22 Jacks, a John and a Joey... I must say that I've had few -- if any -- conversations with card-carrying punk rockers in which Elton John has been mentioned, let alone discussed in detail. But, at the risk of threatening 22 Jacks's membership in the hard-core bad boys club, I have to let it be known that Joe Sib, lead singer for the Los Angeles quintet that's performing Thursday at Fitzgerald's, is gaga over the bespectacled one's '70s work.

Of course, at a time when it's become almost subversive for underground acts to acknowledge their debt to the platformed decade's candy-assed hooks and glitzy showmanship, that news might not shock. I'll be the first to admit that one of my earliest CD purchases was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road, needed because I'd worn canals into my vinyl copy. I tell Sib as much, and he chimes in with an enthusiastic, "Yep, yep, I know, I know."

"If I sat you down with my record collection and a 12-pack, you'd be like, 'No way, you like this?' The other day, these kids got in our van with us to go to the show, and I guess they thought we'd be blaring something like NOFX," Sib recalls. "But they tripped out, because in the time period we were in the van, we listened to everything from Patsy Cline, Jerry Vale and the Beach Boys to new stuff by Sublime, and then we threw in Bob Marley and really heavy stuff like Black Sabbath."

As the former front guy for L.A.'s Wax, Sib did his time adhering to a stringent noise-and-speed aesthetic. So, for that matter, did Jacks drummer Sandy Hancock and guitarist Steve Soto, both refugees of the Adolescents, the band responsible for 1981's The Adolescents, still the most definitive -- and listenable -- document of Southern California's early hard-core scene this side of Agent Orange's Living in Darkness and Bad Religion's Into the Unknown. Combine such edgy credentials with new bassist Kelly Lemieux's former affiliation with Fear and guitarist Chris Shifflet's tour of duty in No Use for a Name, and you've got a veritable dumpster load of punk-rock references from which to draw.

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Just how effectively 22 Jacks manages to employ those references -- from hard-core to power pop to ska -- and still sound as hook-ridden as a trout stream during spawning season is a question best left to the listener. But you should find an earful to like on the Jacks's Uncle Bob, an exuberant, proactive meld of hummable choruses, adrenaline-charged rhythms and the occasional skanker anthem. It's happy, mischievous music: songs to cannibalize and coddle; songs to unfurl on your friends with hugs and body slams all around; songs that make you want to kiss mom on the cheek as you whack your kid brother on the back of the head. It's positivity with a gnarly edge.

And what's up with that CD title, anyway?
"Uncle Bob's my uncle, he's from Sacramento, California, and he's fucking amazing. He's 67 years old, and he's been drinking and smoking cigarettes probably for the entire time he's been on this planet," says Sib with obvious pride. "He's one of these guys who's been up and down so many times that he never takes no for an answer. If he was sinking in quicksand, he'd look at you and give you the thumbs-up."

Even more hopeless than his love for Uncle Bob and pre-disco Elton John is Sib's crush on the Ramones. As a teenager, he says, he used to follow them around like a lost puppy when they performed in his hometown of San Jose. "The joke with them was like, who's the Italian kid who, every time we come to Northern California, is just, like, in the background?" Sib laughs. "I was always kind of lurking there, just watching them."

While touring with Wax, Sib finally struck up a friendship with Joey Ramone. The affiliation went public when Ramone joined 22 Jacks on-stage for a few tunes in New York and recruited the band to back him for a track on a Cheap Trick tribute CD due in early '97. Now it looks like 22 Jacks will be Joey's band for his upcoming solo release.

"I told him the other day, 'Look man, we've been touring for a month now, and if we're gonna be your backup group you better start showing up," quips Sib. "We're thinking about calling the band 22 Joeys."

Release activity... Carolyn Wonderland has wormed her way out of a do-nothing contract with the Vermont-based Big Mo Records and into a new five-release deal with the Justice label. To pull this off, Justice had to buy the masters for last year's Big Mo debut, Play with Matches, which the label plans to re-release at some point. Meanwhile, Wonderland and the Imperial Monkeys are currently in Austin recording tunes for her first Justice effort (no title yet). The 12-song collection is rumored to move the band even further in a rock direction. Look for its release in mid-March, just before Wonderland's South by Southwest showcase.

Etc.... The Zydeco Dots's Tom Potter made his syndicated talk show debut December 11 on Rolanda, where he was among the guests on an episode about cheating mates. Apparently, an old girlfriend dragged him onto the program. "I knew I was gonna get bashed," says Potter. "I was the whipping boy." But the abuse proved worth it in the end. "It was fun," Potter claims, "and they agreed to put me up in Atlantic City, where my sister lives. I hadn't seen her in years."

-- Hobart Rowland

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