Joe Cerisano began performing professionally at the age of 14, being underage but still singing local speakeasy’s where liquor was sold in the dry state of West Virginia. Even before he was old enough to be in these clubs he was singing with a succession of regional bands in the north central West Virginia area. At sixteen he called Dave Coombs who was the leader of the most popular band in West Virginia, JB &The Bonnevilles, who were the darlings of West Virginia University and who would travel out to NJ every summer to play in Somers Point NJ. At seventeen Joe was asked to join The Bonnevilles. It was the summer of 1968 the Bonneville played seven night a week with matinees on Sat and Sun from 3PM to 2AM earning his stripes as a real trooper. Coming home at the end of the summer called for a break. In the spring of 69 Combs called Joe again to possibly start another group which turned out to be Kabosse which eventually morfed into Elderberry Jak. Elderberry Jak secured a record deal with Kinny Roger's brother Leland in Memphis.
The Elderberry Jak Story
Imagine a time: Without cable TV, when more in-home screens were black-andwhite than color. When FM radio stations were exceptions, not rules. When interstates and other four-lane highways were in their infancy. We're talking more than 40 years ago, when much of the world seemed far more distant than now for those of us growing up on the north end of the Appalachian coal fields. It was a time when local musicians with dreams of rock 'n' roll success weren't sure music's stars could ever shine on someone from these parts. Elderberry Jak changed that with the release of "Long Overdue," on Nashville-based Silver Fox Records, which was owned by singer Kenny Rogers' brother Leland. Now, anyone with a computer can put their music in front of millions of potential listeners without ever leaving home. They just record the songs and upload them to Web sites like MP3.com. Randy Worsham, a singer/songwriter I played bass for in Spingfield, Mo., a few years ago, has done that. So has Joe Cerisano, Elderberry Jak's lead vocalist, with his more recent work. When "Long Overdue" first made its way onto vinyl, however, home computers as powerful as the Commodore 64, the 64 standing for 64 kilobytes of random access memory, were still on the drawing board. Most of us send email photos today that are larger than 64K! Back then, the hotspots in the still-young rock universe seemed as far away from north central West Virginia as the stars in Orion's belt. Things were happening in L.A., London and New York. Geez; Pittsburgh was a two-hour trip back then! Many of us who practiced in garages to play weekends in tiny little clubs around there took heart and hope in Elderberry Jak's success. Heck, I played covers of several "Long Overdue" cuts; "Changes," "Forest on the Mountain," Wishing Well," and "Vance's Blues." "Little Joe," the late Dave Coombs, Joe Hartman and Tom Nicholas were several years older. I started playing locally, keyboards back then, after their debut album was recorded and released, and they'd gone on the road to support it. Dozens of Volkswagens now sit in the parking lot of what was, back then, The White House - along U.S. 119, north of Morgantown, almost to the Pennsylvania state line. To this second, I can recall the butterflies I got as a teenager the night. I first played there as a member of a Fayette County, Pa., band called Brimstone. Like the guys in Jak, my bandmates were several years my senior. A couple of them had jammed with Cerisano and Coombs when they were still part of J.B. and the Bonnevilles, pre-Elderberry Jak. All night long during that first White House gig, I willed us to be as good as Jak; but not with the goal of getting a record deal. At that point, none of us had even started working on original material. Rather, my wish simply was that we use the stage, and those four 45-minute sets, as well as Elderberry Jak did because they showed all of us that it could be done. Even coal-patch musicians from this part of the world had a shot at realizing our goals if we let the music do the talking and respected it... worked at it... as much as some of those who'd crossed that stage before us. The White House was the only nightspot I ever played that Jak had ruled around here before recording "Long Overdue." As a result, the nights spent on its stage are among my fondest musical memories. Meeting Joe Cerisano also is among them. He continues to sing songs on the soundtrack of my musical dreams. Inspiration provided through the years by "Long Overdue" helped me achieve much of what I had hoped to in music. Some goals remain, so I keep listening to Jak to remind me that it's never too late. Some might argue; but from here, it seems Jak was ahead of its time. Listen to Hartman's pounding double-bass footwork on "Vance's Blues"and "Changes," for example. Jon Bonham, of Led Zeppelin, was playing that way back then. But most of the others - Alex Van Halen, Tommy Aldridge (Black Oak Arkansas, PatTravers and Whitesnake), Denny Carmassi (Montrose and Heart) were at least a few years away from the spotlight. Nicholas' guitar work rivals the kind of thick, chunky and powerful hard rock riffs that helped Joe Walsh become a star with The James Gang, which he parlayed into a successful solo career and a long stint as arguably the most brash member of The Eagles. Coombs' bass made every song work. He kept the rhythm with Hartman while using every inch of his guitar's fingerboard to find just the right notes for every measure of every Jak original. Measure Cerisano's talent by the full body of his professional work. First with Jak, later with Silver Condor and as an alwaysworking studio musician, and more recently on solo releases and tours with the Trans Siberia Orchestra, "Little Joe" remains big on the ability to lend just the right touch to every lyric he sings. What we have here is proof that these four men, together, made and played their music from the heart and soul. That this wonderful album has made its way to CD is a blessing beyond belief. Written by Tim Lilley
Moving to the BIG CITY
By 1972 Elderberry Jak had run it’s course and finally broke up. The realization that to truly be successful Joe had to leave the security of West Virginia. He first tried moving to Cleveland but got nowhere. He then joined a band that had steady weekends at a place called The Lion’s Den in Akron Ohio. Then that fell apart. It seemed that the only true solution was to face the fact that he had to somehow get to NYC. Buy rather than move into the city it seemed logical to move to New Jersey. At least in NJ there was a way to make a living singing in bar bands while he could learn the ropes of the music business. It wouldn’t be easy. After a bunch of different bands not working, even being fired by one band out of Philidelpia always being pushed back to West Virginia he finally got so disgusted that he took a job as a roadie / lightman for a hundred dollars a week. This band was a well know club circuirt band and was booked well into the future. It was also a good way to meet other musicians. One of the hardest things to do is to leave the security of a small town. It’s a very steep learning curve especiallly if you're from West Virginia. Remember if it were easy everyone would do it. The roadie gig lasted for about six months and served it's purpose. Then for the next two years Joe sang with a series of bands until he met a guitarist named Lee Fink who had a band called R-Band. That when is all started to come together in late 1977. New York City hear we come. R-Band in New Jersey (the real Silver Condor) In the late 1970's New Jersey was a hotbed of rock and roll activity. Joe and his guitarist/co-leader Lee Fink had a band that became one of the top original groups in a sea of cover bands in the New Jersey rock club scene. R-Band started to draw large crowds due to their original songs, which was rare for the time. Sometimes playing seven nights a week finally took its toll after a while so in December 1979, after a call from Earl Slick, Joe left the band. R-Band had tried their best to get a record deal but couldn't get the attention of the major labels.
"California here I come"
So Joe packed up his VW with a stack of tapes containing the songs he had written for R-Band and drove to California. Within six months he was signed to Columbia Records, using all the songs that he had written for R-Band back in NJ. The band Silver Condor had a real shot but for many reasons the Condor never soared. In fact, it was another learning experience. Then after their first tour the group broke up. So In reality, the second Silver Condor album "Trouble At Home" was a Joe Cerisano solo record. The same week that record was finished Joe backed his VW into a Ryder truck, packed all his pocessions around it and headed to NYC. That was Aug of 1983.
Back to NYC 1983 to the present.,,,,, to be continued