Hipster Drama Template No. 347: Boy wants nice suit. Boy learns how to play guitar so that one day he can afford said nice suit. Boy engages in hip indie culture in which wanting nice suit is sacrilege and therefore forgets about wanting suit in first place. Boy tours with his band tirelessly and decides maybe suit isn't a bad word. Boy is stuck in low-paying, high-complimenting cycle of critical success and will never be able to afford suit.
Poor begrudged musicians. They'll never get ahead. But isn't that their allure-their simmering, dangerous-rocker sexiness? Jerry Joseph owns this same sexiness with as much divinity as he owns his crappy suits. And as much as Joseph wants to buy that Armani, he'll have to wait-he's too busy traversing critical acclaim 200 to 300 days a year to be able to afford such top-shelf garments. And for this, we should all be glad.
Joseph, the namesake of his band, The Jackmormons (with Junior Ruppel on bass and Brad Rosen on drums), writes songs about these trappings and the resulting darkness: infatuation, desolation, addiction, destruction, death and Satan line the edges of his psyche and of his tunes.
Neatly folded into little packages tied up with string, Joseph throws these dark songwriting bricks into the bright, airy pond of jam rock for a surprisingly digestible result. He is a mercurial, solitary fellow and his manly audacity gives him the air of an older-generation punk who plays like an Allman-as if Sid Vicious had survived his mid-life crisis and moved to Georgia.
"Lately I've been interested in writing stuff that's not quite as dark," Joseph says of his future. "I keep saying that I think it'd be fun to be able to write a song like, "Every Little Thing She Does Is Magic,' just as a kinda cool, pure pop love song where nobody dies and nobody is a junkie and there's no Satan or anything like that."
The San Diego-bred Joseph is 42, a former heroin addict, father of two and an underground jam-circuit superstar. This barefoot guy talking over the phone from the Utah mountains about parenting, snow sports and drugs inhabits a realm far, far outside the one most people think of when they think of Hollywood industry. Yet he plays gigs with Widespread Panic and gets complimented by the Drive-By Truckers.
If anything, he is on the edge of brilliance-both musically and conversationally. But you have to listen hard.
"My music, like my fanbase, is strange," he says. "I have a connection to Widespread Panic and then I spent 10 years in the '80s in a band called Little Women, which was kind of reggae and hippie. I've been in the Jackmormons for eight years now and it's developed into something that I think... doesn't sound like anybody else, and that's kinda cool."
Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons saunter through tough-guy junkie tales and the breezy sunshine of Southern jam music. In the vein of singer-songwriters like Tom Petty and John Hiatt, Joseph rambles through some amiable ruckus and on to the profane boundaries of expression. His classic-rock bombast and guitar explosion save his tunes from being pedestrian.
The man's consecration in music began, after all, in San Diego-a town where a surfboard, not a guitar, is usually the weapon of choice. A family move to New Zealand when he was in high school solidified his passion for music and he was soon making a measly living doing what he loved. His band, Little Women, formed in the '80s, and Salt Lake City-based Jethro Belt followed in the '90s. By 1996, the first incarnation of Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons recorded its debut in Butte, Mont., and kicked around the States to increasing applause.
"I've been in this 200-nights-a-year touring routine with the Jackmormons for the past eight years, so I don't know anything else," he says. "The music business is kind of a weird way to make a living, but I suppose it's kept it interesting on some level in my life. The grass is always greener, though, you know? I see people that come home every day to the people that they love and get to spend time with them and I always think that sounds more appealing than Minneapolis or wherever I'm going to be tomorrow.
"I think I'm locked at the hip with the Jackmormons, though. It's like having a couple of creepy ex-girlfriends with me in the touring van all the time. It's true. They'd probably say things a lot less nice about me."
Joseph's two teenage kids are even less complimentary.
"My kids think my music blows," he says. "Maybe if I were going out with 50 Cent or something, they'd be into it." ©
Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons play at Blind Melon's on Dec. 27 (8 p.m., $10.50, 858-483-7844) and at Winston's on Dec. 28 (7 p.m., $10.50, 619-222-6822). www.jerryjoseph.com.