It’s unfair to call Jerry Leger a hipster, but in many ways he’s the embodiment of the term’s original meaning. As a singer/songwriter, he’s one of our nation’s best, able to naturally blend the raw emotion of Hank Williams with the sly sophistication of Bob Dylan. And sometimes when your primary influences are as untainted as those the original pre-hippie hipsters gravitated to in the late 1940s and 1950s, that’s all you need.
Leger’s latest project, The Bop-Fi’s, illustrates this more than ever by showcasing his poetry for the first time, laid over cool jazz backdrops played by many of his regular musical compatriots. The overall effect of the 10-track album entitled Don’t Lose Your Beauty is a shockingly invigorating step back in time; back to when Jack Kerouac’s On The Road and Allen Ginsberg’s Howl contained all the information anyone needed to know.
Over the past 30 years or so, Tom Waits has taken this concept to the extreme, making it nearly impossible for young poet/musicians to escape his shadow. But what makes Leger’s Bop-Fi’s unique is that he speaks in his own confident voice, one developed over the course of six brilliantly unpretentious albums.
Leger is currently finishing up a new record with Michael Timmins of Cowboy Junkies, slated for an early 2017 release on Timmins’ Latent Recordings. However, The Bop-Fi’s is more than just an appetizer; for millennials, Don’t Lose Your Beauty will likely sound completely alien, while for the rest of us it’s a potent reminder that what you say still means more than how you say it.
What inspired you do this project?
I love jazz, bebop and cool jazz in particular, guys like Thelonious Monk, although I can't really play it. Then I thought, it could be interesting to do something like those old Jack Kerouac albums, you know, like the one where he read his poetry with Steve Allen improvising jazz piano underneath it. I have a side project, a band that I love called The Del Fi’s, which has been a great vehicle for me in between my own albums and that's how The Bop Fi’s were born. I asked some friends with jazz chops if they’d like to spend a day and just record live in the studio, just like how The Del Fi's album was made. I wrote all the words, poetry and prose, a mixture written specifically for the album and some that were from previous years. I just went through old notebooks; a good portion of words just lives in these piles of books if they don’t end up making it into a song. Most of the guys came in with a piece of music or two that they composed and that’s really how Don’t Lose Your Beauty was made.
What’s the biggest difference between writing poetry and writing song lyrics?
In some cases, there’s no difference at all, because it can start as a poem and then I end up using it in a song, or the whole thing becomes a song. In other cases, it’s ripped out from a deeper, secretive place.
The loss of Leonard Cohen and Bob Dylan winning the Nobel have both sparked a lot of debate about song lyrics being considered literature. What’s your take?
Those two are giants to me in terms of words, it doesn’t matter what you want to consider it as. They’re beautiful writers forever and always.
You’re currently finishing a new album with Michael Timmins for Latent Recordings. What can you say about that?
It’s done and will be released early next year. It’s basically two albums packaged into one with a bit of a concept behind it, not a story with characters or anything though. It was great to make another record with Mike. We work well together and there’s a lot of mutual respect.
What song by another artist do you wish you had written?
“Alice,” by Tom Waits and Kathleen Brennan, is up there.