Big John Bates: Noirchestra by David Jacklin Photography 2019

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“Moon of Alabama” from the 2019 LP Skinners Cage


It’s been quite a story …. John Bates was an adopted, solitary kid who liked to invent monster stories to scare his family. He picked up guitar around age 14, taking a few lessons and watching any players he could find. The 1980’s found John becoming what he termed a “creative” guitarist (and a vocalist / lyricist after his instrument was stolen) who was influenced by bands from The Doors to Metallica to Bauhaus. With zero interest in crushing the soul out of music as a day job it’s no surprise that John connected with Jeff Waters to create the legendary thrash-metal band Annihilator, developing their first two Roadrunner albums in a cold basement under 604 Bank Street in Ottawa.

After moving to Vancouver, John went in a different direction, recording a goth-leaning LP in the 90’s with his band Bates Motel (with J.W. behind the desk). John began his touring legacy with these bands but as a long-time Cramps addict he fell into the punk-rockabilly scene as Big John Bates & the Voodoo Dollz and then things really started happening. From their first shows down the West Coast to getting banned in Las Vegas (and run-ins with Federales from lesser-known locales) to literally thousands of shows over ten years in 18 countries. They were basically a roaming circus in the aptly-named Murderbus (a blacked-out ex-HandyDart), sharing stages with bands from Big Bad Voodoo Daddy to the Supersuckers, the Blasters to Solomon Burke. Luckily much of the touring was video-taped by this cult-ish group that was almost unstoppable through the 2000’s. They eventually produced four independent LPs with Todd Simko (Pure) and a pair of live DVDs (Cinestir), with eye-popping performances, props and charismatic stage antics built from elements of 1950’s and 1960’s B-movies.

While all that was happening John was stretching to make a more personal statement and fell under the influence of other eclectic musicians like David Eugene, Tom Waits and Jon Spencer. He met upright bassist / vocalist Brandy Bones while her band was opening for a BJB tour and invited her to join him on a summer tour of Europe. After those fateful dates and some massive outdoor events, they began digging deep into their roots to create a style they have variously referred to as Rustic Punk or Americana Noir. By the second LP they had floated through a cornucopia of musicians (and a dirty dozen crazy tours) until they met Ty-Ty the Saviour; whose bombastic percussion and easy-going personality melded him right into their circle. The final piece of the Noirchestra was violinist and soundscape artist RequiEmily. Always ready for new sonic challenges, she also found herself a big part of Brandy’s gymnastic performances. The four of them built on each other’s unique talents to perfect a dynamic show while together they recorded the dystopian 2019 album Skinners Cage in Germany and on John’s liveaboard Caleuche in Vancouver – an LP which truly brought the band’s chamber-punk sound to life.

Big John Bates has appeared on movie and TV soundtracks and been featured in coffee-table books and glossy magazines worldwide. The Noirchestar appears on Netflix’s Sci-Fi series Snowpiercer (Season Two). The albums chart on campus radio across Canada, NPR in the USA and community radio in Europe where the band draws the artistic and diverse.