Formerly known as Brainstorm, the Jefferson Jay Band has been playing around San Diego since 2001 and has opened for Jane’s Addiction and Steely Dan.
“The longest-tenured member other than myself,” says Jay, “is bassist Damon Stoll, aka the Funky Damon. He and I met three years ago. When he first came over, I made us egg salad sandwiches. The lesson to be learned here is that if you have love and egg salad, there is nothing you can’t do.”
Jay, a Jersey native who moved to San Diego in 2000, founded San Diego Musicians Collective, as well as heading up a yearly Acoustic Evenings series at the La Jolla Athenaeum, an institution he once wrote a thesis about before earning his degree in history at SDSU. He has also played with Greens of Mind.
Jay, who has an SDSU masters degree in history and works as a substitute teacher by day, has long been hosting open mic nights around town, having experienced highs and lows at the eight venues where he has done so.
“When I first came to San Diego in 2000, I played at Twigg’s and Lestat’s. I took time off when someone broke into my apartment and stole all my equipment. When I came back in 2003, I started hosting my own night at Twigg’s on a volunteer basis. I built it up and decided my skills were worth something.” Jay says he started getting paid a guaranteed fee to host his own open-mic nights, which meant he was responsible for promoting, hosting, and sound mixing.
“I started one at Tom Foolery’s near the Sports Arena, but that place went out of business. Then I went to the Blarney Stone. I built it up, but once I got it going, they fired me and kept [cohost] Allison Gill. The owner had a temper.” Jay’s next stop was O’Connell’s (now the Griffin): “After a year-and-a-half of doing Hot Fudge Sunday there, they fired me.”
Then came a Portuguese restaurant in Ocean Beach. “No one had heard about Portugalia when I started. There was no P.A. We made a venue out of nothing. It went from a place no one had heard about to be being named best local club for live music by the U-T [in 2008].”
He says his favorite guitar is the Gibson acoustic that he learned on, but “That was stolen. My favorite axe now is my 1972 Les Paul Black Beauty. I bought it from a dark character named Detroit Frank. I loaned him $200, which was arguably a bad move, but when he offered me his ‘baby’ for only $800 more, I felt like the $200 I had loaned him was reborn. Friends of mine in other bands were begging me to turn it over to them for a quick profit, but I would never do it. Rumor has it some other people didn’t come out of the Detroit Frank era as well off as I did.”
Jay’s radio program, The Jefferson Jay Show, used to air online on Monday nights from 10 p.m. to 4 a.m. at www.kcrlive.com, as well as Cox digital cable channel 956 and Time Warner digital cable channel 957. It featured mostly comedy and music, with a little bit of politics and sports.
He says there was a conspiracy that led to his firing from KCR, SDSU’s all-volunteer radio station, in autumn 2006. The bawdy six-hour Monday night music-and-comedy show reportedly prompted complaint letters that were sent to SDSU president Stephen Weber.
“[The letters] accused me of having sex on the air with intoxicated coeds,” says Jay. “That would have been pretty hard to get away with since there is a big plate-glass window where anybody can see in. The letters accuse me of making racist comments about Jews on the air. Come on...I’m Jewish.... [KCR faculty advisor Skot Norton] called me and asked me if I was drinking on the air. He said somebody went through the trash and allegedly found beer bottles next to my playlist. The trash can was outside the station in the quad area.”
In early 2009, Jay released a CD of children’s music, Blue – a Kid's Album. He shortly thereafter released a dual-DVD set Jefferson Jay’s 24 Hours of Free Music, commemorating a 24-hour marathon of acts at Portugalia the previous year. “A very special scene developed around my shows,” Jay states. “A close group of talented friends came together. I cherish the opportunity to share our experience and my music with anyone who is interested in these sorts of things.”
His fourth full-length Yellow was released in 2010, the third and final offering in his Primary Colors trilogy. The album includes tracks such as “Dawson,” a tribute to all people named Dawson, and “Intimate with Ludacris,” Jay’s response to the popular hip-hop artist.
His fifth CD Gift to Be Alive was released in November 2011. “The story behind the album title is I think life is a precious gift, every single second. We can value life like that and treat people kindly, or we can waste time, treat people however we feel l like it, and pretend it doesn’t matter. I feel strongly that it does. Finding a way in this world is not easy. This album shares a lot of thoughts, feelings, opinions, and ideas on ways to make it much easier. It offers some positive ideas and solutions for our 21st century realities.”
On the CD, while Paul Lopez on Aqua Dulce plays drums and percussion, the Jefferson Jay Band’s new drummer is “My loving girlfriend, Leanne Pearl. She’s a natural. She played drums for the first time less than a year ago, and almost instantly she was rocking out with the band. She’s a special talent, blending in seamlessly with four guys who’ve been playing collectively forever.”
Jay met returning cover artist John Warner when the illustrator was still living in San Diego, before moving to Austin and then Philly. “He’s done all five of my album covers, and many of my posters. I spent a lot of time thinking about what image pops into my mind when I think of Gift to Be Alive. I think of a sunset and the ocean. Nature constantly reminds of how beautiful and precious life is. I found a great picture of a sunset online, and John did the rest. He’s been getting huge gigs lately, like Further tour and Warren Haynes, and he’ll have a book coming out with his poster art.”
Asked about his Worst Gig Ever, Jay recalls “It was probably the time we played the old Dream Street. They paid us six bucks for the whole band, and gave us a half-beer each. World-class bad vibe.”
In February 2012, Jay launched Happy Hour Open Mic (Thursday, 6–9 p.m.) at Winstons in Ocean Beach. “They told me that this was the first acoustic open mic they’ve done in 25 years.”
His new track “I Love Ocean Beach,” mixing spoken word with electronica, was posted on his SoundCloud page in early 2013.
"I'm releasing a 5-record set called Spring," said Jay in early 2021. "The records will be released one at a time, initially available exclusively through me for donations. One hundred percent goes to our groundbreaking, inclusive, animated series, The Hunt for the Holiday Spirit." The first of the five titles, Welcome, is available now for pre-order.