Queer World, Isn’t It? Jobriath Reissued

 

 

Voted “least likely to
appear on CD” by Pat Robertson, Rush Limbaugh and Ralph Reed.

By Blurt Staff

 

Here is your weekend reading assignment, BLURT readers,
direct from the good folks at Collectors Choice Records. You need these
reissues, trust us. We’ve held on to our vinyl copies for several decades now…

 

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By 1973, the rock world had shed its hippie past in favor of
a more theatrical universe of glam and glitter. David
Bowie had given the world Ziggy Stardust,
and Lou Reed had pushed the envelope of pop radio
with his hit “Walk on the Wild Side.” Mott the Hoople rose to the top with a glam anthem, “All the Young Dudes,” and artists varied from T. Rex to
the Faces had dressed up their acts. Was the world really primed for an openly
gay glam-rock star? Promoter/manager Jerry Brandt
seemed to think so, and proceeded to set the stage for the grand arrival of
Jobriath. And although the promised grandeur never materialized, Jobriath did
record two vastly underrated albums for Elektra Records
Jobriath and Creatures of the Street – both of which will be
re-released on Collector’ Choice on September 30.
 
Jobriath was actually Bruce Campbell, born in Philadelphia
in 1946. He cut his onstage teeth as a cast member of the Broadway musical Hair,
and was later member of a band called Pidgeon, described in the reissue notes
as “an uneasy mix of California
pop-rock and heavier psychedelia.” It was only when he submitted a tape to Clive Davis’ CBS Records in the early ‘70s that he got
his big break, when promoter Jerry Brandt (best known for operating the Electric Circus and managing Carly
Simon) happened to overhear Jobriath’s music in the label’s A&R
corridors. When Brandt inquired as to CBS’ intentions for Jobriath, he was told
that “Clive thinks Jobriath is mad and unstructured and musically destructive
to melody.” Brandt had a very different take: “The images [the tape] was
provoking in my imagination were enormous. I kept seeing a vast spectacle.”
 
Brandt contacted all the record labels asking a
cool million for the rights to sign his incipient star. When he asked producer
Richard Perry to work his magic, Brandt was told that “if Jobriath is where
music is going, I want out.” In the end there were no takers, so Jobriath went
into the studio with engineer/producer Eddie Kramer
(known for the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie) and emerged with a
completed album. Brandt took it to Elektra, where Jac
Holzman signed Jobriath as his final act prior to departing the label he
founded. It was not a million-dollar deal by any means, but rather a favor to
Brandt for having brought Carly Simon to the label. And Holzman latter
confessed, quoted in the Richie Unterberger’s liner
notes: “I made two errors of judgment in my days at Elektra, and
Jobriath was one of them.”
 
Yet Stephen Holden had a vastly different take in
his Rolling Stone review, finding
Jobriath’s self titled debut album “a flashy an
provocative debut album. Jobriath brings to rock a voice uncannily reminiscent
of Mick Jagger’s and a theatrical intuitiveness
and thematic sensibility that are superficially similar to avid Bowie’s. Like Bowie,
Jobriath is fascinated with extraterrestrial fantasies that combine
autoeroticism and prophecy, though Jobriath’s musical and poetic vernacular are
blunter, deliberately eschewing intellectual sophistication for a bold populist
stance.”
 
The album had failed to establish Jobriath as the next Beatles
nor even Bowie. In fact it missed the charts entirely, yet Elektra did release
a follow-up, Creatures of the Street. Global stardom would greet
Jobriath’s second album, proclaimed Brandt, who in the Rolling Stone feature headlined “Jobriath: Gay Rock Breaks All the Rules,” said, “Presenting
Jobriath in the way he must be presented means you have to break all the rules.
That requires the greatest promoter
in the world. And I’m it.” Brandt planned for the first live performance to
take place at the Paris Opera House, since, according to the promoter, “if you’re planning to come to New York, Paris is the best place to come from.” There
was also talk of a $200,000 set. The Paris shows
were cancelled due to the cost, and the New
York dates were modest, attended primarily by members
of the music industry.
 
The second album itself, however, was rich in melodic Broadway-tinged pop songs
like “Heartbeat,” “Street Corner Love,” “Ooh La
La” and “Scumbag.” Sadly, the press shied away from the better of Jobriath’s
two albums, stung by all the unfulfilled hype. By the time Jobriath toured
small clubs in major U.S.
cities, he’d been dropped by Elektra. He lived the rest of his life in
obscurity, dying of AIDS at New York’s Chelsea Hotel in 1983. So unnoticed was his
passing that Morrissey tried to contact him in 1992 to see about opening for
his tour.
 
Now, Collectors’ Choice is preparing to present the Jobriath albums with no
hype nor proclamations of next-Bowie-dom. Perhaps in death, 35 years after the
albums’ initial release, Jobriath will develop the fan base he never achieved
in life.

 

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