Primitive Origins: Josefus’ “Dead Man”

Primitive Origins is a column where we’ll look back at proto-metal and early metal that deserves a bit of your battered eardrum’s attention. We’re keeping it loose and easy here: there’s no strict guidelines other than it’s gotta be old, it helps if it’s obscure, and it’s gotta rock out surprisingly hard for its context. Pscyh-ed out proto-metal from the late ’60s? Of course. Early attempts at doom metal from the ’70s? Hell yeah. Underground Soviet metal from the early ’80s? Sure. Bring it on. Bring it all on.

We’ve all seen this album cover around, and most of us have gone so far as to pick it up, stare at it for a while in the record store, then put it back down. But, next time this happens, you’d be wise to purchase the 1970 album Dead Man from early southern rock/hard rock/almost-proto-metal pioneers Josefus. While the Texas band doesn’t have the downtuned heaviness of a Black Sabbath, they have the riffs of a Lynyrd Skynyrd, and they turn those riffs up to at least 9 on Dead Man.

“Crazy Man” kicks off this album, which is the Texas band’s second. It’s a very ’70s sound, with ramblin-man riffs and a very Zeppelin vibe. It’s a great, easy, of-the-era hard rock song, but it’s nowhere near as heavy as the album cover would have any of us believe. Second cut “I Need a Woman” heavies things up a bit by slowing them down, the beefed-up blues approaching Sabbath territory and owning a very cool main riff.

“Gimme Shelter” is up next, which just reminds us all of the annoying fact that bands used to cover each others’ songs when they were basically still brand new back in 1970. Granted, a cool song and a fine enough cover. “Country Boy” is up next, and while songs with names like that or variations thereof always threaten to be a bit hackneyed, this one delivers a decent enough riff and tune, and although things still aren’t as heavy as we want them to be from the cover art, the band is displaying an incredibly solid and agile approach to all sorts of ’70s sounds so far.

Josefus entertaining a crowd at a university in a time long past.

“Proposition” is next, and the band lays down a killer heavy riff here, one that definitely leans into Sabbath; play it loud and you can hear the early germination of southern metal beginning. I’m not saying there wouldn’t be a Soilent Green without this song, but one can imagine their point B starting with Josefus’ point A with this cool cut.

“Situation” races past in a nice, clean, crisp and efficient manner, the band doing a quick, southern rock blaster that is pretty hard to deny. Like a lot of the album, no one’s saying these guys should have taken over the world with songs like this, but it’s a ton of fun to listen to.

Now, as we lean into the closing title track, one thing becomes clear: this is more blues-based hard rock than any kind of boundary-pushing proto-metal. The band is often mentioned in proto-metal discussions, but speaking on a strictly sonic level, there’s nothing here that wouldn’t sound out of place on a Zeppelin record save the killer riffing in “Proposition,” which is totally the track here metalheads should get to know.

The band playing at their last show of their original run, at a Texas auto show.

So, back to the title track. Well, it goes on… and on… and on. For over 17 minutes. Look, when bands weren’t covering other bands’ brand new songs in 1970 (argh, I just hate that so much), they were “jamming” (sigh), and those jams may have worked live when everyone was stoned out of their minds and, admittedly, it is great to see band members feeding off each other live during a successful jam. But sitting around at home in 2017 listening to it? Just spin “Proposition” a couple more times instead.

Despite that hiccup, Dead Man is a cool historical piece, one that may not be a proto-metal game changer, but one definitely worth spending time with to check out some cool early hard rock that flirted with heavy southern, which, again, gives it some historical value to discerning NOLA metal fans of today.

Josefus’ Dead Man The Decibel breakdown:

Do I need to be stoned to listen to this?: No, which is surprising, all things considered.

Heaviness factor: More heavy southern than proto-metal.

Obscura Triviuma: The Netflix show Narcos used Dead Man‘s opener “Crazy Man” on its soundtrack, which is all sorts of awesome. Also many other kinds of awesome: the band played their last show during their first era at an auto show in Texas.

Other albums: A handful, including two others from their original run: 1969’s Get Off My Case and 1970’s self-titled, which came out after Dead Man.

Related bands: Come (Josefus under a different name, only happened for a brief spell), Dave Mitchell Guitar Orchestra

Alright, fine, if you must: Weed.