HIPPIE NO MORE
If you put a typical CU student at the front of a successful hippie/funk/R&B band and allowed that person to see nothing but an endless road filled with multicolored Volkswagens, to wear nothing but tie-dyed T-shirts and to hear nothing but the Allman Brothers for almost half a decade, he or she would be in grave danger of being musically and socially brainwashed. But Sherri Jackson, who lived this life during her four-year stint as frontwoman for Boulder's Band du Jour, was not, and is not, typical. Neither is the soulful acoustic music she's been making since she set out on her own.
According to Jackson, she declared her independence because she was tired of feeling trapped in a culture with which she seldom identified--tired of the closed-minded attitudes her peers exhibited toward new music and tired of being told that she wasn't experienced enough to play guitar on stage. Afterward, she adds, she started taking musical chances for the first time in ages.
"I just wanted to get away from it all," she remembers. "I was so sick of patchouli oil--I was so sick of it that I couldn't take it. So I sat in with the Reejers. I played thrash violin with them. I did a lot of sit-ins at other live shows. And I did shows with Lord of Word, where the only thing I said was `Yeah.' I'd sing that about twenty different ways."
During this period, Jackson also began playing solo gigs. These appearances attracted plenty of attention from listeners, as well as two heavy-duty record-contract offers that she says would have required her to sell her soul for a shot at the big time. Shortly after brushing off the latter, she was approached by Brian McRae.
"Brian's one of those closet drummers who went to school and learned about all the techniques," Jackson notes, laughing. "He's a very technical drummer--he does a lot of jazz stuff. Brian had heard me in Band du Jour, and he'd heard the rumor that I was gonna leave that band, so he sought me out and gave me his card and told me that he could add a lot to the songs I was playing solo."
The result of McRae's suggestion was the creation of a three-piece unit featuring Jackson on guitar, violin and vocals; McRae on trap drums and percussion; and former Sic 'Em Fifi/Little Women member Glenn Esparza on bass. Live, the threesome provides the perfect accompaniment for Jackson's compositions. Jackson has played guitar for only a year and a half, but you'd never know it from her performances: She produces complex rhythms that underpin her rich, storytelling vocals. Even tastier is her approach to violin: There's an angry, even vengeful quality to the way she attacks the instrument that evokes Denver's 16 Horsepower--a band Jackson greatly admires.
"I've been playing violin since grade school," she reveals. "But, basically, classical music was what I did. Then I got into junior high, and I was into the heavy-metal scene. I was a closet metalhead--you know, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Led Zeppelin and all that. Of course, being African-American, it's not like you go around telling people this."
Given these influences, it's no surprise that Jackson didn't spend her childhood crooning along with Aretha Franklin. "When I was little, I tried to sing to Pat Benatar," she confirms. "And every time I tried to sing with her, I thought I had a voice like a frog. I couldn't reach any of the notes she was hitting, so I just wrote myself off as never being able to sing. I realize now it's because her voice is a lot higher than mine."
In fact, Jackson's pipes were so strong that she was offered a spot in Band du Jour after the most impromptu of auditions. "It's a weird story," she admits. "About four years ago, I was running track for CU, but I broke my leg. After that I joined a comedy group. One night I was dressed up like Diana Ross with the other girls in the group--they were dressed up, too. We were on the mall doing a show and trying to be funny. When we were done, we had a shot of tequila at the Westin and made our way to J.J. McCabe's. Band du Jour was playing, and someone on stage said, `Diana Ross, you wanna come up and sing?' I thought it'd be humorous, so I did it, and they really liked my voice."
Since then, Jackson's vocal abilities have made her a hot commodity at Denver recording studios. "I get called a lot for backup wailing," she groans. "People say, `Okay, black chick, gospel sound--let's get her.'"
Jackson continues to spend a lot of time in area studios--but now it's her own music, rather than someone else's, that she's singing. With the backing of several unnamed music-industry admirers, Jackson and her band are recording a debut CD that should be available in late July.
If it's anything like her concerts, Jackson followers should like it--whether they dig patchouli oil or not.
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