Talking about the Blackjacks Reunion - June, 2004
A good place to get the Blackjacks story would be on The Dirty Water site .
It covers the Blackjacks story from 1983 - 89.
BGN- Did you feel like the Boston Ramones in Thrills?
JA - We were tabbed that way, because of our haircuts, speedy, relentless tempos and the like, but I have to say that we had a lot more rockabilly/country in what we were doing than they did, as the reissue bears out.
BGN- Was there any truth to the rumors circulating
back then saying you being a punk/stock market guy?
JA- I was….I got my Series 7 license in 1977, went to work for my dad, didn't like it and the family business ended in 1984, when I refused to keep it going. I was not cut out to sell shares of stock or debt instruments, although it does fascinate me from a healthy distance.
BGN- Why did Thrills/City Thrills break up?
JA- We were at it for a long time with only moderate success in Boston, relocated to New York and sank like a stone--too pop for the arties, too arty for mainstream. I hung around for a while, in 1983, then returned to the "land of my origin", June of that year, started the Blackjacks with Whitey and Jeff about 6 weeks later. Barb stayed in New York and has been there since.
BGN- When you left City Thrills to go to your next
project, which would be the Blackjacks, what was your aim?
JA- When I came back to Boston, I found the bands to be kind of insipid, with a few exceptions, especially my faves, the Dogmatics, kindred spirits. I wanted a band that was nominally hard rock but intelligent, a dichotomy to many people, but not to me. I had a batch of songs from the end of Thrills (we were called Untouchables NYC) and from a down period in New York, I had to do something with them.
BGN- What if anything did you want to do different?
JA -Be a lot tougher, harder, no overt love songs and sung/spoken in plain English. Also, a closer relation to blues, Thrills studiously avoided that. More like me talking to you without a mouthpiece, one on one.
BGN- What musical problems did you think you could
JA- Thrills was a good band musically, but I did want to get rid of the "always fast" thing, although the Blackjacks were uptempo. And, Thrills really did borrow a lot of melodic ideas from Spector and the girl groups, without a female singer I was able to be more garage in the melodies.
BGN- Now, in The Blackjacks, you would write with
yourself singing in mind did that change your writing?
JA- Of course. I had to please me, not someone else. Actually, Barb would have been happy as hell singing stuff like "Motherfucker", but like so many bands before us, getting on commercial radio was a great seducer and, in the long run, our downfall--because our real loves were contemporary groups like Flipper, or Black Flag, the Gun Club, X, the Minutemen--instead, we went a more 'mersh route, if you got on the radio in Boston, you drew, you got paid.
BGN- A lot of earlier punk bands have got together
last year and this year. Now, The Blackjacks are as well. Can you give us an
insight into why this is happening in this time period?
JA- Demand for it. I saw Tex and the Horseheads a few years back (LA garage band), one of my best friends played guitar in that band. He was happy onstage, that's where the idea came from. Besides, for me, my "golden age" as a musical artist, such as it was and is, was a long time ago, I can't sound contemporary. So, if I'm gonna play music, it has to be music from my prime. I suspect that it's the same for all of us--Steve Jones says that there's no way The Pistols would make a new record, who'd want it? I agree.
BGN- Blackjacks highlights; what were they?
JA- "That's Why I Always Dress In Black" being an international, underground "hit" of sorts, the video Ralph Fatello did for "Dreaming Of Saturday", which was low budget genius, making people happy and furious in equal doses, lots of chicks at the gigs, you know, typical rock things.
BGN- Who's in this 2004 line up?
JA - Original trio from the first EP, Whitey, Jeff Erna and myself, we can't find Rafe Mabry (rhythm guitar) anywhere.
BGN- Rafe was quite a character. Everyone is dying
to see what kind of HAIR he has now! You don't have any idea what he's doing
these days? If he still uses hairspray?
JA- I saw him 2 years ago and his hair is in a modified shag. He is a haircutter somewhere, ironic, huh, but he is way under the radar.
BGN- Will you be wearing black?
JA- Of course, always, like the song says. Onstage, anyway.
BGN- Do you still play without a pick?
JA- Yes. Flicking the strings--Joe Queer, when I finally sat down and played guitar with him a few years ago, was completely baffled as to how I did it--frankly, I have no idea, it just is, Lindsay Buckingham and Jeff Beck play the same way, ask them!
BGN- What does the Blackjacks music mean in 2004?
JA- A trip to Boston, a reissue and a full Abbey, I hope. What does it mean to me? I'm glad I did it, most of it is nothing to be ashamed of.
BGN- What is on the CD coming out?
JA- First two discs in total, one indie single from 1989, 4 bonus tracks from latter bands, Creeps in Exile and Dearly Beloveds.
BGN- The albums are very basic sounding. Did you
do everything you wanted on them or if you had access to more money/recording
time would those albums sound different?..How?
JA- No, I wish the arrangements were tighter, the sound clearer, less reverb, more guitar and bass, the lot. They're very 80's cheap sounding, which makes sense, as that's what they were.
BGN- If you could do it all over again could you
do it without drink/drugs or is that just the way it is?
JA- The Creator in Its wisdom has a purpose and scheme for all things and me being loaded for that time was one of them. That's how I look at it, it was meant to be the way it was. If I hadn't been high or drunk, I would have been suicidal, so, it turned out fine and besides, can you imagine that band as a success? We'd have killed each other.
BGN- When you dressed up like women at the gigs were
you hopped up on Scooby snacks?….please say yes!
JA- Ask David Johanson the same question and you'll get the same answer--women love men dressed like women, or at least flash.
BGN- People think if you don't sell a million records
you're a failure, but the Blackjacks were a relative success. You sold a good
amount of records and had high profile gigs. Are you happy about the Blackjacks
in that light?
JA- Completely. We never permeated much of the public consciousness, we straddled between the Indie and Metal worlds without pandering too much to either, we had a unique sound. Not a compelling one from a sales standpoint, but that was out of my hands.
BGN- Are you aware of how much people have forgotten
about the past music of Boston?
JA- Of course, and why shouldn't they? It was sacred to me and I'm not everyone. Besides, if they were entirely aware of it, they'd have made up their minds on the subject, as opposed to finding out about it now, without the prism of local prejudices and grudge fights, which are as endemic to Boston as clam chowder or the Red Sox gagging.
BGN- Here's an EXAMPLE: If a person was born with
the Blackjacks (say 1983) they are 21 now. Let's say you are 15 when you get
into rock heavy. That means a person has to be 36 years at least to remember
the Blackjacks as a favorite band. Forget the booze at the bar better serve
JA- I was a club bouncer for a while and (from carding) I can tell you the average age of a bar patron at a rock show is 22. I don't care about 22 year old's now, I can't relate to 'em and they can't relate to me, I was 22 once, they aren't 47. I want to see my peers and if there are lots of young uns, great--I can't imagine they'd completely grasp what we do, what passes for rock and roll now is so deeply steeped in irony and distance and that wretched Emo shit. We were very much, 'this is what we say, this is what we mean'….that is a long gone sentiment.
BGN- With that example in mind, what do you think
is the Blackjack legacy? What was the Blackjack effect on the Boston scene?
JA- None. No legacy, except for the people that liked our music and want to hear it again. Maybe the other bands started stylin' a little more by 1985, after seeing our "chick-pull", but other than that, no.
BGN- What new groups do you listen to and like?
JA- The Briefs, Beechwood Sparks, Mr. Airplane Man, The Dents, lots of individual tracks here and there. There isn't much cohesion in any scene. I like a lot of reggae from the late 60's/early 70's now, and a ton of Afro-Cuban Jazz--like Machito's old stuff. It's so up, it's awesome!
BGN- What was the thought that sent you to California?
JA- I did all I could possibly do in my father's town and decided to strike out on my own, no pun intended. I wanted to make a living in journalism or get a record deal when I arrived here, I accomplished both (A/R woman at our label got canned, killing our deal), I got into acting, production, screenwriting, radio, all later--in Boston, you do one thing, that's your life. That isn't adventurous enough for me, I need a lot of external, varied stimulation.
BGN- We know you're a radio talk host now, but what
have you done musically these last 20 years? You have done a series of gigs
as a tribute bands for AC/DC, Ramones, etc.?
JA- Never Ramones or AC/DC. Did "Hemorrhoid in Cambodia" (Dead Kennedys, with East Bay Ray guesting), Joan Jett tribute with Kim Shattuck as Joan, Dead Boys tribute (Moronic Reducer), a Thunders thing, did a blues band for years with Lemmy and Wayne Kramer guesting, sang with Chaka Khan, fun stuff.
BGN- You have played in groups with Jonathan Paley in
Housewives on Prozac?
JA- Jon played bass with me for a spell in 1992.
BGN- When I think of you I always think of your
persistent drive. What drives you?
JA- Good prana, probably. I have no idea. Restlessness. Like that old Muddy Waters song, "I Can't Be Satisfied", you know?
BGN- You do a talk show and you get on the Noise
board a lot. Why so much yapping?
JA- Same thing.....And the fact that smacking true believers upside the head with new stuff is a gas..."Piercing their brains", as I say on the radio.
BGN- From a distance does the Boston scene seem
JA- It always has been and always will be, that's part of its charm, little gets in, little gets out.
BGN- Anybody or anything you want to see especially
when you come to Boston again?
JA- I would shout out to all of the band's fans from seeing us live, hearing about our rep, everyone. I don't think I owe anyone any money, so I'm not fearing anyone, for once!
BGN- What did you like the best about the early
punk years in Boston?
JA- That you didn't really stand a chance to get a real deal, so you developed free of constraint, that the best you could get was maybe an indie or Sire or something. No pressure, because there was nothing to lose. It was so fresh and new, like hip hop was, 6 years later.
BGN- What did you hate?
JA- Nothing--it was my youth and everyone's youth, especially in middle age, becomes a sacred shrine. I'm not going to take a psychic piss in that temple of eternal happiness, I prefer to see it as one eye opening orgy after another. If I had to say anything negative about it, there was some serious poverty from time to time, but I was young, and being poor and young is "stamps on a letter", n'est pas?