Interview: Jerry Joseph talks about his joy at finally playing live

Why ‘The Beautiful Madness’  is still a valid antidote to the current world madness

It is a year since Americana UK talked to Jerry Joseph about his then new album, ‘The Beautiful Madness’, which subsequently received a lot of very positive press in Europe. At the time, nobody thought that there would be another year of COVID restrictions nor predicted the disastrous impact that would have on live music. However, the old saying is true, and everything does eventually come to an end, so Americana UK’s Martin Johnson caught up with Jerry Joseph by Zoom just days before he was due to fly into the UK for his solo tour with Our Man In The Field. Like many musicians, Jerry Joseph explains that he has taken the opportunity offered by lockdown to enjoy a normal family life with his kids and grandkids. Last year Jerry Joseph explained how he travelled to the world’s trouble spots to teach children rock music, and he explains now how he has been heavily involved in trying to get 250 plus girls out of Afghanistan because of the latest troubles there. He confirms that while it may be a year old, ‘The Beautiful Madness’ is still fresh for him and will be heavily featured in his shows. He also takes time to remember his friend, Danny Hutchen of Bloodkin, who died earlier in the year. 

I hope you have managed to stay clear of COVID and haven’t been too bored during lockdown?

Yeah, and actually I’ve loved my lockdown. I have a couple of kids, an eight and an eleven-year-old, plus some grandkids, and I’ve been able to cook them breakfast every day for fifteen months. I have done some travelling and I have played some shows, but this tour that is coming up is the longest I will have left home for in a long time. There is a lot of high drama around my house at the moment.

It is quite an extensive tour, isn’t it?

I haven’t done a six-week tour in a while. I do that thing where I take guitars to war zones and teach kids there, and those trips sometimes take about a month, but shit I haven’t got on a plane and done an actual tour and played every night in a very long time, haha.

How road fit do you think you are?

I think I’m pretty fit, I take care of myself, and I do a lot of Bikram Yoga. It is actually really good for breathing, it is ninety minutes of strenuous 105 degrees, so hopefully, that helps.

Who is backing you on the tour?

I hopefully get to London on 30th August, but the testing thing is insanity, trying to get the right tests for the right plane. I will then hook up with Our Man In The Field to rehearse, and they are backing me all the way through the UK, Sweden, Germany, Netherlands and Belgium. I then come back to the UK at the end of September and play with them again. I will be with the Delines in February on the next tour, and then in June, I will be with The Drive-By Truckers. So that is a lot of time over in Europe.

That is quite a lot of work.

It is good, because here in the US everyone is cancelling their shows every five seconds.

‘The Beautiful Madness’ got a lot of very positive press in the UK when it was released a year ago. What was coverage like in America and how well has it sold without you being able to tour it?

I never know, haha. Nobody tells me, they tell me what they want. I think it went good, haha. That is the point now though, we had all this press, and we couldn’t go anywhere so the next three tours are going to be about promoting the record. It will be like I have a brand-new record. In fact, I have been rehearsing because I haven’t played some of those songs for a while. I’m excited about doing this first tour because usually when I get lifetime fans, that is when I can do a whole show, do my thing. When they let me play, I will do ninety minutes or a three hour show sometimes, solo. I’m really excited to play with Our Man In The Field because they are great, it should be cool.

Are the songs from ‘The Beautiful Madness’ still fresh for you, how do you feel personally about them?

I think when I saw this shit-show with COVID coming I kind of put them on the shelf so they wouldn’t be old to me. All the shows we have played with my band, or solo shows, I haven’t really been leaning into that material very much, because I didn’t want to burn out on it before I started touring again. A lot of it is going to be like new songs to me.

Tell me about Cosmo Sex School Records?

That was originally just a vanity label in the late ‘90s. We live on the Pacific Northwest and people needed something to do with their money, haha. Friends just loaned us the money to start it as my little personal label that we released titles and stuff on. Now it has morphed into a bigger thing, I’m not even in the day-to-day on it, and we have just released a record by my friends Bloodkin. Danny Hutchens, the singer with Bloodkin, I maintain is one of the five greatest American songwriters. He was a pretty good friend of mine, and he died a couple of months ago right at the exact time we were releasing ‘Black Market Tango’. It is a cool record.

It is a great record. I interviewed  Danny Hutchen and guitarist Eric Carter about a week and a half before Danny Hutchen’s death.

That is a great album. I was talking to Danny five days before he died, and we always had this friendship based on the joke of “How is that greatest unknown American songwriter thing working out for you?”, haha. “It is great man, there is so much money in nobody knowing who the fuck you are.”, haha. I wrote a piece on Danny Hutchen for my website News – Jerry Joseph.

In 1992 Capricorn Records sent him up to Portland for both of us to write songs together, and we wrote a bunch of great songs back then, and the idea was that Capricorn, which was re-booting, was going to sign me, Danny Hutchen, Widespread Panic and Colonel Bruce Hampton. At the eleventh hour and fifty-nineth minute, they passed on me and Danny, and they just signed the other two bands. I think we have spent the rest of our lives trying not to be bitter about it, haha. If they had signed either one of us, they would have had fucking hits, because both me and Danny would have written big radio songs. I love Widespread and Bruce is a really good friend of mine, but neither of those guys were radio friendly. If you listen to the two records me and Danny did that would have come out on Capricorn, and imagine those records with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of promotion behind them, they would have had hits. It was a long time ago.

I think ‘Black Market Tango’ was one of their best records.

We said we would put it out when they started doing it, and they were talking about us maybe doing a tour, we actually share a guitar player, a guy named Eric Martinez, who plays in The Jackmormons and Bloodkin. After Danny’s death we talked about doing a tour with me and a couple of different singers, touring ‘Black Market Tango’, so those songs can actually get out there. Fuck man, for the last few bastard weeks I’ve been trying to get two hundred and fifty-something girls and their families out of Afghanistan, it is all I’ve been doing for weeks, and I just thought I couldn’t make the news thing not happen. These girls were actually meant to get on a plane today, we had finally got clearance, but with the bombing that will be the end of that. Shit, what a crazy time in the world.

The situation with Afghanistan is going to run and run, unfortunately.

I was there a few years ago, teaching kids in an underground rock school, and I was there with Afghans. We are out running around the city, we are going out to dinner and doing all this stuff. When I talked to an American, I’d go “You are in Kabul, what do you think of the city?”, and he was “What do you mean, we never saw the city. We were on a private airbase, and we would only go into town with a troop convoy.”. I was there meeting all these people, playing music, and I did a couple of concerts with me and two really renowned Afghan musicians. There were about fifty people listening who were mostly security people and high-level government people, and then behind them was their security. It was like fifty people seated and then another fifty guys with machine guns at the back. I kept laughing that I had never been more concerned about what the people at the back think of my music, haha. I kept saying “How’s it going back there guys?”, I was worried if they didn’t like the song, they could do more than heckle me, haha.

We have seen this movie so many times. I’ve seen it in El Salvador, Iraq, and a bunch of places in the world. I don’t know what will happen, but it is interesting that here in Portland we have had very low COVID rates, but now it has gone really crazy. If I make it to this aeroplane on Sunday it will be unbelievable, and the explosion of COVID is with people who have been vaccinated, except our kids and we can’t seem to get them vaccinated, which makes the whole thing mute. Those plague monkeys come back into the house and we tried locking them in the basement, haha.

Have you heard Our Man In The Field?

I have heard a bit of Alexander Ellis’s stuff. It is quite interesting, and there is hope for better things.

Yeah, they are all nice guys and I’ve been talking to them on face time. I don’t think you ever lose that hunger thing. I kept thinking I would be over it at some point, but I still get just as nervous before every show and I want to throw up, it doesn’t go away.

If it did, there would be little point doing it, would there? You need the adrenalin.

Exactly. Everyone has said to me when you quit getting nervous, you have to stop.

What are your thoughts on Biden’s first 6 months as President?

I think he has been great. I am pretty far to the left I think, and to everybody else in the world you have to explain that we don’t really have a left in government in the States. Our Democrats in any other country would be centre-right. Maybe I’m a progressive and we wish he had gone to war more with the Republicans, but time will tell and he’s not dragging Trump out of Mar-A-Lago and straight to prison and we would have loved to have seen that, haha. When I talk to people like my mother, people who are Democrats, but they are older and more conservative, and they are pleased. After Afghanistan, they are going to try and hang the whole thing on Biden. We are moving along but we live in a really weird country, 30% of our population won’t get a vaccine, and it is killing the music business.

Everybody’s fear here is that it moves to another variant. I had a cousin who I was very close to when I grew up, and he was a big public anti-vaxxer, and he was like a kind of chiropractor but for rich people. He was just “It is a hoax.” all the time, and he has just died on a ventilator. I think people are starting to realise that you had better do something because it will kill you. I don’t think God cares about people who are deliberately stupid, haha.

You will be playing ‘The Beautiful Madness’ this tour but will you be playing any newer songs?

We’ve talked about it a lot. A guitar player friend of mine is coming to meet me in Stockholm and will do the rest of the tour, and we have been toying with these riffs. I mean, I have thirty records but for the most part, I will be playing for people who have never heard these, so I think it is going to be primarily ‘The Beautiful Madness’ and then try and pick which stuff from my past, and then I have a whole bunch of new material. I secretly recorded a record in New York a couple of months ago, with guys from The E Street Band and a bunch of pretty cool New York players, and we will probably sit on that and keep pushing ‘The Beautiful Madness’ for a while. The Jackmormons, my band, can do ten nights and never repeat a song, that is three-hour shows with no repeats. So, for me, as far as my solo thing, especially here in the US because people follow me around and tape me every night, you tend to mix it up more. I think for this I’m going to be laser-focused on the record, that’s my plan.

You are coming to the UK at the right time, there is a lot of pent-up demand for live music.

Just getting a test here is, I don’t know. For the past few days, we have been trying to get a test and they are saying they can’t turn it around, and you have to have the test within 72 hours so what do you mean you can’t turn it around? I’ve found a place that I’m going to tomorrow and it is like an hour away, at 8 in the morning, so I’m on it. As soon as I land, I will send you an email to let you know I made it, haha.

The Drive-By Truckers are at a peak of popularity in the UK. Do you have any view on how they have achieved that?

I did a white water river trip with Patterson Hood and both our families, and he was saying by not having done their tour they have managed to get more popular, haha. Hopefully, by the time June 2022 comes around, those shows are going to be pretty big. I have quit holding my breath for stuff, but by the time we get to June I will have done the solo stuff, then with the Delines so if we live through the winter the stuff with the Truckers should be awesome.

Hopefully, those tours should build up quite a bit of demand.

I certainly hope so. We will have to wait and see.

Do you have any plans for the latter part of 2022?

I think so much of the effort right now is looking at Europe, I got a lot of really good press in Australia, but it is not even worth talking about going there right now. It is the American side that is crazy, we had shows in the fall but everywhere is cancelling. It is going to be pretty wait and see, but this is my job so as soon as they tell me I can work I will be working. What I would really like is for people in Europe to really love me, and then I can move over there with my two kids. That’s what I want to do, it would be awesome.

Any plans to record while you are in Europe?

There has always been this idea originally that I was going to go to Ireland and record with my friends Cronin. My friend John Murry has been living over there with them, and he has just made a record there, but I think this tour is long enough. We will try and get through this, and then try and figure out what is next. Who knows how it goes with Our Man In The Field, if there is time maybe we could cut some music.

John Murry’s ‘The Stars Are God’s Bullet Holes’ is pretty special.

It is great.

Finally, is there anything you want to say to your potential European fans?

I’m just super excited and I hope people can just come out and see this solo stuff, it is what I do. A lot of my fans think it is what I do best, they are mixed with half of my fans wanting to hear my rock thing, which is blistering, loud and hard, and then the other half like what I do with my solo stuff and the stories and things I tell.  All the COVID protocols are going to be adhered to, and I’m just super excited to get there. All I have to do is pass this test, so I will let you know, haha.

Jerry Joseph’s ‘The Beautiful Madness’ is out now on Decor Records


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About Martin Johnson 140 Articles
I've been a music obsessive for more years than I care to admit to. Part of my enjoyment from music comes from discovering new sounds and artists while continuing to explore the roots of American 20th century music that has impacted the whole of world culture.

2 Comments

    • Jerry is certainly a force of nature, and a very genuine performer and songwriter, David. It is good live music is becoming available again, from everyone’s point of view.

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