Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons Still Looking for Big Break

Jerry Joseph, songwriter/guitarist/bandleader with the Jackmormons, is an artist who's consistently fallen just shy of major success.

His various bands -- Little Women and Stockholm Syndrome (a supergroup including percussionist Wally Ingram and members of Widespread Panic) -- have flirted with stardom, but the door opened only wide enough for Joseph to get a foot inside. Respected (and covered) by his peers, he forges on, making gritty yet soulful music as only he can. This, he considers, is a positive and a negative.

"I have people who come up to me and say, 'We love you so much. You've never sold out.' That's because no one ever asked. Tell me where to sign, man," Joseph says with a laugh from his Portland home. "I have the same ego as every crazed lead singer has. I waffle between that stuff every 20 minutes. I'm grateful I've got a job, but at the same time, it would be awesome to tour before 2,000 people every night."

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On the positive side, Joseph maintains complete musical freedom, something even the most successful artists sometimes lack.

"I've never had to do anything I didn't want to do as far as my music. I'm not successful enough to worry about the brand -- and it's probably why I'm not more successful," he says, again with self-deprecating laughter. "I'm not one to make records pandering to a particular style. It's not because I'm coming from a holier-than-thou position, but I don't think it's going to make a difference if I make some indie-pop record. I have the luxury, I suppose, to do whatever."

Joseph's latest album, Singing in the Rain, is a mixed effort, a kind of B-sides compilation, that is "if we actually were a band that released things with B-sides." The album features several recently penned numbers, one Silos cover (Flagstaff resident and former Silo Walter Salas-Humara contributed songwriting), and a handful of concert staples never saved to tape. There are brooding laments, some Cajun funk, and soul-infused rockers that sound like vintage Bruce Springsteen.

"It's a funny thing, because sometimes I don't think of it like a new record, a body of work I released in the last year and am focused on. I think a publicist would hate that," he says, laughing again. "If [the songs] were in a studio somewhere, it would be like a B-side compilation, but we actually cut the songs."

For a man who laughs so readily, there's a persistent dark edge to Joseph's songwriting -- drug addiction, domestic issues, death, and war seep in. He cites the Police's "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic" as "the perfect song" he hopes to emulate. Typically, a dark turn alters his course. "Chainsaw City," "Climb to Safety," and "North" are Joseph classics.

"I try to write that song and, inevitably, someone dies or something terrible happens in the song. I can't seem to get away from it," he says, laughing. "My band's like, 'Dude, isn't there any light here somewhere?'"

Light is beginning to filter in, however, as the Jackmorons have undergone a major change. Junior Ruppel, the band's bassist since forming in 1995, has departed. Former Little Women guitarist (now bassist) Steven James Wright has stepped in, while Jeff Crosby joined on guitar.

"Frankly, at my age and my life right now, it's not all fucking darkness. I've got babies at home. That's awesome, you know? And I've really been enjoying playing. There's a musicality to [this band]. We let in sunlight . . . but I don't know if we let in enough sunlight to kill all the demons."

Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons are scheduled to perform Friday, November 28, at Last Exit Live.

Find any show in Metro Phoenix via our extensive online concert calendar.

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver