Yesterday...is on the TV/ Yesterday...is on the news/
Spreading like a new religion/ Hanging from a noose
Named for the William Faulkner prize-winning novel by Barry Hannah, Geronimo Rex was and is an indie rock band sporadically touring Jackson, Mississippi's club circuit. Their sound is an eclectic mixture of classic rock sounds drawing from the interlocking harmonies of Crosby, Stills, Nash, and Young; the southern rock of Lynyrd Skynyrd; the sweeping atmospherics of Pink Floyd, U2, and Radiohead; and the arena-rock crunch of the Stone Temple Pilots, with a little alt-country thrown in for good measure, circa Ryan Adams and Wilco.
Geronimo Rex's original lineup consisted of the following members:
Jeremy Lister (lead vocals, acoustic guitar)
Richie "John Lennon" Lister (keyboards, vocals)
Joey "Goat" Plunkett (bass guitar, vocals)
Vince "The Master" Johnston (lead guitar, rhythm guitar)
Jimmy "Jesus" Johnson (rhythm guitar, lead guitar)
Ryan Rogers (drums)
This band's lyrics are haunted by the Christian church
, due to five of its six members being brought up in strict Protestant
settings. Vince and Jimmy are childhood friends who met while their parents were both missionaries
, Jeremy and Richie are pastor's kids, and Joey, who is Vince's cousin
, has a father who is either a pastor or a church officer
of some sort, I forget which.
The sextet got together in 1998 while attending Mississippi College. Initially the band was just a vague idea given shape and purpose solely by Vince and Jimmy's love of the six-stringed axe, but once they began playing gigs and scouting around for potential bandmates, they started taking themselves more seriously. Vince recruited his longtime friend Ryan Rogers to man the skins, and his cousin Joey to play bass. They chose the name Geronimo Rex, because Hannah had also attended MC.
Things were coming together pretty quickly, but there was still something missing. Solid vocals. Joey could sing, but his voice didn't have quite the range or power that Vince and Jimmy wanted. So they began scouting around for an additional vocalist. Their discovery of Richie Lister's genius on the ivories came first, however. Vince has said that the first time he saw Richie perform onstage, he knew he had to get Richie in the band.
At the time, Richie's status as member of another of Jackson's local bands (which I've forgotten the name of) was a bit of a hindrance to The Master's plan, so Vince started scheming. He decided he would get Richie's brother Jeremy to sing for them. Never mind that Jeremy had a tendency to crawl out of moving vehicles and jump off of rooftops "to see if he'd survive." Never mind that Jeremy had never stuck with anything in his life, according to...well, virtually everyone. Vince was gonna make this work. And you know how? By bribing him with alcohol, that's how. Once Jeremy was in the band, Vince could use him to slowly pull Richie away from the other band. And that made it all worthwhile.
Ultimately, this hare-brained tactic worked, setting up a nice healthy rivalry between G. Rex and Richie's former bandmates.
Now in possession of all the elements needed to make a great band, the sextet began hitting the club circuit and holding informal recording sessions in Vince's room on his 4-track recorder.
These informal writing/recording sessions laid the foundation for a trip to Highway 61 studios in Clarksdale, MS, where they laid down seventeen tracks:
Close Your Eyes
(Don't Let It) Get You Down Brother
Like A Cigarette
Lipstick (my personal favorite)
Web Of Fear
Most of these never saw the light of day as far as being officially released, but "Mirror Road", "Lipstick", and "Close Your Eyes" would resurface later on the Absolute Zero EP, and "Like A Cigarette" would appear (albeit in a somewhat bastardized form) on a compilation album featuring other Jackson bands.
Some kind of dream was built with broken glass/
But all the pieces held just fine/
Put the pieces back together/
See what they design
Around this time, they also played a one-off gig for Belhaven College's Freshman Blaze week, and this is where I come in. After seeing them play on the Quad, I and my circle of friends became singularly obsessed with this band, rearranging our various schedules just so we could make the gigs.
They blew us away, quite frankly. Their performance was still a bit green, but their songwriting skills and their three-part harmonies were stunning. I think my favorite part, though, was when Jimmy randomly decided to play a riff with his tongue. Not his teeth, a la Jimi Hendrix. His tongue. I wasn't aware you could get calluses on your tongue, but apparently you can.
Not long after that show, they released the Absolute Zero EP, a four-track single containing the title track, "Lipstick", "Close Your Eyes", and a new song, "Shaken". I and my friends kept that thing in our CD changers for weeks. Jimmy's use of natural harmonics in the main riff for "Absolute Zero" was particularly intoxicating, a feat we found to be nigh-impossible to duplicate upon attempting to play it ourselves.
They continued to write songs and play the Jackson club circuit, eventually attracting the attention of Nashville producer and country musician Bryan White, who offered to record and produce their album for free at his privately owned studio. So our boys, naturally, started splitting their time between Nashville and Jackson and began randomly teasing their fanbase with updates on the album's status.
I come undone/
It’s all caving in/
My paper bag lungs/
I’m losing blood/
You’re running out of oxygen
Then, everything went to hell for a bit. Jimmy decided that since they'd just made the big leagues, now would be a good time to quit his job and start living in his car. No, I am not kidding. They hadn't even finished recording their first album, much less pressed it, and Jimmy decides to pull a Syd Barrett!
They ended up having to kick him out of the band, which created some interesting dynamic problems of its own. The dual-guitar attack was something G. Rex had exploited mercilessly in times past, and they were a bit unaware of the initial impact Jimmy's absence would have on their stage presence.
The first gig following Jimmy's departure was a bit of a bust. They hadn't had time to readjust their sound, and the result...wasn't pretty. There were holes in their sound large enough for a sixteen wheeler to drive through.
Still, some good songs came out of this period, most notably the following:
Broken In Two
Unfortunately, Bryan White took a good hard look at the situation and decided to delay work on G. Rex's album so he could work on his own material. This basically pissed the entire fanbase off, but what can you do? He was doing it as a favor to them, for free.
The band responded by figuring out their new sound and coming back stronger than ever. It was time to kick ass and chew bubblegum, and they were all out of gum, dammit. The MC homecoming show was incredible, attracting somewhere in the neighborhood of 1200 kids. My favorite memory from that show was when Jeremy took the mic stand and dipped it over my friends' heads during their rendition of U2's "Pride". Rock.
Jeremy, Richie, and Joey also began doing a bunch of intimate acoustic shows around town on their own so they could keep the fanbase intact. One of these was the April 12th show at Belhaven's new Student Center, which was extremely cool because that just happens to be the day before my birthday. They sang "Happy Birthday" to me, Three Tenors style. Kickass.
Unfortunately, these acoustic shows also led to Jeremy doing shows on his own, which ultimately led to him leaving the band. When he left, Richie left (the only reason he was in the band in the first place was that his little bro was also in it, as previously noted), and G. Rex as we knew it ceased to exist.
Their last gig as a sextet was on May 3, 2003 at Hal & Mal's. Bootleg copies of this show are rumored to exist, but I, sadly, am not in possession of one.
Currently, Geronimo Rex is a three-piece signed to Mississippi's independent Esperanza Plantation label. They have one release, the I Love I Lose EP, containing the new songs "A Digital Afternoon", and "Car Crash". They are rumored to be recording a new album, but only time will tell whether this is true or not.