Jubal John lives and breathes music and his lifetime of studying and playing an array of styles and genres while honing his song-writing skills culminated in the release of his first full-length album, Mr. Right Now in November last year. Engage Jubal in a conversation about music and his enthusiasm springs to life, and this contagious vibe is only rivaled by the dynamic energy he radiates during a performance. Named after the first musician in the Bible, Jubal’s musical journey started with a ukulele at age three. His dad, a Nashville songwriter, raised Jubal at sessions and gigs in the thriving Music City scene and he was surrounded by an array of music professionals of all stripes. Jubal’s music education began on violin with the Suzuki Method at five, followed by a piano at six. We had a piano, in my room, for the longest time that we inherited form someone in the family. My Dad would show me things ……and I remember learning “Baby I’m Amazed” on the piano. I would learn all these Beatles piano songs, and I had a few piano lessons.
A year later, the inevitable guitar landed in his young hands and he never looked back. Along the way, he picked up the cello, saxophone and later on, mandolin. Studying cello at Vanderbilt’s Blair School of Music in high school as a preparatory student while performing with the Nashville Youth Symphony Orchestra, led to a full scholarship to study cello and music composition at the University of Memphis where he found himself a regular on the soul-soaked streets of Memphis gleaning as much as he could from the legendary soul and blues town. Finding the neo-classical studies and regime a bit too dogmatic, Jubal dropped out and started focusing on his gigging band and original music where he soon became a full-fledged member of the thriving Memphis scene as an A-list performer and in-demand studio player. Describing his teacher’s reaction to some of his compositions, Jubal explained why popular music led his musical direction from an early age, I just couldn’t, you know…there’s something about the modern composing thing, I would write melodies, and they would be like, Oh we don’t write melodies anymore, it has to be abstract and dissonant, and I was like, well maybe this isn’t for me. I was writing Paul McCartney style songs, and they’d be like, yeah that’s not really what we write anymore. I would do something and think this sounded really great, and they would be like no that’s old fashioned.
Mr. Right Now has catchy and well-crafted tunes. Culled from his extensive song catalogue compiled over the past decade and recorded in Birmingham by Tym Cornell at Wild Honey Studio, Mr Right Now features 10 original compositions with Jubal self producing and playing many of the instruments himself with additional accompaniment provided by some of Birmingham's best musicians including DJ Supreme on the hip-hop tinged protest number “Churches.” When it came out, his record was received with critical acclaim and drew comparisons to other famous artists, including Elvis Costello and the Beatles, both solid comparisons. In Brad Hardisy’s review for Nashville The Bridge, he proclaims, “. . . much of Jubal John’s songwriting and voicing makes me feel like I am listening to a core group made up of Elvis Costello, John Lennon, Roy Wood and Johnny Cash. Okay, let’s break that down, a Beatle, a pub rocker, the guy who invented Electric Light Orchestra out of The Move only to leave and start Roy Wood’s Wizard and pull in some Fifties music as well as one of the Million Dollar Quartet.
In addition to releasing a music video for the song, "Cupid's Pink Slip," Jubal and his band, The Right Nows have been playing a good bit around Birmingham and North-Central Alabama in the past year supporting Mr. Right Now. Jubal, Cornell and company, already planning the next recording sessions for new material, are planning a video release for the song, “Time Keeps Marching On,” a tune that sounds like the Byrds might have been involved, or they may have produced it in Nashville in the early 70s for the Ozark Mountain Daredevils when the term Country Rock was first being tossed around. In the chorus Jubal warns to keep moving and avoid apathy in the face of the inevitable ticking clock when, Time keeps marching on and then we’re gone, and you can’t take nothing with you but a song. You’ll never get it right; until you move along, Time keeps marching on. While the chorus keeps us moving, the bridge has a more cynical opinion, where gravity may keep you down, but it is all really worth the price you pay for a life that gets measure by your friends when you’re dead, Gravity is keeping me from falling off the earth, but you never really know what life is worth. Charity will always be the way to get ahead, but you’ll find out who your friends are when you’re dead.
No doubt that his broad influences shine on this record, but his unique songwriting and sense of melody keep him on a plane all his own, with a mature and impressive musical landscape full of arrangements and hooks that get stuck in your head for days. My two personal favorites, “Never Had a Love” and “Uh Huh” both have infectious chant-like hooks that glide over the polished melodies and inform and move at the same time while reminding us all that much of Jubal’s musical passion originated with early Rock and Roll from the Fifties and Sixties. Describing some of his roots, he remembers:
I really loved the music of the 50s when I was a kid and I didn’t figure it out till years later when I was at a record show and I saw this soundtrack to Happy Days. I was like Oh yeah, there was Sha Na Na, and a whole sort of rock revival and oldies stations, so I always loved that kind of stuff growing up. I loved Elvis and Buddy Holly and Jerry Lee Lewis, just all of the rockers, and one thing I liked about them was, there was no template, they were totally making it up as they went along. When I was about 10 or so, about the time John Lennon died, I got into the Beatles and the British invasion, I just became obsessed with all that.
His chorus over the groove on “Never Had a Love” and then the little hook at the end of the chorus where the cello comes in, show his direct line to George Martin and the famous Liverpool boys. As the strings build and then fade, Jubal’s guitar comes in with some smoking, retro sounding licks. From here on out, our ears are treated to a mini chamber orchestra grooving for the backup choir trying to take you down to some river in Memphis while the smoking guitar releases you for one of the finest musical moments on the record. Co-written with his friend, Gerry Wood, “Uh Huh” with it’s blues rock groove and crunchy electric guitar resonating over the acoustic rhythm while the vocal refrain echoes in your head, is great driving music. Every time I listen to this one, I catch myself humming it all day long.
Growing up intensely studying music in a musical household, along with working in a record shop for years helped shape Jubal’s knowledge as a self-proclaimed “musical shaman.” Not just a musician, Jubal is a collector, historian, and musicologist, even. From a young age, Jubal’s musical landscape was broad and informed. “I discovered Reggae when I was about 15 when I went off to camp to study cello. This was back in the cassette days and a friend of mine had Bob Marley, Legend and UB40 Labor of Love, and I put them on one of those D90 cassette tapes and I just wore that out. From there, I went to Peter Tosh and Jimmy Cliff, just got into all that stuff.”
Not one to rest on his laurels, Jubal keeps moving on with his musical journey, and with an extensive catalogue of new and existing material, he and Cornell have plans to release new material in the New Year. Stay tuned for more cool songs from Jubal along with some scheduled live performances. In fact, you can catch Jubal John and The Right Nows (featuring Tim Kelly on bass and Eric Stewart on drums) on September 21, at Birmingham’s Syndicate Lounge.