Jake Jacobs was born in Brooklyn in 1942. When he was thirteen he would get
a headache every Tuesday. They were mostly school-related. His parents told him to lay down in their bedroom where there was a radio near the bed. That was when he heard Frankie Lymon and the Teenagers singing "Why Do Fools Fall in Love." Jake already loved music, but this was something else. It was about the best thing he ever heard. Soon he was singing harmony with the Five Plaids* and Claude and the Emeralds.
About a year later, and loving the music of the Everly Brothers, Buddy Holly and Elvis Presley, Jake got his first guitar for $13. About this time he also heard Pete Seeger and the Weavers, and folk music became part of his life. He met Andrea "Bunky" Skinner at the School of Visual Arts in 1962, and Bunky and Jake became soulmates for life. They started playing together and soon discovered the Greenwich Village music scene. There were numerous little coffee houses where they would play and then pass the basket for money or whatever else was put in. They loved the songs of Bob Dylan (who would become a Bunky and Jake fan), Fred Neil, Richie Havens and Tim Hardin, and passed the basket alongside Stephen Stills, Peter Tork, Charlie Chin, Tom Ghent and many others. After a while, Bunky and Jake decided they could make more money playing separately, but they reunited in 1968 and recorded two albums for Mercury Records: Bunky and Jake and L.A.M.F.
In those Village days, Jake discovered the music of the Reverend Gary Davis and was lucky enough to take a few lessons from one of the best finger-style players ever, who is still an influence to this day. Jake became friends with David Blue and would sometime accompany him on guitar at the Gaslight Cafe. Bunky and Jake would also go to Gerde's Folk City where they would accompany Big Bruce, a large fellow who played Bo Diddley and Chuck Berry songs. Jake would play harmonica with Major Wiley, and he also met and accompanied Karen Dalton, and was highly impressed with her singing and folk interpretations.
In 1964, with the arrival of the Beatles, lots of folk and blues players started plugging in their guitars. Lefty Baker (later of Spanky and Our Gang) told Jake of a band that needed a guitarist. Garry Bonner had an incredible voice that won him and his singing group first prize at amateur night at the Apollo Theater and drummer Alan Gordon from Brooklyn was already a published songwriter. When Jake walked in the door for his audition with his hair sticking out from under his cap and a guitar across his back, Alan yelled "He's in!" Jake brought John Townley, a folk friend of his, and together they became the Magicians. They played at the Night Owl Cafe on West Third Street alongside the Blues Magoos, the Strangers (with Peter Gallway) and many other bands.
The Magicians recorded three singles for Columbia Records, including " An Invitation To Cry." They drove west to Las Vegas for a Columbia Records convention in a rented van driven by a friend of Alan Gordon who was a pro wrestler called the “Alabama Plowboy." (His real name was Ronny and he was a Jewish guy from Brooklyn.) They then drove to Los Angeles, played the Whisky A Go Go, met the McCoys and visited David Crosby, who was a friend of John Townley. After the band broke up in 1966, John built Apostolic Recording Studio, where a lot of great music was made, and Alan Gordon and Garry Bonner wrote "Happy Together" and several other songs for the Turtles, "Celebrate" for Three Dog Night, and many more. Alan Gordon once said that "Melancholy Music Man," recorded by the Righteous Brothers, was written about Jake. Check it out on youtube!
While sweeping the office at the Bitter End, Jake heard that songwriter Mike Settle ( later with Kenny Rogers and the First Edition) needed a bass player. They drove to Denver playing coffee-house-type places. While in Chicago Jake met Malcolm Hale who played and sang with Spanky and Our Gang. "We played guitar straight through the night," Jake remembers. Malcolm died of accidental carbon monoxide poisoning about a year later.
In 1967, Jake was brought into the Fugs by guitarist Stephan Grossman. The Fugs were poets Ed Sanders, Tuli Kupferberg and Ken Weaver, and at that time they had Vinny Leary and Lee Crabtree on guitar and keyboard. Ken played drums and Jake brought in friend Jeff Outlaw to play bass. Jake recalls playing at colleges when Allan Ginsburg was the opening act. (Once, in a cab with Ed Sanders and Allen Ginsberg going over the Golden Gate Bridge, Ginsberg took out his harmonium and sang "Hare Krishna.") In San Francisco Jake found himself and the other Fugs in the dressing room of Janis Joplin at the Fillmore sharing a bottle of Southern Comfort with her. For more of Jake's escapades with the Fugs, see:
In 1968, Bunky and Jake started writing songs. They sang them for Art Polhemus and Bob Wyld, who previously produced the Magicians. They got a deal with Mercury Records and found themselves in a studio with a rhythm section and 13 old guys with violins. Pianist Frank Owens wrote the string arrangement. Bunky and Jake were knocked out. They put together a little band with Eric Oxendine (later Richie Havens' bass player) and Bob Grenier on drums. They played their first gig at the Cafe Au Go Go, where they were sandwiched between the Steve Miller Blues Band (with Boz Scaggs) and John Fahey. A little later they got Michael Rosa on drums and Doug Rauch on bass and did some traveling. They found themselves in Florida opening a show for Blood, Sweat and Tears. Jake hung out and went sailing with Fred Neil. They opened for John Hammond at a club in Coconut Grove only to lose their pay to John at a poker game later that night.
Bunky and Jake became regulars at the Bitter End and opened for Joni Mitchell, David Steinberg, Jerry Jeff Walker and others. On their second album, besides Mike and Doug, they had help from friends Felix Pappalardi (bass), Buzzy Linhart (vibes and vocals), Charlie Chin ( vocals), Mike Matthews (organ ) and Perry Robinson (clarinet). They were featured in Rolling Stone in 1969 in an issue that had Sun Ra on the front cover and Jake on the back. Sometime around 1970, Bunky and Jake went their separate ways, but they had an enduring relationship that lasted for fifty years. They would do an album for kids in 1993, and in 2011 they spent a lot of time hanging out together like the old days and working on Jake's A Lick and a Promise CD. Bunky died on March 20, 2011.
In the early 70s, Jake put together Jake and the Family Jewels, made two albums for Polydor and more or less kept that band going till 1995. Jake thinks there have been about 60 different Jewels. Again they played the Bitter End with folks like Dion, Bill Withers, Kris Kristofferson, Bob Neuwith and many others. They also played at Mike Porco's Gerde's Folk City and at the Fillmore East and The Bottom Line. Sometime during the early years, around 1971, Jake met NRBQ. Through the years, Jake and the Jewels have appeared with the Q on many occasions. Jake has cowritten songs with Terry Adams and Joey Spampinato, done guest vocals on their albums, and at many Q shows Terry would bring Jake out to sing some harmony with the boys. In 2012 NRBQ played at the Iridium in NYC, where Jake sang "Umbrella, "
a song written by Terry and sung by Jake on Terry's Rhythm Spell album. On Jake's new album, A Lick and a Promise
(see reviews) Terry played piano, organ and toy piano on "Just a Stone's Throw. "
Jake is currently writing songs for a new album with the working title of "Pygmy's Progress".
The Family Jewels did a reunion concert at the 2nd annual Drydock Festival in Connecticut and Jake is starting to play out as a solo in NYC.
*Peter Gallway wrote a song about the Five Plaids called
"Jake and the Five Plaids".
I want to thank
Dan Mansolino for making this website possible.
Dennis Woloch (wolochdesign.com) and Kathleen Otis for designing the site.
Olga Spiegel for the "Lucky Boy" video.
Johnny D'Angelis for helping with the biography.
Murray Weinstock for his contribution on the reviews page.
And friend Peter Gallway for writing by “Jake and the Five Plaids“ which appears
on the “Hat Check Girl” CD “Six Bucks Shy” with partner Annie Gallup.