Since I’m up to the G’s in the ABC’s of Rock, it’s time to talk about the Grays. When I started telling Jellyfish Tales, I assumed I’d get to this part of the story much later. Oh well. It just so happens that the first part of the Grays tale falls right in the middle of the Jellyfish story where I left off and retired around 1996 or so. Now I get to correct spelling errors and cut short some rambling I typed up 15 years ago….
I love the Beatles, don’t get me wrong. But I go to Beatle conventions to laugh myself silly at fandom. The first one I ever went to was Los Angeles’ Beatlefest in late ’91. I actually had a blast and went both days, but by next year, I could see why Redd Kross folks had gone in to jam on a Yoko cover for 10 minutes just to test people’s patience. I advanced to the semis in a trivia contest with the most ridiculous answers I could think of and then stole the contestant bell. I asked Denny Laine how he rated Linda McCartney’s musicianship in front of 1000 people (“She was an incredible photographer,” he replied). I killed a charity lunch with Harry Nillson by wondering at top volume if we’d have to pay his bartab. Good times.
There was a huge marketplace with people selling Lennon nosehairs and whatnot and one young vendor was selling some Jellyfish singles. We started talking about the band and he asked me if I’d heard that Jason had quit. A friend of his knew Jason and he’d just told him a few days before.I nearly fell on the floor. Jason was a huge part of the band for me, if only because he was always the nicest. I was learning to play guitar, so I watched him like a hawk. His riffs were some of Bellybutton‘s best moments and the decline in really catchy guitar hooks on Spilt Milk is why I like Bellybutton better by a hair or two. Plus, he was ALWAYS smiling, which was contagious.
Even though he was obviously very talented, it never occurred to me that he might have his own songs that he wanted to sing. He’s always said that when he joined the band, he was told that he’d have some input as a songwriter but quickly found that he was gonna be the guitarist and not much else. Producer Albhy Galuten comments:
- Jason’s songs were not as well developed as they were later. Andy and Roger wanted to stay pretty close to their original vision and had been under other thumbs throughout their Beatnik Beatch career. They had earned the right to follow their vision, were pretty adamant about it and I felt I needed to support. We put a lot of effort into trying to resolve differences but Jason’s vision was really pretty different. If I thought the relationship could have been preserved in the long run I would have made every effort for them to get along but I don’t think it was possible. It’s a shame because, I think, if the three of them had stayed together we would still have them as a MAJOR force in American pop music.
In late 1991, Jason demoed some of his own songs on his 4 track and was so happy with the results that he quit the band when they weren’t interested. Some of these songs ended up on his debut solo album, Author Unknown. Other than “I Go Astray”, I couldn’t picture any of them on a Jellyfish album. That combined with plenty of tension with Andy meant that the confusion of having someone with the initials “J.F.” in a band with the same monogram towels was finally over. BAM reported the news shortly thereafter:
- News that’s somewhat less bad is that Jason Falkner may be out of Jellyfish but “by no stretch of the imagination is the band breaking up,” says Jason, who departed the band a couple of months ago but waited until now to let the cat out of the bag. “I didn’t want to make a big statement by leaving; I was just very unhappy,” he said, citing–what else?—“not enough creative freedom.” Since then, San Francisco-based Jellyfish, about to make their second album, has been looking for a new guitar-god, and Black Crowes frontman Chris Robinson called and offered Jason a spot in the Crowes (Jellyfish opened for the celebrated Crowes on their last tour). Jason was flattered, but said no, thank you; the Black Crowes’ bluesy grind isnt exactly his style, and he’s opted to look for a solo deal on the strength of his own material. “I’d be rich, but that’s not why I’m doing this,” he said. Instead, another local boy and Jason’s pal, Burning Tree guitarist Mark Ford, will be getting rich with the Black Crowes.
This newsbit also appeaed in BAM Magazine around the same time and generated what Mitt Romney later called binders full of hair metal hopefuls…
This all happened at the very end of 1991. I was finishing up my fall semester at Cal State Northridge by seeing a bunch of shows. In December alone, I saw Fishbone/Primus (parking ticket AND stereo stolen), the KROQ acoustic Xmas show (Siouxsie, Allison Moyet, Ian McCulloch, Wonder Stuff, School of Fish, This Picture, Smithereens), Crowded House/School of Fish, Toad the Wet Sprocket (1st show of the fear tour at the Whiskey), and 2 Red Hot Chili Peppers/Nirvana/Pearl Jam shows in 2 days. I started the month off by seeing one of my favorite singer/songwriter types, Lloyd Cole, at the Wadsworth Theater near UCLA on December 3rd.
My friend Jim came down from Santa Barbara and we hung out before the show, listening to new music I’d been buying, like the Nintendo White Knuckle Scorin’ album which had Jellyfish’s Mario Bros homage “Ignorance is Bliss”. We listened to it a few times, finding new things with each play until the phone rang. It was my roommate, Chris, wanting to know if I’d just heard KROQ announce that Jellyfish had broke up. I remember us both lying stunned on the floor listening to that song a few more times in total disbelief. I broke one of my few fashion rules and wore a Jellyfish pin to the show, hoping to see someone who might have more details.
(permanent link at Newgrounds)
The show was brilliant. I’d seen Lloyd before but he wasn’t headlining (strangely enough, Michael Penn was) so it was great to watch him play and play and play. He’s not a big showman but his songs are fantastic and he had his old guitarjangler Neil Clark playing with him again which made all of the difference in the world. We couldn’t wait to see him again the next day at Tower Sunset for an acoustic performance. As we walked out through the lobby, who should be standing there with a large group of people but one Jason Falkner?
I tapped him on the shoulder and he recognized us with a big smile. I can still see the face of the girl he was talking to. The “OK, fans, they’re gonna talk for awhile” rolling eyes face. He told us that as far as he knew, Jellyfish was still together and quietly said he was gonna do a solo project. We told him about “Ignorance Is Bliss” which he’d never heard of. I said I’d check the listings and we’d see him at his first show. He turned around and that’s how the Grays started. That’s right, standing there with him were Jon Brion and Buddy Judge who’d taken Jason to see their friend, Dan McCarroll who was drumming with Lloyd Cole.
Apparently, not long after Brion moved to LA, he was in a coffeehouse that was playing music so amazing (Kinks, Zombies, etc) that he had to ask who’d picked it. The girl working there told him it was the guy she’d just started dating, Jason Falkner. She got them in contact somehow and they talked about how they’d both been trying to start solo careers but had been itching to rock out with a band. They agreed to get in a studio to jam for fun and, as a possible third, Brion mentioned his Boston friend Buddy Judge, who he’d played with in the last incarnation of Til Tuesday.
They’d talked about how their friend Dan McCarroll would be a great drummer for their get together but he was on tour with Cole. McCarroll had been in both Judge’s late 80’s band The Buddy System with Brion and Brion’s side project the Bus Kids (basically the Grays but with Brion’s then girlfriend Aimee Mann on bass). This UCLA show was the first time they’d all actually met. They jammed a few weeks later on covers and someone at the practice studio literally held up the phone to the door like Marvin Berry in Back To The Future for a record company friend who he knew was interested in all three singers separately. Somewhere along the way, they reluctantly became a band…..and Brion was recruited to replace Jason in the studio on Spilt Milk tracks. I’m not sure how or when that happened but, I’m all ears….
For more Grays tales, check out our Facebook page for the next few days while I try to remember the six times I saw the Grays play. Now if I could just remember how to pay a bill on time…