Published Jun 01, 2000Your last album was several years ago.
I was pretty much retired. I did an album in 1997; I had basically been retired since '93, but the record company, Aquarius, made me do one in '97. Well, they didn't make me, but I was under contract and I had some songs and they liked them. Then I came out here, not thinking I was going to do anything, but I did want to jam with my original drummer Ed and my original guitar player Rockin' Roland, and we wound up having a band, and we're having the bestest time in the whole world.
Is Ed Dobek known as Sparky the Happy Troll?
Yes. He's also easily the most hated man in show business. It's true out here, man, oh my god. Mike McDonald of Jr. Gone Wild did his biggest show at Dinwoody Lounge here, and it was Ed's last show with him, obviously: he came out covered in mustard and, for every song, he played the drum beat to "Making Plans For Nigel." So a lot of musicians here aren't very fond of him. When I toured with him in 1997, I had to talk people out of beating him up almost every night, for past offences. But I love him. So the chance to play with these guys again, and then we got Sherri-Lee Heschel in the band, and she's booking all these shows so we're playing all over. Then Cameron Noyes, a promoter in Vancouver, got involved and said, "Do you want to go to Europe?" And I said sure, like I usually do. I said it'd be fun, but I don't want to do any work and I'd need a distribution deal. He came back with two distribution deals for Road Gore, so it looks like we're going there in the fall.
To promote Road Gore?
Hey man, my records are timeless.
Maybe you shouldn't even tell them it's an old record.
Hell no. I've got all my work cut out for me in Europe for the next 15 years! It was partly from having Roland in the band again. My old partner George Wall, who is the consummate musician, always said that Roland was the probably the best Jerry Jerry guitar player ever. And I agree, he was amazing.
How many were there over the years?
(laughs) I couldn't even guess, man. Lots. Lots. If you assume half the musicians were guitar players, I'd put it at around 20.
What brought you back to Edmonton?
Family considerations. My wife wanted our kids to know their cousins and meet their aunts and stuff. Things of that nature. And I wasn't doing much at the time out there.
How long were you in Montreal?
I moved there in '86, and then again in '87. The first one didn't take.
Why did you move there?
The music scene was exciting. There were a couple of things. We had the Og deal, so that's where our record label was. It was closer to more major centres. I was kind of bored with Edmonton at that time. And there was an exciting music scene happening in Montreal that we got to be a part of while it lasted.
That was more than the Og people too.
There was that initially. But what I'm talking about more is the Pipeline thing. It was this guy Bill Barvaris who ran Cargo Records at that time. They started Pipeline Records, and right away they signed us and Ray Condo and Mack MacKenzie and Three O'Clock Train and the Doughboys. But they went bankrupt because they made four records and didn't have any of them out yet. So that definitely took a couple of years off my career, and probably everyone else's. That album, Battle Hymn of the Apartment, came out in '87.
There was a lot of cross-pollination in Montreal.
I guess. It was just a very vibrant local scene. Local bands would outdraw out-of-town bands constantly, or consistently. On a club level.
Any theories as to why that was a time and place?
It happens everywhere every now and then. There is a real good energy and real good talent. It's an enjoyable thing. People get a palpable sense of the energy and it works for a while.
Gerard said that before that there wasn't much of a live scene before that, and people made up their own rules.
We missed the early part of it, but it was nice while we were there.
What was happening in Edmonton when you left? Was much happening there?
Off and on. When I think about it, we were sharing rehearsal space with SNFU and hanging out with Moe Berg and k.d. lang. We had a good thing here for a while, too. But the town started driving me crazy. I don't know what it was. A certain madness. I just had to get out. I grew up here since I was ten or so, and you gotta get out of your hometown. There's lots that it doesn't have out here. Montreal offered so many contrasts: a nice city, a lot of people in a small space, lots of history, lots of nightlife, ease of lifestyle. And there's decadence that only comes with decay as well, which is nice!
And you had your share of that.
Did I ever! On a larger scale, there's something part and parcel about this whole business that we're in that can really only flourish in decadence, on a societal downward spin.
I assume the band's reputation was well-earned, leading to the title of the first record.
The Band That Drank Too Much? Yes, that was accurate. That was based on one insane road trip to Saskatoon to open for Moe Berg's band at that time. The stories from that I would say would make a good book, but perhaps it would be a better comic book. But not one for children. But it was around the time of that trip that we played with Deja Voodoo at the Edmonton Ski Club. We were a seven-piece band at that time, playing a kind of music that nobody else was playing. There was no way to define it.
A rockabilly/country/punk thing?
Sort of. The one I always liked - although it's not any more accurate - was "Canadian city boy thinks he's a hillbilly preacher sings late '60s Texas acid rock." When you're playing outside of labels it's good because it makes your music somewhat timeless, but it's negative because it makes it harder to sell yourself as a product, because you can't say what you are. But anyway, that's the story of my life. But we played this show with them. We met these guys that came in. We drank six cases of beer during sound check, and we played this pretty great show opening for them. We had two bottles of Jim Beam on stage, and altogether we drank 14 cases of beer. We really impressed them! I smoked two packs of cigarettes during our set. We were pretty wailed, and spending our youth fairly quickly. They liked our energy.
Were you aware of them or stuff in Montreal?
Not aware of stuff in Montreal, but I was aware of them. This is all pretty hazy. I don't know if that was our first introduction to them or not. I know there had been some correspondence, and then we set up a show together and they signed us from there. It was a nice little union. When I think of the recording contract Gerard gave me compared to the one I got from Aquarius, it was hilarious. Gerard gave me this one-page thing typed on his old manual typewriter, and the one from Aquarius took six months to do.
What was the Western touring circuit like at that point?
It was a bit haphazard. There wasn't much happening at that time in some places. We would make regular trips to Saskatoon and Regina and be treated like gods, basically. Saskatoon, especially, people were lined up down the block to see us. A real celebrity status, which was kind of nice. Nobody else was doing it at that time, certainly nobody like us. We'd go to Vancouver a lot, and Vancouver was different then. As time passed, you'd do fewer shows, arguably bigger, but back then you could do six shows in seven nights in different clubs. Vancouver had a thriving punk scene too, still, which was impressive to see. So you had your Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon, Regina, Vancouver, Victoria, and that was about it. Winnipeg was a bit of a lost horizon for us. Eventually something good would happen there, but then the next time through it wouldn't.
You first came out on Rubber Records.
That wasn't a real label, of course. I'm surprised you're familiar with Fighting Socialism. That was a label by our soundman, Barry Peters. I think that was the only thing he did.
When did the band form?
We had a little band we put together called Them Essentials, and we decided the most radical thing we could do in alternative music would be to have facial hair. And maybe it was! Big moustaches, sideburns, beards, which nobody had at that time. It was as uncool as you could possibly be. Jerry Jerry wasn't a serious band at the time it started, either. It was what we called a fuck band. It took four or five years before I considered myself to be a performer. It was a drinking club. But you do anything for a while and you begin to take it more seriously. And yourself, I suppose.
I was trying to think of any national-scope precedent to Og.
It was mostly regional. There was Quintessence, but they were pretty much Vancouver, maybe even entirely Vancouver. They did have some success with the Pointed Sticks, and then they began Zulu. But there really wasn't anything (like Og) at that time.
Did you notice any effect the It Came From Canada compilations had?
I didn't notice any kind of difference. I don't know how well those did. I know they are hitching posts for moments in Canadian underground music now, but at that time I don't think they did much for the band, or even if they particularly sold much. A lot of our early tours were before the ICFCs, but I have no depth perception when it comes to time.
Did you play many BBQs?
We played none of the early ones, but we did three. One in Toronto and two in Montreal.
Other people were breaking out of Edmonton at that time: SNFU, k.d. lang. Was she playing a lot of the same venues you were?
Not for long. We did a few of the same venues. The hall shows and speakeasies. I have some live tapes of ours where you can hear her singing in the background from the audience. It was pretty tightly knit at that time. The whole network, which still exists today, I still see some of those people.
Was the roots influence inevitable?
Roots music was going to happen anyway, just because of the locale and the history. When we started there was P.J. Burton and the Smarties, who were probably around first, but nobody liked them. I don't know why. There was an early show here; 999 was coming, and the opening band was going to be the Incredibly Shrinking Dickies, and everyone wanted to see the Dickies; nobody particularly cared about 999. The Dickies didn't get across the border, and so the Smarties opened and that was the infamous Edmonton Punk Rock Riot. Which was hilarious; that in itself was a joke. Basically they came out, played their first song, there was five seconds of silence, and then a wall-shaking chorus of boos. So they played another song and people started throwing things, and going outside to get things to throw. Nothing too offensive. Everybody just decided at that point in time - it was one of those universal thought things - everybody just said, "This is awful. We're not going to have this. This is not what we want." So they were throwing everything they could find. And if you couldn't reach the band, people in the balconies were trying to hit the local music critics on the ground floor. But nothing too serious. So we had a reasonably pleasant evening and went home to bed, and then got up the next morning and the headline in the paper - with pictures of all your friends there - read "Punk Rock Riot!" It was so silly. Moe Berg had that great song lyric: "If you want to go crazy/ have a punk rock riot/ get your picture in the Edmonton Sun/ cause they do it in London/ like they do it Edmonton." That was when he was in the Modern Minds, I think. After that bands started springing up, basement-y things. I can't remember who came when. It's surprising how many people phone me now wanting information about the music scene in the '80s, or even before the '80s, in the '70s in Edmonton. But I don't know much about it. Do you know Frank Manley at all? A guy in Montreal who wrote Smash The State, the discography of Canadian punk rock. He started asking me about different things. But there really wasn't much in terms of the music scene. I can remember when there were four punk rockers in this town. And I don't know that you would call them punk rockers now. One of them was Callum Keith Rennie, the actor. He was quite funny. He had his own bodyguard, a guy who's a cop now, but he needed it! He would wear this blue blazer with a package of strawberry koolaid pinned to his jacket, and he'd find glasses on the street and drive with them. He drove his car into my house once.
Into your living room?
Oh yeah. He would go out every day and see how much trouble he could get into. And he got into a lot. But there weren't many of them at that time. It was a cute little thing at the beginning.
Because of the roots influences, was there any crossover with older crowds?
There was a bit of an audience range, but not much at that time.
Battle Hymn of the Apartment was in '87?
It was initially on Pipeline and then it was re-released on Aquarius three years later. That was my millstone. There's any huge number of things why. It got all the critical acclaim in the world. We sold out our first pressing right away and then couldn't get any more records until forever until we signed the Aquarius thing, and then they re-released it. but nothing really happened with it. I guess its time had come and gone. I resent it a bit because it didn't make me rich. For a record that was that allegedly successful, it should have put a couple of bucks in my pocket.
And after that?
In '92 I did Don't Mind If I Do, which was a big-money, big production pop/jazz, all kinds of stuff.
Did you tour for that?
Sort of. We'd do 80 to 90 shows a year all through that period. But of course we always made mistakes. I think I've made just about every mistake there is to make in the music business. I'm not grumpy about it. Don't Mind If I Do - all of our records we wanted to make them completely different from what we had done before, and make them part of our learning experience. And indeed it was. The time didn't quite click with that record, I don't know why. I listen to that record now and I just love it. Apart from the last one, it's my favourite. The last one, The Sound and The Jerry, is my favourite, but it has to be because it's all me. I didn't have a band at that time. I had some songs. Something would be seriously wrong if I didn't like that record. I'm quite proud of that one. I haven't made a lot of records.
After 1990, there was a large glut of independent stuff.
That's part of the problem. There's so many records. EMI has 27 priority releases in one quarter, and that's ridiculous because you can't even service 27 records in quarter, and then what about the other 100? There's way too many records. I think everybody should have to play regionally first, like it was in the early independent days. Sell your records regionally, then tour around and let it grow.
Was there any American jaunts?
Not when we should have, but later on we did more and more of the States, especially the South-western States. It was fun, I don't know if it was fruitful. It was too difficult, especially from Montreal, to try and set up a thing in the Southwest, because we couldn't get the logistics together and get down there often enough to get something happening. It would have taken a relocation.
The Europe thing now...
That's pretty weird, eh? That did come up once or twice a year back then, but I don't like to fly in big planes, so I didn't push the issue at all and we let it slide. This time, we needed a distribution deal to take it seriously, and Cameron came back with two distribution deals.