You can tell they don’t take themselves too seriously just from the name: The Pinks. It’s a cute sidestep around the dodgy old argument about whether white boys could play the blues. It is also what seven of Australia’s top rock, jazz, blues and country musicians do when they just want to have fun.
Assembled by the acclaimed jazz bassist Jonathan Zwartz the Pinks bring together singer/guitarist brothers Reg Mombassa and Peter O’Doherty (of Dog Trumpet, Mental As Anything and painting fame) and drummer Rob Souter (Slim Dusty, Dynamic Hepnotics). Singer/harmonica player Robert Susz (Continental Blues Party, Mighty Reapers, Dynamic Hepnotics) and guitarist Doug Nairn add blues cred, and Brendan Gallagher (Karma County) completes the four-singer, four-guitar line-up.
Souter is a prized asset, his career stretching back to a 1960s band with harmonica-player-turned-actor Gary McDonald. After periods in Melbourne and Canberra he became a Dynamic Hepnotic (playing on their 1984 hit Soul Kind Of Feeling), before 15 years with Slim Dusty and seven with Mental As Anything. Now he relishes being half of a groovy rhythm section with Zwartz.
“It’s like sitting in a comfy chair,” he enthuses. “I can’t praise that guy enough. He will do a wonderful solo that just leaves time and space behind. I also get a thrill listening to Reg playing bottleneck [slide guitar], which just lifts everyone’s spirits.”
“Reg,” explains Zwartz, “plays two guitars: a blue one and a red one. When he gets out the red guitar [used for slide] everybody has to watch out. You know that it’s going to go off.”
While Souter’s comrade from the Hepnotics, Robert Susz, brings the expected Muddy Waters and Little Walter songs to the table, the repertoire runs all the way to Donovan and even David Bowie. “But it all gets pretty bluesified when we play it,” Susz says. “Everyone gets to do stuff they’ve probably always wanted to do, but never had a chance.”
Although Mombassa has been a fan of the music since his teens, this is his first blues band. “It’s a great pleasure playing with Jonathan and all the rest of them,” he says. “I consider myself a fairly coarse musician compared to those guys. You can just enjoy hearing what the others are playing if you’re not playing yourself,” he says.
Zwartz, who was keen to have people who shared his love of the blues without being prescriptive, denies being the band’s leader. “We’re a complete pool of chaos,” he says. “And it’s a really good thing.”
The Pinks play Blue Beat, Double Bay, tonight.