Feb 2012 / JA JA JA

It is not hard to see what attracted me to the sole album by JA JA JA:  The cover shows an abstract drawing of a Tyrannosaurus rex squaring off against a steam shovel.  I had never thought of the resemblance before this, but there definitely is one here.  There is also the back-cover shot of what I took to be three fresh-faced German kids. 
There is nothing about Ja Ja Ja in Allmusic or Wikipedia, but there is a Facebook fan page (see www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=116444666173 ) and some other stuff about them on the Internet, so I was quite surprised to find that their front-woman Julie Jigsaw (real name:  Julie Ann Ashcraft) isn’t German at all:  She is originally from Dallas, Texas
I Am an Animal” is one song that really sticks in my memory.  I also like “Mom”, where the singer is answering her mom about:  “When’re you comin’ home, when’re you comin’ home, when’re you comin’ back home?”  I thought it was just about a girl who had gone off to college or something, but once I realized that Julie had made her way from Dallas to Germany, it made more sense. 
Julie Jigsaw moved to New York in 1980, where she started her first band Group of Trees.  After soaking up a lot of musical influences, including the thriving punk/new wave and hip hop scenes in New York in the very early 1980’s, she ran into an album by German band Der Plan called Geri Reig.  (She was attracted by the cover – as I often am myself – which had a robot Baby Jesus on it).  Der Plan was an early synth pop band and one of the innovators of the scene that became known as Neue Deutsche Welle (“German New Wave”).  She began a correspondence with Der Plan lead singer Moritz R. and got herself invited to Dusseldorf, where she stayed in the guest room at Ata Tak Records recording studios, downstairs from Der Plan bandmembers Kurt Dahlke (a/k/a Pyrolator) and Frank Fenstermacher
Julie Jigsaw was recognized as having a natural talent, and Kurt Dahlke introduced her to two friends of his, Frank Samba (drums) and Wietn Wito (bass), who became the other two members of Ja Ja Ja.  They had a jam session during their first night together, where Julie sang improvised lyrics; she also played harmonica, percussion and trumpet.  The best parts were edited into their first single “Die Wahrheit” (“The Truth”), which appeared on a 1982 German compilation album called Alles oder Nichts (“All or Nothing”). 
Several days later, they had laid down two more tracks, Katz Rap” (“Cat Rap”) and Mom; these were released in 1982 as their first single on Ata Tak Records.  This earned Ja Ja Ja and Julie Jigsaw recognition as the first female rapper in Europe.  (Katz Rap came out the year after Blondie’s pioneering single “Rapture” was released).  A later single called “Graffiti Artists International” was the first song in Europe to talk about graffiti artists.  Mel Jefferson was the engineer for the Ja Ja Ja music; he later worked with the Sugarcubes and Björk
The combination of musical influences that Julie Jigsaw brought over from America, coupled with what was happening then in Germany, creates a dense musical stew that was rarely seen until well into the 1990’s.  There is also a playful spirit and a lightheartedness in the music – even when the themes are serious – that is all too rare in pop music. 
The name Ja Ja Ja – “ja” of course is German for “yes” – was picked because there were three bandmembers, and they each deserved a “yes”.  Apparently Julie Jigsaw had already written a poem based upon her long philosophical discussions with the guys in Der Plan that later became the lyrics to their song “Ja! Ja! Ja!”. 
Remember, the Berlin Wall was still up back then, and Julie Jigsaw’s wanderlust took her all over the country.  The tension she felt in East Berlin and West Berlin, and the resentment of many young people at what they felt to be “occupation” by American military bases (sound familiar?) inspired the lyrics to “Habt Nicht Mehr Angst” (“Have No More Fear”). 
With guest musician Henry Scott III (who also worked in the studio with Ja Ja Ja), the band toured extensively in Europe and New York; their concerts at New York’s Danceteria were well received, with Melle Mel from old-school rap legends Grandmaster Flash and the Furious Five in enthusiastic attendance.  Prominent DJ John Peel played one of their songs on BBC Radio in 1982
Besides her work with Ja Ja JaJulie Jigsaw wrote the lyrics and provided vocals on a track by Austrian musician Xao Seffcheque called “Julie in Germany”.  The song was released on another 1982 compilation album called Klar und Wahr – Sounds Rettet Deutschland (“Clear and True – Sounds Rescue Germany”). 
The poems Julie Jigsaw wrote in Germany and others that she had previously written in New York became the lyrics for the band’s songs, and she also wrote most of the melodies.  However, she generously shared the songwriting credits three ways with the other two bandmembers.  Thus, when Wietn Wito told her that he was going to take the band in a progressive-jazz direction with new songs he had written and then tried to dictate what she would play and sing from then on, she became disillusioned and moved back to New York in 1983
Julie Jigsaw immediately became involved in the hip hop scene in New York and also became a graffiti artist, painter and sculptor.  With American bass player Billy Grant replacing WitoJa Ja Ja toured again for a short time in about 1984; but it was difficult since Frank Samba was still in Germany, and apparently they did not release any more records. 
Their self-titled album, Ja Ja Ja was released in 1982, also on the Ata Tak label.  Kurt Dahlke (Pyrolator) and Frank Samba are in the process of remastering the album for reissue as a CD on a Japanese label.  Their song “Katz Rap was included on a 2005 German compilation album called Grlz: Women Ahead of Their Time; and a copy of the original 45 is included in the Cornell University Library Hip Hop Collection
Oh, and that dinosaur on the cover of the Ja Ja Ja album?  Another is featured in the video for their song I Am an Animal – break-dancing! 
Looking back on the band, Julie Jigsaw wrote in 2011:  “Ja Ja Ja is a group full of joy and emotional struggles, perfection and experimentation, space and time.  The combination of our souls and skills sometimes created fields of virtually metaphysical intensity and magnitude.  [Wietn] Wito told me he saw colors rise from his bass into the air and go out into the audience.  Our music has prevailed with your help, beloved listener.  Thank you for your inspirational energy and your enthusiasm through the decades.” 
Julie Jigsaw is still active in music and now records under the name Jigsawnovich.  Her most recent song is called “One Man’s Living Is Another Man’s Crime”.  She has a blog at jigsawnovich.blogspot.com/ that also includes the Ja Ja Ja story. 
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FLASHBACK #1:  The Under-Appreciated Rock Artist of the Month for January 2010 – WENDY WALDMAN.  
I forgot to include the YouTube links last month, so here they are.  A live acoustic version from 2004 of Vanessa Williams’ signature song “Save the Best for Last, which Wendy Waldman co-wrote, is available at www.youtube.com/watch?v=SoldrFVxPQ8 ; it is every bit as lovely as the hit version, “Save the Best for Last.  Her regional hit song Long Hot Summer Nights is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZOuVNeMjBSQ (no video to go with this one, though you do get to see the cool National Enquirer-style album cover).  It seems like every musician who sticks around a while comes up with a song about summer memories, but Wendy’s is one of the few that doesn’t focus on the Sun.  These are just the tip of the iceberg though – there are dozens more available. 
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FLASHBACK #2:  The Under-Appreciated Rock Band of the Month for February 2010 – CYRUS ERIE
This was the first post where I tried to talk about more than just the band itself.  Many people might have wondered why Cleveland of all places was chosen to be the home of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, so I presented my own theory:  that it was (or at least should have been) due to the largely forgotten musical scene there in the 1960’s and 1970’s.  More to the point, rock bands like the Raspberriesthe Outsiders and the James Gang are certainly well known enough, but most people don’t know that Cleveland was their hometown.  Another long-time fave of mine is the Cleveland punk band the Dead Boys and its frontman Stiv Bators, though they weren’t really pertinent to this discussion. 
After writing the article, I began to wonder whether Cyrus Erie had actually made any records; I certainly didn’t have any of them (unlike everyone else that I have written about).  All I really knew about them was that they were one of the leading bands in Cleveland for a while; and that, when lead singer Eric Carmen left Cyrus Erie and essentially joined the Choir, the Raspberries were born.  The story is more complicated than that actually; several of the bandmembers in the Choir were also in Cyrus Erie at one time or another. 
Happily, there is one Cyrus Erie track out there on YouTube:  “Get the Message” from 1969 is unabashedly Beatlesque and shows Eric Carmen exercising his pipes well – check it out (with several stills of the band) at www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z-Dtg295wVk .  A song called “Ain’t Nothin’ Gonna Stop Me” by the Quick also features Eric Carmen on lead vocals and can be heard at www.youtube.com/watch?v=5PXpKUNYUTk&feature=related .  The song was co-written by Carmen and Dann Klawon.   A couple of years earlier, Klawon had written the immortal song “It’s Cold Outside” by the Choir that you really shouldn’t miss either; that one is at www.youtube.com/watch?v=3JndhLibASI&feature=related . 
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The Honor Roll of the Under Appreciated Rock Bands and Artists follows, in date order, including a link to the original Facebook posts and the theme of the article.
Dec 2009BEAST; Lot to Learn
Jan 2010WENDY WALDMAN; Los Angeles Singer-Songwriters
Feb 2010 CYRUS ERIE; Cleveland
Mar 2010BANG; Record Collecting I
Apr 2010THE BREAKAWAYS; Power Pop
May 2010THE NOT QUITE; Katrina Clean-Up
Jun 2010WATERLILLIES; Electronica
Jul 2010THE EYES; Los Angeles Punk Rock
Aug 2010QUEEN ANNE’S LACE; Psychedelic Pop
Sep 2010THE STILLROVEN; Minnesota
Oct 2010THE PILTDOWN MEN; Record Collecting II
Nov 2010SLOVENLY; Slovenly Peter
Dec 2010THE POPPEES; New York Punk/New Wave
Jan 2011HACIENDA; Latinos in Rock
Feb 2011THE WANDERERS; Punk Rock (1970’s/1980’s)
Mar 2011INDEX; Psychedelic Rock (1960’s)
Apr 2011BOHEMIAN VENDETTA; Punk Rock (1960’s)
May 2011THE LONESOME DRIFTER; Rockabilly
Jun 2011THE UNKNOWNS; Disabled Musicians
Jul 2011THE RIP CHORDS; Surf Rock I
Aug 2011ANDY COLQUHOUN; Side Men
Sep 2011ULTRA; Texas
Oct 2011JIM SULLIVAN; Mystery
Nov 2011THE UGLY; Punk Rock (1970’s)
Dec 2011THE MAGICIANS; Garage Rock (1960’s)
Jan 2012RON FRANKLIN; Why Celebrate Under Appreciated?
Feb 2012JA JA JA; German New Wave
Mar 2012STRATAVARIOUS; Disco Music
Apr 2012LINDA PIERRE KING; Record Collecting III
May 2012TINA AND THE TOTAL BABES; One Hit Wonders
Jun 2012WILD BLUE; Band Names I
Jul 2012DEAD HIPPIE; Band Names II
Aug 2012PHIL AND THE FRANTICS; Wikipedia I
Sep 2012CODE BLUE; Hidden History
Oct 2012TRILLION; Wikipedia II
Nov 2012THOMAS ANDERSON; Martin Winfree’s Record Buying Guide
Dec 2012THE INVISIBLE EYES; Record Collecting IV
Jan 2013THE SKYWALKERS; Garage Rock Revival
Mar 2013THE GILES BROTHERS; Novelty Songs
Apr 2013LES SINNERS; Universal Language
May 2013HOLLIS BROWN; Greg Shaw / Bob Dylan
Jun 2013 (I) – FUR (Part One); What Might Have Been I
Jun 2013 (II) – FUR (Part Two); What Might Have Been II
Jul 2013THE KLUBS; Record Collecting V
Aug 2013SILVERBIRD; Native Americans in Rock
Sep 2013BLAIR 1523; Wikipedia III
Oct 2013MUSIC EMPORIUM; Women in Rock I
Nov 2013CHIMERA; Women in Rock II
Dec 2013LES HELL ON HEELS; Women in Rock III
Jan 2014BOYSKOUT; (Lesbian) Women in Rock IV
Feb 2014LIQUID FAERIES; Women in Rock V
Mar 2014 (I) – THE SONS OF FRED (Part 1); Tribute to Mick Farren
Mar 2014 (II) – THE SONS OF FRED (Part 2); Tribute to Mick Farren
Apr 2014HOMER; Creating New Bands out of Old Ones
May 2014THE SOUL AGENTS; The Cream Family Tree
Jun 2014THE RICHMOND SLUTS and BIG MIDNIGHT; Band Names (Changes) III
Jul 2014MIKKI; Rock and Religion I (Early CCM Music)
Aug 2014THE HOLY GHOST RECEPTION COMMITTEE #9; Rock and Religion II (Bob Dylan)
Sep 2014NICK FREUND; Rock and Religion III (The Beatles)
Oct 2014MOTOCHRIST; Rock and Religion IV
Dec 2014THE SILENCERS; Surf Rock II
Jan 2015 (I) – THE CRAWDADDYS (Part 1); Tribute to Kim Fowley
Jan 2015 (II) – THE CRAWDADDYS (Part 2); Tribute to Kim Fowley
Feb 2015BRIAN OLIVE; Songwriting I (Country Music)
Mar 2015PHIL GAMMAGE; Songwriting II (Woody Guthrie/Bob Dylan)
Apr 2015 (I) – BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 1); Songwriting III (Partnerships)
Apr 2015 (II) – BLACK RUSSIAN (Part 2); Songwriting III (Partnerships)
May 2015MAL RYDER and THE PRIMITIVES; Songwriting IV (Rolling Stones)
Jun 2015HAYMARKET SQUARE; Songwriting V (Beatles)
Jul 2015THE HUMAN ZOO; Songwriting VI (Psychedelic Rock)
Aug 2015CRYSTAL MANSIONMartin Winfree’s Record Cleaning Guide
Dec 2015AMANDA JONES; So Many Rock Bands
Mar 2016THE LOVEMASTERS; Fun Rock Music
Jun 2016THE GYNECOLOGISTS; Offensive Rock Music Lyrics
Sep 2016LIGHTNING STRIKE; Rap and Hip Hop
Dec 2016THE IGUANAS; Iggy and the Stooges; Proto-Punk Rock
Mar 2017THE LAZY COWGIRLS; Iggy and the Stooges; First Wave Punk Rock
Jun 2017THE LOONS; Punk Revival and Other New Bands
Sep 2017THE TELL-TALE HEARTS; Bootleg Albums
Dec 2017SS-20; The Iguana Chronicles
(Year 10 Review)

Last edited: April 7, 2021