Diesel was born in Fall River, Massachusetts, United States, and emigrated with family, settling in Perth, Western Australia, aged 9. He ended up pumping gas to survive, with this experience providing inspiration for his music. His father was a saxophonist and Diesel was therefore surrounded by music from an early age, eventually settling on the electric guitar as an instrument. He later recalled a time in 1981 when he first decided on music as a career: "I was trying to get my head around algebra ... and suddenly I thought: 'Hang on, I don't have to do this. I can play music as a job!'". By his mid-teens he had already performed with The Kind and Close Action. In 1983 he joined the Innocent Bystanders, a Perth bar band who attracted the attention of The Angels and went on to record several singles and an album, Don't Go Looking Back, that was released in 1986. Around the same time, Diesel split from the band. With drummer Yak Sherrit and bassist John Dalzell, also from Innocent Bystanders, he formed Johnny Diesel and the Injectors with George Dalstrom also on guitar. While it is more likely that Dalzell's surname inspired the name "Johnny Diesel" it was Diesel, as the group's singer, who soon became associated with it.
Johnny Diesel and the Injectors era (1987-1990)
Johnny Diesel and the Injectors moved to Sydney in 1987 after taking on management from Brent Eccles of The Angels. Dalstrom had been replaced by another former Innocent Bystanders member, saxophonist Bernie Bremond, and the group began playing support shows with bands like Choirboys and The Radiators. The Injectors quickly came to the attention of Jane Barnes, the wife of Jimmy Barnes who was in the process of recording his third album Freight Train Heart. Barnes had just returned from New York with the master tapes after a frustrating period working with Jonathan Cain and was re-working much of the material in Sydney with a new producer. Through her recommendation, Diesel was hired to work on the album. When Barnes took to the road to tour the album in November, Diesel was retained as his lead guitarist. Johnny Diesel and the Injectors were also taken on as the tour's opening act. It was the beginning of a long working relationship between Diesel and Barnes that continues to the present.
The eponymous album Johnny Diesel and the Injectors was recorded in Memphis, Tennessee with producer Terry Manning during 1988 and released in March 1989. The single "Don't Need Love" was issued in October, 1988 and a second single, "Soul Revival" appeared in February 1989. In all, five singles were released from Johnny Diesel and the Injectors. "Cry in Shame" and "Looking for Love" were also Top 40 hits, but the final single "Since I Fell For You" failed to chart. The EP Live in London, recorded live by BBC Radio 1 for the Tommy Vance Sessions on Friday, 14 May was released in November. It also charted Top 40.
At the ARIA awards early following year, Johnny Diesel and the Injectors won awards for Best New Talent and Best Selling Album of the Year (with more than 280,000 copies sold).
Diesel era (1991-1998)
Diesel worked with Jimmy Barnes on his album Two Fires during 1990. In the meantime, the only recording from Johnny Diesel and the Injectors for the year was the Curtis Mayfield cover "Please Send Me Someone to Love" in January and the band had been quietly laid to rest by year's end.
In August 1991 Johnny Diesel was launched as a soloist with the single "Love Junk". His next single, "Come to Me", released in November, was released under the name Diesel and all of subsequent releases saw him billed as such until 1999. The same month saw the release of Jimmy Barnes' sixth album Soul Deep, on which Diesel again played guitar. He also duetted with Barnes on the track "Bring it On Home to Me".
"Tip of My Tongue" appeared in February 1992, followed a month later by the album Hepfidelity. Produced by Don Gehman and Terry Manning and recorded in Los Angeles and Memphis, Hepfidelity peaked at No. 1 on the national album charts and went on to sell more than 200,000 copies. A further two singles, "Man Alive" (released in May) and "One More Time" (August) followed, although only the first charted. Diesel the won ARIA awards for Best Album and Best Male Artist in 1992.
The Lobbyist was a mix of new songs, re-workings of some Hepfidelity tracks and a couple of covers. Released in August 1993, it also hit number one on the Australian charts, and Diesel again won an ARIA award for Best Male Artist.
Diesel's next album Solid State Rhyme from 1994 featured the singles "All Come Together", "Fifteen Feet of Snow" and "Get It On". It was another multi-platinum success. It was preceded in May by the EP "Still Got A Long Way to Go", a duet with Jimmy Barnes from Barnes' album Flesh and Wood, however this was not a chart hit.
In 1996, Diesel recorded the album Short Cool Ones with Melbourne blues musician Chris Wilson. The project, dubbed Wilson Diesel, also featured drummer Angus Diggs, bass player Dean Addison and Bob Woolf on keyboards. Following some production and writing work on Vika and Linda's Princess Tabu album, Diesel went on hiatus. A greatest hits compilation Rewind - The Best Of appeared in October 1996. The same year, he moved to New York City with his young family, living at Arlene's Grocery.
To this point in his career, Diesel has sold over 800,000 records in Australia and won nine awards.
Comeback to present
Diesel made a comeback to Australian music with the September 1999 release Soul Lost Companion, issued under his birth name Mark Lizotte. It spawned the singles, "Dig" and "Satellite".
He returned to live in Australia in 2002, releasing his next album Hear, once again under the Diesel moniker, in October.
On 10 October 2004 he and Jimmy Barnes performed on Andrew Denton's ABC TV program Enough Rope with Barnes' children Eliza Jane, Jackie and Elly May. Around the same time, his album Singled Out was released. An entirely acoustic overview of his career, it earned an ARIA nomination. Over the same period, he also worked with Barnes on the singer's Double Happiness, duetting on the track "Got You as a Friend" and providing much of the musical backing including guitar, drums, bass, percussion and keyboards on various tracks.
In 2006, Diesel released Coathanger Antennae, an album recorded in two months. Of it, he said "We approached it like the Stones or the Beatles used to do where we'd just put down a few takes live and then picked the ones that we all felt good about", emphasising the focus on live recording rather than studio polishing.