Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Australia: Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons/Hit and Run

Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons: Hit and Run

When I saw the album, Screaming Targets by Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons described by the WPRB reviewer as being from the “Australian Graham Parker,” I was certainly intrigued. I had become a huge Parker fan after the release of Squeezing Out Sparks, and used my access to the record library in the basement of Holder Hall to investigate his back catalogue. And the reviewer wasn’t wrong—there was a definite Parkeresque feel to Screaming Targets, whose songs included the rock, blues, soul and reggae influences that were all included in Parker’s work. “Hit and Run,” is a fun tune with a reggae feel, and my other favorite from the album, “Only The Lonely Heart,” is more of a straightforward rocker.

Of course, calling someone the Australian Graham Parker is unfair both to Joe Camilleri and Parker—both are unique artists with individual sounds. I remember how much fun David Letterman (him, again) had bringing performers on his show that were, say, the Elvis Presley of Uruguay, or the Frank Sinatra of Hungary (I’m making those up—I can’t find the real ones online), and while they certainly were reminiscent of whoever they were supposed to sound like, it did sort of diminish their own talent.

But Jo Jo Zep & the Falcons was a fine band in their own right. Formed in 1975 in Melbourne as Jo Jo Zep and His Little Helpers to record a cover of the Chuck Berry holiday classic, “Run Rudolph Run,” it took its name from Camilleri’s Maltese-derived nickname. The band began gigging, cycled through members and renamed itself before releasing their first single in 1976, sung not by Camilleri, but by then-guitarist Wayne Burt. After releasing their debut, Burt left, and the band focused more on R&B and blues music. By their third album, released in 1978, they had achieved popularity in Australia, as well as fans overseas, such as Parker and Elvis Costello, who covered the band’s “So Young.”

Screaming Targets, the band’s first U.S. release, spawned a world tour, but apparently, it led to tensions among the members. After another album, which was pretty good, but not as good as Screaming Targets, was unsuccessful, the band began to break up, and the “Falcons” name was jettisoned. A move to include salsa music in Jo Jo Zep’s sound led to “Taxi Mary,” a hit in Australia, a few more releases, and the end, before a reformation in 2003 and the occasional one-off performance.

Jo Jo Zep & The Falcons were inducted into the Australian Recording Industry Association (ARIA) Hall of Fame in 2007. Were they a great band? I don’t really know, because my familiarity with them is really limited to two albums, one of which was excellent, but I don’t really think so. But as Camilleri stated in an interview before the induction, "I'm chuffed. I think the Falcons did play a part in the Australian music explosion ... I'm happy it's been acknowledged. The Falcons were a band out of time. What we played wasn't what was being played. It was an R&B/reggae sound in the time of flares and funk and pop music. Somehow we slotted in."

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