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Vinyl Tap: Jo Jo Gunne

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I get a new turntable and dust off some old records. Vinyl Tap #53:

It was in ancient history, four thousand B.C.
Back up in the jungle in a coconut tree
Hanging on a branch up under the sun
Was a meddlesome monkey named Jo Jo Gunne…
"Jo Jo Gunne," Chuck Berry

It wasn’t ancient history, of course. It seemed a much more primitive era, really, when groups like Foghatsaurus and Grand Funk Triceratops roamed the land. Within the primordial mist evolved Jo Jo Gunne as they epitomized the album rock and boogie sound of the period, though imbuing any arena rock inclinations with an accessibility and melodic spirit and heart.

And Spirit and Heart, for that matter – evoking associative sensations of the groups that Gunners Jay Ferguson and Mark Andes left to form the 1971-75 Jo Jo — the jazz/psych/rock-oriented Spirit — and the band Mark Andes eventually joined, the pop/rock juggernaut Heart. Rounding out the roster for the 1972 self-titled Jo Jo Gunne debut — there would be four more albums with shifting personnel changes — is Matthew Andes, brother of Mark, and Curley Smith. (A 2005 reunion album, Big Chain, is also included for these latter purposes, though it’s a half and half mix of new tracks and old songs re-recorded.)

The infectiousness and brisk pace of “Run, Run, Run,” kicks off the album, and soon becomes one of those songs that will be run, run, running through your head indefinitely, carried along by a slide guitar and background vocals stuck on stupid: “Doo doo doo / Doo doo doo doo / Run run run / Run run run…” Repeat and rinse, and add in, sparingly, lead vocalist Ferguson to interject, say, a carpe diem freak-out greeting: “Welcome to the party / we’re all just papers in the wind,” and you have yourself a Top 40 American hit. Top 10 in England, which might be an indicator of reverse stiff-upper-lipability in the face of American pop boogie superiority.

Moving on, the sassy stomper “Shake That Fat” and Guess Who-ish whip-lasher “I Make Love” make way for a lilting lament-turned impassioned plea “Babylon.” Moreover, it showcases Ferguson’s affecting vocals as much as the honky-tonkin‘ “Barstow Blue Eyes” — like the rollicking and piano-driven ode to life on the road, “99 Days” — displays his lyrical, storytelling flair:

Workin' tables on the border
Serving pie and coffee orders
Looking like she's dead on her feet.

Yea, she knows just how to jive the drivers
She waits for something final
Friday night she’s gonna be so sweet.

Barstow Blue Eyes
Hangin’ 'round 'til sunrise

If I got to wait
Outside, late show
Anywhere the band goes
Give yourself away.

I met her on the way to Dallas
Workin’ at the Burger Palace
Starin’ at the cut of my clothes.
Said she went to Bernardino
Just to see the crazy people
Playing in the rock ‘n’ roll shows…
…Rock on… oh, she’s looking’ so good…

More Southern California local color emerges in the propulsive — more cowbell! — “Academy Award,” wherein Ferguson chronicles a little L.A. decadence and name checks Hedy Lamarr. But otherwise Jo Jo Gunne continue to mix it up stylistically, if not narrowly detouring into a little bit of soul, or funk, or boogie or rambunctious rock, then pulling over for a respite of peaceful, easy feelings — have you never been mellow?; we are visiting the '70s, after all — as the album’s country-tinged and wistful final track, “Flying Home,” finds the singer, too weary of wandering, as he “Dreamed I was coming home across the sea.”

So much for being on the “run, run, run.” Paper in the wind, no more…

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About Gordon Hauptfleisch