Marcellus Hall (vocals, guitar): born in Great Bluff, MN "somewhere between '63 and '66, I'm not sure," is said to have traveled at least 42 of the 50 states. It was in Trenton, NJ, where he met bassist Tony Lee (born in Craven County, Cherry Point, NC). Soon afterwards, the two met drummer Jez Aspinall (Essex, England), who was then living in Brooklyn, and Phillip (from Belgium) who played guitar. Railroad Jerk were formed in the spring of 1989 and began playing in and around Manhattan. By the end of the summer, Phillip's haircut had proven to be too European and the group became a trio. In December, guitarist Chris Mueller (birthplace unknown) joined the group.
When asked about their unique blend of traditional Irish folk, mainstream r&b, classical jazz, reggae, delta blues, '60s psychedelia, European techno-pop, Appalachian hillbilly, California surf and post-punk industrial wall-of-noise grunge dirge, Jez said "I don't usually listen to music really... could you pass the ketchup?"
Railroad Jerk, their debut LP, was released in September 1990 and is currently out of print. Reissues should be out sometime in May 1996.
"We Understand" was released in October 1993.
The original line-up included mainstays Marcellus Hall and Tony Lee along with Jez Aspinall and Philip, who was later replaced by Chris Mueller. Their set at the time was comprised of songs that eventually made up their first Matador release (Railroad Jerk LP, 1990) as well as cover versions of songs by Aretha Franklin, Donovan, and The Plastic Ono Band. Eventually, Aspinall was replaced by Steve Cerio and the band continued to play shows in and around New York City.
Journalists have recognized various influences in the band's style (i.e. The Birthday Party, Jimmie Rodgers, The Fall, Robert Johnson, etc.) but to prove it would be impossible. Singer Marcellus Hall has said that "to make good music, you have to have a lot of money or, at least, some good ideas."
After a few singles here and there and a US tour, Railroad Jerk went on to record Raise The Plow (1992), a particularly "difficult" record for fans and critics alike. "We were going through a lot of weird shit," says Tony Lee of the period. Nonetheless Raise The Plow garnered praise and critical acclaim nationwide from relatives of the band.
When Mueller was replaced by Alec Stephen and Cerio was overthrown by Dave Varenka the band set sail on a new course. For the first time in years Hall spoke to Lee. Where in previous months stolen girlfriends, drug busts, and haircuts caused certain tensions among band members, now it seemed as though a shade had been lifted and a brilliant ray of sunshine had lit the room or something like that. "They're finally getting their shit together," said a respected journalist condescendingly.
Indeed this was the beginning of new horizons. Another tour followed and then still another, and then another, following their much crazed and critically acclaimed "We Understand" EP (1993), which included the smash hit "Halfway Across." At the same time, Railroad Jerk (as they are affectionately called at home) began perfecting their "stripped-down, semi-acoustic, half-unplugged" set doing benefits and shows on radio and in stores. This little-known side of the band has gained considerable attention from local intelligentsia and non-intelligentsia alike.
The ball is rolling now! And Railroad Jerk has spent the last year (1994) not only basking in the limelight of their past successes, but also touring and writing non-stop material for the current release, One Track Mind. The band clearly does not care a whit what other people think of them ("We don't care a whit what other people think of us," says Alec Stephen, the "quiet one") which no doubt attests to their almost complete lack of pretension and the open-armed welcome they have received from the "grunge" crowd we hear so much about these days. -- Eloise Butler
The last four songs, which appear on the CD version, are of the so-called "lo-fi" category. Here, we have a Beatles cover, a stripped down version of "Home=Hang" and a version of "All Downhill," which appeared on a PCP Entertainment double 7" in 1993, and, finally, a re-make of "In My Face (Pretty Flower) which first appeared in 1990 on our first Matador LP, which you probably can't find now. -- Railroad Jerk
1989 - Founders Marcellus Hall & Tony Lee are discovered playing their
"peculiar brand of rock" for spare change on the Bowery (NYC) by Matador founder