I had the pleasure of speaking with rock drumming legend, Jerry Mercer from his home in the morning. I learned quite a lot about his craft as a drummer, legacy with Mashmakhan and of course April Wine. However these days Jerry’s main focus in his new venture with JerryCo Band. I’d like to give a shout out of thanks to Rick Keene for asking and setting up this interview and James St Laurent for his great photography.
Ron : Hello, Jerry, glad we were able to connect. So tell us what’s going on with you these days. We hear you are retired then all of a sudden you seem to have a new project, JerryCo Band. Can you tell us about it?
Jerry : Yes, this is a great project. I’d like to first of all talk about some of the guys in the band. I’ll start off by mentioning, Gary Moffet whom I played with in April Wine between 1977 and 1984. Kerry Watling and Doug Short of Big City are along with us. Lastly there’s Breen LeBoeuf who played bass in Offenbach.
There was a time I filled in for Offenbach’s drummer in 1980. I got a call at two in the afternoon, that evening I was on a flight to Europe, arrived in time for a rehearsal and then did a show with them which was broadcast. (laughing) We pulled that one off.
That was how I got hooked up with Breen. Then after April Wine I played with him and John McGale in Buzz Band for some time That was a great little trio.
Ron : So how did the JerryCo Band come together?
Jerry : Well it’s kind of funny. A couple of guys from Montreal threw a birthday party for me. Gary was there along with Brian Greenway. They are all friends of mine and with some others we started to jam together. Then there was talk of doing some gigs together.
Gary came up with a new arrangement of the Mashmakhan hit As the Years Go By and so we decided to re record it. Then all of a sudden people started to react and say they loved the new sound. We decided to get a little more serious about it.
Gary didn’t even know the Big City guys, and within 10 minutes of hanging out and jamming everyone felt like buds. (giggling)
We have a great working schedule. There’s never a struggle to get something done. Everyone is cool and it’s a labour of love.
Ron : That’s kind of interesting how you guys are a new band but you’re all veterans of the music scene.
Jerry : (laughing) Yeah it is. We found out that the name Jericho which is the state in Israel, was the way to go. It’s a play on words with my name, Jerry. So it became JerryCo Band. If you key that in on the internet it goes directly to us.
Ron : So at 78 years old your starting a brand new adventure let’s say.
Jerry : Yeah well everyone seems pretty good about it. From a promotional standpoint it’s a whole new game. We look forward to seeing what kind of doors can be opened for us.
Ron : Will there be any new songs or maybe an album release?
Jerry : If there was enough interest, of course. We’d love to.
We have actually gone into the studio and recorded As the Years Go By, Oowatanite and one from Edgar Winter.
We do have a few original songs we’re working on that were written by the guys in Big City. Breen has written a few things. There’s still a lot of music left in the band so who knows what may come of it.
Ron : In JerryCo Band are you doing some singing now?
Jerry : Well Breen is our main singer. Kelly does do some lead vocals, and now they’ve got me doing some lead vocal work too. Even Gary is coming out of the woodwork doing background vocals. Everybody’s having fun with the new possibilities and new challenges at the same time.
I’ve always been blessed to have people in my life who have certain skills. As an example the other guys in the band are more in touch with social media and the internet than I am. Although I have my own knowledge and skills at the same time.
Ron : So what made you decide to be a drummer?
Jerry : My father was a champion step dancer. It’s always been there in some of my earliest memories. So it was just hearing tapping and rhythm all the time. My dad did it with his feet and I guess I did it with my hands on the drums. It was a gift to be able to do that.
I played drums on week-ends and stuff, but I had actually gotten a job at IBM and was in no way thinking of being a professional drummer.Then I played with Trevor Payne, that became Trevor Payne and the Soul Brothers. We played together for a time and became tight. Then the Soul Brothers morphed into Mashmakhan. We worked it a lot.
Ron : Are you still in touch with Trevor Payne? Any chance you might do something with him?
Jerry : Well Trevor hasn’t played any secular music in over 35 years. I however have played with his gospel choir on several occasions and worked with him steadily for a few years.
Ron : So many bands have had stories about what it was like to open up for the Rolling Stones. You had that opportunity yourself. What was your experience like opening for the Stones?
Jerry : That was interesting because we opened up for them in the smallest venue and the biggest venue.
We did a few nights at the small venue which was the El Macambo club in Toronto. A live recording was even done from there on the first night. So how it worked was we set up Charlie’s drum kit then I would augment his kit with a few more of my Toms and other things. I would actually play on Charlie’s kit and then when our set was over they’d remove my extras and Charlie could just come in and play. That’s how we recorded our live set.
Then we opened for them in Buffalo for 80,000 people and it was sold-out. That was quite a feeling.
I got to meet and hang out with Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman. I got to briefly meet Mick Jagger and say hello a little bit but I never did get too close to him though. He was aways surrounded by his own entourage. He has his own way of dealing with the road I guess.
Then we were supposed to open for them in a tour of South America, but the whole thing got cancelled. That would have been amazing to do.
Ron : Looking back on your career with April Wine is there any stand out moment for you?
Jerry : There were many. You know what, for me it wasn’t so much one particular concert, although there were many. For me what I remember best is this : despite any internal difficulties we may have been having April Wine as whole always managed to come together and land on it’s feet. Whatever storms we were facing, the band would always come together as a collective and be able to play. I got to expect that and respect that.
Ron : Why did you leave April Wine?
Jerry : That was in 2009. Well it got to a point that the joy in it for me was being sucked out. A situation came up and it was not being resolved. I just couldn’t go on playing in the band that way. I did everything I could to resolve the situation and it just wasn’t going to get resolved. So knowing that I just said “Well I’m out of here.” I wasn’t enjoying it anymore.
I had never felt that way before. I love playing drums. It’s the best seat in the house. It wasn’t about making money. For me the joy was no longer there. Besides I had just gotten married to my high school sweetheart and we wanted to do some traveling. So it was the right time to leave the band.
Despite whatever happened I have to say Myles Goodwin wrote a lot of successful tunes and for that I’m thankful.
Ron : So leaving the band and traveling opened some new doors for you.
Jerry : Since then I went on to play music with other people. I went to Latin America and learned how to play Latin drumming like calypso and limbo, basically all these new rhythms. It takes a lifetime to become that kind of drummer but I loved learning. That’s the thing, you can always learn something new no matter how old you get.
I’m always learning something new on the piano or even bass.
Take Gary for an example. When April Wine broke up in 1984 he stopped playing electric guitar until just last year. He spent a lot of time on the acoustic guitar learning jazz standards. Those are songs that require a certain knowledge of chords. It’s not like three chord rock n roll. (laughing) Jazz was one of my first loves way back when. In fact I sit around sometime listening to jazz all day.
Every now and then I’ll hear a groove that’s neat or I like, but as far as today’s music is concerned I’m just not there. Plus so much of today’s music is a part of the rap world. That’s changed everything. It’s a very creative music. Sometimes I’ll see on the TV footage of fans who know the words to rap songs just as good as let’s say a rock fan will know the words to their favourite rock songs. It’s what they’re into.
Ron : Speaking of today’s artists right after this interview I’m going to review the Lady Gaga show (Editor’s note: Gaga show was cancelled due to health issues).
Jerry : You know what? I think of all the current singers out there she’s the best one. Not only can she sing but I’ve seen her playing piano. She’s multi talented. She’s very skilled and knows her craft. She’s a chameleon, constantly changing. And when she speaks it’s very intelligent and articulate.
Ron : There you go, Jerry you’re up on the current music.
Ron: What was the Festival Express experience like playing with people such as Janis Joplin, Grateful Dead, The Band, and Buddy Guy?
Jerry : That was at a time when Mashmakhan’s first album and first single was… number one across the country. We had never toured before. Donald K Donald hooked us up and landed us in the middle of the Festival Express. It was a mind blower.
The funny thing is it was just as much a mind blower for everyone else like the Grateful Dead or Janis Joplin who were experienced at touring. It was the same for everyone.
This happened just after Woodstock, so when the train came into Toronto everyone was crashing the gates and screaming “Free music for the people!” and stuff like that. Then all of a s sudden it was like “Whoa! You have to pay for the tickets to this thing.”
I give credit to the organizers always made sure we got first class food and treatment. It was just amazing.
Now the film about the Festival Express was supposed to be about the concerts and all the backstage stuff that was going on like the jamming. Every night after a concert there was a jam session going on. The crew would set up Mickey Hart’s drums, there would be seven or eight horn players from different bands, just playing. I remember playing Mickey Hart’s drums looking beside me and there’s Leslie West playing guitar. The jamming went on all night. Nobody wanted to go to bed or else you’d miss a jam somewhere. I remember a slide guitar player from one band was sitting down teaching Jerry Garcia how to play slide. One car had some country guys playing. Another car had a blues thing going on. It never stopped. The whole thing was absolutely stunning.
In the film instead of using our hit As the Years Go By they ended up using an instrumental we played in our encore called Going Home. The playing and the feeling of us on Going Home was so strong I think that’s why they used it.
Ron : Neil Peart of Rush has highly praised you.
Jerry : I haven’t spoken to Neil in years. I must say of all the bands that I’ve played with on the same bill Rush were the most gentlemanly both on stage and off.
Ron : Since Neil has praised you are there any drummers who you would say are your inspiration?
Jerry : I’d have to tip my hat to John Bonham. John was the first rock n roll drummer to play rock n roll with a soulful feel, an almost RnB feel, except that he slapped the heck of his drums. He had that undesirable feel that makes people dance.
I’ve seen Zeppelin a few times. Even if the rest of the band was weak on a night, John was always strong. He’s kind of special.
Steve Gadd is another one. He plays with a unique sense of feel that I like. He knows how to fit the pocket. He’s got that thing where you just can’t sit still when he plays.
There’s just a load of drummers I admire. Buddy Rich is another one. I’ve certainly never tried to emulate anything he ever did. He was an absolute master. If you listen to his live stuff, it’s just the accuracy that he plays with.
Ron : What’s next the for JerryCo Band?
Jerry : Well we’ve got two shows coming up. One is at Calistoga Grill in Pointe Claire on August 19th. We played there before and got such a reaction they asked us to come back. The other one is at the Port Theatre on November 2nd in Cornwall, Ontario. At that one we’ll be filing some stuff. I hope everyone can come and check out this great new band.
Ron : Thank you so much for all your time, Jerry. I do hope everyone reading this can make it out and hear some great music from you, Breen, Gary, Kelly, and Doug, The JerryCo Band.