Guitarist/singer/songwriter Jerry Joseph has deep and abiding connections to Utah. He lived in Logan and Salt Lake City in the ’80s and ’90s, forming strong bands in each city. Little Women was his storied jam/reggae outfit that arose in the ’80s in Logan. Legend has it that they were all set to be the Next Big Thing, before personality conflicts and Joseph’s drug habit took their toll.
Later, in recovery, Joseph formed his Salt Lake City power trio, The Jackmormons, a group he plays with to this day. The band had its first-ever gig at the long-lived and legendary punk club, Burt’s Tiki Lounge.
The band, which includes J.R. “Junior” Ruppel (bass/backing vocals) and Steve Drizos (drums/backing vocals), has since made many records and moved on to bigger stages and major festivals. The group even scored a high-profile Olympics gig in Salt Lake City in 2002.
But Joseph decided that, this time through Utah, it felt right to return to the bona fide funkiness of Burt’s in support of the band’s new two-record set, “Happy Book.” Jerry and the boys play the club at 9 p.m. Thursday, June 14.
“That is how we started this band, right there in that punk bar, with Jerry shedding his hippie-rock thing, Jerry becoming a freshly clean punk rocker — and thereby losing every fan I had made up to that moment,” cracked Joseph, calling from the highway on his way to Charlotte, N.C. “And 17 years later, here we are again.
“And of course, we decided clear back then to call ourselves the Jackmormons, knowing in our hearts that someday Mitt Romney would win the presidential nomination. I think our time has come. We’re going to ride into the sunset as Band of the Year. They are probably looking hard right now at Junior Ruppel as the running mate, in fact — a Mormon/Jackmormon ticket!”
Double the fun
Joseph said he has long wanted to do a double album with this band. He had in mind giving one disc more of an acoustic turn and the other straight-ahead rock power, which is exactly how “Happy Book” ended up.
“People have asked a lot whether we were genre-hopping to show off that we had cool record collections or something like that,” Joseph said. “But I don’t think that was it as much as, well ... we’re old now. We’ve had time to explore a lot of types of music.”
He said he thinks it would be weirder to him if the double album was either all acoustic, or all heavy.
“Look, The Jackmormons are good at a couple things. We are the loudest, hardest three-piece rock band in America — but we are also good at being real quiet and playing acoustic,” Joseph said.
He notes that some of his favorite albums of all time are double ones that wander wide territory.
“Look at ‘The White Album.’ You have ‘Helter Skelter’ and ‘Blackbird’ on the same album,” he said. “I love that.”
Writing in Mexico
Joseph, who was raised in San Diego, has family who worked out of Baja Norte, Mexico. Over the years, he has gone there to create music.
“It is a place I have long gone and written songs — in various stages of coherence, I might add. But this time was different. A bunch of things had happened in a very short period of time.”
Joseph, living in New York, had a new baby boy — his third child, but his first with a woman he was married to. This life-changing event happened less than a month before Joseph’s father died.
“The birth affected me as much as the death,” Joseph said. “It was New York and it was winter, and it was the holidays, full of emotion anyway. So while I was dealing with the post-funeral issues in San Diego, I made time to go down there (to Mexico) and work. I was pretty emotionally raw, which is kind of where you want to be when writing songs — though hopefully, you can tap into that without actually losing loved ones.”
Machete and glue
Joseph received “Happy Book” production help from Gregg Williams and bandmate Drizos.
“Steve has always been kind of behind-the-boards since he has been working with us. His wife Jenny plays in The Decemberists, and they also have another band together, Black Prairie, and he has been doing the mixing stuff for them, too. Then Gregg was in my old band, Little Women, for years. He went from there to become a really big record producer.”
As feelings were hurt way back when, Williams and Joseph had not spoken since their Little Women days. But friends and business associates kept nudging them to make amends and work together.
“I liked the records he (Williams) has produced — some great Blitzen Trapper records, and The Dandy Warhols — and I have always had this thing, even though I don’t have the fame and fortune to go with it, in that I try to track down the best producers when making a record. That, to me, is everything, or at least it is now that I got old enough to learn to shut up and listen to them.”
When he was younger, Joseph said, people often treated him with a bit too much reverence when it came to his songs. That was never something he sought out, he said.
“I got a lot of this ‘You’re the greatest unknown songwriter in America.’ But that is nonsense. I am not too precious with my songs. They are not my children. I’m like, ‘Look, man, bring a machete and some glue and a staple gun and let’s reassemble this thing into something cooler.’ That’s the whole point.”