Joe Wrigley & the Jumping Jacks will be performing at the FCC Mansion this Saturday, 8 Feb, at 830pm. The band will bring energy to the colonial setting with an evening of rockabilly, playing both classics and Wrigley’s own creations. It’s a night not to be missed!
Recently front-man Joe Wrigley stopped into FCC Phnom Penh to share the story of how he got into music, how he got to Phnom Penh, and how he got the Jumping Jacks project going.
FCC: Joe, what’s your story and how did you get to Cambodia?
Joe: My life changed dramatically when I came to Phnom Penh. I’d been away from home for 10 months. I used to work in a card room/poker club/casino in London. I was an amateur musician. I saved money to do traveling. I stayed in Thailand for 6 months. I started playing shows on my own, sort of re-invigorating as a musician. Thailand was a difficult place to be a musician. There’s various red tape and uncertainties about working. There’s not as big a music scene in Thailand (as opposed to Phnom Penh).
In May 2013, and I had one month left and I was like is there somewhere I can try to be a musician. I was searching “Southeast Asia Music Scene” and Ho Chi Minh and Chiang Mai and Bangkok came up a little bit, but mostly it was Phnom Penh. So I came and I managed to get gigs before I arrived, gigs as a solo player, to my amazement.
I met Scott Bywater and RJ Marshall and those guys put me in touch with a lot of musicians. I started off running. Because I had limited time (had to go back home at the end of May) and that momentum has carried me forward ever since. I started out solo and now Jumping Jacks is my primary project and my passion. Jumping Jacks is the one I’ve been looking forward to playing gigs with the most. I was really lucky to get plugged into the music scene very quickly. I don’t know if I could succeed in doing this anywhere else, but for the first time in my life I became a full-time musician making music in Phnom Penh. It was never something I was able to realize before, being a full time musician.
FCC: What’s the deal with Jumping Jacks, anyway? What’s the history? Who are the band members?
Joe: Jumping Jacks has been a live band for a few months gigging around Phnom Penh. There’s a lot of rotation in the members. It’s my concept, my thing, and I use different musicians depending on who’s available. It keeps it fresh. We have three or four different soloists. One gig it might be saxophone. Another, harmonica. Recently we’ve been playing with a lap steel guitar player. One day it will be a lead guitarist. It’s always changing. But the constant element is the collection of 40-50 songs, including a handful of my originals, which keep the 1950s rockabilly vibe going. And on top of that, we do cover tunes in the same style. We’ll do a rockabilly cover of “Come as You Are” for example. The members of the band may change, but the feeling stays the same. The band was always intended to be a real hard-hitting, dance-floor boozy venue band specifically, a live band, and it’s a fun band.
The 6’3” tall Andy Potter will be performing on the 8th for the first time in the Jumping Jacks. He’s a world-class drummer who played with a late instance of the Wailers. He’s been touring around Thailand, Vietnam, and Cambodia with Niki Buzz. Niki Buzz is an American rock/blues guitarist. To have his drummer is a big deal. On the bass is 6’8” tall Andre Swart, a well-known musician in Phnom Penh who’s been part of late Grass Snake Union, the biggest pulling band in 2013. It’s definitely a monolithic rhythm section, in more ways than one. Brent Clark will be playing the sax, Ken White will be on harmonica, and I will be playing acoustic guitar.
FCC: Since you’ve been so active since you arrived here, can you talk a little bit about the Phnom Penh music scene?
Joe: It’s a very, very interesting time to be in Cambodia and with regards to music scene in Phnom Penh. I’ve learned a lot about it from talking to people who have been here for years and years, a lot about the growth of things regarding expats playing music. Even two years ago it was impossible for somebody like me, somebody not the amazing professional making music already I don’t think that would have been possible. Too many venues have opened in the last 20 months to 2 years. There’s a great demand for acts, solo acts, bands, etc. that wasn’t there for the past 2 years.
Two years ago live music meant that you went to a small bar on 104 and saw a four piece band crammed into one corner plugged into the karaoke amp, using a terrible drum kit and playing for free beer. There are still a lot of guys crammed into corners still doing that, just being bar bands.
Now there’s a lot of special music here, maybe because of this wonderland effect attracts people like me to Phnom Penh. There are all these special musicians doing interesting stuff. There’s Vibratone who are a roots reggae band. Kok Thlok, who is a huge ensemble, playing a bizarre mix of instruments and playing old 60s Khmer stuff. You have top quality jazz players, like Jahzad. Dub Addiction is the most exciting thing, as they aren’t only playing live but making studio recordings. They’re unique to Cambodia, leading the way. They’re all over the place and bizarre, and they put on amazing shows and do really good work in the studio. Then you have Cambodia Space Project who is just fantastic. A lot of solo guys, songwriter guys, are just playing small, quiet gigs, and they have fantastic songs too. It’s an incredibly music scene as far as I’m concerned.
FCC: So what exactly is rockabilly and what can you expect from your show?
Joe: If you don’t know what rockabilly is, it’s basically a form of sped-up country music, which has got a lot to do with rhythm and blues and swing and jazz. Country sometimes gets unfavorable reactions, but the roots of rockabilly are in country music. In the 1950s with the electric guitar coming out and various other factors, country music went to this crazy place where people were playing 12-bar-blues with loud guitars and high tempos. They could get the sound of the big band in the four or five piece band.
From 1953-1962 (the death of Hank Williams to the release of first Beatles record) there was a period where thousands upon thousands of crazy records were made, bands and music came together, all wrapped up under “rockabilly.” For example, Elvis’s early stuff is rockabilly. Country met rock. But rockabilly is often a misused term. You’ve got some rocks and blues bands who say they play rockabilly but they’re not playing. The real rockabilly has almost a swing beat, and it’s definitely dancing music. The whole idea is to capture the energy of the music we’re trying to do. If there’s a crowd of people dancing, that’s a good thing.
The show starts at 830pm this Saturday. Check out the Facebook event for any last-minute updates.