One of rock & roll’s most horrible ironies is the fact that it is so often dominated by phonies. Whether it’s Fabian Forte or Lenny Kravitz, the bogus invariably seem to land somewhere near the top of the charts, while the legitimate forces upon whom they have modeled themselves more often then not face a painful descent into opprobrium. The wildest of the wild (Charlie Feathers, Sky Saxon, GG Allin, f’rinstance) bear talents that can never be duplicated yet also seem to guarantee a criminally low profile .
One such figure in Southern California rock history is Jeff Drake, lead vocalist-guitar banger of the undeservedly overlooked early-’80s hard glam outfit the Joneses. That band strutted through the moribund post-punk Hollywood landscape with a head-spinning combination of thunderous riff slinging, a beyond-punk hyper-ultra-maxi bad attitude and pummeling slash-and-burn impact that directly fueled the mid-’80s metal explosion with their self-created context of low-life, neon-flash all American sleaze. Drake, a distinctive rocker with the ability to Frankenstein together elemental musical influences as Hank Williams, Chuck Berry and Johnny Thunders, employed this unlikely mix as a launching pad for his own mad, bad personal vision of hardbitten big beat. It could also be persuasively argued that he was the cat who laid out a blueprint subsequently hijacked by a horde of big-hair Sunset Strip wanna-be’s and, most specifically, one who parlayed it into international stardom: Axl W. Rose.
The Joneses carried that insane swashbuckling, dope-gorging, liquor-soaked pedigree like a tribal standard long before Guns N’ Roses began infecting PA systems, and it set them apart from the majority of bands desperately trying to establish themselves in the murky, pre-MTV rock & roll battle zone. Like some extraterrestrial honky-tonk shock troupe, the Joneses operated in a shadowy underworld that managed to cross stylistic lines with eerie ease, and enabled them to share stages with everyone from roots-rockers Blasters to punk rock beasts TSOL.
That knack for cross-pollination served them well: the band gained their earliest significant traction by contributing two tracks ("Graveyard Rock," "Pill Box" ) to 1982 punk rock compilation album Somebody Got Their Head Kicked In, songs that ranked as stand outs amongst the unconvincing hardcore dross they were sandwiched between. Their trashy, high-strung brand of music bristled with supercharged rhythm & blues and inbred sequin-spangled hillbilly influences (drastic versions of "Route 66" and "Your Cheatin’ Heart" were staples), all of it put across with snot-nose brat braggadocio and unpredictable outlaw punk mayhem proclivities that outstripped the by-comparison feeble attempts of most every competitor.
Notoriety was their meat, and the bands legendarily unhinged, all-out performances swiftly assured them plenty of it. With an unquenchable yen for boozing, brawling, heart-breaking and eardrum torturing, they cut a magnificently chaotic swath across the Southland nightclub circuit, but sadly, despite some fabulous vintage slabs EPs like Criminals and Anita Fix–featuring songs frequently broadcast by airwave tastemaker Rodney Bingenheimer–they were scarcely ever adequately captured on record. This, doubtless, is due to the fact that while the Joneses frantic originality magnetically attracted A&R men, the band’s penchant for unfettered decadence also terrified them.
Genuine rebel rock & roll is infrequently a solid investment, and the Joneses purity in that regard was also their undoing, While they rode their rampaging tiger for almost a full decade, as the ’90s dawned, Drake had a fierce monkey on his back, and the unavoidable stupidity heroin addiction brings on began to really fuck him up. In 1991, the dope-jonesing Joneses leader went so far as to attempt a bank robbery in his hometown of Anaheim. Looks pretty impressive on the bad boy résumé, but it was a disastrous failure, and he was caught, arrested and–regardless of the fact that Drake was unarmed–landed himself a hard-time prison sentence.
Following his release, Drake initiated a series of rock & roll bands (his brother Scott also led scruffy grinders the Humpers) but the feverish allure that qualified the Joneses as one of the great unsung combos of the late 20th century never again quite manifested itself. So, get a load of latter-day The Joneses while you can; the current line up has founder Drake, longtime keyboardist Greg Kuehn, his son Elvis Kuehn on lead guitar, and is rounded out by a couple of players from longtime blues-rock cohorts the Purple Gang, renegade harmonica boss Pat French, and drummer Mike "Soupy" Sessa. No, it ain’t quite the same as it was, but it is extremely doubtful that anything has mellowed Drake or his roaring cohorts
The Joneses, The Flamethrowers are part of Mich Rhodes’ Calvacade of Unknowns, September 8, at The Press (129 Harvard Ave, Claremont); 9pm.