Note: I started this article with a great idea and the best intentions. While wrapping it up I discovered some info that, had I known it at the outset, would have greatly changed this story. More about that at the end…
If I didn’t know any better, I’d think SHERIFF JACK came to me in some fever-crazed dream. Nobody seems to know who or what he/she/it is, there’s basically nothing about him/her/it on the internet (no web page, entries on music blogs and sites, etc.), so he/she/it might just be a figment of my frazzled imagination. But: I have all four record releases (I know of) that were issued under the name, and I know I’m not making it/her/him up. So, you’ll just have to believe me and read on – or move along to something easier to digest.
Let’s go back thirty plus years to 1986, for it is then that Jack shows up for the first time on record at the Seattle college radio station (KCMU, now KEXP) where I once DJed. Supposedly Sheriff Jack’s first release, a 12″ EP called Let’s Be Nonchalant duly enters the station’s current releases bin. Four songs are on it, including such bizarre titles as “Buy Everybody a Cake” and “Buttered Slice of Democracy,” so naturally yours truly (a sucker for oddball song titles) needed to know more. And it was – and is – difficult to describe. It sounds slightly power pop or new wave, in the guitar-driven sense, but with just enough of that mid ’80s snare-in-your-face on it to be slightly distracting. That, and the guy sort of sing-yelling the lyrics. The record was produced by Pat Collier, who was known at the time for his work with Robyn Hitchcock and The Soft Boys, and as a member of the band The Vibrators (“Baby, Baby”). And the release came out on Midnight Music, which had also released Hitchcock and Soft Boys records. Kinda mysterious in those pre-internet days, and try as I could, I couldn’t figure out who this Sheriff Jack was. But, being in my early 20s and easily distracted, I bought the record but shelved it and the info search and moved on.
A few months later, out comes a full-length album, Laugh Yourself Awake. Where the first release had the tiniest amount of credits on it, this record had all kinds of credits but some of them seemed made up. Ever heard of a guy named Ted Aerialcruise who plays trumpet? Well, he’s on these two records (and the next one). The album itself carried on with the hard-power-pop yet very British tunes, this time with titles like “Bird-Oh!” (super slicing guitars) and “Cock Anne at Marjorie’s Door,” and even a cover of Big Star’s classic, “Back of a Car.” BUT… this time we get a slight biographical bit about Jack: “This stuff written, arranged, played and sung entirely by a bipedal humanoid known as Sheriff Jack… recorded in Alaska.” Well, I knew that “Alaska” was actually a recording studio in England, frequented by – you guessed it – Hitchcock, The Soft Boys and producer Collier (credited this time with “knobtwiddling deluxe; high-gloss finish”). There was a management contact phone number on the cover, but calling across the Atlantic just to find out who these people were was neither doable nor affordable then. Again, I enjoyed the eccentric English (I assumed) college rock (as we loosely classified anything without a solid genre description attached to it). The weirdo subject matter continued, the slightly yelled/sung vocals did, too, and the altogether unique guitar sound of Sheriff Jack continued to delight me and (hopefully) whoever heard it via the radio station.
Another few months later, the same performer/ producer/label team turned out a 4-song EP entitled Everybody Twist, which featured the title song (from Laugh Yourself Awake) and three more oddities (“Bold 3,” “Values for Your Culture” and “Something Cold”). Some sort of life form named Uncle Beastie sang “Something Cold,” a dirgey tune with a lower register lead vocal that comes off as fairly ominous; aside from this one, the EP is really an extension of Laugh Yourself Awake. I added this record to my Sheriff Jack collection thinking that maybe, if he/she/it/they put out further records, eventually some solid facts would emerge. Or I’d move on to some other obsession.
Then, in October 1987 another Sheriff Jack album appeared, the cleverly titled What Lovely Melodies! I know the date because the copy I bought locally HAD A PRESS RELEASE BIO IN IT. Thanks to whoever was sent a promo copy and sold it right away with the bio still inside! That press release details previous and current Sheriff Jack records as well as their release dates and catalog numbers. And! FICTITIOUS BIO INFORMATION. Shit! I’m sure ol’ Jack wasn’t really “the prodigy son of an Alabama hobo” or that he was the “ex-leader of Iceland’s leading protopunk garage loonies The Icebreakers.” I get that they wanted to keep Jack’s identity a secret, but how long could they keep up such a ruse?
The bio writer did do a pretty good job of describing SJ’s sound: “[It includes] all manner of aural perversion from sick and silly little songs to gruesome guitar meltdowns… It’s all here, fine pop music with a left-field twist to spice it up.” Okay, we can work with that. “Can’t Resist a Melody,” the ostensible title track, takes another crack at it: “What lovely melodies! / And they’re driving me CRAZY / Though I know what I’m doing is sinful / But I do it anyway ’cause I’m really odd…” The sound on this record expanded to include some slightly R&B and even vaudeville tunes among the quintessential Jack palette. Did I mention some of the other titles? “Pink Ducks”? “Dada Art Attack” (“it’s like riding a horse in a cul-de-sac”)? “The Buddha with the Runny Nose”? Okay, there you go.
As far as I know, that was Sheriff Jack’s last gasp. Well, it’s now September 2017 and I have no further information about him. But somewhere in the back of my head, as I was finishing this little exercise in demon-exorcising and seeming futility, I hear, Marsh, did you try EVERYTHING? Wait a minute… we have Discogs now! Type in Sheriff Jack and you get an entry listing an alias of Lewis Taylor. Turns out this guy was once part of the Edgar Broughton Band (late ’60s/early ’70s UK semi-prog rock) and, after his tour of duty as Sheriff Jack, put out records under his own name. Well, I’ll be. Read further and you’ll see that Taylor later changed his name to Andrew Taylor (ahem, do you remember a character from ’60s US television, who was a sheriff, named Andy Taylor??) and has played bass under that name with Gnarls Barkley.
I’m sorta speechless.
At this point, all I can say is: I’m going to attempt to reach Mr. Andrew “Sheriff Jack” Taylor and see about getting an interview with him. This time, as my trusty sidekick, I will have the internet to help me track him down.
4/5 (Let’s Be Nonchalant, Midnight Music DONG 20, 1986), 4.5/5 (Laugh Yourself Awake, Midnight Music CHIME 00.21 S, 1986), 4/5 (Everybody Twist, Midnight Music DONG 29, 1987), 3.5/5 (What Lovely Melodies!, Midnight Music CHIME 00.34 S, 1987)
You can hear Laugh Yourself Awake on Spotify. However, I don’t have an account so I can’t check to see if it’s still up.
Great article, I have a few bits of info for you.
Uncle Beasty was a guy called Steve Burgess who sadly died in ’93. Anyway, he started up a now legendary underground fanzine in the UK called Dark Star in the 70’s which catered to all things hippie and psychedelic and featured interviews with people like Rocky Erikson, Gene Clark, Randy California etc.
By the 80’s he was running a record shop/label in north london called Midnight Records with a guy called Nick Ralph. They split the business with Ralph running the label and Burgess running the re-named shop called English Weather.
Andrew Taylor (his real name – Lewis is his middle name) was living up the road from the shop and was a regular customer there and one day walked in with a rough demo and played it to Steve, who in turn played it to Nick Ralph, and it went from there with Burgess in a sort of creative/managerial role. He was also the guy who wrote all the strange sleevenotes. Steve was a bit of a local character who claimed that the Radio 1 late night indie dj John Peel was his cousin.
There is actually a youtube video interview with Nick Ralph where he talks about the label which is now owned by Cherry Red and there is a small section at exactly 29mins where he briefly talks about Sheriff Jack. Here’s a link:-
I can also tell you that Ted Arielcruise is a guy called Ali Paxton who was a fellow musician and longtime school pal of Andrew’s who did indeed paly several instruments including the trumpet. The guy pictured playing the hammond organ with the sock in the pint glass floating on a sea of jelly beans on the second album ‘What Lovely Melodies’ is actually Andrew Lewis Taylor himself.
His stint with the Edgar Broughton Band – well his first one anyway – coincides with the Sheriff Jack releases, in fact the second album was recorded at Steve Broughtons recording studio where Andrew’s brother Matt was the in house engineer which I presume is how the Broughton association was formed. Matt later played bass for Andrew when he was Lewis Taylor.
The Lewis Taylor part of his output was with a major label and was a completely different type of music – really intircate and starnge full-on r&b music and his voice had totally changed. Yet it still managed to retain a lot of that eccentricity, if you listen you can hear that it’s still him though. The self-titled debut album was released exactly 10 years after the first Sheriff Jack record, and all the albums he released under that name have a fairly large and passionate cult following. Then exactly another ten years later – almost as if it was planned – Andrew called a final halt to his musical career in 2006.
However, yet another ten years later in 2016 he reappeared for a slightly mysterious interview where he talks about why he stopped among other things. Here’s a link to that as well.
Anyway, hope this was of interest to you, or does it just make it even more of a strange story?