Former indie faves Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra take the major-label route


By Steve Newton

Unless you’re an avid follower of the alternative music scene, the best Canadian rock album you’ve never heard is quite likely The Battle Hymn of the Apartment by Jerry Jerry and the Sons of Rhythm Orchestra. A rowdy and witty collection of twisted roots ’n’ boogie tunes, the band’s second independent release enjoyed an extended stay at the number one position on the national campus radio charts and even had one Canuck critic put it in his top 10 albums of the ’80s.

The band’s follow-up, the recently released Don’t Mind If I Do, is its first disc with major-label distribution. In light of that commercial step up, one might suspect that the hard-core Battle Hymn fans would be a bit perturbed. And one might be right.

“There are a lot of really intense Battle Hymn fans out there who probably think the new album isn’t as good,” admits singer/co-songwriter Jerry Woods, “but I certainly think it’s a musical step forward. The songs were the strong part of Battle Hymn, definitely, as opposed to the playing or the production.”

The playing on Don’t Mind If I Do—whether it be on the snide rocker “Banner Day” or the big-band swingin’ “Skin”—is certainly first-rate, featuring musicians from such diverse outfits as Robert Fripp’s League of Crafty Guitarists and the Westmount High School Concert Band. The production sounds fine to these ears, as well. And the mind-bending lyrics, as on the Beat Farmerish “No Ass Tattoos (In Heaven)”, make it obvious that the signing to Aquarius Records—with distribution through Capitol—hasn’t meant selling out.

“We’re not Corey Hart or April Wine or Sass Jordan,” quips Woods, referring to some other Aquarius acts, “so we’re certainly different for them. But it’s like being in the music business now, as opposed to not being. I mean, we’re so far ahead of where we were before that there’s no comparison, really. You just start looking toward the next step, which for us is getting a little more recognition here and then maybe getting a U.S. deal.”

Jerry Jerry on MTV? Why not? The opportunities of the musical world have really opened up since J.J. and Co. skedaddled out of Edmonton a few years back and set up shop in Montreal.

“I’ve got nothing against Edmonton,” says Woods. “I mean, creatively, it was a great place. You know, there was Mike MacDonald of Jr. Gone Wild, and us, and SNFU, and k.d. lang, and Moe from Pursuit of Happiness—we all kinda came out of the same place at the same time. It was really nice, but I’d been there for 10 years and I knew it was way past time for me to go, so I just left.”

Perhaps the most un-Jerry Jerry-like tune on Don’t Mind If I Do is “The Ballad of John Card and the Booze Rookie”, a bitter-sweet tune of unrequited love and under-age drinking that will likely make an appearance when the band plays the Town Pump on Friday (April 24) and the 86 Street Music Hall the next Saturday (May 2, as part of the Music West Festival). It was inspired by a buddy of Woods’, former D.O.A./current Chris Houston’s Evil Twang drummer Jon Card.

“That song just happened one day,” Woods explains. “A coupla days earlier, we were in the process of signing with Aquarius, and the guy who was signing us said, ‘You know, what distinguishes alternative bands is they don’t write any love songs.’ So I sat down with George, my songwriting partner, and we said, ‘Well, let’s write a love song. What should we write about?’ We thought for a minute and then went, ‘What about 15-year-old girls that fall in love with Jon Card?’ And that seemed like a good subject.

“I just saw Jon in Calgary,” Woods adds, “and I think he likes it. Which is good, ’cause I might have to stay at his place in Vancouver for a coupla days.”

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