There’s nothing phony about Jeb Loy Nichols, you can tell from his art - his songs, his prints and his writing.
I first found out about Jeb through two Country Got Soul compilation albums that he curated close on twenty years ago. These discs were stuffed full of heart-tugging tunes where country and soul influences were melded together by musicians both known to me, such as Tony Joe White and Bobbie Gentry, and others that weren’t, such as Razzy Bailey and Sandra Rhodes, but I was glad to be introduced to as they oozed feeling.
These albums were evidence of Jeb’s deep love and knowledge of music – a love which began during his Missouri boyhood listening to country and bluegrass. At 17 Jeb moved to New York where he witnessed a Bambaata block party in the South Bronx and totally immersed himself in the emergence of hip hop. However, it was in the Mudd Club, TriBeCa’s post-punk venue and artists’ hangout, that Jeb became friends with Ari Up of The Slits and Neneh Cherry and in 1983, he crossed over the pond and moved into their London squat. (Younger readers, should I have any, you will have no idea but back then lots of us simply occupied vacant houses and flats in the big city and lived there for free and this enabled loads of people and especially creative types and politicos to make good things happen….) It was there that Jeb’s longstanding friendship with the legendary dub producer Adrian Sherwood began and through this friendship, Jeb’s appreciation of reggae and dub flourished.
This broad and deep listening – and I do encourage you to take a few minutes out to read this illuminating article from The Quietus in which Jeb talks about some of his favourite artists and records – has unsurprisingly bled into and informed Jeb’s own songwriting and playing and while it’s easy to characterise his music as country-soul, different influences and stylings come to the fore on different songs and albums.
I am slowly delving into Jeb’s own recorded history which is proving massively rewarding. I wish I’d come across his ‘80s band, Fellow Travellers, at the time as I know for sure they would have become a live favourite, their rootsy songs - more often than not - lifted by a pleasing reggae undercarriage. Still ,better arriving late to the party than missing out altogether I suppose. Now with 16 post Traveller albums under his belt, Jeb has an embarrassment of musical riches to draw on for his songs have a way with a melody and their apparent economy belies their emotional resonance. 2022’s United States of The Broken Hearted, produced by Adrian Sherwood and released on On-U Sound, received numerous well-deserved plaudits and is in many ways is the culmination of everything he’d done up to that point. This year’s record, Three Fools, a collaboration with producer, multi-instrumentalist Clovis Phillips, is stripped right back, simpler but no less worthwhile – as the title track proves.
Given the quality of his songwriting, singing and playing, one might be surprised that Jeb’s name isn’t better known but it’s clearly intentional; Jeb moved to a remote corner of the Welsh hills a couple of decades ago to live a simpler life, away from the worst machinations of the music business and the world in general. For this reason alone, I am especially grateful that he and Clovis have agreed to play the Wild Hare Club: human music on a human scale, it’s what I enjoy most but I am pleased too, that Jeb is the kind of songwriter who makes room in a song to give the nod to a greenfinch.