An accomplished songwriter who enjoyed a career during the '80s and '90s with reggae/rock band Little Women and roots-rock trio The Jackmormons, New York-based singer/guitarist Jerry Joseph leads his latest rock project back to town this weekend — and it barely resembles his most popular work through the last 20 years.
"I've been working on this duo thing off-and-on over the last year," says Joseph. "It's truly a duo record, with me just playing guitar or keyboards, and Steve Drizos [formerly of jam band Dexter Grove] playin' drums. There are a lot of weird songs on it ... songs about controversial historical figures from around the world."
On his current tour — billed as the "Jerry Joseph Electric Duo" — he and Drizos plan to deliver a dynamic mix of classic material and showcase new tunes on their forthcoming studio album. Recorded in one week at Chase Park Transduction in Athens, Ga. — a studio he's worked plenty of times before with engineer David Barbe — they officially release it this spring under the band name The Denmark Veseys.
The Denmark Veseys? The famous, enslaved descendent of West Africa who led a slave revolt in Charleston in 1822?
"Vesey's an interesting historical character," says Joseph. "It's so not a part of African-American history up here in Harlem [laughs]. If you walked down the street and asked, no one would recognize the name. Over in Europe or wherever, no one knows an idea either. But one wonders what Charleston would be like now, if Vesey's revolt had actually succeeded. But, the name as a band name is funny."
After a few personal ups and downs, Joseph bounced back and assembled the Jackmormons in 1995. Named after the tern for a lapsed Mormon, the band sprung up west of the Rockies and settled in Portland, Ore., but their punchy, guitar-heavy delivery and twisted take on classic Americana certainly has plenty in common with the best pop-rock bands working out of the South, though.
With the raspy-voiced Joseph on vocals and guitar, Junior Ruppel on bass, and Brad Rosen on drums, the trio enjoyed an odd association with Widespread Panic. The Athens-based band recorded and released a version of a Joseph song called "Climb To Safety" (on 'Til the Medicine Takes). One of their strongest albums, 2002's Conscious Contact, was produced by Panic bassist Dave Schools at Chase Park.
If Joseph's Conscious Contact didn't solidify his place in Panic's inner circle, his cameo appearance in Chris and Geoff Hanson's documentary film on Panic, The Earth Will Swallow You, did the trick.
"I think our connection to Panic definitely changed a couple of things for us," Joseph admits. "Clearly, with Panic doing 'Climb to Safety,' those guys pretty much just handed us the South as a market. That really helped us a lot. Plus those guys [in Panic] are tremendously gracious as far as letting me sit in with them on occasion."
In addition to his solo work, and occasional road work with The Jackmormons, Joseph gigs and records with The Stockholm Syndrome — comprised of Schools (of Panic), Eric McFadden, Wally Ingram, and Danny Dzuik. This season, however, is dedicated to the Veseys.
"We're still learning what it is," Joseph says. "The duo is the basic version of what we always do, which is, like, me louder than fuck on the guitar and Steve playing full kit. We thought of some other rock duos, like The Flat Duo Jets and The Black Keys, who have that Junior Kimbrough thing going on, and the White Stripes, who just have awesome fucking gear. It's kind of in line with that."