Preacher Jack



by Eric Baylies

Barret, Nick Drake, Jim Morrison, even Tupac Shakur, if you will. Legends,
shamans, men of mystery. Well, you don’t have to go to a treasure
trove of the past or a creepy cemetary in Paris to see a reclusive legend.
All you have to do is venture out in Boston or Salem any three or four
nights of the week and you can witness the boogie woogie master, Preacher
Jack. I spoke to Peter Levine, Jack’s longtime manager. Jack
does not own a phone, driver’s license, or computer. Peter filled
in the blanks on this notorious Boston icon.

Jack’s brother and
father were also singers. In 1954, at the age of 12, Jack heard Albert
Ammons’ boogie woogie piano playing on the radio. He asked his mother
find this strange music for him. She did, at Ted Coles in Salem, an
old 78 RPM laying on a shelf. Jack was in love with the boogie woogie
sound. He soon discovered Meade Lux Lewis as well as Pete Johnson. By
the 1950s Jack was totally immersed in the burgeoning rock ’n’ roll
scene: Elvis Presley, Carl Perkins, rockabilly. Then along came Jerry
Lee Lewis. Jack felt a kinship to Lewis. Jack knew it was the direction
he was to head in.

Preacher Jack got his start in the mid-’50s at a garage on Milton Street in
Malden with boyhood friend Irving Fineberg who played Chuck Berry-style
guitar. They were possibly Malden’s first garage band. They called
themselves Jack & the Jupitors. After a few high school gigs and
private parties they were brought to the attention of WEMX’s Arnie
“Woo Woo” Ginsberg. Arnie asked the band to play his sock hops on
Route 1 in Saugus. Jack’s slow-building career pretty much took off
from there.

plugged away at music for 25 years until he was finally “discovered”
by George Thorogood in the late ’70s. Jack was holding a solo residency
at the Upper Deck of the Shipwreck Lounge on Revere Beach, and George
absolutely loved him. George brought Jack to the attention of Ken Irwin
at Rounder Records. That relationship led to Jack recording two albums
with Rounder: Rock
’n’ Roll Preacher
and 3,000 Barrooms Later. The Delaware Destroyers (Jeff Simon and Billy
Blough) backed him up on the recordings with help from Sleepy Labeef,
Duke Robillard, and the Persuasions.

Jack has been on tour his whole life. His manager calls it the “wealth
won’t save your soul never ending tour.” After alcohol causing many
problems in his early career, Jack has been sober since 1979. Before
that, he was a raging boozehound. His tales of drunken playing at the
Shipwreck Lounge are the stuff of local legend. He would take the congregation,
er, the whole bar, out at midnight to the Revere Beach shore and attempt
to baptize each and every one of the equally wasted revelers.

1996 he married his longtime friend and former manager Jessie Filtrante.
They both live in Salem, in separate residences, and are celebrating
40 years of friendship this year. At 67, Jack likes to sleep in his
own bed, so they try to keep the gigs local—he pretty much sticks
to New England. His days of sleeping in vans and in cheap motels in
Canada are long gone. Preacher Jack has lived at the Lafeyette Hotel
in Salem for over 20 years. He likes the simplicity of this style of
life and always has. His life is making music, making people happy through
his music, playing to a crowd, reading a book on Abraham Lincoln, or
listening to his muse, Hank Williams.

Jack’s new album, Pictures
From Life’s Other Side,
two different recording sessions. The older cuts are from the home studio
of Richard S. Burwen. They were recorded in 1982. These tracks were
left off Jack’s Solo Art (an independent record label based in New
Orleans) record Preacher
Jack At The Piano, Non Stop Boogie Woogie.
songs were generously donated to Jack by Mr. Burwen himself. The other
session on the CD includes songs Jack recorded at Sound Technique in
Boston in 1996. This session was financed by good buddy Gary Cherone
(Van Halen/ Extreme) and Jawn P (MC from Boston underground hip hop
legends Top Choice Clique). The disc was released in November on Cow
Island Music.

Jack has had along and storied career in Boston and beyond. He became
good friends with Jerry Lee Lewis and Gary Cherone and Nuno Bettencourt
of Extreme. He has toured with John Prine, Ronnie Hawkins, opened for
Rachel Sweet, and had the pleasure of singing with the Blind Boys of
Alabama at the Lowell Folk Festival in the ’90s.

asked Peter how many of Jack’s songs were original compositions, and
did the residuals help Jack get by as he approaches the age most reasonable
people consider retirement? Peter told me “Jack has had to work every
single day of his life. Jack wrote very little of his own material over
the years, a handful of songs at the most, so touring is where he earns
his money and he will be on the road for the foreseeable future.”

can go to Preacher Jack’s MySpace page and check out where he’s
playing. He’s keeps busier than musicians a third of his age. You
want fire and brimstone, an old fashioned ass whooping, a baptism by
fire as the devil tickles the ivories on your salvation road? Then check
out Preacher Jack live soon. Tell him Brian Wilson sent you.

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