Jerry Joseph: I’m F***ing Happy
Photo by Tony Morey
Joseph has been laying down this type of cathartic, divisive rock show for the past 17 years with his power trio Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons. Coming out of a hippie reggae band and heroin haze, Joseph’s first move after Little Women was to hire punk rock/rockabilly bassist JR Ruppel, who didn’t even know who Bob Weir was, let alone had any interest in jamming on Dead songs. Using Bob Mould and Sugar as a template and playing loud, angry music, Joseph says that he lost just about every fan he had over the next year.
“[The Jackmormons] were too aggressive for the traditional jamband scene, at least for as long as it was still called ‘jambands,’” says Joseph. “And because of the association with jambands [specifically Widespread Panic who was covering Joseph staples “Chainsaw City,” “Climb To Safety” and “North” to increasingly large crowds], we were never going to be able to play with Dinosaur Jr.—even though we’d walk out there and for 35 minutes and hold it as fucking tough as a band like Dinosaur Jr. without blinking. But we also have pretty quiet songs and R&B stuff and a shit ton of country stuff.”
It wasn’t just the association with jambands that kept The Jackmormons from playing with Dinosaur Jr. or, say, Rage Against the Machine whose politics and agro-rock Joseph could certainly relate to. It was, as he points out, the R&B and country stuff, as well as the Salt-n-Pepa “Lets Talk About Sex” rap that frequently occurs in “Savage Garden,” the reggae inflections, the pop hooks and the 15-minute (highly underrated) guitar jams.
The truth is, whether the scene embraced Ruppel, Joseph and drummer Steve Drizos or not, The Jackmormons are a prototypical jamband—one of the heaviest ever, but a jamband nonetheless. Featuring a marathon two-set show that is wildly different from night to night with a myriad of influences and lots of improvisation, it’s hard to make a case that they belong in any other category. Though as Joseph likes to point out, when he was growing up listening to The Allman Brothers Band, Mahavishnu Orchestra, The Clash, ZZ Top, The Rolling Stones and Steely Dan, it was just called rock and roll.
There are many things that help make Jerry Joseph a unique artist, but what it boils down to, besides the brilliant, prolific songwriting, is the ability to rip himself open in front of an audience, force them to confront his raw inner-workings and, perhaps in the process, confront their own as well.
This often happens in one of his many “raps,” where the tempos stretch out, his eyes fix hard in the distance and his palms start to slam off the side of his sweaty head. When it works, it’s like he’s channeling spirits. It’s what puts him in the argument for one of the great unsung rock and roll frontmen of his generation and it’s what earned him the nickname “The Reverend” by Widespread Panic singer/guitarist John Bell.
“The most powerful thing, if you can’t use the word ‘love,’ is when you say ‘God’ onstage,” remarks Joseph. “Very rarely do I have the balls to do it. I’ve toyed with it before when I’ve had a huge crowd of people and I’m playing some song and I’m like, ‘You’re loved,’ ‘God loves you.’ People are crying—they need it really badly. That’s why U2 is fucking awesome and a lot of the other bands are not so fucking awesome. Because they’re not actually giving people what they fucking need. What they need is to know that they’re not alone and that they’re loved.”
As we head back to the Motel 6 on the other side of town where Joseph is staying, I ask him if that’s what he’s doing onstage: trying to give people what they need and maybe finding a way to not feel so alone himself.
“I’m a 50-year-old, little, bald guy hoping girls will still sorta like me for ten seconds,” he says with a self-deprecating laugh. “But yeah, I’m trying to figure it out sometimes, ‘What do they need?’ Everyone needs to rock out, but that’s not why they’re coming to see me. Nobody is like, ‘Well, what’s going on this weekend? Let’s just go to Jerry because he’s a good time.’”
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