posted August 13, 2008Tweet
By 1973, the rock world had shed its hippie past in favor of a more theatrical universe of glam and glitter. David Bowie had given the world Ziggy Stardust, and Lou Reed had pushed the envelope of pop radio with his hit "Walk on the Wild Side." Mott the Hoople rose to the top with a glam anthem, "All the Young Dudes," and artists varied from T. Rex to the Faces had dressed up their acts. Was the world really primed for an openly gay glam-rock star? Promoter/manager Jerry Brandt seemed to think so, and proceeded to set the stage for the grand arrival of Jobriath. And although the promised grandeur never materialized, Jobriath did record two vastly underrated albums for Elektra Records - Jobriath and Creatures of the Street - both of which will be re-released on Collector' Choice on September 30.
Jobriath was actually Bruce Campbell, born in Philadelphia in 1946. He cut his onstage teeth as a cast member of the Broadway musical Hair, and was later member of a band called Pidgeon, described in the reissue notes as "an uneasy mix of California pop-rock and heavier psychedelia." It was only when he submitted a tape to Clive Davis' CBS Records in the early ‘70s that he got his big break, when promoter Jerry Brandt (best known for operating the Electric Circus and managing Carly Simon) happened to overhear Jobriath's music in the label's A&R corridors. When Brandt inquired as to CBS' intentions for Jobriath, he was told that "Clive thinks Jobriath is mad and unstructured and musically destructive to melody." Brandt had a very different take: "The images [the tape] was provoking in my imagination were enormous. I kept seeing a vast spectacle."
Brandt contacted all the record labels asking a cool million for the rights to sign his incipient star. When he asked producer Richard Perry to work his magic, Brandt was told that "if Jobriath is where music is going, I want out." In the end there were no takers, so Jobriath went into the studio with engineer/producer Eddie Kramer (known for the Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix, Led Zeppelin and David Bowie) and emerged with a completed album. Brandt took it to Elektra, where Jac Holzman signed Jobriath as his final act prior to departing the label he founded. It was not a million-dollar deal by any means, but rather a favor to Brandt for having brought Carly Simon to the label. And Holzman latter confessed, quoted in the Richie Unterberger's liner notes: "I made two errors of judgment in my days at Elektra, and Jobriath was one of them."
Yet Stephen Holden had a vastly different take in his Rolling Stone review, finding Jobriath's self titled debut album "a flashy an provocative debut album. Jobriath brings to rock a voice uncannily reminiscent of Mick Jagger's and a theatrical intuitiveness and thematic sensibility that are superficially similar to avid Bowie's. Like Bowie, Jobriath is fascinated with extraterrestrial fantasies that combine autoeroticism and prophecy, though Jobriath's musical and poetic vernacular are blunter, deliberately eschewing intellectual sophistication for a bold populist stance."
The album had failed to establish Jobriath as the next Beatles nor even Bowie. In fact it missed the charts entirely, yet Elektra did release a follow-up, Creatures of the Street. Global stardom would greet Jobriath's second album, proclaimed Brandt, who in the Rolling Stone feature headlined "Jobriath: Gay Rock Breaks All the Rules," said, "Presenting Jobriath in the way he must be presented means you have to break all the rules. That requires the greatest promoter in the world. And I'm it." Brandt planned for the first live performance to take place at the Paris Opera House, since, according to the promoter, "if you're planning to come to New York, Paris is the best place to come from." There was also talk of a $200,000 set. The Paris shows were cancelled due to the cost, and the New York dates were modest, attended primarily by members of the music industry.
The second album itself, however, was rich in melodic Broadway-tinged pop songs like "Heartbeat," "Street Corner Love," "Ooh La La" and "Scumbag." Sadly, the press shied away from the better of Jobriath's two albums, stung by all the unfulfilled hype. By the time Jobriath toured small clubs in major US cities, he'd been dropped by Elektra. He lived the rest of his life in obscurity, dying of AIDS at New York's Chelsea Hotel in 1983. So unnoticed was his passing that Morrissey tried to contact him in 1992 to see about opening for his tour.
Now, Collectors' Choice is preparing to present the Jobriath albums with no hype nor proclamations of next-Bowie-dom. Perhaps in death, 35 years after the albums' initial release, Jobriath will develop the fan base he never achieved in life.