Joseph’s an indie, but only partly by choice

The Abbey Theatre will host a triple bill tonight with two local bands and one songwriter celebrated by certain lovers of the jam community.

Caitlin Cannon and the Artillery will be sandwiched between The Scrugglers and Jerry Joseph. Cannon leads a quartet that plays pop and alternative country. She handles guitar and vocals. She’s joined by Elizabeth Rioridan on bass, Crystal Wolfchild on glockenspiel, stomp box and backing vocals, and Wellington Clark on the drums.

The Scrugglers are a bluegrass band playing originals, bluegrass covers and whatever else fits into their nontraditional take on bluegrass and roots music. The throwback lineup features Steve Lebowski on washtub bass and vocals, Patrick O’Halloran on banjo and Todd Webster on vocals and mandolin.

Tonight’s headliner will be Jerry Joseph, a songwriter and band leader who has gained attention through his songwriting, some of which has been recorded by Widespread Panic. Yet he should be acknowledged for more than what he has contributed to the fraught and predictable jam-band community.

“I think, for the most part, I’ve always written for myself. There’s been a few times where songs I wrote with someone were written in terms of what they need on the record, like a musical slot to fill,” Joseph said last week from his home in Portland, Ore. “But I’ve never been asked. I’ve never hung out in Nashville. I’d have a nicer car if I had.”

For the Abbey show, he’ll play with his regular drummer Steve Drizos in a smaller, more stripped-down version of his rock show. Normally, his power trio, known as the Jack Mormons, are an upbeat straight-ahead rock and roll band. But after a 20-plus year career, he is finally learning how to play on the lighter side.

“My acoustic thing is strange,” Joseph said. “For years I tried hard to learn how to be big on an acoustic guitar. If I was doing a big opening show, I could walk out alone and do this thing. I’ve been trying to unlearn that. A lot of times, like in Europe when they are quiet and sitting and they want to pay attention, I go out and scream and yell and stomp and smash my guitar, and that’s all they remember.”

His fierce independence, which is a result of never being offered the big contract or the big chance to cash in, remains a badge of honor many musicians set as a goal. With constant changes in the recording industry and ease in recording and Internet distribution, it remains easy to be “indie,” although “indie” in the music business can also be synonymous with “broke.”

Few musicians would shy away from the big contract, willing to risk creative freedom for some steady income.

“I have a history of getting dropped by major labels before the deal got signed,” Joseph said. “People always go ‘we love you because you never sold out,’ but nobody’s ever asked me to. Nobody’s ever said, ‘write the new Journey record and we’ll give you a million dollars.’ On the upside, it’s kept me able to make the music I want to make.”

Bryant Liggett is a freelance writer and KDUR station manager.

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