Reapers reap just what they sow!

Reapers reap just what they sow!
Image: The Mighty Reapers. Image: supplied

The old adage is you reap just what you sow and that’s just what Sydney based combo, The Mighty Reapers, have been doing for the past thirty five years. Their blend of funky blues and soul has stood the test of time with some classic covers and a wealth of original material. The much loved band have released five excellent albums in their own name as well as collaborations with visiting US artists Big Jay McNeely and Margie Evans.

It all began somewhat by chance in 1979 when guitarist Dave Brewer came to Sydney with Perth band The Elks. Robert Susz was asked to play with them in Melbourne, hence a friendship that has lasted for over four decades. The actual Mighty Reapers came about as a side band, when Dave was still playing with The Elks and Robert enjoying national stardom with the Dynamic Hepnotics.

When both the Hepnotics and Elks called it quits Robert and Dave decided to make ‘The Mighty Reapers’ a full time project. That was the late ‘80s and a whole series of albums, countless gigs and festival appearances followed. Their early influences included Chicago blue artists such as Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf and Little Walter along with soulsters James Brown, Curtis Mayfield and Solomon Burke. Their similar tastes in both blues and soul made it easy to build a songbook of both established songs and their own original compositions.

The Mighty Reapers on stage. Image: Facebook

Over the years The Reapers have become the band of choice for many US blues and soul artists touring Australia. Included have been Lucky Petersen, Bobby Radcliff, Guitar Shorty, Hubert Sumlin and Mojo Buford – to name just a few. Needless to say these tours have provided many memorable moments – not all of them experienced musically. There have been numerous off-stage episodes, most of them humorous, although a few best not repeated in polite company. Robert recalls one particularly awkward happening:

“We had a gig playing at the Bacardi Club which was part of the Sydney Festival at the Hyde Park Barracks, an outdoor venue. Just before showtime it started sprinkling rain and they handed out disposable raincoats to the crowd. They were all white with white hoods. When Margie Evans, an Afro-American, came out of the dressing room to sing she became understandably concerned at the sea of of white hooded punters. We quickly informed her that we weren’t performing at a Ku Klux Klan rally.

There was also the time singer and honking saxophonist Big Jay McNeely left the band stranded on the stage at Klub Kakadu in Oxford Street as he took off on one of his legendary pied piper walks, complete with a radio mic. As he exited the club and onto the street the band could still hear him playing and kept up their backing even when he was chased from an adjacent sex shop by an angry owner after terrifying patrons with his blasting sax.

Over the years The Reapers have featured some of Sydney’s finest musicians and the current lineup is no exception. Organist Clayton Doley and drummer Antero Ceschin are both celebrated band leaders in their own right. Sadly missing these days is long time bass player Vito “Mr Showbiz” Portolesi who passed away suddenly in 2018 but who lives on in the band’s numerous recordings.

When The Reapers first started playing a very young guitarist called Ray Beadle would often come and hear the band. Robert recalls:

“He would sit in with us when he was just a little kid and he was already fantastic way back then.”

Since then Ray has built his own very strong career and is a favourite at the various blues festivals. For their coming show The Reapers will feature Ray on bass as well as guitar, and playing a number of his own songs as the very special guest of the group.

‘A Funky Good Time’ is guaranteed, with plenty of room for dancing.
The Mighty Reapers
Saturday, June 1
Marrickville Bowling Club, 91 Sydenham Rd, Marrickville
Tickets from Oztix.

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