The Jim Jones Revue Tells Us the Secret Behind 'The Best Damn Rock'n' Roll Band on the Planet'

Categories: Q&A
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The Jim Jones Revue has been called "The best damn rock 'n' roll band on the planet" by Mojo magazine -- a classic bit of British music press hyperbole that this time has a kernel of truth to it. This Sunday (September 19), the frenetic London five-piece will bring its superheated, piano-driven rock 'n' roll to Great American Music Hall for its first-ever live show in San Francisco. Marrying the swinging piano of rock 'n' roll pioneers like Jerry Lee Lewis and Little Richard to the unabashed fury of garage and punk rock, the Jim Jones Revue's songs make you want to dance as they barrage your eardrums. We spoke with frontman Jim Jones about the inspiration for his band's unusual sound, the undeniable power of weirdos like Little Richard, and the possibility that Great American Music Hall is haunted.

How did you decide to start a piano-driven rock band?
[Rupert Orton, guitar, and I] would just sit and talk about music and we kept coming back to this thing about '50s rock 'n' roll, and how great it would be to see somebody do something like that now. I would sort of imagine what it would be like to go back to the mid-'50s and be at the Dew Drop Inn in New Orleans and see Little Richard playing there. This is a very racist time, and you've got this gay black man with makeup, screaming about he wants to fuck your daughter, but really he's looking at your son. That must have been quite a shock for the average middle class American at that time.


That image alone was just very exciting, along with the music that went with it -- you got this kind of blood and guts rock 'n'roll. We just decided to put something [like that] together to see what would happen. This friend of ours had a club going ... And [after hearing a recording of the band's first rehearsal], he just said, "'This is great, I'm putting your name on the poster for next week's show.'" He kind of bullied us into it. But we got a few songs together and played, and the place was full up and everyone loved it. And it's kind of been like that ever since. The music itself has got this runaway train element -- once you sort of lock into the right rhythm ... we're just along for the ride.

How long ago was that?

That very first meet was three years ago. And just gradually, we got more and more busy, to the point now where we seem to be playing every night.

The sound of your (self-titled) debut recording  is warm, but very gritty, like everything was pushed to the max.  Was that intentional?

Definitely. We had no money, no budget at all. The thing is, if you can't get a really good producer, what are you left with? There's no point trying to make it tidy -- it just sounds mediocre. So I went for full brutality, really - just kept pushing it into the red until it was cooked. There's no overdubs. It was two days {recording], plus a little bit of mixing.

You talked about the importance of attitude to the sound, but it's hard to shock people these days -- they're certainly not going to be shocked at a gay black man singing sexually explicit lyrics in a bar. How do you keep that factor alive?

For us, there's like a certain - it's not like a fashion thing -- but there's a certain lightning-in-a-bottle element to that music and everything that goes with it. And you can sort of hear that same element  -- you can trace it through all these other groups that were massively inspired by that. All the groups that influenced us as well, like the MC5 or AC/DC. There are so many bands that you listen to their stuff and it's just like Little Richard, just put together in a different way. But what's really nice is that you can kind of join the dots backwards, you can trace almost a trail of breadcrumbs all the way back to that early Little Richard-type sound, and in doing that, you can almost see it in a different way. All we want to do really is play really exciting music and get people moving, and it's the early-'50s piano rock 'n' roll that's the inspiration behind it.

You also bring back the danceability of early rock 'n' roll. Was that part of the goal?

Definitely. I'd be listening to [Little Richard] and thinking, 'Jesus, this is like punk rock -- it's just so aggressive and brutal the way that they just go at it. But what's realy nice as well is that they sort of maintain a swing in the music. And that seems to be the two elements in that early rock 'n' roll -- the drive and the swing. And people are still playing music with drive, no doubt, but it's very sort of up-and-down. It's great if you're a geezer at the front row, and you want to push each other around. And there are people playing music that has a swing to it, but it's generally perceived and presented in this easy listening sort of way. Our thing is making sure that you put [in] both elements. One of the great things we noticed at one of the very first shows was [that] there were girls dancing at the front -- not just jumping up and down, but actually dancing. And that is a really great revelation.

How do have audiences been reacting to your shows?

Everyone gets it quite quickly. It's not like you need any sort of special haircut or any kind of special esoteric reference.

How did it feel to be called the "best damn rock'n' roll band on the planet" by Mojo magazine?

[Laughs.] Yeah, no pressure. No pressure at all. It's been quite amazing. People quite often at the end of our shows make these massive sweeping statements: "You guys are the best band. You're better than Elvis, but with more intensity than the MC5, and more important socially than the Clash" [laughs]. And people say this with all sincerety. They're gripping your arm as they say it, looking into your eyes.

What's your attitude toward the live show?

Our aim is to raise sprits and kill off any apathy, but not in a negative or aggressive way -- in a positive uplifting way. it's like kind of everyone's invited and come in get involved and let's make tonight a great night.

So this is your first time playing in San Francisco, at Great American Music Hall.

Yeah. Somebody told me that place is haunted.

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