Nearing 50 years old, Jerry Joseph — a guy known as an instigator — seems ready to settle down. After a year that brought him both a new baby and the passing of close family members, he's more interested in writing hopeful songs now, even if he sounds like a campaign slogan talking about spiritual and sexual salvation.
But don't count too hard on a shift in focus. He's still Jerry Joseph, and he can easily rant about his frustration over the conservative right claiming that they are the party of tough guys, guns, and football.
"It's kind of like, 'Fuck you.' Just because we're on the left doesn't mean we won't kick your fucking ass, dude," says Joseph, explaining that he's tossing around "tough lefties" as a songwriting theme with his various bands.
Joseph is a troubadour, leading his own band, the Jackmormons, as well as Stockholm Syndrome, a side project that includes his pal Dave Schools, of Widespread Panic, on bass. A few years ago, he formed the Denmark Veseys with drummer Steve Drizos.
When he was 15, Joseph got his professional start in New Zealand, where his family lived for a year. As the American kid with a guitar, bands were eager to pull him up on stage. He's been at it full time ever since.
"Apart from a couple of brief asides to try to be a drug runner — I got locked up a lot when I was little — but besides that kind of stuff, I've always played in bands," says Joseph. "I've never really had another job in my adult life. At least not a legal one."
Today, Joseph lives in Harlem, a world apart from the culture and society he encounters in Charleston.
"Where I live, a normal conversation at any bar or coffee shop, there's people looking at the TV, and you see these Tea Party things, and it's like, 'Why don't those guys come here with their fucking nigger signs?' you know? Show some fucking balls, you fucks. And they don't," says Joseph. "A lot of my friends are like, 'Use dialogue,' and I'm kind of like, 'Really? Maybe it's time for a kick in the teeth.'"
Obviously not one to shy away from controversy, Joseph handpicks contentious historical figures to highlight. His merchandise includes a shirt with a hooded picture of him, a la the Unabomber, and he says it's too bad a "Skull Fuck the Teabaggers" shirt won't be ready for this tour. His choice of Denmark Vesey as a band name is particularly poignant in Charleston, where debate continues about raising a memorial to the freed slave accused of and hanged for planning a rebellion in our city.
"I got tired of the guys in Widespread Panic telling me that the Civil War was about agrarian reform," explains Joseph. "If I was a Southern white redneck, I don't know if I'd be into [a memorial], because his plan was to kill every fucking white person in Charleston. And being the epicenter of the American slave industry, who can blame him? I can see the controversy, but I'm firmly for 'Get the fuck over it and build him a memorial.'"
At the Home Teams, Joseph and Mosley will each play a set, then join together for songs off their album Charge, released last year. He says he's excited to get back to the South, where folks come out to see him as much for writing famous Widespread Panic songs like "Climb to Safety" and "North" as they do to hear his solo catalog.
"I guess it's safe to say, because Panic's new record is coming out, and I've got a song already on it, but I always worry about those guys cutting me off because of my politics," says Joseph. "I gave them shit for years because there were more Bush/Cheney stickers in their parking lot than in almost any major national touring act in the world."
Joseph says his Facebook page gets a constant stream of threats from folks threatening to "kick [his] fucking ass if he even comes to the South."
"I come to the South a lot, and never once have those collar up, polo shirt, white baseball cap fucking guys ever taken a swing at me," laughs Joseph. "Man, if that gets printed, then it's going to be like, 'Jerry got the shit kicked out of him in Charleston!' "