The original Joe Jackson band--lead vocalist/songwriter/keyboard player Jackson, bassist Graham Maby, guitarist Gary Sanford, and drummer Dave Houghton--rode the musical New Wave out of England to international success in 1979 on a pair of classic albums on A&M Records, Look Sharp! and I'm the Man, and tireless touring. The world fell hard for the band's spare-yet-full sound, featuring Sanford's stuttering, insistent rhythm guitar chords, Houghton's swift, precise and solid drumming, and, especially, Maby's amazingly intricate bass--the band's true lead instrument. And then, of course, there were Jackson's infrequent piano and melodica solos that, along with his rich musical vocabulary which, at that time, emphasized not only powerful rock but also bouncy ska, melodic pop, and lyrics that were alternately scathing and vulnerable.
The Joe Jackson Band worked relentlessly throughout 1980, coming off the road just long enough to record their most experimental and least warmly received album, Beat Crazy. By the end of that year, they'd called it a day.
Over the next 20 years, Jackson recorded several more albums that were cast in various shades of rock, pop, jazz, blues, and even classical music, as the muse and mood struck him. The results of his eclectic efforts ranged from 1982's Night and Day, Jackson's pop commercial peak, featuring adult contemporary standbys "Stepping Out" and "Breaking Us in Two," to, for Sony Classical, 1997's Heaven and Hell, a somewhat challenging interpretation of the seven deadly sins that's best described, on Jackson's own Web site, as "not quite classical, not quite jazz, and not quite rock." Some of Jackson's other albums featured big band covers (1981's extremely enjoyable Jumpin' Jive), instrumental orchestral music (1987's Willpower), and various film soundtracks, including 1983's Mike Murder, which contained several fine songs and a score wasted on an indifferently edited and marketed movie.
Meanwhile bassist extraordinaire Graham Maby, while remaining a frequent collaborator of Jackson's, often also found his services in demand by other artists, including Marshall Crenshaw, Natalie Merchant, and They Might be Giants. Guitarist Gary Sanford toured and recorded with Joan Armatrading, Aztec Camera, and Kirsty MacColl, among others, while drummer Dave Houghton stayed out of the spotlight, doing mostly local gigs in the south of England, teaching drums, etc.
Finally, in 2002, the original Joe Jackson band reunited for a new album, Volume 4 (Restless/Rykodisc), released this past March, and a world tour. The band warmed up for the recording sessions with a few gigs, highlights from which make up the new package's special bonus CD and demonstrate that its live sound is still as compact, powerful, graceful and incendiary as ever. And the new studio material on Volume 4 can stand proudly next to such old favorites as "One More Time," "On Your Radio," "Got the Time," "It's Different for Girls," "I'm the Man," and the band's signature hit, "Is She Really Going Out with Him?"
Jackson called in from the road to talk about the reunion, Volume 4,
expanded/re-mastered editions of some of his older albums, and more. From
past encounters, I knew that he can be as cheeky and edgy as he is charming.
Happily, I caught him in a very friendly mood.