"Here comes an ice cream truck," says Jerry Joseph standing somewhere near 135th Street in Harlem, not far from his home.
What can be heard over the phone doesn't sound like an ice cream truck, but more like police sirens. That's because they are police sirens, but Joseph thinks it's hilarious to let the gullible person on the other end of the line conjure up an image of some brightly colored truck traveling down the road with grinning children following in its wake.
Joseph, the guitarist, singer and leader of the Jackmormons, his longtime power rock trio, still keeps an apartment and a sizeable fan base in Portland, but Harlem is home these days. It's there that he's got a wife, a six-month-old baby (his grown children live in Portland) and a chance to gig around the neighborhood when he feels like stretching his legs.
Harlem is some 2,200 miles from Virginia City, Montana, the tiny ghost town where Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons almost broke up last summer. It's also the spot where the band recorded its fiery live disc, Bandlandia, which may be the band's strongest recorded offering in its 14-year history. The liner notes that Joseph penned for the live album, which feature drummer Steve Drizos' wife, Jenny Conlee-Drizos (best known for her piano work as a member of the Decemberists) on keys, show a front man that was both impressed by the live recordings and ultimately frustrated.
"We make this music and we think its pretty good, but it's funny, my career has been this long list of people who opened for us and then got hugely famous. So it makes you think, 'well, maybe we suck,'" says Joseph.
In the end, Joseph knows he doesn't suck, but the frustration is justified. This is a guy who, for more than 20 years, has been a performer that has brushed hugeness, but never quite attained it. In the late 1980s and early '90s, his reggae-ish band Little Women made some big waves and after that he had some successful solo outings and collaborations with the likes of Widespread Panic as well as his other band, Stockholm Syndrome. Joseph's wide reaching influence in the now-all-but-dead jam band world and its expansive social network has ensured him a career, but may have also been his career's biggest hurdle.
"We have a very particular thing we do and it's always been too aggressive for a lot of the hippie stuff and because of our association with hippie bands or Widespread Panic, Dinosaur Jr. doesn't let us open for them," says Joseph.
And that's too bad because a Jackmormons/Dinosaur Jr. bill would actually make for an undoubtedly killer show because those are two rare bands that play unadulterated rock and roll with few constraints. It's probably that lack of limits that gets the Jackmormons tossed in with jam bands, which is odd because in the end, this is a shit-talking, tough-drinking rock band that would look awful in tie dye.
Speaking of shit talking, Joseph is awesome at that. When someone on the street inexplicably stops him, which sounds through the phone like a request to bum a cigarette, Joseph is incredulous. "Hey, I'm on the f***ing phone, man," he says. Then he apologizes for a good minute for the interruption.
"I have no problem giving money to people, but not when I'm on the phone," he later explains.
So, maybe he's actually just overly polite, but has a strange way of showing it.
Either way, Joseph, now almost in his fourth decade as a touring musician, is a great rock star, and that's not meant to be a backhanded slight indicating that he's some sort of dickhead, because he's not. Rather, he seems to be the rare musician who knows why he's doing what he's doing, which is why when asked if the Jackmormons are his favorite band of the many he's played (and still plays) with, he says this:
"[The Jackmormons] are a thing that I don't think sound like anything else and I love the guys I play with. There's a lot of records we haven't made yet and we want to keep it interesting and fun. You know, I've always hated that word 'fun,' but if it isn't fun, then why the hell are we doing it?"
Jerry Joseph and the Jackmormons
9:30pm Saturday, May 8. The Annex (above Midtown) 51 NW Greenwood Ave. $12/door only. 21 and over.