Telluride Daily Planet: Jerry Joseph has ‘hope for humanity’

Jerry Joseph first played The Fly Me to the Moon Saloon in 1982 as a member of the band Little Women. Over the last 35 years, he may have played Telluride more than any musician whose last name isn’t Bush, Rowan, O’Brien, or any other member of the Telluride Bluegrass Mafia that have dominated the music scene here since the mid-70s.

On Tuesday, Joseph will be performing at the Moon at O’Bannon’s with his long-time band The Jackmormons, comprised of Steve Dreisos on drums and guitarist Steve James. The show starts at 10 p.m. Tickets are $15 in advance and $20 at the door.

For the Colorado tour, Joseph and the Jackmormons will be joined by Denver-based guitarist Eric Martinez (The Dyrty Byrds, Bloodkin, The Interstellar Boys).

The Jackmormons released a new album called “Weird Blood” on Nov. 16. Like Joseph’s 2016 record “By the Time Your Rocket Gets to Mars,” Widespread Panic bassist and long-time collaborator Dave Schools produced “Weird Blood.” Both albums are remarkably solid efforts. One can’t help but listen to them and think “These could be hit records.” Certainly, there are tracks on both albums that feel radio friendly. But Joseph has learned not to hold his breath. I recently spoke to Joseph at his home in Portland about the state of the world, the state of the music business and the state of his mind.

Geoff Hanson: Let’s start with the new record “Weird Blood.” It seems like you make a record a year. 

Jerry Joseph: If Woody Allen can make a movie every year, then I should be able to make a record every year (laughs).

 GH: That’s impressive. There are not many artists out there that can keep the wheels churning like that. When I listened to “Weird Blood,” I immediately called my friend at the Penguin 98.3 radio station in Wilmington, North Carolina, and told him he needed to add the songs “Peace in Our Day” and “The Eyes” into rotation. Those are great songs and seem very radio friendly. They’re each over six minutes. Do you ever think of making radio edits? 

JJ: (Tom Petty’s producer) Jim Scott mixed my last record, and his thinking on that is that we should just make the songs the way we want to make them, keep them true to themselves, and then if someone comes along and wants to do something, we can edit them then.

GH: You made that record at Bob Weir’s TRI Studios with Dave Schools producing. He produced “Weird Blood” as well. What is it about Dave that makes him a good producer for you?   

JJ: Dave knows how to handle me. We’ve been in bands together. We’ve made a bunch of records together. I trust his opinion. He lets me go down any path. I’ve worked with a lot of big producers over the years, and Dave is just one of those guys I have a thing with. We push each other. We don’t have to tiptoe around anything. I can tell him to piss off and not hurt his feelings, and vice versa. We’ve both learned the hard way about conceding.

 GH: Conceding to what? 

JJ: We were listening to an old record we did the other day and we got to a part neither of us liked, and we looked at each other and agreed we were just trying to appease someone. There’s no appeasing in art. You have to go for what’s good because that’s all that counts.

GH: You write these great songs, they sound like singles and yet they don’t end up on the radio. Is it frustrating? Do you even care? What are you going for when you make a record?

JJ: I try and write good songs. In many ways, it feels like I’m just making paintings and hanging them in my hallway. I make records to honor the music. If you really cared about success, you could get really frustrated when you listen to the crap that is popular. I’ve learned to not get emotionally invested in the success of the records. I’m emotionally invested in my wife and my children.

GH: Did you ever care about the success of the records? 

JJ: Back in the 1980s I had a deal with Capricorn Records, along with Danny Hutchins from Bloodkin and Col. Bruce Hampton, and then Capricorn fell apart and my deal evaporated. There were some real singles on that record. I thought my career was finished. My one really big regret is not listening to people when they were telling me how young I was when I was 30. I thought I was done. I felt like a running back or a runway model, and that’s when I got into heroin.

GH: You’ve been sober for nine years now. And you have two young children that you are raising sober (Joseph has older children from a previous marriage). How is that affecting your music? 

JJ: It’s affected my outlook on life. I have a lot of hope for humanity. I have to because I have a 4-year-old and an 8-year-old. I have grandchildren. The future is going to be amazing. My only regret is I’m not going to be around to see it.

When my kids were born, I started doing international stuff, like going to Iraq and Afghanistan and bringing instruments to kids in those places. I wanted to show them to not be afraid and to be willing to make a difference and go with your heart. When you spend time in a refugee camp, it changes your perspective. I’m teaching guitar to a 16-year-old girl in Afghanistan, I can only imagine what her “Me too” story is.

GH: That optimism comes through in the song “Peace in Our Day” on “Weird Blood.” That song really captures the tenor of the times in the sense we are such a divided nation and really need peace in our day. What were you trying to get through with that song?

JJ: I was raised Catholic and at the end of the Lord’s Prayer, the priest would say “Deliver us from evil and bring us peace in our day.” That really resonated for me. That really captured the gist of the whole thing.

 GH: You’ve been a musician for over 40 years. What keeps you going?  

JJ: For me, it’s about writing and performing. I go on stage and leave it all on the stage whether there are six people or 20,000. Sometimes those six people might be Cambodian and not speak a word of English. I am married with two young children. There is no other reason for me to be in Telluride Tuesday except to play as hard as I can.