent partners.

It was not clear what prompted a link to the Merrijig Hotel - the final pit stop en route to Timbertop where Prince Charles, unable to attend tonight's gig, swung from the ropes as a teenager.

That was before becoming father of the winter groom Harry and father-in-law of Agatha Christie's long lost spinster Miss Marple.

Luckily there was time between acts to explain two of the Prunes - Tim Slattery and Luke Chaplin - were sired on the Shipwreck coast.

Tim was a school-mate of yet another former Collingwood star Nick Maxwell.

More importantly Tim is the son of late, lamented journalist Bernie Slattery who graduated from printing Hampden Football League Record to doing his RMIT journalism diploma from Townsville in a well-travelled career in cities diverse as Renmark, Mildura, Geelong and the Melbourne Herald Sun where he was a digital pioneer.

It must have been a long changeover as the MC revealed Bernie, a Terang under 18's footballer, had leaked info to me that his coach had asked his players to iron out the “long haired poofter” playing centre half back for Warrnambool.

It would appear to have been an unsuccessful search and destroy mission as the MC survived to announce Tim and Luke were also sons of Shipwreck Coast sisters.

There was a shorter gap before Nu Country TV hosts Paul Hicks and Red Smith joined forces to revive Atchison 's classic Holy Mary.

But there was time to reveal Hicks and Raised By Eagles singer Luke Sinclair played in the same football league in Wangaratta.

That was due south of where Chiltern born footballer and latter day ABC-TV Insiders host Barrie Cassidy shared a flat with the MC as journalists on the Albury Border Morning Mail .

It also enabled a geographical segue to the next act - Albury born and Sale raised Bill Jackson who played on the original recording of I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie .

Jackson's band The Lamington Brothers also performed Keep On Rolling for that epic EP sold from the back of the MC's car at Willie Nelson's Melbourne showgrounds concert by latter day RockWiz TV show co-founder Peter Bain-Hogg.

Peter was a business partner of fellow expat Kiwi and recording session benefactor, publisher and Spurs bar promoter Barry Coburn who ascended to fame in Nashville after managing another expat Peter Caulton.

Event organiser Schack enriched the Monivae College connection by booking fellow Dogs band-mate Leo Tellefson and youthful Danny Walsh to perform Atchison penned Nu Country TV theme song Up And Down The Line .

Leo hails from Donald near where the MC once visited maternal relatives on Christmas days on an uncle and aunt's Glenthompson farm near the Schack spread.

It seemed like a good time for a break to introduce the Dead Livers , Brenda Joy and more guest artists including CD re-master ace Peter Bird.


“From Tamworth down to Warrnambool from Rutherglen to Jung/ we met some mates and we drank some beer and then we moved along/ and that white line fever well it never seems to leave you when as you haul along that load/ it's another town and another gig then back out on the road at the weekend.” - Up And Down The Line - Marty Atchison .

The support artists were a hard act to follow but someone had to do it.

The Dead Livers were now a septet with triple guitar line-up - John Berto, Rodger Delfos and Don Farrell.

Bassist Schack, pedal steel guitarist Mitchell and drummer O'Keefe were joined by diverse guests including Brenda Joy - ageless former duet singing partner of the late idol of Australian youth, A.P. Johnson.

There was a sonic surge when the band, augmented by a superb sound system, burst into Atchison's Greatest Misses hits - the autobiographical Up And Down The Line - and Hard Doing Ken that was inspired by a character or two at Prahran's legendary Station Hotel .

The band also revisited Atchison 's riveting romance requiem Rosemary , Schack's rural resilience tale Old Man on A Bar Stool and Atchison anthem Lucky Tonight - all from the band's second CD Reaching To The Western Sky.

Guitarist Berto exuded humour on his lead vocal on his original tune Mediteranean Moonlight that shared its name but not lyrics with a 1957 Frank Chacksfield & His Orchestra album title.

Fellow guitarist Delfos revived Shotgun Rider - cut by artists diverse as Texan Delbert McClinton and Joe Sun whose Brunswick tour venue host and singer-songwriter Paul Madigan made the trip to this gig from his French Island home.

Schack reached back further and revived Move It On Over but not its author Hank Williams who died at 29 on New Years' Day in 1953.

Salient sequencing ensured Schack's ruptured romance anthem Standing Room Only, workplace memorial Telegraphs And Data Man and drinking anthem Star Of The West were punctuated by Atchison's Day Dreaming, Dear Oh Dear and Big Dipper.

The first set included Sunshine - Atchison 's memories of train travelling from his St Kilda home to educate secondary students across the Maribyrnong.

Another crowd pleaser was childhood MCG memories of Grandpa Take Me To The Cricket that could still be adopted as a TV coverage theme.

Yes, more déjà vu akin to Gary Nicholson penned Lee Roy Parnell hit If The House Ain't Rockin', Don't Bother Knocking once an AFL Seven Network footy show TV theme.

Grandpa , also recorded by the late Peter Caulton, shared history with first set finale Holy Mary with guest harmonies by Brenda Joy.

Holy Mary was also recorded by former Redgum singer John Schuman and Texas Touch .

There was no sign of veteran TV host Molly Meldrum who joined the band 30 years ago in the Gershwin Room of the Espie Hotel in St Kilda for the chorus of both Holy Mary and I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie.

It was not clear if Molly, a St Kilda supporter like Mitchell and O'Keefe, thought the song was Holy Molly .


“Well, I'd love to have a joint with Willie/ yep I'd love to have a joint with Will/ we smoke at the Evening Star and we always toke our fill/ we smoke so much good dope we don't ever get straight/ I'd love to have a joint with Willie because Willie's my mate.” - I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie - Dawson-Pat Alexander.

The second set enabled the band to expand their repertoire and reprise favourites - especially by Delfos and Berto who filled vocal gaps with their vocals on Prairie Dog and other originals during search missions for singer Atchison .

It also drew Marty's attention to rapid emptying of the band's back stage booze rider - a large bucket of ice chilled beverages.

Atchison 's embryonic thirst for knowledge had been replaced by a thirst for a stubby or two that he relayed between songs to the bar staff.

The raid on the band's booze could not be blamed on Madder Lake keyboard player and former Boggy Creek Hotel publican Jack McKinnon who joined the Livers line-up at the St Kilda Palais in 1980 when Grand Junction , The Amazing Rhythm Aces and Leon Russell & the New Grass Revival closed the show for them.

On that memorable occasion Jack, a muscular musician, had invaded the late Leon 's lair and lifted a garbage bin full of booze to the Livers enclave.

This time it was serendipitous that the Livers chose The Amazing Rhythm Aces tune The End Is Not In Sight as their second last encore song.

Perhaps the end was in sight when the band invited the MC to join them for their revival of I'd Love To Have A Joint With Willie .

Like the late Frank Sinatra I stumbled on some of the verses but unlike old blue eyes I didn't have a cheat sheet at my feet.


“I want to be a working man just like good old Merle/ or work 9-5 like Dolly, she's a good old girl/ but one place that I don't want to be is in this factory/ that ain't no place for a stud like me/ all I want is a ticket saying I don't have to work.” - Stud Like Me - Marty Atchison.

Luckily, my joke feeder Richard O'Keefe didn't have the same memory lapses when he sang Rocky Racoon and a bunch of other classics.

To expand on the forty frivolity an urgent call was put out for former Richmond under 19's recruit and latter day Vatican evictee George Pell to join this Catholic & Western band for the Holy Mary reprise .

Pell's non-appearance, your worship, may have been prompted by an upcoming gig in the city.

The ropes were removed from the Velvet Room after the band's apt finale - the revamped Rolling Stones hit Dead Flowers.

Maybe it was an omen for the punch-line that was not scripted.

Bassist Schack, who arose from the sleep of the just at the nearby Bell Motel in downtown Preston , was enjoying his Merrijig prunes breakfast when he was re-visited by a Monivae mirage.

It was not Archbishop Pell but lead singer Atchison wandering around the foyer clad in only a towel and a tee shirt.

Like a Holy Mary chorus the sinner had been locked out of his room in a motel with no 24 hour reception service and no Miss Marple.

But with no complaints from fellow diners and guests he didn't have to front his drummer and magistrate O'Keefe on a charge of “assault with a dead weapon.”

Atchison 's honour was intact with just a little help from family and band-mates and magisterial humour.

Review by David Dawson with photos by John "Kip" Karpik

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