Elderberry Jak – Long Overdue (1970)

FrontCover1Elderberry Jak was and is arguably the finest rock band to come out West Virginia. It is certainly an arguable case if its single album is an accurate indicator, as the recording reveals a quartet as strong as any number of its more well-known, more commercially successful hard rock contemporaries — bands such as Free, the James Gang, the Guess Who, and Three Dog Night — all with which Elderberry Jak shared a variety of sonic attributes.

The band came together in the fall of 1969, with bass player Dave Coombs and lead vocalist Joe Cerisano as its co-founders. The two had previously played together in Coombs’ outfit J.B. and the Bonnevilles. The Bonnevilles formed in 1965 and developed over the next few years into the most outstanding and popular group in the entire state of West Virginia. The band annually headed to Somers Point, NJ, during the summers to act as house band at a shore club called Bayshores. By 1968, Cerisano had joined the band, his first serious professional foray into the music business (though he had played with various bands in his hometown of Fairmont), still just a 17-year-old minor, and when the Somers Point trip arrived that year, Coombs and his wife actually became the legal guardians of the young singer for a time.

Elderberry Jak

Upon the demise of J.B. and the Bonnevilles in 1969, the duo formed a new unit called Kaboose, which lasted seven months. Then, with the addition of Tom Nicholas on guitar and Joe Hartman behind the drum kit, they became Elderberry Jak, named after the elderberry wine made by an uncle of Coombs. The quartet had soon become a powerful unit, mixing hard-driving rock with invigoratingly tight funk. The band traveled throughout their home states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, for performances, eventually earning a record deal with Kenny’s brother Leland Rogers in Memphis. The result was the first-rate Long Overdue, released in 1970.

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After the band’s demise, the members scattered with Cerisano, most significantly, remaining in the music business as a professional singer, soon heading for work in New Jersey and then New York, before ultimately gravitating to Los Angeles where he started the band Silver Condor and was signed to Columbia Records, releasing a pair of albums in the early ’80s. After returning home to West Virginia, he continued to work not only solo (in TV and radio commercials, among other projects) but also sang with or for a wealth of acclaimed musicians, from Jimmy Webb, Richie Havens, and Bo Diddley to Black Sabbath and Korn. As the dawn of the new century arrived, he could still be found fronting the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.

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West Virginia has never exactly been a hotbed of great rock & roll music, but a number of burnished gems have been extracted from this famous coal-mining region down through years, few and far between as those may have been. Of the few, Elderberry Jak’s sole 1970 album may shine with the most luster of all, and quite probably still remains the state’s most significant and single finest contribution to the hard rock pantheon. And quite a contribution it indeed turns out to be, as this straight reissue from Gear Fab helps us to hear. Elderberry Jak may be all but forgotten outside the borders of West Virginia, but they were, for a short time, something like heroes in their home region (indicated by the admiring liner notes by journalist Tim Lilley), and Long Overdue makes clear that current memories definitely are not infallible.

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In fact, the album’s best moments hold their own rather well against such heavyweights of the era as the Guess Who, Three Dog Night, the James Gang, and Grand Funk Railroad, among others, all bands to which the Jak bears passing or incidental resemblance, and, frankly, at times surpasses. That particularly goes for the singing of Joe Cerisano, an inspiring holler that is every bit the equal of white soul men like Burton Cummings, Robert Lamm, and, especially, Paul Rodgers, even Robert Plant in its more manic moments, though Cerisano never drifts toward the hyperbolic, unlike Led Zeppelin’s frontman. The band is nearly their vocalist’s match in skill. Tom Nicholas had a chunky guitar tone that was close kin to Joe Walsh’s viscous playing. Dave Coombs’ basslines are wonderful, near-virtuoso things, while Joe Hartman pounded a novel (at the time) double-bass drum setup that gave the music its devouring rumble. It was an accomplished power-trio equally capable of playing the odd delicate ballad (“Inspired,” “My Lady”) or breezy, romantic grooves endemic only to the era (“Going Back Home,” “Forrest on the Mountain”) then letting loose with blood-cooking electric jams like the awesome “Vance’s Blues” or the near-metal “Restless Feeling,” always shot through with considerable soul. And somehow Elderberry Jak impossibly managed to turn Procol Harum’s “Wish Me Well” into a blazing white-hot piece of legitimate funk, only matched on the ofay side of the fence by Grand Funk’s “Nothing’s the Same.” Not bad for four kids from Appalachia.(by Stanton Swihart)

A real strong album !

BackCover

Personnel:
Joe Cerisano (vocals)
Dave Coombs (bass, vocals)
Joe Hartman (drums, vocals)
Tom Nicholas (guitar, vocals)
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organ (uncredited)

BookletTracklist:
01. Going Back Home (Cerisano/Coombs/Hartman/Nicholas) 3.15
02. Forrest On The Mountain (Snyder) 2,51
03. Vance’s Blues (Cerisano/Coombs/Hartman/Nicholas) 3:47
04. Inspired (Snyder) 3:29
05. Restless Feeling (Cerisano/Coombs/Hartman/Nicholas) 3:40
06. Wish Me Well (Brooker/Reid) 3:25
07. Mr. Sun (Cerisano/Coombs/Hartman/Nicholas) 3:43
08. My Lady (Cerisano/Coombs/Hartman/Nicholas) 3:45
09. Changes (Cerisano/Coombs/Hartman/Nicholas) 4:51
10. You’re The One (Cerisano/Coombs/Hartman/Nicholas) 4:01

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