The Elderberry Jak Story
Imagine a time: Without cable TV, when more in-home screens were black-andwhite than color.
When FM radio stations were exceptions, not rules. When interstates and other four-lane highways were in their infancy.
Elderberry Jak was and is arguably the finest rock band to come out West Virginia. It is certainly an arguable case if its single album is an accurate indicator, as the recording reveals a quartet as strong as any number of its more well-known, more commercially successful hard rock contemporaries -- bands such as Free, the James Gang, the Guess Who, and Three Dog Night -- all with which Elderberry Jak shared a variety of sonic attributes.
The band came together in the fall of 1969, with bass player Dave Coombs and lead vocalist Joe Cerisano as its co-founders. The two had previously played together in Coombs' outfit J.B. and the Bonnevilles. The Bonnevilles formed in 1965 and developed over the next few years into the most outstanding and popular group in the entire state of West Virginia. The band annually headed to Somers Point, NJ, during the summers to act as house band at a shore club called Bayshores. By 1968, Cerisano had joined the band, his first serious professional foray into the music business (though he had played with various bands in his hometown of Fairmont), still just a 17-year-old minor, and when the Somers Point trip arrived that year, Coombs and his wife actually became the legal guardians of the young singer for a time.
Upon the demise of J.B. and the Bonnevilles in 1969, the duo formed a new unit called Kaboose, which lasted seven months. Then, with the addition of Tom Nicholas on guitar and Joe Hartman behind the drum kit, they became Elderberry Jak, named after the elderberry wine made by an uncle of Coombs. The quartet had soon become a powerful unit, mixing hard-driving rock with invigoratingly tight funk. The band traveled throughout their home states, Ohio and Pennsylvania, for performances, eventually earning a record deal with Kenny's brother Leland Rogers in Memphis. The result was the first-rate Long Overdue, released in 1970.
After the band's demise, the members scattered with Cerisano, most significantly, remaining in the music business as a professional singer, soon heading for work in New Jersey and then New York, before ultimately gravitating to Los Angeles where he started the band Silver Condor and was signed to Columbia Records, releasing a pair of albums in the early '80s. After returning home to West Virginia, he continued to work not only solo (in TV and radio commercials, among other projects) but also sang with or for a wealth of acclaimed musicians, from Jimmy Webb, Richie Havens, and Bo Diddley to Black Sabbath and Korn. As the dawn of the new century arrived, he could still be found fronting the Trans-Siberian Orchestra.