Jackdawg was comprised of bassist Stu Cook of Creedence Clearwater plus lead vocalist and guitarist John McFee and the late drummer Keith Knudsen who both were members of The Doobie Brothers. The fifteen tracks that make up this album were recorded in 1990 but remained unreleased until now.
McFee joined The Doobie Brothers in 1979 and co-wrote “One Step Closer” with Knudsen. When The Doobies broke up in the early eighties they formed the country/rock band Southern Pacific. Cook joined that group a couple years after its formation and the three remained together until its dissolution in 1991. McFee and Knudsen then re-joined the re-constituted Doobie Brothers.
I can’t help but think that Jackdawg was an off shoot of Southern Pacific that never worked out long term. However this music came about, it has sat in the unreleased vault for almost two decades.
Plainly put, Jackdawg is just fine straight ahead rock ‘n’ roll. It has a harder edge than one would associate with members of Creedence Clearwater or The Doobie Brothers. McFee’s stinging guitar licks stand out and drive the sound. I always thought that he made an odd career choice to front what was basically a country band, but here he seems more at home. I guess my only complaints are that the drums are mixed a little too loud on some of the tracks and a number of the songs have a sameness. But other than those two issues it is a surprisingly excellent rock release.
The group members also managed to write 13 of the 15 tracks. “Bayou Baby” has an ominous sound that features McFee’s guitar playing. He proves to be a formidable musician and is able to create a mood with experimentation yet remain within the structure of the song. They are even able to produce credible three part harmonies. “When The Sun Don’t Shine” features several more extended guitar solos but they use some brass to fill in the gaps of what is essentially a three instrument sound for the most part. “Take It Off” boogies along with some more brass and McFee switches to the keyboards for a change of pace.
The two non original tracks are both first rate. Roky Erickson’s “Cold Night For Alligators,” which was produced by Cook, has a much fuller sound to support the excellent vocals. Interestingly Southern Pacific did a cover of this song. Early in his career McFee played with Van Morrison and here they give a rock workout to his classic “Wild Night.”
These tracks showed a lot of promise for Jackdawg. My feeling is that Knudsen and McFee couldn’t pass up the opportunity to re-join The Doobie Brothers and so this project was abandoned. It was a safe decision as Knudsen would remain with them until his death and McFee is still a Doobie. And so we are left with an excellent album of what might have been. Recommended not as a curiosity but for the music.