POP MUSIC : Jacks’ New Album May Be Their Trump Card

Singer-guitarist Buddy Blue left his previous band, the Beat Farmers, in early 1986 because, after three years of playing country-flavored “American roots” rock, he was eager to return to something a little more soulful.

“In New York, where I grew up, there was a lot more soul music than out here on the West Coast,” Blue recalled. “At school dances, they’d play records by the Temptations instead of by the Beach Boys--and on the radio we’d listen to the Young Rascals instead of the Monkees. I love country-rock, but eventually I decided the time had come for me to go back to my roots, to do my own thing.”

Blue promptly recruited three kindred musical spirits: bassist Chris Sullivan and keyboardist Joe Longa, both fellow expatriate Gothamites, and drummer Jack Pinney (a.k.a. Giacomo Jack DiMatteo), a native San Diegan who in the late 1960s had quit an early incarnation of rock ‘n’ roll jackhammers Iron Butterfly to join a touring soul revue.

Today, after two years of paying their dues in local nightclubs, the Jacks are poised for a national breakthrough. Their debut album, “Jacks are Wild,” has just been released by Rounder Records, the small East Coast label that made a star of George Thorogood and resurrected the long-dead careers of distinguished 1960s soulsters Solomon Burke and Johnny Adams.


The album is a reversion to the steamy, bop-till-you-drop R&B; of the 1960s. It has a big, huge, majestic sound, with soulful Hammond B-3 organ bursts, sultry guitar licks and delectably sensual rhythms.

All 10 songs were written by Blue, and lyrically they reflect both the heart-rending angst and the defiant nihilism that comes from growing up in a blue-collar New York neighborhood where hopes are dashed as quickly as they are raised--and where you live for the moment because the future holds no promise and the past doesn’t matter.

“For the Night,” for example, is about a one-night stand: “Please don’t ask me to say I love you/I won’t ask you to promise me anything/Let’s be straight with each other and everything will work out right/And we can comfort one another for the night.”

As a result, “Jacks Are Wild” is a dedication of sorts to awkward teen-age night moves in the back seat of a ’59 Caddy, to shooting pool with the boys in a seedy Bronx tavern after laboring all day at the meat-packing plant, and to chugging bottles of Genesee Cream Ale on the porch of your parents’ row house in Queens.


It’s a hot, sticky summer afternoon, your ears are glued to the radio, and the music of the Temptations, the Young Rascals, and Booker T. and the MGs is every bit as intoxicating as the brew.

The Jacks recorded the album last September and October at Indigo Ranch Studios in Malibu, the same studios regularly used by such big stars as the Moody Blues and Morris Day.

The four band members handled production chores themselves; as engineer, they recruited Ron Capone, a veteran of countless 1960s R&B; recording sessions by the likes of Otis Redding, Wilson Pickett, and Booker T. and the MGs.

“We hit it off the day we first met,” recalled bassist Sullivan. “Every time we finished a track, he (Capone) would come out from behind the console and say, ‘Oh, boy, you guys are really taking me back.’ ”


Before starting their obligatory national promotional tour in support of “Jacks are Wild,” the Jacks have been tapped for several San Diego appearances this month. Friday night, they’ll be at the Bacchanal nightclub in Kearny Mesa; other local performances are May 20 at Rio’s in Loma Portal and May 27 at the Belly Up Tavern in Solana Beach.

Highlighting this week’s San Diego pop concert calendar is Belinda Carlisle--the former lead singer of the all-girl rock band the Go-Go’s--who is appearing tonight at San Diego State University’s Open Air Theater.

The Go-Go’s had a string of silly pop hits in the early ‘80s that gave them a reputation in critical circles as mindless puff dolls who couldn’t write any better than they could sing or play their instruments. But since the Go-Go’s disbanded in 1985, Carlisle has, as they say, come a long way, baby. She took voice lessons and began sharpening her songwriting skills.

Today, with two gold solo albums and such infectious hit singles as “Heaven is a Place on Earth” and the new “Circle in the Sand” behind her, she’s finally getting a little respect--both as a singer and writer.


Other local concerts this week will feature new-wavers the Red Hot Chili Peppers and Thelonious Monster tonight at Rancho Grande in Tijuana, and veteran blues-rockers Leon Russell and Edgar Winter Thursday at the Bacchanal.

Also appearing Thursday will be San Diego’s own Beat Farmers, at the Belly Up Tavern, and pop-jazz group Hiroshima, opening the seventh annual Concerts by the Bay series at Humphrey’s on Shelter Island.

On Friday, Hiroshima will be back at Humphrey’s; Latin blues guitarist Carlos Santana will perform a rare solo concert at the Open Air Theater; and the James Harman Band will play rhythm and blues at Rio’s.