ELDERBERRY JAK “Long Overdue” (U.S. Private) 1970 VG+/M- formed in WV in 1969
First a warning… A number of high priced dealers label these guys as a psych outfit. In spite of occasional crushing guitar from Tom Nicholas, they’re not a psych band, rather come off as a talented, if rather conventional rock outfit.
So what do I know ’bout these guys? Having spent several years as members of the West Virginia-based J.B. and the Bonnevilles, in 1969 singer Joe Cerisano and bassist David Coombs decided to strike out on their own. Within a matter of months they’d recruited drummer Joe Hartman and lead guitarist Tom Nicholas. As Elderberry Jak, the quartet hit the club circuit, attracting a cult following throughout West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Ohio. In 1970 the band signed to a recording contract with Leland Rogers and the small Electric Fox label, debuting later in the year with “Long Overdue”. With Rogers producing, musically the album featured a standard mix of AOR styled rockers and power ballads. Cerisano was a gifted singer blessed with one of those chameleon-like voices that could adapt to virtually any genre. Coombs was a surprisingly accomplished guitarist, turning in several tasty performances. Exemplified by group penned originals like ‘Going Back Home’ and ”, all ten tracks were tuneful and well produced – something you don’t actually find on most top-40 releases. To my ears album highlights included the fuzz propelled crusher ‘Vance’s Blues’, their cover of Gary Brooker’s ‘Wish Me Well’ (which I thought was actually entitled ‘Wishing Well’), and the America-goes-Latin flavored ‘Forrest On the Mountain’ (their spelling not mine); the latter would have sounded really good on top-40 radio. That said, nothing here was particularly original, or earth shattering and on tracks like ‘Restless Feeling’ and ‘You’re the One’ the quartet occasionally sounded like Grand Funk Railroad. Great if you enjoyed GFR, but not so good if you didn’t… Still, a fun album through and through and one that I pull out and listen to every now an then.
– ‘Going Back Home’ opened the album with a surprisingly impressive ballad. Complete with strumming acoustic guitars and some nice bass work from David Combe, the song had a breezy, easy-going vibe. Nice way to start the album off. rating: *** stars
– I’ve always wondered how a band from West Virginia picked up the percussion-heavy, Santana-influenced vibes that powered ‘Forrest On the Mountain’. No idea what the link was, but the results were simply spectacular with an instantly memorable melody; great Latin percussion, and some tasty harmony vocals. In fact the only shortcoming here was the song faded out way too early. rating: **** stars
– One of the standout performances, ‘Vance’s Blues’ found the band showcasing their Uriah Heep-styled heavy metal moves (by the way that was meant as a compliment). Propelled by a devastating molten guitar riff (try getting it out of your head), the result was first-rate blues-rock with one of Joe Cerisano’s best vocals. Easy to see why it was tapped as a single. rating: **** stars
– The first disappointment, ‘Inspired’ was a sappy ballad that sounded like a throwaway Lobo tune. Commercial in an icky-sticky fashion and made even worse slotting it right after ‘Vance’s Blues’. rating: ** stars
– Kicked along by some excellent un-credited organ and ‘Tom Nichola’s fuzz guitar, ‘Restless Feeling’ found the band returning to their strengths – namely harder-edged rock. With a great FM vibe, this one had some real commercial potential. rating; **** stars
– I’m usually not a big boogie-rock fan, but ‘Wish Me Well’ was one of those exception with the band injected a sense of enthusiasm seldom heard in the genre and Tom Nicholas turning in one of his best performances. rating: **** stars
– ‘Mr. Sun’ was country-rock with an emphasis on rock. No idea why, but ‘the track’s always reminded me of a good Dan Fogelberg song with another ripping Nicholas solo. rating: **** stars
– With an almost classical edge, the acoustic ballad ‘My Lady’ was certainly pretty enough, but to my ears was simply a tad too sensitive for its own good. rating: *** stars
– Another track built on a great Nicholas guitar riff, ‘Changes’ was almost funky… may not sound particularly promising, but take my word for it, this was one of the album’s best numbers. rating: **** stars
– As you’ve probably figured out, I favor the band’s harder rocking side. One of the rare exceptions was the sweet, mid-tempo acoustic ‘You’re the One’. The fact the acoustic guitar-propelled song had the album’s prettiest melody probably had something to do with that. rating: **** stars
As mentioned above, Electric Fox tapped the album for an obscure single, though I don’t know if stock copies exist:
– 1970’s ‘Vance’s Blues (Comin’ Down On Me)’ b/w ‘Vance’s Blues (Comin’ Down On Me’ (Electric Fox catalog number EF 2000)
Absent sales or recognition, the band promptly called it quits. Cersian became an in-demand studio musician, singing on dozens of radio and television commercials. In the early-1980s he reappeared as a member of Silver Condor, followed by a stint with The Trans Siberian Railroad (see separate entries). He’s also released some solo material. Coombs died in 1999.
And long overdue this release is! This great West Virginia band released this rural rock LP in 1970. Featuring great fuzz guitar, heavy organ and tasteful use of acoustic guitars and piano. Their sound is reminiscent of NEIL YOUNG and DOUGLAS FIR.
⦁ A1 Going Back Home 3:22
⦁ A2 Forrest on the Mountain 2:48
⦁ A3 Vance’s Blues 3:42
⦁ A4 Inspired 3:26
⦁ A5 Restless Feeling 3:40
⦁ B1 Wish Me Well 3:20
⦁ B2 Mr. Sun 3:40
⦁ B3 My Lady 3:40
⦁ B4 Changes 4:46
⦁ B5 You’re the One 3:55
Tom Nicholas (guitar, vocals), Joe Hartman (drums, vocals), Dave Coombs (bass, vocals), Joe Cerisano (vocals