Move to their groove

The latest offering from Jefferson Berry and The UAC is ripe with great folk

Jefferson Berry
Jefferson Berry & The UAC just released their latest album, “Double Deadbolt Logic.” | Image: Lisa Schaffer

Fairmount resident Jefferson Berry & The UAC, a folk-rock band composed of a coalition that consists of three to seven musicians playing dynamic, danceable songs about the city, good love/bad love and these strange times, just released its latest album, “Double Deadbolt Logic.”  

Berry is an original member of the PFS Musicians’ Co-op, has played the Philadelphia Folk Festival several times and can be seen at many Philadelphia Folksong Society events.

The band is anchored by the virtuosity of Bud Burroughs, Dave Brown and Marky B. Berkowitz. While appealing to both jam-band and folk audiences alike, the band is driven by the bass and drums cadre of Uncle Mike and David Rapoport. Complementing all this with a variety of guitar styles, Berry’s songwriting brings a contemporary point of view to a unique wing of Philadelphia’s regional music scene. 

When he’s not making music, Berry is a government and economics teacher for the Excel Academy South – one of the Camelot Schools run for the Philadelphia School District. He was Symere Woods’ teacher – aka rapper Lil Uzi Vert.

Highlights fromDouble Deadbolt Logic” include album opener, “At The Festival” – a mandolin and acoustic guitar tune born at 3am at the Falcon Ridge, Philly or Kerrville Folk Festivals. “Ghosts of California” was written about running away from one’s former home and the guilty return. All Philadelphians will relate to “Get To The Shore,” a summer love song.

“The challenge songwriters have in these strange times is to come up with songs that are relevant, yet entertaining. Whether it’s the self-validation of social media or our society’s obsession with guns, I think the Coalition has delivered a record here that moves you to the groove,” says Berry.

PW recently caught up with Berry to talk about the new album and life during these strange times.

How have you been handling the pandemic and all of the ensuing closures? Has it impacted your performance schedule?

I think the band has been handling it very well. None of us have been laid off of our day jobs, so we’re not facing the economic issues so many musicians are. And we’ve adjusted creatively to the new world order of COVID. “More tech, please.”

Double Deadbolt Logic was going to drop at the beginning of April, and we had shows scheduled before and after the release date to support the new album. We played only one of those, March 5. It was at a packed brewpub in North Philly. Dodged a bullet there, I guess.

Haven’t seen the guys since, but we’ve kept a presence here in April and May with several internet-based projects. I got close to a thousand views streaming a solo show on the Americana Highways site. There’s been a steep learning curve with lighting and staging in my basement.

Our mandolin player, Bud Burroughs, is far more tech savvy. He created multitrack video tributes to John Prine and Bill Withers that were well received.

In April, WXPN’s Gene Shay died of the coronavirus. I wrote a song to celebrate his life, shot it on an iPhone and sent it to Bud and the UAC’s chromatic harp player, Mark Berkowitz. They recorded their parts and our photographer, Lisa Schaffer, opened up her vault of Gene Shay photos for the project. “That Guy Was Fun” came together nicely without any of us actually playing together. It’s gotten some spins on folk radio shows, and our video got over 600 views in its first week….And we’ve still never actually played the song.

We have several projects like this in the works. Uncle Mike, our bass player, is the catalyst for a lot of this and we’ve come up with some new programs that our drummer David Rapoport is going to groove to.

Singer-songwriter Jefferson Berry is not only a staple on the Philadelphia music scene, he’s also the guy who taught history to Lil Uzi Vert. | Image courtesy: Lisa Schaffer

Talk a little about your new album, “Double Deadbolt Logic.” How did it come together? Did it turn out the way you hoped it would?

I write these songs with the strengths of the Coalition in mind. This is our third album, and our second with engineer Matt Muir at Kawari Studio in Wyncote. Matt is a killer drummer with an amazing ear. He keeps me in line and gets the best out of our soloists and singers. And the mixes are remarkably consistent when you consider we had four

bass players, five female vocalists and three keyboard players on the record.

Did it turn out the way I hoped? It was a journey with some amazing moments that I couldn’t have anticipated. Dave Brown’s fretless bass on “Rendezvous with Destiny.” Marky B! turning a song about stealing cars into a real screamer. And, of course the many amazing mandolin and keyboard parts from the best sideman in town, Bud Burroughs.

I wanted an album that struck a balance with a bunch of things. The UAC is an acoustic rock band, but we also have some deep folk roots. This means I’m telling stories with these songs and I think the album offers a nice range of these tales. Some are straight up social commentary on city living, but others are about getting out of town.

And then there’s the high-quality production the studio affords a song that then also has to work live. These songs are going to be a whole lotta fun live.

All Philadelphians will relate to “Get to the Shore,” a summer love song on the new album opening with “Just out of town on the bridge, you fell asleep. In the glow of the console, I’m driving us to the beach. We’re not alone on this mission, it’s Friday night, everyone’s going fishing, Wishing for nothing more, but to get to the shore.” How has living in Philly and the city’s entertainment scene influenced your music?

I love Philly, a town of neighborhoods. And by living in Fairmount, teaching inner city kids, the diversity here lends itself to the stories I like telling. 

Philly’s folk and rock communities have become a special part of my life here. The support musicians give one another has never been stronger. There are just so many collaborative moments that come to mind. Last summer, 3am at X-Fest on the grounds of Country Creek Winery in Telford, it’s the all-night jam. Jan Alba asks me to play something she can stretch out to on her flute. I pulled out an old tune of mine, “Troubles with the Mood.” She lit it up. Later we captured that magic for the record. There are so many moments like that with so many of the great players in the local folk-rock scene here.

I moved here in the ‘80s from California. So, my idea of beaching it is much different than Philly’s down the shore thing. I married a Jersey girl with beautiful blue eyes. It’s gonna be tough writing a better tune for her than “Get to the Shore.”

When you’re not making music, you’re a government and economics teacher for Excel Academy South – one of the Camelot Schools run for the Philadelphia School District. One of your most famous students is Symere Woods – aka rapper Lil Uzi Vert. How did you become interested in being a teacher? Do you think it has impacted you as a songwriter and performer?

I got into rock radio advertising in San Francisco in the ‘80s. It was an amazing time and I made pretty good money doing it. But after a while, I thought I’d like my life to end up being more than a 60-second spot for a “Summer Sale on all women’s sandals and shoes. 40% off, this weekend only.” So there was an atonement for the sins of a corporate actor that I knew I’d make. Someday.

Then, the recession of 2008 hit and I knew I needed to move on. Walked into the boss’s office and quit. I enrolled in the master’s program at Temple for a degree in American history. I enrolled in education certification courses at DelVal Community. Became a published historian – a unique thesis on Ben Franklin. And thought I’d go out to the suburbs to some cushy social studies job where the main source of conflict is the parents – “How dare you give my little Johnny a C! Now he won’t be able to go to Harvard.”

Turns out, social studies teachers are like flies – there are a million of them. So, I went to a school that works with the kids that don’t necessarily fit in. A tough place. Symere Woods was one of those kids, but man, you couldn’t take your eyes off him. Magnetic. He was in my African-American History course, which included a unit on the origins of hip hop. As the faculty advisor for the school talent show, he was my easy choice for MC.

A few years later, my director is talking about getting this hip-hop star to come back to talk to the current kids. Lil Uzi Vert. Now I’d heard of him, obviously, but I didn’t make the connection. “Ya, you know that kid you got to do the talent show, Symere Woods.” Well, you could have pushed me right over. Happy for him. And I’m down with how he’s come back to the neighborhoods to connect with the folks. Keepin’ it real in his Bugatti. I also taught Runup Rico. You’ll be hearing from him soon too.

Stay connected by visiting jeffersonberry.com or listen to the group’s latest effort via Soundcloud: soundcloud.com/jbacoustic-1-2   

  • Eugene Zenyatta was raised on old-time Memphis 'rasslin' and strongly prefers the company of dogs to people. His greatest heartbreak came in the 2010 Breeders' Cup Classic.