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Joecephus & The George Jonestown Massacre on their Merle-meets-metal cult 

click to enlarge Joecephus & The George Jonestown Massacre ; Wednesday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m. ; Triple Nickel Tavern, 26 S. Wahsatch Ave. ; $5 to $10 donation; 477-9555, triplenickeltavern.com
  • Joecephus & The George Jonestown Massacre ; Wednesday, Sept. 25, 7 p.m. ; Triple Nickel Tavern, 26 S. Wahsatch Ave. ; $5 to $10 donation; 477-9555, triplenickeltavern.com

Many musicians go out of their way to deny their influences, but Joey “Joecephus” Killingsworth is not one of them.

Consider, for example, his band’s name, Joecephus & The George Jonestown Massacre, which plays off of 1) Hank Williams Jr.’s nickname Bocephus, 2) classic country crooner George Jones, 3) indie-rock band The Brian Jonestown Massacre, and 4) Jim Jones’ Kool-Aid-swilling death cult.

And that’s just a handful of the inspirations that the heavily inked musician, who refers to his band as “the link between Merle Haggard and Motörhead,” proudly wears on his sleeve.

“I’ve got a Skinny Puppy half-sleeve on one arm, and a Bob Marley triangle on the other,” reports the Memphis-based bandleader. “And on my back, I’ve got the German noise band Einstürzende Neubauten and a big Johnny Cash flippin’ the bird. My whole shin is Robert De Niro from Taxi Driver. So yeah, I got a few of ’em.”

Most all of those influences have found their way into Killingsworth’s music during his decade-plus years leading Joecephus & The George Jonestown Massacre. The band’s oeuvre ranges from the goofy Motörhead homage “W.W.L.D. (What Would Lemmy Do?)” to a reggae-rock cover of “Number 13,” the dead-serious ballad that Glenn Danzig wrote for Johnny Cash.

Cash tunes are also featured on 5 Minutes to Live, one of two tribute records that Killingsworth and his band released to benefit local Memphis charities. The album finds Joecephus and company performing alongside members of The Bad Seeds, Melvins and Butthole Surfers, as well as Johnny’s old drummer W.S. Holland.

Then there’s Mutants of the Monster, a 2-LP Black Oak Arkansas tribute with an even stranger collection of guest artists: Outlaw country heir Shooter Jennings, Black Flag’s Greg Ginn, Hawkwind’s Nik Turner, Squirrel Nut Zippers’ Jimbo Mathus, the Dead Kennedys’ Jello Biafra, and about a dozen others, including B.O.A. frontman Jim Dandy himself. Despite all that, it would be easy to dismiss Killingsworth and his bandmates as a novelty act, were it not for the fact that they’re all exceptionally good musicians. Last year’s Death Rattle Shake is a rock-solid effort, with standout tracks that range from the Rory Gallagher-channeling “Cosmic Retribution” to the Aerosmith swaggering of “Tombstone Blues.”

There’s also an elegantly arranged garage-pop anthem called “Gold Digging Whore,” which carries on in the tradition of Killingsworth lady-pleasers like “Jerk You Off My Mind.” Despite its title, the song is a reasonably affable affair, at least by “she done me wrong” song standards.

“People ask if ‘Gold Digging Whore’ is personal, and I say, ‘It’s personal, but it ain’t about me,’” Killingsworth maintains. “I wrote it from the perspective of a buddy of mine who owned a flea market and a trailer park. He married this girl who basically just had the clothes on her back, and they decided to get a divorce, and she tried to take his house and his flea market.”

The songwriter also claims plausible deniability when it comes to the obsessive narrator in his punk-rock “Love Song #666,” which he blames on watching too many Lifetime movies with his mom during visits home.

Killingsworth began his career playing drums with his father, Rockabilly Hall of Fame inductee Bobby Joe “Bo Jack” Killingsworth. “I hated it for so long,” says Joey, who much preferred punk, metal and noise bands in those days. “And now I realized that I could have met people like Ernest Tubb, Webb Pierce and Hank Thompson back when my father led the Grand Ole Opry band. But at the time, I hated country music, so I missed out on that.”
The younger Killingsworth first earned celebrity in his own right with “Quittin’ Time,” a kind of cowpunk counterpart to Johnny Paycheck’s “Take This Job and Shove It.” He wrote the song after getting an awful review from his boss at the laptop repair shop where he spent his days fixing broken circuit boards. “The only thing good he said was that I sit in my chair ergonomically correct,” recalls the musician, who subsequently quit and wrote a song with lyrics like “Sick of you telling me what to do / So I got two words: fuck you.” To his amazement, the local rock station’s morning show picked up on it and began playing it every morning for seven weeks.

“I wrote the song as a joke, and recorded it, along with the rest of our first album, on the cheap,” Killingsworth says. “Like I was not even using an amp sometimes, I’d just plug it straight from the pedal board into the mixing board. But ‘Quittin’ Time’ took on a life of its own, and it still gets a couple thousand plays a week on Pandora.”

All of which means that Killingsworth — who now spends his offstage time booking tours for acts like Lydia Lunch, Thor and David Allan Coe — no longer has to deal with working a day job.
“Even though that first album still makes me cringe whenever I hear it, it still outsells everything I do,” he says. “The newer ones just sound so much better. But hey, people like what they like.”

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