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Josefus, Houston's First Metal Band, Reuniting Saturday

Josefus live at U of H, March 1970
Josefus live at U of H, March 1970

When Lonesome, Onry and Mean moved to the Bayou City in 1968, it wasn't long before we stumbled upon what would become our favorite local band of that period: Josefus. They were known for playing free shows that would last a couple of hours and for a 20-minute version of "Louisiana Blues" that was their signature, and often set-ending, rave-up.   Kicked out of Love Street by the International Artists management after drummer Doug Tull harangued the crowd about how badly IA and Love Street people treated the bands, a few nights later they set up in the parking lot across the street during another band's show at Love Street and literally caused most of the patrons to leave the venue and come across the street to hear Josefus. Bold move.   While their tenure was a short one - a couple of tours and couple of albums - 1969's Dead Man is today a collector's dream album often cited as one of the earliest examples of metal. (Read a brief history of the band at jam280.com.) Only 3,000 copies of Dead Man were pressed, but a sealed copy recently sold on eBay in the UK for $1,100.

Josefus, Houston's First Metal Band, Reuniting Saturday

Dead Man quickly moved the band into higher, more rarified air. Within a couple of months they were included in a huge package show at the Sam Houston Coliseum with It's A Beautiful Day, Quicksilver Messenger Service, and Grateful Dead. They also opened one of Grand Funk Railroad's Texas tours. But by 1970, the wheels had fallen off; they were sick of each other and just wanted to move on.   Saturday, Dan Electro's will host a benefit for Josefus bassist Ray T. (Turner), who suffered a stroke in July and lost all movement on his left side. Although his condition has improved somewhat with movement returning to his fingers, medical expenses continue to pile up. 

A lifelong musician post-Josefus, Turner had a long career as a sideman and has played blues, R&B, and country with a long list of notable artists: Roy Head, Fiddlin' Frenchie Burke, Isaac Payton Sweat, John Conlee, Brian Collins, Major Lance, Bobby "Blue" Bland, Lightnin' Hopkins, King Ivory and Buddy Spicher.   The event promises a trippy-hippie seven-band lineup which includes Fyrst Tryp, Steve Straker, Z-Rocks, TC & the Cannonballs, Yello Echo, Guy Schwartz and the New Jack Hippies, and Josefus. Saturday's lineup includes original members Pete Bailey (vocals), Dave Mitchell (lead guitar) plus Mark Weathers on bass - part of the band when they recorded in 1989 - and drummer Leesa Harrington-Squyres.   LOM caught up with Mitchell at home earlier this week.

 

Josefus' final show, December 1970
Josefus' final show, December 1970

Lonesome Onry & Mean: What do you think of the renewed interest in the band? It actually seems better-known now than it was in its brief heyday.   Dave Mitchell: It's nice to get the recognition and to see a lot of interest in Josefus from the historical standpoint. We were just one example of the effect that Led Zeppelin had on bands in Texas. One of the best things is that since I've set up our website, I literally get emails from people all over the world who are into the band.   

LOM: What are those emails like?   DM: Most of them fall into two categories, either just saying how glad they are to have discovered our music or asking about lyrics of a specific song.  

LOM: Did you guys have some vision about playing harder and louder, coming out of that meandering psychedelic period which was running out of steam by 1968?   DM: I'm not sure I'd call it a vision. Except for Doug [Tull, drummer], who'd gone out to L.A. and spent some months there and had music-business experience and connections, the rest of us were barely out of high school. But Zeppelin and the Yardbirds had kinda reset the bar for what rock could sound like.

We were young and open to new ideas, and we were listening to all that cool blues-rock stuff coming out of England - Savoy Brown, those kinds of bands that took blues and amped it up and sped it up.

LOM: Yeah, that long version of "Louisiana Blues" sounded a lot like the Savoy Brown version.   DM: We actually tried to pretty much copy that. It knocked us out the first time we heard it. And back then we had some FM stations that could play something that long, so it was a song that was pretty well known around Houston.  

LOM: I think the first time I saw you guys was at one of those Sundays at Milby Park.   DM: That's highly likely since we seemed to play out there almost every Sunday. And that was such a cool scene, all the hippies out there and, for Houston, a low police presence. Those gigs were definitely very important in our gaining some local popularity.  

LOM: Doug was such a terrifying persona in those days. He seemed to always be drugged-up and raging, very aggressive in his demeanor. [Tull's body was found hanged in the Austin jail in 1991. The official ruling was suicide, but there have always been suspicions that he was a victim of police brutality.]   DM: Doug could be a prince or a jerk. Drugs were definitely a big part of his life at that point. Of course, some of that stuff he did hurt us. And depending on his chemical state, he could either push us or drag us down. And you just never knew what he was going to say when he'd come out from behind the kit and start one of his rants.

Doug's personality was certainly a factor in none of us wanting to continue in 1970. We just got to where we didn't want to be around each other.  

LOM: What can we expect from Josefus' set at the benefit?   DM: We'll do a couple from Dead Man, but not the longer ones since we put this thing together on the fly. Ours certainly won't be the longest set of the evening, but I think we'll give a good representation of what the band was. And I'm sure with Guy and the New Jack Hippies anchoring the evening there'll be some unexpected jamming going on.


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