For more than 30 years, Jerry Joseph has been strapping on a guitar and chasing down truth, understanding and soul with a tenacity and resonant skill that mark him as a hard charging kindred spirit to Joe Strummer, Warren Zevon and Patti Smith. While not a household name or critic's darling, Joseph is the archetypal musician's musician, something resoundingly clear in his live performances, as well as his studio work.
Joseph's current foursome, the Jackmormons, is the latest chapter in his long, strange musical journey that flows like glowing quicksilver through the modern psyche, where war and disaster wrestle with hope and faith. The Jackmormons currently feature Joseph (guitar, lead vocals), Steve Drizos (drums, backing vocals), Steve James Wright (bass, backing vocals) and Jeff Crosby (guitar, vocals).
Joseph first came to prominence in the mid-1980s with still-beloved cult band Little Women, a reggae-rock proto-jam band that dominated the Rocky Mountain club scene for nearly a decade, and notably helped break jam giants Widespread Panic, who looked up to Joseph and opened for his band before rising to prominence. In fact, Joseph wrote many of Panic's favorite concert staples, including such blazing epics as North, Chainsaw City and Climb to Safety.
Steve Drizos and Steve James Wright are also musical lifers working steadily for decades both as sparring partners to Jerry Joseph and elsewhere. Drizos was a member of acoustic Dexter Grove from 1995-2004, a band that performed over 1,500 shows nationally. Drizos produced the live Jackmormons record Badlandia and co-produced Happy Book, as well as performing and recording with such luminaries as Dave Mason and Jim Capaldi (of Traffic), Widespread Panic, The Decemberists, moe., Merle Saunders, Eric McFadden, and dozens of local Portland artists.
Steve James Wright has been a complement to Joseph since almost Day One, as the guitarist for Little Women and an outstanding player in his own right. After taking some time off, James graciously and expertly moved over to bass to bring back a slinkier, funkier and more psychedelic mood to the Jackmormons sound. His deep knowledge of the material and his more melodic style now combine to challenge the band to find its finest grooves.
The more recent addition of young stud guitar player/singer/songwriter Jeff Crosby (Jeff Crosby & The Refugees) has proved another prescient move by Joseph. A couple of Crosby’s songs from the 2013 album, Silent Conversations, were featured on the hit FX series, Sons of Anarchy. Crosby helps brings out the Americana sensibility of the Jackmormons sound, and his crisp guitar work proves an admirable counterpart to Joseph’s open-minded approach. And a Crosby tune or 2 has become a welcome part of a Jackmormons’ set.
Joseph’s influences are many and varied. “Columbia Record Club used to have 20 records for a penny and I filled out form after form, and these boxes of records came to my house and my parents would flip out. Those were my influences,” says Joseph. “I was a kid, so I was as into The Monkees as I was The Beatles. Then, my mother would tell you, it was all over on my 9th or 10th birthday with [Black Sabbath's] Master of Reality and Steppenwolf Live. Then at 12, it was jazz. I saw every jazz act that toured in the 70s…Herbie Hancock and Tower of Power after we went to see Steely Dan. All that and then my older babysitter bought me Exile on Main Street and I saw [Bob Marley and] The Wailers in 1976 and moved to New Zealand. And then The Clash came out and changed my life. But I also loved ZZ Top and all those guitar bands. When I lived in New Zealand, I sat in my window and read Lord of the Rings while listening to prog like Gentle Giant and Camel. Later, I learned a lot from Chris Whitley touring around Europe with him.”
Meanwhile, Joseph is steadily extending his global reach, taking advantage of the Internet's ability to find audiences worldwide with tours in Southeast Asia, Europe, Central America, Israel, Lebanon, Ireland, England and elsewhere. Joseph is a hyper-gifted American singer-songwriter finding appreciation beyond his own country's borders, an endlessly insightful rabble-rouser and back street shaman. His creative tendrils extend beyond the Jackmormons into everything from extensive solo work to rangy rock juggernaut Stockholm Syndrome (where Joseph plays with Widespread Panic's Dave Schools, Bay Area guitar marvel Eric McFadden, Gov't Mule's Danny Louis, and percussionist Wally Ingram), and a host of unreleased work.
Despite the sort of roadblocks and turns of fortune that usually crush most musicians, Joseph survives, and in fact, thrives in a way that's heartening and stirring, as anyone who has seen a live show can testify.
“I'm lucky. I work. I've never had to play in a cover band. I've never had to wear a funny hat, “ says Joseph. “Perhaps because of the lack of traditional success, I've put out about a record a year, plus all the stuff that's never come out, and it's kept me creatively honest. I don't rehash my past. I don't repeat any of my old hits because I don't have any big hits.”