Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons
Some compare Jerry Joseph's songwriting to Dylan's, but Joseph doesn't. While Dylan chronicled an American generation's unrest, Joseph says his songs come from a more personal place.
"Most people say my songs are about Jesus, junkies and sex," Joseph says. "I don't know if that's really true. I like artists that mix stuff up. When spiritual outrage smacks into the profane. Whether it's Marvin Gaye or Prince. I listen to all kinds of music, probably too much music."
Joseph rarely sets out to make a point with a song, he says. But sometimes listeners find his music applicable to the human condition.
"My politics can be pretty controversial, but I gave up trying to explain what the songs are about a long time ago," Joseph says. "Someone's interpretation of a song can sometimes be cooler than what I intended it to be. Listening to music is like looking at art. Was Picasso trying to depict a scene of war, or was he just painting a portrait of his girlfriend?"
The Washington Post wrote that Joseph ... "sounds occasionally like John Mellencamp's older, wiser and psychologically mixed-up sibling ... (he) writes complex, image-laden songs and infuses them with plenty of attitude, soulfulness and swagger."
Joseph was raised in San Diego. After he got into trouble in high school, his father sent him to a reform school in New Zealand, where he began playing guitar.
"When I came back, I landed in jail. It was a rough time," he says. "Then I lived all over the country, Utah, Colorado, Oregon."
Joseph met drummer Brad Rosen in Arcata, Calif., and the two formed rock and reggae jam band Little Women in 1982. Based in Salt Lake City, Little Women ruled the club circuits in the late '80s and early '90s, finding home bases in Boulder, Colo., New York City and Portland before disbanding in '93.
"We (Little Women) landed on the Portland music scene in '90, just as reggae was becoming uncool there," Joseph says. "That made my music all the more aggressive."
Joseph went on after Little Women to perform solo, despite a struggle with drug addiction that ended after two years of rehabilitation.
"I thought I'd quit music," Joseph says. "I wasn't sure I could play music and stay alive. But it turns out that I could."
At a solo show in 1995 in Salt Lake City, Joseph met bassist J.R. Ruppel. The two started The Jackmormons. The electric, three-piece unit includes Portland drummer Steve Drizos, whom Joseph also met in Salt Lake City.
"The Jackmormons are my main focus now, our lineup is pretty solid and we've been working together a lot," Joseph says. "The band is playing as good as it ever has. We've got a lot of original music, and I've got about 300 songs. I'd like to do more of the older Little Women songs, but that would involve rehearsing," he adds with a laugh.
Rehearsals and long tours for The Jackmormons are restricted by geography, with Drizos based in Portland, Ruppel in Salt Lake City and Joseph in New York City.
"This will be our first run down the West Coast in a couple of years," Joseph says. "We just did a run through the South, but the days of long tours are over. At the end of the day, it's all about being at home with our families."
Joseph and The Jackmormons' latest recording, "Into the Lovely," was released in 2006 on a Portland-based independent label called Cosmo Sex School Records. The songs featured a lineup of Rose City musicians that included guitarist Steve James Wright and drummer Brad Rosen of Little Women.
"It's strange to stand on a street in New York City and think about Little Women," Joseph says. "You usually don't get two, much less one, band that you're with for 10 or 12 years. The Jackmormons seem to be working pretty well and are taking up a big chunk of my time now. I think people who buy the albums like them. That I have a job is cool. It's been an interesting road."
Other projects under The Jackmormons' moniker are "Mouthful of Copper" (2003) and "Conscious Contact" (2002), among others. When Joseph isn't touring or recording with The Jackmormons, he's working with other projects and musicians. He, Drizos and Brett Mosley released "Charge," an EP on Cosmo Sex School, this year. Joseph and Drizos also work as a duo called The Denmark Veseys, and Joseph and Widespread Panic bass player Dave Schools have a project called Stockholm Syndrome that has just finished its second album.
"Maybe I'll get tired of all of this," Joseph says. "But hopefully it'll get more complicated than less complicated."