By SEAN McCARTHY
July 19, 2008
Jack Jennings is the hippie laureate of the SouthCoast.
The longtime musician and frontman came of age in the 1960s, his life
changed forever by the music of the British Invasion, including the
Beatles, the Kinks and the Yardbirds. Forty years later, Mr. Jennings
still makes artistic progress more of a priority than financial success.
"Jack's at his best when he's improvising," says Ron Poitras,
soundman for the New Wave Cafe in New Bedford and a former musical
partner with Mr. Jennings in the late-'90s band Red Red Sky. "When
you play with Jack, he keeps you on your toes.
"He's a laidback throwback."
"You never know what to expect when you're playing with Jack," says
Donn Legge, guitarist with the Blues Train Band, a local quintet that
includes Mr. Jennings on vocals, guitar and harmonica. "He's always
willing to try new ideas. It can be an exciting experience to work with him."
And it's plenty exciting to watch him, too.
"He's the consummate, captivating entertainer," Mr. Poitras says.
"He's got a Peter Wolf-type thing going on."
Mr. Jennings is comfortable on stage with only a casually strummed
guitar, composing spontaneously. On the other hand, he's invigorated
by blasting away on his harmonica with a fired-up rock outfit such as
This Side of Seven, a band he recently revitalized after a 15-year
hiatus. The band took to the stage of the New Wave this spring and
the 59-year old Mr. Jennings was as spry and energized as a
SouthCoast Mick Jagger.
Mr. Jagger was among Jack Jennings' panoply of formative figures as
the 1960s exploded during his teen years. He attended Oakwood High
School, a Quaker school in Poughkeepsie, N.Y., where he was exposed
to Motown, folk and rock.
Ultimately, some of his biggest influences were blues artists such as
Willie Dixon, Muddy Waters and John Lee Hooker. He would experiment
with all of these genres throughout his musical career.
"From an artistic point of view, I'm happy with myself," he says. "I
have no regrets about my music.
"To me rock 'n' roll is like running away and joining the circus.
Singing, performing and dancing are exciting ways to rebel against
this crazy world."
But all of his influences aren't musical. He also draws inspiration
from 1960s notables such as Cassius Clay, Martin Luther King Jr.,
Abbie Hoffman and Jack Kerouac.
In 1970, Mr. Jennings made his hippie rite of passage by hitchhiking
"There was such an exciting sense of freedom," he recalls of the trip.
To this day, he still embraces the messages of the 1960s, some of
which were passed down to him from his parents during the Vietnam War.
His father was a history teacher and his mother worked in the
community. The duo also ran a camp for children during the summers.
They eventually moved from Danbury, Conn., to Westport, Mass., and
took up a real estate business.
But Mr. Jennings' evolutions have been geographic as well as artistic.
His creative growth has led him to a wide variety of locations,
playing in bands from Boston to Los Angeles, with long-term stops in
Boulder, Colo., and Baltimore, Md. He eventually settled down in the
SouthCoast to live near his family.
"This area is heavenly," he says. "It's a real strong rural
community, which is especially nice after being in cities full of
transients. The city is the place to be musically, but this is a much
better place to raise my daughters."
Since moving to the area, Mr. Jennings has been at the front of local
bands such as The Jelly John Shakers, Baltimore Kid & Street, This
Side of Seven, Mecca, Full Circle, Red Red Sky and now Blues Train.
"Jack is a very creative, prolific guy," says Mr. Legge, the Blues
Mr. Jennings also expresses himself with painting, sculpture and cartooning.
His artistry is supported through his work with the Jack Conway Real
Estate Company. He lives in Westport with his wife, Nina Moniz, and
his daughters, Nadia, 19, and Dakota, 6.
He reflects on his nearly 60 years of life and what may lie ahead.
"I feel like some kind of bug that's been in a cocoon state way too
long," he says.
"This bug is dying to get out and he wants to fly and show all the
splendor and possibilities that he can be. Yet with butterflies there
is a finality and I don't want to be something that's just pinned to a wall."
This Side of Seven will perform at 8 p.m. Aug. 1 at Wings Court in
downtown New Bedford as part of the First Fridays Concert Series.