Jerry Joseph on Widespread Panic and conflict guitars
Musician Jerry Joseph is refreshingly honest about his music career. He’s an independent rocker on the fringes of the jam band and indie rock world, always forthcoming with self-reflecting honesty. He’s not where he would like to be when it comes to his career, and, that’s okay. His fans really dig him, and he’s managed to do things his own way for decades.
He’s a musician with strong opinions about everything – Trump, globalization, fundamentalism, and the Taliban. He’ll let you know his opinion on the jam band musicians who won’t call out their Trump-supporting fans out of fear that they’re biting the hand that feeds them. He also takes on the critics who refuse to see beyond his work with Widespread Panic or his old drug-related demons.
Joseph’s music career stems back to the 1980s, when he first started as a member of the band Little Women. In the decades since, he’s been a solo performer and made a name for himself with his band, Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons.
His ties with Widespread Panic may, on the surface, label him a jam band guy, but there’s a lot more depth than meandering solos. Joseph is a singer-songwriter at heart, but delivers his songs in a harder package.
He’s also got a soft spot for kids in rough areas of the world. A few years back, he started traveling to war torn areas to give out guitars to kids, hoping in part that children in the Middle East would find interest in electric guitars rather than weapons.
“We’re going to take a year down,” Joseph said. “The idea was to really recharge what we’re doing. My band is playing better than they ever have. Every night I’m like, ‘Holy shit.’ The reason is because I’d like to spend more time with this conflict guitar thing.”
The conflict guitar thing Joseph speaks of is his way of spreading art. He’s had the travel bug his whole life, and was playing shows in Israel amid waves of violence, but didn’t cancel and go home. He lined up rogue guitar classes in underground art schools across the Middle East instead, and then word spread. He’s since done the conflict guitar thing in Lebanon, Israel, and Afghanistan, with plans to expand further in the future.
“I don’t know if anybody needs a guitar, but they were really into it. And my whole point (was), ‘I’ll show you how to play guitar because that’s what I do.’ I could make the argument that the guitar saved my life, or my mother will tell you that, but it doesn’t have to be a guitar,” said Joseph. “It could be dance shoes, or water colors, or clay, or anything. Once you think differently like that, they can’t take it away from you.”
Still, Joseph is keenly aware that the role of a social activist musician is self-serving, and a musician may get a boost in record sales because they’ve put some time and effort into a cause. But ultimately, it’s good for others, and good for the future of music, too. A kid who benefits from Joseph’s “thing” may take up music and add a little more to the sound of the world.
“I’ve been to enough of the world now that a kid with a guitar anywhere ends up having their own interpretation of rock and roll, and I imagine the future of music, the future of rock and roll is going to come out of places like that,” he said.
Jerry Joseph & The Jackmormons will return to Durango on Tuesday at Animas City Theatre.
Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager. firstname.lastname@example.org.