Under the name Diesel, American-born roots rock guitarist/singer Mark Lizotte became one of the biggest-selling and most-awarded Australian recording artists of the late '80s and early '90s. After achieving success with his first band, Johnny Diesel & the Injectors, Lizotte launched a solo career — billed simply as Diesel — in 1992 that yielded a pair of number one albums in Hepfidelity and The Lobbyist, along with three consecutive ARIA Awards. After a brief move back to the U.S. in the late '90s, Lizotte resumed his solo success in the 2000s with gritty blues-rock albums like 2006's Coathanger Antennae and 2008's Days Like These. Diesel remained a reliable chart staple in the 2010s, hitting another career high-water mark with 2016's Americana.
Born in Massachusetts, Lizotte arrived in Perth as a child when the travels of his itinerant, saxophone-playing father Hank exhausted America and the family settled in Western Australia. Music was a way of life in his family, and while his siblings gravitated toward music as teachers, Lizotte started playing in bands, making the long trek from Perth to Sydney in 1986 to record with Innocent Bystanders. He left to form his own group, Johnny Diesel & the Injectors, in June 1986, adopting the Johnny Diesel persona for the first time (a stint of pumping petrol had earned him his Diesel nickname). The group's blend of Southern rock, soul, and R&B, plus Diesel's adept guitar playing, quickly earned the band a strong reputation on-stage, and in September 1987 they relocated to Sydney. Almost immediately, Diesel was offered a place in Jimmy Barnes' band, playing the opening slot on the Freight Train Heart tour with the Injectors as support act, and then joining the headlining Barnes band on guitar. His group was signed to a worldwide recording contract by Chrysalis and recorded their self-titled debut album in Memphis with Terry Manning (Joe Cocker, Fabulous Thunderbirds, ZZ Top), which reached number two on the ARIA charts upon its 1989 release and yielded several Top Ten singles, including "Don't Need Love" and "Soul Revival."
After four years together and a mini-album recorded live in London, the Injectors broke up in 1991, and Johnny Diesel became Diesel, solo artist. His March 1992 Hepfidelity album shifted the musical ground to rock-funk and soul, reached number one in Australia, and earned him awards for Best Album and Best Male Artist at the annual ARIA Awards. A year later he released an album of new songs and reworkings of songs from the previous album called The Lobbyist, which also hit number one, then got down to business on 1994's sophisticated and all-new Solid State Rhyme, which earned him his third straight ARIA Award for Best Male Artist. Short Cool Ones, a raw blues album recorded with Melbourne bluesman and harmonica player Chris Wilson, arrived in 1996, after which Diesel entered a hiatus, packing up his career and young family and relocating to America. A compilation album, Rewind: The Best of Diesel, collated his solo career so far and served to keep up his profile when he settled in New York.
Reappearing on Mammoth Records, Lizotte recorded 1999's Soul Lost Companion under his birth name, working with Talking Heads' Jerry Harrison as producer. Both the billing and his U.S. tenure would prove to be short-lived, with Lizotte moving back to Australia in 2002 to resume recording as Diesel, with the album Hear arriving later that year. His next two releases were both retrospectives, with the DVD set The First Fifteen '89-'04 Live having been recorded live at Sydney's Metro Theatre and the studio album Singled Out offering acoustic renditions of previously released work. Both appeared in 2004. Over the years Lizotte continued his association with Jimmy Barnes, and once again appeared with him on Barnes' 2005 release, Double Happiness. Returning to his own new material, Lizotte offered the gritty and raw Coathanger Antennae in 2006, which was recorded mostly live, direct to tape. The slightly more polished Days Like These arrived in 2008. Ever the guitar ace, he offered himself up as a guest sideman, playing guitar for several dates with Dweezil Zappa's group during their 2009 Zappa Plays Zappa tour of Australia. Later that year he released Project Blues: Saturday Suffering Fools, a horn-heavy blues album that featured both his father Hank and his two brothers, Mike and Brian Lizotte.
The year 2011 saw the release of another live set, Greatest Hits Live, as well as the studio album Under the Influence, which saw Lizotte reinterpreting music from some of his heroes like Jimi Hendrix and Neil Young, along with a handful of instrumental originals. Another greatest-hits release, You Get There from Here, appeared in 2012. That same year, Lizotte took a stab at scoring film music, contributing music to the six-part miniseries Bikie Wars: Brothers in Arms. Released in 2013, Let It Fly, his 11th solo album, combined a variety of roots, blues, and folk elements, a trend he continued with 2016's Americana, which reached number 15 on the ARIA chart. Celebrating his 30 years in music, Lizotte offered up yet another anthology with 2018's career-spanning 30: The Greatest Hits and a major national tour. ~ Timothy Monger & Ed Nimmervoll