MAD JACK was formed by rock and roll lifer Lou Kaplan in direct response to the show biz glam path hard rock had taken during the rise of early ’80s hair metal. He saw that firsthand in L.A. and hightailed it back to upstate New York, looking to put a band together that keeps it real, roots oriented and rocking out down and dirty along the lines of Lynyrd Skynyrd. ZZ Top, Allmans, Outlaws… Southern Rock out of the North but deep fried with the right moves to score gigs opening for his heroes and storming the Eastern Seaboard for the next 20 years. “Straight Up” is Mad Jack’s debut LP issued privately in 1984 and it smokes!
There are traditional boogie undercurrents in the rhythms, trouble with lady luck in the lyrics, plenty of Jack Daniels and roadhouse ripping but every track is constructed with non-stop hooks performed with the energy of a buncha dudes partying like there’s no tomorrow. With the dual guitar action, gutsy but radio friendly vocals and uncompromising view of how to live life free and fair, Mad Jack doesn’t waste a second of your time. I’m sure they jammed out relentlessly at length on stage but what you get here on vinyl is the sort of concise focus that puts the classic into classic rock without putting on any airs. Had a major label pumped some serious green into their thing I’m sure you would already have these songs running wild in your brain!
Lou Kaplan and Danny Austin are an incredible team on guitars, interlocking riffs and soaring dual leads backed by Nick Nicholas on keyboards, Mark Young on bass and Pete Mendillo on drums. They echo many of their influences without losing their own identity… proof Southern Rock about real life and real people transcends geography as well as time!
STRAIGHT UP kicks in with gnarly guitar licks, Humble Pie styled lead vocal trade offs, flying boogie bass patterns and a message about how these guys function. Whiskey, women and music… all straight up! No time for bullshit games, baby!
TROUBLEMAKER is an instant mid-tempo hardrock radio classic. I can hear the Skynyrd version in my head, Bad Company or Foreigner taking it way up the charts as well. Ronnie Van Zant meets Paul Rogers cool dose of swaggering attitude in the lead vocal indicates these guys got nothing to proove and are ready to call you out if you are up to no good. Killer unusual dual guitar interplay in the break, too.
FAST GUNS AND ROT GUT take these guys back where they belong, home sweet home is hard partyin’ with a hot chick, blaring juke box kicking the roadhouse into high gear. The guitar action is in the pocket, terrific tones with a perfect blend of ringing chords, soaring leads and a delicious barrelhouse piano break. “Ain’t nothing stirs my soul like a southern boogie song!”. You will agree when you hear this!
CAN’T WIN FOR LOSIN’ nails the exasperation a woman who is never satisfied can lay on your head, she’s dealing from the bottom of the deck, holding all the aces, driving you nuts in a way perfectly captured by the fiery slide guitar action.
STRAIGHT SHOOTIN’ MAN is about facing the challenges of life without sacrificing your integrity… “freedom is the cross I bear, truth’s the horse I ride” feeling like “I’m always just a step away from where I want to be” but never surrendering, always living as a straight shooting man when trouble crosses your path. Acoustic guitars carry the rhythm in a reflective way with a wonderfully circular flow and Danny lays down some delicious lead guitar as the song rides off into the sunset.
IN THE WIND is their biker anthem, classic boogie groove, gritty vocal, “silver Harley rolling past a lonesome highway sign… don’t ask him where he’s going, don’t ask him where he’s been, he lives to ride so step aside, this brother’s in the wind”. As always with this band, terrifically deployed rhythmic shifts and guitar fills that double as hooks.
FORTUNATE SON is the Creedence Classic, nobody can top the original for energy and earth shaking power but Mad Jack add a few moves of their own with a cool cowbell move and gnarly guitar solo injected into a fairly straight up rendering of the song.
HIGH FASHION GIRL opens with a delicious dual guitar passage over a groovin’ boogie rhythm and the lyrics are exactly what you would suspect… blue collar down to earth dudes putting her down as she may be fancy but she’s empty and that’s a deal breaker. She thinks she’s above it all but actually she’s clueless about what life could offer if she could feel something besides her illusion of superiority. The dual guitar passage recurs intermittently and offsets the tone of the lyrics nicely. There is no anger that she’s “got no use for a man like me”, she ain’t worth the trouble her lack of self awareness creates.
HANGIN’ TREE is the mini-epic closer. It enters with moody minor key guitar picking and some dramatic piano phrases before a heavily distorted bluesy lead snakes in and sets the scene. The singer is on the run after killing someone in self defense, restless with a sense of dark desperation, white lines and highway signs, uncertain future unfolding with a hangin’ tree in the rear-view mirror as he escapes into the night. The refrain is utterly classic… “Lady luck she holds the cards, my fate lies in her hand, good lord knows I should be running free, but there’s red in the sky and blood in their eyes and a rope in a hangin’ tree”. The tempo picks up and the lead guitar rips open for the ride out, perfectly simulating the urgency in the singers situation as he realizes all he can do is roam the endless night with no path back to his previous life. It creates the sort of atmosphere where he might cross paths with the midnight rider or some desperadoes waiting for a train, but he is totally alone with no direction home. The album ends on a dark note BUT… all you gotta do is cue it up again and good times will return as reliably as the sun will rise… ain’t no light without dark, this is hard rocking real life with a depth and resonance the hair metal bands that grossed out Lou Kaplan could not begin to understand!