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Columns > John Zinkand - Improvise

Published: 2001/05/21
by John Zinkand

Musics Jello Loses Jiggle

Its 1991 and Im standing in the smoky little pub located in the basement of the dining hall at Clark University in Worcester, MA. The ceilings are low, there are poles obstructing the view of the band, and its really hot, but lots of people are dancing or standing and watching. The guitar player has long and crazy frizzed-out hair, and he rolls his eyes and leans from side to side as he churns out a great rendition of the Allman Brothers Band song, In Memory of Elizabeth Reed. People look at one another in awe as the solo keeps raging and the energy keeps increasing. Everyone in the room seems to respect the power of this young band.
I learned that the name of this band was Jiggle the Handle. They were a young band who played a lot of gigs in Worcester in the early 90s. We Clark students even thought of Jiggle the Handle as our band. They were a staple at the many parties that happened in the off-campus apartments every weekend around Clark U. At a good Clark party you could always expect a keg or two of shitty beer, plenty of brown brick weed to smoke, and music provided by Jiggle the Handle. These were not luxurious times, but they were extremely enjoyable ones.
Admittedly, Jiggle was just a struggling band with mediocre skills in the early 90s. They played Worcester and the surrounding areas incessantly, however, and garnished respect for their sound almost everywhere they went. From 1991-1995, however, I was a self-professed Phish-addicted monkey. When I think back on my college years I try to remember if my major was English or Phish. My Chevy Corsica racked up thousands of miles in those years, while it became intimately familiar with all of New Englands highways and byways. If there was a Phish show within a few hundred miles, I was there.
Consequently, Jiggle the Handle was not even close to being a musical priority for me. Id catch them during a Phishless weekend at a friends party or I could see them play the pub for five bucks if there was nothing else going on. I did always look forward to Jiggles performance at Clarks Spree Day in the spring, which was our annual fling, complete with tons of live music and hedonistic debauchery. In 93 and 94 I was getting into the band Shockra as a band to see while not seeing Phish, and Jiggle the Handle opened for them quite a bit at seedy Wormtown venues like Bowlers or the Plantation Club.
After some Jiggle the Handle refresher shows thanks to Shockra, I really started becoming impressed with Jiggle guitarist Gary Backstroms playing. He played all sorts of complicated songs note-for-note and very fluidly. I was also impressed with the bass player at the time, Harry, who seemed to be Garys perfect complement. Harry was known for being animated on stage, looking like Jerry Garcia in 1971, and ripping out legendary versions of the Phish tune, Alumni Blues. After Shockras demise, when I was not seeing Phish shows, I was usually checking out Jiggle the Handle.
Gilreins is a sketchy little bar on Main St. in Worcester. It was always dark and always smoky. The thing I remember most about the bar, though, is the fact that there was a window to the street directly behind the stage. Anytime you saw a show there, you could count on some drunken guy or drugged-up hooker looking in from the street and making fun of the band or the people dancing. Ah, Worcester. Anyway, this is where I saw many Jiggle the Handle shows. They were always good shows, but not great. At this point the band was going through drummers and keyboard players like nobodys business. The lack of regular players made the sound suffer, and I didnt see Jiggle play for a while after all those nights at Gilreins for some time.
I graduated college in 1995 and moved to Providence, RI. I started living with the woman who eventually became my wife, and we rediscovered Jiggle the Handle together. We must have been bored some night in the summer of 1996 and saw in the paper that there was a Jiggle show in Matunuck, RI at a venue called the Ocean Mist. We decided to attend and relive some of my college days with some familiar tunes by Jiggle the Handle. This show changed my impression of Jiggle. Gary had a drummer who I later found out was former Max Creek drummer Greg Vasso. Vasso seemed to not only know the Jiggle tunes, but to add a distinctive drumming style that fueled them! Also, they had a keyboard player that was not half bad! To top it all off they had a light show complete with smoke machine that helped their wild jams lead in and out of songs in sweeping segues. This was not the old Jiggle the Handle I had experienced in Worcester, but a newly revamped and re-polished band.
Needless to say, I was very impressed with the new look and direction of the band. I started seeing Jiggle the Handle play whenever I could. Driving a few hours up to Maine on a weekend or through freezing rain to get to Boston were now not out of the question. While seeing so many shows over this time period, I became good friends with the band, crew, and family. The band even honored my loyalty and enthusiasm for their music in their newsletter by naming me Jiggler of the Month. I was not seeing Phish as much by this time and Jiggle became the perfect smaller band experience that I was craving.
By 1998 Jiggle had found a permanent lineup by adding Paul Wolstencroft on keys and Chris Kew (Q) on bass. With the addition of these two guys, Jiggles sound was tighter and more original than ever. I had moved to Oregon, but continued to support Jiggle on their website and by seeing a show any time I happened to be back east. I also urged them to travel west, which they had already planned on doing. Jiggle played the High Sierra Music Festival in 1998 and then again in 1999. I toured with the band while they were on the Left Coast and we had some mighty fine times.
At this point I was very good friends with the band and even flew to see them play a few shows over a long weekend in Colorado. They were writing new tunes, trying new ideas at concerts, and just generally having fun being Jiggle. The band seemed to really be rolling and was touring quite a bit. Frequent tours in the Southeast became a regular thing for the band with an occasional run to Colorado and the summer pilgrimages out west. The road was always a struggle for the band, however, with frequent break-downs, malfunctions, and bad luck in the form of things like floods and fender-benders. They always had fun on the road, but always seemed to be fighting against the odds.
The band had been pushing and trying as much as possible to get their music to the people. They released a couple albums and kept touring and playing as many shows as possible. Unfortunately, things have changed over time and the band has decided to call it quits. They will play their last official shows at Berkfest in Great Barrington, MA on August 11th and 12th. While I havent spoken with the band about the split yet, I know that they need to do what is best for each of them. I know that their individual goals do not mesh as much as they used to, and this is a problem for any band. Being a small band is a very hard proposition as it requires so much effort with so very little return. Over the years I watched Jiggle grow and change from a little college bar band into a great touring band with a unique sound and an awesome musical ability. I was hoping to see their growth continue for many years to come, but can respect their need to do whats best for them.
I feel like I kind of grew up with Jiggle and they have been with me on so many important journeys. The band and friends are now a close part of my extended family. Jiggle even provided the music for my wedding last summer. After so many years and so many memories it is extremely difficult for me to comprehend the fact that Jiggle no longer exists. While it is a painful void for me personally, I feel the greater loss is to the jamband community. It is losing an under-appreciated musical gem known as Jiggle.

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