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Return of the JackLords

Buffalo’s long-lost lads of loud, fast, and out-of-control rock reunite

A little over an hour in and I’d just about hit my wall.

On a rainy Friday afternoon following a three-and-a-half-hour car ride, I was poring through the seemingly miles of bins and endless stacks of hundreds of thousands of records at a Pittsburgh joint called Jerry’s Records—a real Mecca for vinyl enthusiasts.

What: The JackLords reunion show with The Irving Klaws, Here Come the Comets, The Steam Donkeys, and Dick Whiskey

When: This Friday, June 10

Where: Nietzsche’s, 202 Allen Street

I had been going through the rock/alternative section meticulously, and alphabetically, not skipping a single letter or bin or record. My hopes of finding some long-sought-after, rare circular slab were growing dim in this part of the store. There were literally dozens more sections and genres to go through. I was ready to give up the hunt if I didn’t find anything by the “J” section.

That’s where I saw it: a sealed copy of Mother’s Rock, the sole full-length release by Buffalo’s uncategorizable underground rock mavens The JackLords. I spent the better part of two days at Jerry’s Records and I walked out with some real gold, but there was nothing I found that I was more excited about than that one record.

That’s fitting, because The JackLords essentially traded in pure excitement. Their music was like their two-year lifespan: a short, fast ride with some surprising twists and turns, and a hell of a lot of fun along the way.

“It was always fun,” recalls JackLords inner circle member Eric “EVR” Van Rysdam, who was living at the band’s defacto West Side headquarters on Dart Street that came to be known to all as the Death Ranch.

Ventures-derived surf rock, snotty three-minute/three-chord blasts, Anglophile raveups, tripped-out psychedelia, and twangy Telecaster country rock: The JackLords delivered it all in a sonic gangbang of styles that logic would argue couldn’t be done…or certainly couldn’t be done well. Somehow, they more than did it well and turned their very presence—in music and overall vibe—into a party.

“They were just a total a party onstage and it translated to the people in the crowd,” Van Rysdam remembers.

Singer/guitarist Yod Crewsy, singer/guitarist/keyboardist Buck “Naked” Quigley, bassist Casino El Camino, and drummer “Kid” Blue Aggie looked and sounded like four misfits who got trapped inside a record store—all looking through different sections—and were forced to start a band. For some reason, it worked.

“It was organic. It was the shit we liked,” says Casino El Camino, calling from the patio of Austin, Texas bar that he owns and that shares his name. “The sound of the band came about because of what we were all into.”

Marty Boratin, resident and head chef at the Death Ranch—insists that the taste and personality differences were what made it all special.

“Everybody had different visions and backgrounds, and they managed to get it all to gel into something that was cohesive…if sometimes incoherent,” Boratin jokes, referring to the good-times atmosphere that surrounded the band.

El Camino recalls the favored sounds within the band that made up the blueprint of the JackLords. “Yod was the mod, psychedelic, ’60s garage guru,” he says. “Buck liked Hank Williams, CCR, and roots rock. Blue liked R.E.M. I was the bridge between them and loved all of it: T.Rex to Link Wray to the Cramps.”

Crewsy had played with both Camino (in the fabled Buffalo garage punk outfit The Splatcats) and Quigley (in the Sky Cabin Boys). The three met up at the now long-gone Cavern Tavern on Grant Street, where they admired the collection of Jim Beam decanters, talked about the music they loved and El Camino’s idea for a band—with a name that was both homage to the star of Hawaii 5-0 but additionally had a dark, cool ring to it. Blue Aggie was brought in on drums and The JackLords were a reality.

Once the JackLords got moving, it all started going pretty fast. Aggie, by his own account, was an intermediate-level musician when his new band was called to open for a rock-and-roll legend.

“When I started with The JackLords, I had about a year of experience playing drums in the basement, and three months later we were opening for Roy Orbison at Kleinhans,” he says. “That was pretty amazing, which was set up for us by Provider Bob [one of The Jacklord’s greatest supports, the late Bob Mueckel], may he rest in peace.”

“I remember watching from the wings and suddenly he explains to the crowd that he needed to take a short intermission to have some warm water and honey,” Quigley recalls. “He came walking right past me—no security or anything—and I told him how great he sounded. He shook my hand and thanked me. Later, he posed for pictures with us, and chatted briefly.”

“Best of luck to you boys,” Orbison told Quigley and the band.

The JackLords didn’t need luck at that point. Everything was coming together. Following a pattern of regular local live gigging and some regional touring, the band landed a record deal with the indie label SkyClad. To this day, no one in or around the band can recall how the SkyClad deal came together, but once it did, the runaway train of The JackLords simply kept rolling.

“I remember signing a contract, recording a record, and next thing we were playing at CBGBs,” says Quiqley.

That one record, Mother’s Rock, is enough to cement The Jacklord’s legend. It was recorded at IMAGE Studio in Olcott Beach along the banks of Lake Ontario. The vintage beach scene on the album’s sleeve and the title fits the songs within, and was the product of an old memory.

“Casino got the name Mother’s Rock from a beach in Hamburg that we used to have parties at that we had to rappel down to get to,” says Boratin.

The record was typified by tracks like “Trainload of Love,” with its perfect mix of big Duane Eddy guitar, an easy-feeling jangle, just a hint of raw garage menace, and auxiliary JackLord Cliff Hanger’s wailing harmonica; the raunchy, dark, dance-party anthem “Do the Nasty”; the Seeds/Mysterians freakout “In My Mind”; and the manic burner “Out on a Limb.” Mother’s Rock displayed all the band’s influences, crystalized over 14 lean and mean tracks.

The legend of Mother’s Rock goes even further, as the master tapes fell out of a car on the midnight run to deliver them to SkyClad headquarters in New Jersey.

“[Producer] Bob Hobler, Casino, and I hadn’t slept and got in a Suzuki Sidekick with a snap-on top,” VanRysdam remembers it. “I was driving and Casino wakes up and asks frantically, ‘Where’s the tape?’ He had wedged the box of tape between the rollbar and the canvas top and now it was gone, so we turned around and drove back, each of us watching along the side of the road, but couldn’t find it.”

A member of highway cleanup crew who the trio caught up with in Nyack had miraculously found the tapes. Thusly, the New York State Thruway Authority was properly thanked on the album’s notes.

Mother’s Rock became a favorite on the local scene and garnered airplay across the country on college radio. The band wanted more. They hoped their break would come from touring.

“There was supposed to be a tour to support the album and we were all jazzed: great venues and a booking agent, but the whole thing fell through,” Quigley remembers. It was the point where the band’s heady momentum was ultimately lost.

“We recorded more demos for a second album and SkyClad didn’t pick it up, so we had a meeting at our rehearsal space to talk about continuing and finding a new label,” Quigley says. “We all loved the band but were young and drawn in different directions, so we just ended it. It was cool enough that we didn’t want one person to take the name and go on with it, so we just put a period on it.”

Within two years, the JackLords had packed it in. Blue headed to Austin, though he’s since come back to Buffalo to continue his career as an amateur fisherman. El Camino followed Blue’s path and ultimately opened Casino El Camino’s, a must-stop bar and burger joint on Sixth Street that resembles the Old Pink Flamingo on Allen Street, where he was once DJ-in-residence.

Crewsy was off to Manhattan to practice law, and later formed garage rockers Dark Marbles. Quigley stayed on in Buffalo, forming honkytonk heroes The Steam Donkeys, and later became an editor here at Artvoice.

The members of The JackLords have always stayed in touch and even had a reunion in 2002. In 2011, they decided it was time to do it again. Another longtime friend and instigator, John “JFK” Kennedy—who put together that previous Jacklords reunion—needled the band to reunite and rock out at least one more time before they got too old.

“I wanted them to do it again last year, but everyone’s schedules didn’t allow it, so I started to plan this show back in December,” says Kennedy.

This Friday, Crewsy, El Camino, Quigley, and Blue will finally return to the stage at Nietzsche’s, a place over which their shadows have not been cast for nearly a decade.

To El Camino, for a band that excelled at warm-weather after-hours parties on Dart Street, summer in Buffalo was an obvious and perfect choice for the reunion.

“Besides, I’m sitting here in Austin in June right now, and it’s 105 degrees,” he says, laughing. “What is it right now in Buffalo, 75 degrees? Sounds good to me.”

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