Weekly Wire
Salt Lake City Weekly Jerry Joseph, Superstar

By Bill Frost

If anyone has the right to cop the "Been there, done that" attitude, it's Jerry Joseph. The story of his life and career occupied at least four pages of type much smaller than this in last year's Vibes (Private Eye Weekly, Aug. 29, 1996), our annual music issue. With my limited attention span, I'm hoping to finish reading it someday.

Since all we have is this page, here's the recap: Joseph's mucho-popular band Little Women, a reggaefied forerunner to the hippie/alternative crossover, falls apart in 1993 due to bad management and drug problems; Joseph releases a string of solo albums as the drug haze thickens; in 1995 the rehab trail ends in New York City, where Joseph finally cleans up; through a friend, he winds up in Montana and starts playing and writing again.

In late '95, ex-Little Women drummer, Jim Bone, persuades Joseph to come to Salt Lake City and form a new band — the acoustic-based Jethro Belt, with Bone on drums and Junior on stand-up bass, eventually becomes the electrified Jackmormons when long-time Joseph pal and keyboard maniac Dave Pellicciaro is imported from New Orleans. In early 1996, the three-month-old band records Butte, Mont. 1879 (Holladay). Exhaustive Western states touring ensues, while they still can't get arrested in Salt Lake City, where Little Women could sell out houses on any given night. Joseph still plays the East coast, solo.

Late 1996: Jim Bone quits and is eventually replaced by former Sweet Loretta drummer Adam Sorensen. After yet more touring, the Jackmo's head back into the studio to record again. Soon after the completion of the new five-song EP Cotton (Holladay, again), Pellicciaro splits. Joseph, Junior and Sorensen decide to remain a trio. The Jackmo sound becomes leaner, tougher and closer in spirit to the old Little Women than anything Joseph has done in years, and no one seems to be complaining.

"We miss Dave, and I want to feel more guilty about how well we're being received as a three-piece," Joseph laughs. "One of our first shows without him was in Montana; a friend of ours was in the front row yelling out songs that he thought we couldn't pull off without keys — it was tough, but he couldn't stump us."

International Man of Mystery, Junior adds "I love Dave, but I hated his gear (a B3 organ roughly the size and weight of a refrigerator). Now it's like, 'Three flights of stairs to the stage? No problem!'"

Pellicciaro's amicable departure also prompted Joseph's decision against concentrating more on his East coast solo gigs. "With strong personalities like that in a band, sometimes things can get buried — that's no slam against anyone, it just happens," he says.

Joseph felt that his songs were coming across better in his solo acoustic shows, but when the Jackmormons started over as a trio, the new space in the music was a revelation. "A lot of my stuff, whether it be reggae or whatever the hell I was doing before, has holes in it. If you can keep the holes and still be creative, then it's more interesting. A bunch of things have changed about the music: Adam is by far the greatest drummer the Jackmormons have had, one of the best I've ever played with — and I've played with a couple," Joseph laughs again.

"There's a presumption about stripping it down to a trio, that it's not full enough to the average person's ears — which I think is bullshit. Some of my favorite bands are Husker Du, Sugar, the Police, ZZ Top, whatever — I went back and studied every old live power trio album I could, just to remember how it's done."

Jerry and the Jackmo's had it down cold when Part One of the Cotton release parties happened on a gray afternoon in front of Salt City CDs. A sizable crowd of friends, family, fans and curious onlookers had gathered when the band kicked things off with a serpentine, extended version of Butte, Mont.'s "Grateful" — actually, all of the songs are extended: A couple of weeks of doing blink-and-they're-gone opening slots in L.A. had left the guys itching to stretch out a little. The old blended seamlessly with the new and the hackie-sacks flew — there's a song in there, I can hear it.

Songs are the recurring theme in Joseph's ever-growing stack of press raves, and Cotton delivers five more disparate classics for the critics, as well as real people. "Big Things," the opener, is a stylistic salad bar: the alt-grunge guitar intro gives way to radio-ready hippie grooves, then along come the New Wave synths; "Staplegun" is all coffee-house cool and a perfect, two-note guitar solo; "Dixie Mattress" is Blues Traveler with a clue and 98 percent less fat; "The Jump" sweats bullets with the intensity that only Warren Zevon's love/politics dramas used to conjure; and "These Gray Days" trades Seger's Hollywood nights in for something more hopeful. At the heart — literally — of it all is Joseph's Marlboros-for-breakfast voice and his soul burning at 50,000 watts: The guy doesn't seem capable of a bloodless attempt at anything when it comes to his music.

As for the future, solo or Jackmormon, Joseph concludes, "I ask people that I know in the record industry, 'Is there even a place for me anymore? Or is it time to punt?' They tell me that the time is right — I've been clean for two years, I've proven myself. Not to presume to put myself on his level or anything, but Neil Young has his acoustic, singer/songwriter thing, then he has Crazy Horse when he needs to make some noise. I need to do the acoustic thing as much as I need a band. The Jackmormons are kind of my own Crazy Horse, you know?"

Please God, just don't let him start hanging out with Eddie Vedder.

Cotton and Butte, Mont. 1879 are available at most CD stores or direct from Holladay Records at 801-328-0991. The Cotton release party, Part Two, takes place at the Zephyr on Friday, June 27.

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