“I was strung out but without a doubt/now I ain’t feelin’ so bad” - Pillbox
I get that history favours the victors and that any dissenting voices – especially ones stumbling around in alleys, bleeding from the head strung out on god knows what – are usually dismissed without a second thought. But I implore you to consider The Joneses. Jesus fucking Christ, man, consider the fucking Joneses.
First though, lets raise a grimy glass to one of LA rock’n’roll’s unsung superstars, Joneses’ founder Jeff Drake. Here’s the thumbnail version: teenage boy discovers the New York Dolls, buys a guitar, buys some heroin, forms a rock’n’roll band, watches his scene get chewed up by spandex goons, breaks up his band, and then robs a goddamn bank.
In the pantheon of drug-hazy rock’n’roll excess, there’s not a whole lot of guitar-slinging bank robbers. Drake’s in a class of his own. Sure, it was the drugs that got him thrown in prison, not the Chuck Berry licks, but it still looks great on his resume. And musically, the dude never made a wrong move. After the demise of The Joneses, there was the Blondie-esque Amanda Jones band. When they crashed in the late ‘90s (drugs again) he formed the balls-out Vice Principals with his younger brother, Humpers frontman Scott “Deluxe” Drake. Jeff Drake has one of the most impeccable discographies around. He may have let his parole officer down here and there, but he never failed to deliver the rock’n’roll goods.
The Joneses formed in ‘81 or so and were headlining clubs around LA by 1985, eventually sharing stages with everybody cool, notable, and/or happening: Johnny Thunders, The Blasters, Lords of the New Church, even Poison and Spinal Tap. They were raised on Berry and Little Richard and the Stones and they sounded like it, all hip swagger and dangling cigarettes and shiny leather boots. It oughta be noted that, aside from the “cowpunk” scene (Tex and the Horseheads, Gun Club, Flesheaters), there wasn’t a whole lot of authentic rock’n’roll happening in LA at the time. It was punk or metal or get the fuck outta here.
The Joneses stood out, the last gang of rubber-legged rock outlaws in a scene full of violent hardcore punk and preening glam rock posers. A couple years later, a new group hit the scene like a thunderbolt, and went on to become the biggest band in the world. They were into dangling cigarettes and The Stones, too. I’m not saying that Guns N’ Roses borrowed liberally/heavily from the Joneses, but I am saying they had to know who they were. It’s not like the Joneses were completely obscure. I mean, if you had Johnny Thunders records in the ‘80s, you also had Keeping Up With the Joneses. If they were ever a secret, they were not a well-kept one. In fact, The Joneses were courted by plenty of major labels who got a whiff of the future a couple years early.
Alas, nobody at Geffen or Elektra wanted to take a chance on a band already riddled with drug problems. That’s pretty ironic, given that both labels would be contending with the chemical excess of the flash metal hordes for the rest of the decade, but there you go. Infamous Doors groupie Danny Sugarman managed The Joneses for a minute, and got the big idea to dress ‘em all in black leather and up the metal ante. As Drake was not metal, was never metal, was never gonna be metal, he did not cotton to this idea. The rest of the band was so enamoured with the flash metal concept that they tried to oust their founder and fearless leader and that, in essence, is how the whole thing unraveled. Drake blew up the bridge on his way out the door and took up bank robbing. And rock’n’roll went along without the Joneses, and we ended up with Trixter, Bulletboys, Slave Raider and Hericane Alice.
Drake didn’t die, though. He sorta did the opposite. After finally cleaning up, he went back to school, got a PHD, and is now a professor. After a slate of reissues a decade ago, The Joneses sorta reformed and played gigs around LA. That hasn’t happened again in a few years, but you never know. And their job is done here anyway.
Whether anyone ever admits it or not, the Joneses were a big deal, man. LA metal borrowed from a lot of people and places, including Drake and his motley crew of string-tied Romeos. The Joneses were sleaze rockers before sleaze was even invented, really. They mixed gut-bucket blues with greasy 50’s rock’n’roll and venomous ‘70s punk and they were effortlessly, devastatingly cool about it all. And for whatever tragic reason they have been left for dead in a ditch by rock’n’roll’s history writers. So let’s fix that. After all, the Joneses were already welcoming you to the jungle back in 1982.