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Jackyl’s Jesse James Dupree Celebrates 25 Years of Chainsaw-Driven Rock ‘n’ Roll

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In the late ‘90s, I was working at Cleveland radio station WMMS, which is located in an eight-story office building on the edge of a shopping mall. The station had space on the second floor; the other seven floors were mostly occupied by law firms and other similarly uptight businesses.

One morning when I arrived at the building, I smelled engine oil. Entering the elevator, I was surrounded by a full house of professionals in suits, none of whom were happy about the smell that had taken over the building. Soon, I learned that the smell originated from WMMS’ floor.

Inside the station, playing in our newly developed performance space, was Jackyl, with their wild-man leader, Jesse James Dupree, with chainsaw in hand, cranking through another rendition of the fan favorite “The Lumberjack.”

It’s just another day on the job for the Georgia band, which was crisscrossing the nation and visiting radio stations. After he left on that particular day, the fallout from the morning’s activities lingered. There are written complaints to building management from our neighbors; there are some tense elevator rides the rest of the week. “We’ve done our share of that over the years,” Dupree laughs when reminded of the incident.

Jackyl 25, a new anthology that commemorates a quarter-century of raucous fun, gathers songs from the studio, the stage and everywhere in between. The liner notes detail a series of career highlights that have little to do with the band’s music — like the time Dupree entered a Longhorn Steakhouse with a chainsaw to “surprise” a group of radio programmers, a stunt that generated a class-action lawsuit that reportedly cost the band more than $1 million dollars by the time everything was sorted out. “I wish I had a third of the money back that I’ve spent on lawyers,” he says. “That’s a fact.”

But the liner notes also reveal a band that worked hard. They have Guinness World Records: first, for a marathon 1998 touring run in which the group performed 100 shows in 50 days, and later, for playing 21 shows in a 24-hour period. “We just strapped everything in the back of a tractor trailer rig and hit the road,” Dupree recalls. “We just put it down and knocked it out. It was a hell of an accomplishment. It’s unfortunate that it wasn’t documented better, because it was a hell of a task.”

Dupree tells these stories with a sense of humility. He and his band come across as a group that never lost its blue-collar roots. They’re still committed to going out and doing the work. “I poured concrete for a living, so that’s what drives my ass,” he laughs. “I don’t want to have to go back to doing it!”

Watch Jackyl’s Video for ‘Down on Me’

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From the start, it was easy to hear some AC/DC in Jackyl’s music, which was recorded with hard-thumping clarity by producer and engineer Brendan O’Brien, a fellow Georgia-area musician who Dupree thought would be the right guy to work on their first album. “He’s a master at just letting stuff rock,” says Dupree. “I grew up going to watch him play in Underground Atlanta and the places around here when I was 15 and he was 18.

“I used to sneak in and watch him play in these bars. It’s just kind of crazy that I ended up suggesting his name to be the guy that produced our record. [A&R rep] John Kalodner said, ‘Who?’ I said, ‘I think there’s this young guy who is going to be big.’ John met with him and called me back and said, ‘I think you’re right.’ We gave Brendan his first gold record for producing.”

That gold record came at a potentially hazardous price — after all, it was O’Brien who had the duty of recording the chainsaw in the studio. “He stood there with a AKG 414 microphone and held it over the chainsaw while I played it,” Dupree laughs.

They also knew they wanted Kalodner, the legendary Geffen A&R man, to be their guy and pursued him directly. “I think it was just the live show overall — I think that’s what he connected with,” Dupree says. “He said, ‘You guys are going to stay on the road. You’re not going to come off the road.’ He kind of did everything completely backwards from the way he normally does things. It was kind of cool. [But] he was extremely hands-on. When it came to going into the studio and recording, he was all over our ass. He wore our asses out [and kept telling us to write more songs]. He tore us apart.”

True to Kalodner’s word, once the record was finished, Jackyl stayed on the road, touring hard, often with Aerosmith, who became fans of their opening act. “Joe Perry — he was the reason why we were out with them so much,” Dupree recalls. “We would go out with them and then we would leave, and then they’d call us back out. Finally, I asked John Kalodner, ‘Why don’t they just keep us out with them?’ He said, ‘Well, Steven Tyler’s always wanting to try all of these other bands.’ I said, ‘Yeah, but they keep bringing us back!’ He goes, ‘That’s Joe Perry.’ [Laughs] So I went to Joe and I said, ‘Hey man, thank you so much. I heard that you’re the reason why we keep coming back out.’ He looked at me and he said, ‘You make Steven [Tyler] have to work.’ I thought that was the biggest compliment for Joe Perry to say that.”

But Dupree says Aerosmith, or other bands for the matter, were never worried about being upstaged by the young group opening for them. “We’ve been pretty damn lucky with everybody we’ve ever toured with,” he says. “We’ve made friends and just been blessed to be able to get to know them and tour with them. We can go out and we can kill, and we can have a great show and make an impression and people can love it and everything else. And then, ZZ Top hits the stage afterwards, and at the end of the day, we may have had a great show, but ZZ Top is still ZZ Top! There’s no denying that. I don’t think there’s that much of that. I think those guys are secure in what they do, and we didn’t ever have any push-back.”

By the time they released their third album, 1997’s Cut The Crap, Dupree had forged an important alliance with AC/DC singer Brian Johnson, who co-wrote that album’s “Locked and Loaded.”

Listen to Jackyl’s ‘Locked and Loaded’

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“He’d grab a microphone and sing something, and then you realize, ‘Good God, this is the singer from AC/DC!’” Dupree says. “It’s a constant reminder that he is who he is, but it’s also a constant reminder of how cool he is, because he’s so down to earth. He’s everything you’d want the singer of AC/DC to be. He comes and stays at the house and there’s no bodyguards.”

Johnson and Dupree were a natural pairing, effortlessly trading lines on “Locked and Loaded.” But the song didn’t start that way. “I was trying to get all of the words in myself, and he was pacing around, acting all nervous and stuff,” Dupree recalls. “I was thinking, ‘Damn, I must be sucking!’ He finally goes, ‘Give me a microphone!’ Because he was just itching and wanting to sing. So he grabbed the microphone and we knocked it out.”

“Locked and Loaded” is absent from Jackyl 25, but the record does include “Kill the Sunshine,” another collaboration by the pair that emerged on 2002’s Relentless. There’s also Jackyl’s take on Black Oak Arkansas‘ “Hot and Nasty,” which they recorded 20 years ago but shelved. “We did it just because we had become fans of Black Oak Arkansas,” he notes.

Dupree says there are other tracks sitting in the vaults, too, including a cover of Led Zeppelin’s “Dazed and Confused.” They may release them someday, but for now, they’re charging forward again — preferring not to spend too much time looking back. “It seems like the blink of an eye,” the singer says of the past 25 years. “I’m not slowing down to think about it too much, because I’m afraid it will disappear. But I won’t lie to you, I’m proud of the career that we’ve got — not that we had, but that we’ve still got. And hell, we’re still ready to make some more damn noise.”

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