Jerry Joseph’s Climb To Safety
Jerry Joseph dates back to the early 80’s in his days with “reggae rockers” Little Women. At that time there was no mass influx of “jambands”, since that really didn’t hit until 1990 on a large scale outside of the Grateful Dead. People were busy listening to cheese metal mostly, then grunge, and by the time the H.O.R.D.E. Tour hit, Little Women were pretty much defunct. Plagued by bad management and drug problems, Little Women broke up in 1993. Jerry Joseph has played in bands with Pete Droge and Steve Kimock, not to mention his recent effort with Woody Harrelson and Rob Wasserman. His songs have been fan favorites at Widespread Panic shows for years and they have finally recorded one of his gems for their new album “Til The Medicine Takes (“Climb to Safety”).
Jerry has also been joined by friends Zero and Warren Haynes at various live shows to name a few fans. He has been clean for over 4 years now and like one of his idol’s Steve Earle. Like Earle (who recently complimented Jerry’s work after a show), he is making music again after he thought it would be impossible to make music and remain clean. He has also reunited with Little Women drummer Brad Rosen and is excited about the possibilities of getting the music out on a larger scale and playing for more people. I got the opportunity to speak with Jerry via telephone on June 19, 1999, in which he discussed his past and potential bright future.
Narrative: Before we got started, Jerry needed a couple of seconds to make sure that he has his organic Nicaraguan coffee ready for some questions about his career, which got rather intimate at times.
AW: I know you were in a couple of bands as a teenager (Rude Rockers and Lewd Remarks). Would you like to give us some background?
JJ: They were both from Humboldt. I can’t really remember my high school teenage bands, since I really didn’t go to high school. I played in bands since I was in Jr. High School and in High School I was in New Zealand and that’s when I started playing, kind of professionally. I was like 15 or 16, but unfortunately most of those years I was in trouble and never finished 9th grade.
AW: I understand that your father took a job in New Zealand to give you a change of environment?
JJ: I was in trouble in school and my family wanted to go somewhere, where I wouldn’t get in trouble, but it didn’t work out very well. I grew up in La Jolla, CA until that time.
AW: Would you like to progress up to Little Women? Is that what you consider your first band?
JJ: No, those other bands I made money at, but we never did recordings or anything. Rude Rockers was a “Big Humboldt County Hippie Band”, a Reggae Band. I was pretty much a little kid, like 20 years old and that is where I met Brad Rosen (current Jackmormons drummer), who was living in the basement apartment of my house. I went to Utah chasing my girlfriend, he came with me and that is where we started Little Women; in Logan, UT.
AW: Is Logan technically where Little Women started or was it Humboldt?
JJ: Really it was Logan. We just came up with the idea, name, and stuff in Humboldt.
AW: Your songwriting back in those days was a bit different. It has definitely progressed in a positive way (not that there was anything wrong with it in Little Women). In Little Women your songs seemed rather “reggaefied” (if there is such a word). having Bob Marley, Burning Spear, and Black Uhuru as some of your biggest influences: how has your songwriting evolved from there and do you still implement those influences?
JJ: When I was in my early 20’s the whole reggae thing, whether it was political or “whatever rocks your boat in your early 20’s”. It was definitely left-winged at that point in time, listening to Clash records and Black Uhuru. Some of that stuff has stayed with me. I don’t think Bob Marley was nearly the influence on me that he is now. I think it has been since I have gotten older and have gone back to that stuff because those were the songs that stood out. As I get older, it is just about the songs, I don’t care what kind of music it is. I listen to pretty much everything.
AW: Is Reggae still a big influence?
JJ: No, I didn’t even listen to Reggae for the past 8 years. I just started listening to it again, buying a lot of it. For the 80’s it was really important to me. Little Women started primarily as a Reggae Band, with (describing jokingly) wearing make-up like we were The Stones and going to Dead shows. We were pretty enamored by Black Uhuru, Steel Pulse, and the stuff that was kind of tougher and more lethal on the surface. Those guys were all kind of all about leather jackets and being bad asses, as was The Clash. The Sandanista record (Clash) and The English Beat were big for me. I remember I liked them better than The Specials because I liked their songs more. I actually got into a big fight about that (with a Little Women mate).
AW: I have a Little Women tape somewhere with “Doors of Your Heart” (English Beat) on it.
JJ: Yeah we did that.
AW: So politics were important to you in music?
JJ: I think when you’re 21 or 22. You know, the “Reagan Years”. That was all gibberish, then we had Solidarity and Sandanistas. Outside of that, I could go to Nicaragua and just hang out. My early 20’s was Reggae, The Dead, The Clash, and The Stones. That was probably what was on the turntable. A lot of that stuff kind of had to do with was all groove and I think if anything that has been retained in my live electric music is that groove, which has effected me greatly when I play. (Little Women were) basically white kids that were trying to cop something that should have been foreign to us.
AW: I feel that Little Women was melodic and very happy, yet at that same time you weren’t necessarily as happy. Do you find that ironic?
JJ: Well I think that was kind of the point. A lot of that British and reggae stuff and whatever else I was listening to like Van Morrison and The Band, they all had that same kind of theme. The music was rather uplifting, while the lyrics were a lot darker. I think that when you were at that age and me personally, I was never buying into “This is about a good time”, which is too bad because I probably would have had a lot more fun. I think we were leaning towards the self-righteous, self-absorbed, troubled, f:*!‘n whatever image we were trying to put across. Most of the songs I wrote were and still are darker themes.
AW: “Daddy Bruce” for example (on the Jackmormons “Goodlandia” and Little Women “Pretty Wiped Out”) still being in your repertoire along with a lot of the older songs you have written. The way you are playing them now, is that how Little Women would have progressed? Essentially becoming the Jackmormons.
JJ: No, a song like “Daddy Bruce”, we played immediately because Jr. was like a rockabilly/punk bass player and that was a groove he could relate to immediately. The “Little Women thing”, if I had to say what was Little Women more fit into, I think Live Radish Head is it. We had been playing more and more aggressive with the guitars and everything else and it turned into a wall of groove and mayhem and by the time we came to Portland (as Jerry digresses): I remember like 88’ or 89’ all of my friends were into the Butthole Surfers and Dinosaur Jr.. I was always embarrassed to be associated with this “fluffy twirly thing”. We thought we were dark and cool! maybe we were? We were definitely a hell of a lot darker than anything that was around us!
AW: How have your live performances changed from Little Women to the Jackmormons? Especially with Jr. playing bass and being reunited with your old compatriot Brad Rosen. How has it changed for good and bad? Has it made you a better player?
JJ: The band I have now is about people that I trust! It ain’t about the music (jokingly). I am very fortunate that I had the Jackmormons happen. It was really an accident. I moved to Montana in 1995 and Jim Bone (former Jackmormons and Little Women drummer) convinced me to come to this bar and play an acoustic set for $800 for an hour. i wasn’t even going to play music anymore at that point. I didn’t think I could play and stay clean. I also fell out of a tree and dislocated my shoulder. The only thing I really could do was play guitar. i was playing guitar in this little bar in Boseman on Wednesday nights. Jim got me to come down to Salt lake City, for what was a lot of money for me for one show, and I got down there and made all this money, so then we booked another one. The next time I came down there, Jim and this guy Jr. had learned a bunch of songs. Jr. learned them on stand-up bass and it was just fun. So we decided we could do some gigs like this and at the same time my friend Dave Pelicciaro organ player from Tough Mama), who was in New Orleans at the time had kind of prompted me to get a band together. So next, we brought Dave out. So this was now between me Dave P, and Jim Bone. The 3 biggest aggro egos I know and also a couple of my closest friends. Jr.. was the only guy who didn’t have an agenda every conscious moment of his life. I didn’t even know Jr., just that he played in a rockabilly band. Jr. could play with one hand and drink a quart of Miller High Life in the other, playing “American white trasher and Social Distortion tunes”. Somehow through all of that Jr.‘s become one of my closest friends and has been with me since the new part of my life happened. He’s become another breathing part of what I do as art, especially with his voice. When he started playing he was so simple that it was never an option to go out musically on some song. It forced real simple arrangements of things.
AW: With Jr. never being in a groove oriented band before, how has he stepped up to the plate?
JJ: He has kept his influences and mind in check. Just like Little Women. All of these other “hippie bands” were playing a million notes. Little Women was melodic. Hell, I think Louis Butts only knew 5 notes and so did Jr.! It was weird, I remember the first time I played Portland and all the “Cool Music Guys” were there and giving me shit. Saying, what is this band? Jim Bone was like the same thing, a punk drummer and it was supposed to be all this technical stuff which we didn’t do. Any fans we did have (Little Women die hards) we had all lost in a year because when the Jackmormons came out it was this “Wall of Sound” (Jerry adds his sound effect here). All of the people would be in the front row ready for “Breakfast at Lucille’s” or some danceable lighter thing, instead of being molled over. It would have been great if our first gigs were in arena, instead of clubs where we were really loud. I was apparently pretty angry at the time!