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Amazed and amused

Josh Joplin riffs on fans, heroes, books and, of course, music.

By GINA VIVINETTO

© St. Petersburg Times, published June 28, 2001


"I've never been on the road with a hunk before," says Josh Joplin, laughing, from his hotel room on a tour stop in Virginia. Joplin fronts the Josh Joplin Group from Atlanta, opening act for alt-country rock heroes Old 97's, who arrive in St. Petersburg Saturday. "I've never been on the road with a hunk before," says Josh Joplin, laughing, from his hotel room on a tour stop in Virginia. Joplin fronts the Josh Joplin Group from Atlanta, opening act for alt-country rock heroes Old 97's, who arrive in St. Petersburg Saturday.

Joplin, 28, is amused by the screaming females in the front rows during Old 97's set, females who hold signs proposing marriage to singer-guitarist Rhett Miller.

"It's like the Beatles or something," Joplin says. "It's crazy."

Not exactly an eyesore himself, Jolpin claims he's not yet experienced this kind of fervent fan reaction. He's glad.

"It would make me so nervous," Joplin says. "I couldn't handle something like that."

So, fans must love the singer-guitarist for his music. After all, the band's recently re-released debut Useful Music showcases its seamless blend of unplugged and electric guitars, punchy hooks and Joplin's literate lyrics. So literate, in fact, that Joplin, a fiction lover, refers in song to a few writing idols. Who's Afraid of Thomas Wolfe? is a poignant examination of the joys and dangers of going home again.

Joplin also name-drops other heroes, including folk singer Phil Ochs. After dropping out of high school as a teen, Joplin embarked on a "pilgrimage," driving around the country visiting the homes of his musical influences. Joplin stopped at the houses of Pete Seeger, Bob Dylan and Woody Guthrie.

Was the experience intense?

"Well, I had a heat stroke at the Buddy Holly statue in Lubbock, Texas," Joplin says, laughing.

The first concert Joplin attended was a Pete Seeger performance. Joplin's parents took him when he was a child.

"It was just this old man with a banjo," Joplin recalls. "He had Arlo Guthrie up there. It was really neat."

As a teen, Joplin listened to hard-core punk rock. The singer says he sees a lineage from the socially conscious folk singers of the past to politically charged bands such as Minor Threat.

"There's a parallel, definitely," Joplin says. "Hard-core has always been attached to a cause or multiple causes. There's an intensity about guys like (Fugazi's) Ian MacKaye and 7 Seconds that's the same as singers like Phil Ochs."

Joplin's listening fare is now more mellow. In fact, some may think it's a little kooky. Joplin still relishes the British synth-pop of his youth, citing favorites such as Howard Jones, Haircut 100 and other danceable acts that wore make-up and sported silly hairdos.

The most embarrassing music in Joplin's collection?

"That would have to be Guilty by Barbra Streisand and Barry Gibb." Joplin sings several bars over the phone, then laughs.

"Yeah, it's pretty horrible."

Joplin's interest in eclectic music, coupled with his last name -- a recurring one in the history of American music -- may make some suspicious of his own lineage. Is Josh Joplin related to turn-of-the-century ragtime innovator Scott or 1960s blues rock-powerhouse Janis?

"I never say," answers Joplin, sounding coy.

Because the pressure on him would become too great?

"Exactly."

PREVIEW

Old 97's and the Josh Joplin Group perform at 8:30 p.m. Saturday at State Theatre, 687 Central Ave., St. Petersburg. $14. (727) 895-3045.

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