Premiering exclusively today is “South of South” from Jerry Joseph’s new LP, Tick, a companion to The Beautiful Madness LP that “The Stiff Boys” AKA Drive-By Truckers backed him on in 2020. Side one features demos in addition to full studio versions of songs that weren’t included on the Madness LP. Side two features live versions of Madness songs taken from the first and only full set that the Drive-By Truckers played with Jerry for the tour.
The first live performances of songs from The Beautiful Madness have been mixed and mastered, these versions engineered by David Barbe and staff at the 2020 Heathens Homecoming hosted by the Drive-By Truckers at 40 Watt in Athens, GA. All of the tracks were recorded at DBT bassist Matt Patton’s studio, Dial Back Sound, also where entire songs like “The Mountain,” “Quiet,” and “South of South” were unearthed. In the pile of demo material, “Sometimes A Great Notion” and title track “Tick” were also found.
“God, there’s no way I’m making a Jerry Joseph record with all my southern baggage and putting a song called ‘South of South’ on it” is how Jerry describes DBT singer-songwriter Patterson Hood’s initial reaction to the song when considering material for the original project.
Jerry, now based in Portland, Oregon where he can be found either playing guitar or teaching it to children in Afghanistan, explains, “I spent a lot of time in the southern hemisphere. I used to live in New Zealand. I used to spend a lot of time in the jungles in Central America. There was always this kind of joke, like we were south of south. People talk about the south and that’s really far north compared to a lot of places. A lot of my last record, and really kind of the last two, I’ve been super interested in writing about marriage. And I say this on stage, I’m like, ‘Everybody writes the – I saw her across the bar, she’s my spirit animal… Everybody writes that song. And then they’re writing about the same person, you know, 10 years later… you ripped out my heart, grounded it into the ground, I’ll never live again. Everybody writes that song.’ So I was kind of interested in the middle part. I think there was this girl in Oklahoma City – I must have been like 20 on tour – who was like, ‘You can do anything you want to me.’ I didn’t really know all the options. Nobody ever gave me the manual. So that’s kind of what the song is about: some girl I would never in a million years remember what her name is, who I’m certain I never saw again. That’s why there was that thing about ‘Oklahoma City, pre-digital age / My palate was a touch more sedated.’ I’d like to think I would know what to do with that offer now.”
“South of South” is a sharp rocker, a potent setting for Jerry’s raw expression for which he is best known. A steady and solid beat opens and anchors the song as charging guitar lines plow through. Subtle, effectual little trills and a rasping singing style make listening to “South of South” an exercise in hearing punk as blues. Is it a punk song receiving the blues treatment, or a blues song receiving the punk treatment? You decide. Of the relationship between the lyrics and use of melody and dynamics, Jerry agrees, “I thought it worked really well, that whole process.” Adding, “It’s funny, because I just made another record with a bunch of New York guys who I was making fun of because they were New York guys even though I lived in the city a long time. I was like, ‘You New York guys with your ice in your tequila and your socks and your Springsteen records.’ And the producer looks at the band and he’s like, ‘Jeremy (bass player), how many Springsteen records you play on?’ He goes, ‘Three.’ And then he looks at the keyboard player and goes, ‘Charlie, what band are you in?’ He’s like, ‘The E Street Band.’
“So, Truckers, it was the same thing. I knew Patterson and (Mike) Cooley pretty well. I think I brought them to their first Western tour opening for me, and I think they got signed on that tour. I did know them for a long time, but I didn’t really know the band. I got to the studio and we’d sit down, they’d go, ‘Tell us the story.’ I’d tell them the story and they’d listen to a demo and we’d go in and cut the thing. It was amazing. So, ‘South of South’ was basically just handing it to those guys. I go, ‘I’m sitting here because I want it to sound like you guys.’ I think Patterson and I have always related on melodic things. I mean, we like pop. We like Todd Rundgren.”
That night at The 40 Watt Club in Athens, GA was the first and only full set of The Beautiful Madness material to be performed by Jerry fronting The Drive-By Truckers. The tour, stymied by Covid, recommenced just this past May. “We played a couple songs at the Brooklyn Bowl, so I’d done a couple tunes with them behind me. This was their big homecoming weekend. And then I played with them a lot in Europe, you know, a few months ago. It’s very much not my band. When I play with Widespread Panic, even if there’s 20,000 people, I’m the leader for a moment.
“And I think with the Truckers, you have to be super aware. This is a relatively insular thing, and there’s not a lot of room to go off script. It’s remarkable that they would even let me do that. And that was a big deal in Europe, because they would come out – I’m the opening act and they would come out and back me. I wouldn’t do that in a million years because I get so nervous before I walk on stage. There’s no way I could do that twice. I never play with the opening band even though they’re my best friends, even though they’re my heroes.
“I’ve been pretty connected to Athens. In the late ‘80s Widespread Panic used to open for me, and I think I played the Georgia Theater the first time. It was probably like ‘88 or something. And I made a lot of records there. So I made a lot of records with Dave Barbe, who’s the Truckers’ producer. For me it was as close as a hometown gig gets to not being home.”
“South of South” was engineered by Bronson Tew, assisted by Schaefer Llana and Henry Barbe at Dial Back Sound in Water Valley, MS; Mixed by Bronson Tew and Matt Patton.