In The Light with Jefferson Waful – Part II
Still the same, the fog is blowing over the walls of the canyon obscuring the sun but the sun keeps fighting back… – *Big Sur*, Jack Kerouac
RR: During the turn of the century, you worked at Jambands.com, had a stint at the news desk, and wrote a column called Waful House. I was always very impressed with how much information you accumulated and wrote about back in the early days of the site in the late 1990s. I couldn’t keep up with your pace!
JW: Well, thank you. I have to give all the credit in the world to the people that were emailing us. Again, at the time, the Internet was still pretty young. There was no Twitter. There was no Facebook. Really, the information that I was providing to people was being provided to me. If you were doing publicity for a young jamband, Rolling Stone is not going to take your call, and Rolling Stone is not going to read your press release so you’re going to go to Jambands.com. I may have looked like I was getting this information out before anyone else, but really it was just because bands were contacting us, and because, at the time, there were no other outlets. I was merely the conduit.
RR: I remember reading one of your Waful House columns from that period where you had lost your job, but you had all of these great things that you could do, and you suddenly remembered that you had to pay your rent and eat. It’s one of those pieces where you want to jump ahead ten years to see what happened.
JW: Well, right. It’s funny that ten years later, I’m still in that quandary. I still feel like it’s a neverending story. Again, like so many of my friends, we work in this music industry because we’re passionate about it, we believe in it, and we love it. At the same time, it’s not as lucrative as being a software engineer, sitting at a 9 to 5 job.
It’s this constant balancing act of “well, I’m having fun and I’m doing what I believe in, and I have this job that so many people come up to me and say, “_Oh, you’re so lucky. You have the greatest job in the world_. ” In some ways I do, but at the same time, if I was sitting at a cubicle, you have that stability of sleeping in the same bed every night, and having structure in your life. And, as everyone knows, there is not a ton of money to go around in the jamband scene. We do it because we love it.
RR: Your working relationship with Dean Budnick grew over the years as you began a radio show co-hosting Jam Nation.
JW: Again, that was lucky timing. We always talked about it on the air, too. Andy Herrick—who is the drummer in the Assembly of Dust now, and was the drummer for Moon Boot Lover, one of the old school bands that I think was in the original shoebox at WERS in 1995 or ’96—knew me as a radio guy at WERS. That’s how we first met. A few years later, it might have been five years later, I was a writer at Jambands.com, and I had been out of radio for a couple of years, and I missed it tremendously as I do now. Andy called me up and said, “Hey, I just got this gig.” I believe he worked for Clear Channel at the time through, I believe, a promoter in New Hampshire. Somebody he had worked with was trying to put together a radio show to promote some jamband-friendly concerts that they were doing and had asked Andy because Andy was young, in the scene, and said, “Hey, do you know anyone who would be good for this?” And he called me up.
I was thrilled, and Dean was just the obvious choice because Dean had more knowledge about the jamband genre than anyone. He was arguably responsible for coining the term “jambands” when he put out his book Jam Bands, and when he launched the web site to promote the book, Jambands.com. He, literally, has an encyclopedic knowledge of the genre so it seemed perfect. With my broadcasting background, I remember saying at the time, “Oh, I’ll be the play-by-play guy, and you can be the color guy. You’re the knowledgeable expert.” It just seemed like a perfect fit.
We started that show in Hartford in 2000 and we had a great run. We eventually wound up on XM, in addition. The station in Hartford flipped because the format was not selling as well, and they became a hip-hop station literally overnight. We went in on Sunday and did our show as we normally did, and the next morning, we found out that they were now a hip-hop channel. It was owned by Clear Channel, and the money wasn’t being made on the station so they just decided “Oh, hip-hop is the next format.” Literally, the show just ended abruptly, but luckily, we were still being broadcast on XM. We had a good run there, too, up until last year when XM and SIRIUS merged. And, of course, SIRIUS already had a jamband channel so there wasn’t any space for it. We’re still looking for a new home for the glorious Jam Nation if anyone out there is looking for a jamband show.
RR: What were some of the highlights of broadcasting Jam Nation?
JW: There were tons. The one that always comes to mind—and Dean and I have talked about this—was during the AFC Championship Game between the Patriots and the Steelers. Again, just by total luck and total coincidence, this particular radio station—and not all radio stations have these—just happened to have a recording studio. Unlike WERS in Boston, this, I think, was a board room where they held meetings Monday through Friday, and it could be converted into a studio. They had a control room with a mixing board, and when we got the show, it was completely fortuitous that we were able to bring in live bands, record them, and go out over the air. For our genre, and for what jambands are, this was perfect. It’s not about playing the single. It’s about spontaneity and the improv and the live show.
We would bring in bands twice a month, and one of the bigger bands that we got was the Steve Kimock Band. Our show was on a Sunday so they came in on Sunday afternoon to pre-record; we were going to play it live on the air that night and it happened to coincide with the Pittsburgh/Patriots game. I remember Rodney Holmes who was playing drums was a huge Pittsburgh fan, and a couple of the crew guys, and Dean and I were really big Patriots fans. Everyone in the band was paying attention to this game. As we know, Steve Kimock Band are completely tremendous and professional accomplished musicians. We’re sitting there in the board room with a big screen T.V. watching the game as the band is recording their set. I remember there was one pivotal moment in the game where [Patriots kicker] Adam Vinatieri was lining up for a pretty lengthy field goal, and the band sort of vamped in the improv section that they were playing because they were all hanging on this play, waiting to see what happened. The music wound up scoring the action, and I remember watching Rodney Holmes, who was not happy with the outcome of that game, and the outcome of that field goal, with this big frown on his face. Meanwhile, he’s playing one of the sickest grooves I’ve ever heard because he’s such a great musician that he can be watching a ball game, be bummed out at the outcome, and the music’s secondary. Just another day at the office.