Are you Friends Of Jack? You will be after you’ve heard them

Cover June 24, 2011

Story: Lenny Stoute

They got oil underneath their fingernails
and a country song in their heart
and the men of Friends Of Jack
don’t give a flying fart
First time I ever heard of Friends Of Jack was through a photographer friend lives on Brine Street and known to hoist a few on St. John’s totally rockin’ George Street. He’s the source of the rhyme above, which he swears was chalked on the wall of a popular leaking spot in an alley off George.

Paul John who sings and plays guitar with Friends Of Jack says the story just might be true, given the band’s large and loud following in St.John’s.

The group initially formed in St.Alban’s Newfoundland, hometown for core members and brothers Daryl and Chad and cousin Paul, all last named John. Within the kitchen parties of that small community the siblings cut their musical teeth with lots of help from family members.
: You could say it’s in the blood”, says Paul, “ I grew up with my dad and uncle playing guitar in bands. I was kind of a late starter and when I started I was more into rock”.

With time and exposure to country music, Paul was gradually drawn into the world of kitchen and patio parties, playing with family and friends, among them the best pickers St. Alban’s had to offer. The band that was to become Friends Of Jack had its first incarnation in 2000, initially formed around Daryl and Paul, with Chad joining later. They spent fours years touring all across Newfoundland and getting good word for their energetic playing style and rich harmonies.

All that led to the Newfie Mecca of St.George Street, where the band quickly gained a must-see reputation. Paul acknowledges the street’s Saturday night’s all right for fighting rep but says they weren’t bothered with it too much.

“ If you play in the bars, there’s always that time when somebody with something to prove comes in. There are lots of ways to deal with that. Because we came in playing bars at that level where they have good security, we never had to dirty our hands”.

Good thing too, as to a man, the dudes in Friends Of Jack look like they can mess you up real bad In reality, these are family guys and the most killer thing about them is their sound.

That sound has something going for it few other country acts have; high-energy dual guitars and three part sibling harmonies. These were the things most attractive to Paul, which he and the band worked to build on.

“ The bands that I liked at the time weren’t so much rock'n'roll but they had great harmonies. When we started, I found the harmonies came easy for us and it was something we started to look for in a song”.

So distinctive had they become, the first time Paul heard a Friends Of Jack tune on the radio, it was the harmonies which grabbed his attention.
“ I was driving home from work with the radio on, half listening and I thought, “That’s nice, sounds familiar, then it was Hey that’s (I Owe You One) our song. It was pretty surreal”.

Back in time, by 2000 the band had gone as far as it could and it was time for the boys to ‘get a real job’. The group disbanded, Daryl and Paul becoming part of that time honoured East Coast tradition of ‘going down the road’ in search of employment.

These days the road runs due west to the oil sands boomtown of Fort McMurray, Alberta. As the area is home to the second largest oil deposits in the world, jobs are for the taking, and it wasn’t long before Chad followed his older brother and cousin out to the Fort, to make money and make music.
The John trio was to make the Newfoundland-Fort McMurray trek once more before settling there in 2006 to reform Friends Of Jack and move their musical careers forward. Around this time the guys settled on the back line of drummer Kevin Connors and bassist Steve Drake. Friends Of Jack were now ready to take it to the next level.

A big part of the forward momentum came when the band met up with Bruce Graham, a gentleman well connected with Nashville. Since then, Graham has played a large part in the band moving forward in their career, helping them make key contacts in the music industry, both in Canada and in the United States and hooking them up with producer Bob Bullock.

Graham was an important piece of the puzzle as someone very much in the Nashville know and the Paul acknowledges this.

” No question a lot of it is in who you know. Because Bob is so well connected he was able to get the good songs for us from top notch Nashville song writers.”

As the band is not yet at the song writing stage, it was vital they have access to material which played to their strengths. In December 2009 FOJ made their first trip to Nashville to cut tunes for the debut album. Once there, the Friends were amazed to find they had access not only to top shelf songs but to some of Music City’s finest session men including Chad Cromwell, Chris Leuzinger and a special treat for Daryl in the person of his favourite axeman Brett Mason.

“ It was amazing being in Nashville but we didn’t have a lot of time to see the sights. We had seven days to do five songs; those guys are so used to the pace it didn’t feel all that pressured”.

It would be almost a year later, November 2010, before the band returned to the studio, this time at Toronto’s Metal Works, to complete the album. The time between was spent toiling in the oil patch to pay for the music. Which prompts Paul to remark: “First thing I’d tell any up and comer is that it’s not cheap to make a quality album”.

Well, the thing is done and as advertised, it’s ten tracks of hooky high-energy country tunes bearing rich and supple harmonies the likes of which have been rarely heard since The Eagles got old. And yes, I’ve heard Kings Of Leon.

While this is primarily an album to have a helluva good time with, notably “Have You Really Thought It Through” and “The Long Straw” have points to make and they do so with a knowing nod and a stylish Nashville wink. Another classy thing Friends Of Jack show mastery of on the album is the savvy to belt out the power without getting heavy-handed.

With an eye to keeping both of their fan bases happy FOJ plan full-on album release concerts in both Fort McMurray June 24 / 25 at Paddy McSwiggins and Newfoundland, July 14 at Club One in St.John’s, July 15 Outdoors at the Soccer Field in St.Alban’s and July 22 at Whelan’s Gate in Cornerbrook.
The Newfoundland tour should make for one wicked homecoming, as it’s been some time since  Friends of Jack have been back to rock The Rock.