ML- Where did you come from originally?
ML- What brought you to Boston?
JJ-The bands basically. My older brother turned me on to folk music and the folk scene was hot up here with Club 47 in Cambridge and all that so I was aware of Boston. I saw Barry & The Remains open for the Beatles and I saw The Rockin' Ramrods open for the Stones in '65, '66 and I thought "Hmm, Boston." . So when I got in to rock'n'roll I thought "That's where I wanna live." I thought the music scene here was much more vibrant. I grew up in Philly and we had a good scene there but it was more soul oriented.
P- So here you are in 1970. You're at BCN around what time?
JJ-'73. I was Maxanne's assistant/roadie basically.
P- I wanted to talk a little bit about Maxanne. She has never really been discussed much. Before, or maybe just as, the punk thing started kickin' in, she was the only one in the city that was playing any of it!
JJ- There's no question that Maxanne is the unsung hero of Boston Rock as far as I'm concerned. She taught me a whole lot about a whole lot of things. We're good friends, we have been for a very long time now.
P- Where is she now?
JJ- Down in Florida. She's doing Independent Radio Promotion. Moose and Squirrel is her company. I was a huge fan of her show before we met and she had to go to the Hospital for something, like in '72 or '73 and I wrote her a letter and I quoted the Stones song "Torn and Frayed" 'cause I was just in love with her. So I gave this letter of undying love to her and she wrote back and invited me up to BCN and I started working up there.
She just took me under her wing, as it were. She introduced me to everybody and it was great! I got my first copy of Funhouse off of her. She got a promo copy of it and she used to play it. She was the only DJ on Commercial Radio, around here, that was playing The Stooges and The New York Dolls. I loved it!
DMZ (12/75 - 11/78)
Bad Habits (1/79 - 2/80)
The Odds ('80 - '87)
The Queers (87-89)
Various Odds reunions (90-93)
DMZ reunion (93)
Queers album sessions (95-96)
Band that became the Downbeat 5 various names and shows (2002)
DMZ ('01 - present)
The Downbeat 5 (Fall '00 - present)
P- It always amazes me because I think one person can't change anything but I'm always proved wrong.
JJ- She broke Aerosmith nationally, there's no question about it and went on to help break J. Geils Band and then as the 70's wore on there are a lot of bands she was instrumental in breaking…for better or worse…I mean.. Boston, The Cars. She took David Robinson from DMZ to place him in The Cars. She helped out Mink DeVille early on.
ML- I'll never forget when David came to me down The Rat and said "I'm thinking of leaving DMZ to go with this new band called Capt'n Swing. What do you think?" we discussed it twice. I said "I hate to see you leave DMZ but if you feel it's the right thing…blah blah." I get the feeling he was asking a lot of people what they thought because I think he wanted to stay in DMZ in a way.
JJ- He dug the music with us but he sensed the commercial palpability of the other band and he knew…David's no dummy and he was in it for much more than just the music and he figured he had a better chance if he went with The Cars. I certainly would never fault him for that.
When I first met him, I had seen the Modern Lovers many times, at The Cambridge Common and the Catacombs. I was working at Strawberries on Boylston Street and Robinson walked in he says "What are you doing here? I thought you were from New York." I said "No I'm from here and my band is looking for a drummer. Do you know anybody?" And he said "Yeah, I just left the Lovers. Do I pass the audition?" and that was that He wanted in, he loved us so when he left I didn't think it was for anything that "I think I can make money with these other guys."
P- What is it with his drumming that made him such a success as he went along? What was his formula?
JJ- I don't know the formula. But he's got a very basic back beat which became commonly referred to as The Boston Beat. People like Jeff Wilkinson, Howie Ferguson and Paul Murphy have a similar sound. They're not copying him, they're contemporaries but there is a basic sound that is really inherent in some Boston bands. You can peg a Boston song anytime.
P- Were you in a rock band down in Philly?
JJ- Yeah, we were called The Deserters.
P- You were obviously Rock'n'Roll oriented. You ended up at 'BCN and you're at Rounder Records. So that everything I hear about you is rock oriented. Did you ever say to yourself "I'm gonna live the rock'n'roll lifestyle." ?
JJ- I remember when I was in high school they used to have what we called 'Guidance Counselors" and they'd drag you in to their office and say "We're gonna plan your life." I'd say "Hmm, OK, go ahead, help yourself!" They'd say "Well blue collar or white collar, those are your choices." And I'd say "That just doesn't pertain to me."
I wanted anything that had to do with Arts & Entertainment and they'd say 'No. People don't make a living at it." And I said "Well, what are these adults doing on stage and on TV? What do you mean? Are they doing it for free?" And they'd say "No, it's not a practical thing." I said "Well if that's what I want, then what?" So yeah that's what I wanted and that's what I did.
P- OK, so it's 2003. Was it the right choice?
JJ- (Laughter) Well, it's a little late to second guess it!!
P- Has it been a bitch or has it been good?
JJ- It's been a blast. Has it been good? I don't know, it's been fun. Has it been lucrative? No. Would I change it? No! Not in a million fuckin' years! I mean this is what I wanna do. Am I making a living at it? Well, in a way, I work at a record label and it's helping other artists achieve their goals. I get a paycheck for doing that so that's cool. In spare time I can DJ at a college station or I can write an article or reviews for a magazine and keep my hand in things that way. And I play.
P- And that's where you are….
JJ- OK I'm 52, maybe it's the Peter Pan Syndrome, I don't know.
P- By the way, at the gig the other night; Muck & The Mires, Downbeat 5 and Lyres, Murphy was UNbelievable!! Here we are how many years later and this guy is louder and stronger than anybody!!!
JJ- He's done nothing but get better!! In rehearsals in the past year; Jeff (Connolly), on a whim, as Jeff does, will say "Give me this and this and this but only on this verse. Not in the rest of the song." And Murphy can do it and commit it into memory.
P- Does Mono Man do that?
JJ- Oh absolutely. There's a little quirk or trick in each song somewhere along the line. And it'll only happen maybe once, maybe twice, in a song and not in any syncopated time. It's to catch you off guard. It 's to make simple songs unique. You know, what we're playing isn't rocket science but with these little orchestrations in it, it's mind blowing. You know, Jeff has an unbelievable mind, like Brian Wilson. I am in awe of what he hears in the total picture. The volume can be up to it's peak and he's smashed out of his mind and if you miss a strum, he can pick it out! If you strum up when you're supposed to strum down he picks it up.
ML- You'll see him on stage swinging around giving that look…and you expect to hear him scream "You're fired!!"
JJ- YES!! Everybody's had their share of time in the electric chair with Jeff. It's alarming, it's annoying, it's embarrassing, all that stuff. It's a shame that he does it on stage. At rehearsal I can totally understand.
P- Yeah, he's explosive on stage but it makes the show these days.
JJ- It did back then too! I think Deborah Frost wrote a thing "Spontaneous Combustion" about DMZ back then saying "You don't know if they're gonna break up in the middle of the show or what! But that's part of the appeal, whether they're gonna kill each other or not."
P- When you first met Mono Man it was in an MIT dorm. He wasn't going to MIT was he?
JJ- He was going to BU. But we had a party there at a dorm in February 76. Our bass player lived at a fraternity house, Jeff lived in the BU dorms around 800 Comm Ave and the original singer for DMZ, Adam Bomb, lived down the hall from him. Jeff would present him with records and say "You guys should do this song." Then Adam would come up with these good songs then we found out it was Jeff who was the source. Adam really sucked and we were trying out different singers. Alpo actually came and tried out, I wanted to get Alpo.
P- I don't want to talk too much about the DMZ record because everyone does, but what was it like at the recording session? How did it feel?
JJ- It was horrible! It was horrible before it even started!
P- Wasn't it recorded during the blizzard of '78?
JJ- We got signed in the summer of '77 and the album didn't even get into progress until Feb '78. We had spent 7 months just sitting around waiting for something to happen. We had shot our load 3 times before we actually went into the studio. We had 1 set of songs we were all geared for…spring of 77 we did a bunch of shows with The Ramones and The Dead Boys and we were in and out of New York all the time and we were red hot and on fire. That was the time to record us.
They come around in June or so and we put out the EP. As soon as we put that EP out on Bomp we got signed to Sire. Then Sire didn't do anything with us until February. That whole 6-7 month period…they were paying us and we had money and everyone was just doing drugs and sitting around getting baked and the momentum was lost. The songs on the album had changed because we were so tired of rehearsing them. By the time we got to do the album half the songs were new one we'd just learned. Because we wanted something fresh.
When we went in to the studio it was with producers we were not excited about working with. We suggested who we wanted; Richard Robinson who did the Flaming Groovies, Dave Edmunds…a bunch of different people..none of those ever came about…the concept of the album cover: we wanted something completely different. Their marketing plans for us were much more in the lines of what they did with the Paley Brothers.
P- When you were actually IN the studio did it feel alright then, when you were recording it?
JJ- No! It felt like hell! It was a drunken brawl. It was an awful studio in a town on Long Island. It was in a strip mall type thing, in an industrial park. It was fucking pathetic! We hated it, hated it, hated it!!
P- You know for all that…I still like listening to it!
JJ- I can't listen to it. I listen to very few things that I've done. Even the Downbeat 5 I haven't listened to for 5 months now. And I really like it! There are a couple things I'm really proud of that I've done: The Queers "Don't Back Down" album and The Downbeat 5. Those two I can listen to and enjoy, the others I can't listen to.