The judge is in
L.A. band set to rev crowd at Big Bear Choppers Ride the Mountain
By ARRISSIA OWEN TURNER
Published: Wednesday, June 16, 2010 7:38 AM PDT
It was 15 years ago when Judge Jackson lead singer Todd McTavish met guitarist Lee Jackson in the front room of his apartment. Jackson was at the L.A. home McTavish shared with a female bartender from the famous Sunset Strip bar Whiskey-a-go-go. Jackson was meeting with McTavish’s roommate’s boyfriend to learn songs for a hired gun-gig playing guitar on a six-week tour in Hawaii.
When the boyfriend got distracted with his girlfriend the roommate in the back room, McTavish inadvertently stole the man’s guitarist. The two started talking about songwriting styles and the possibility of working together after Jackson returned to the mainland. “We had immediate chemistry,” McTavish says.
The next day, Jackson stopped packing his bags. “He called the next day and said, ‘Screw getting back from Hawaii. Let’s do this,’” McTavish recalls. The two got to work matching lyrics with chords. Then they matched a name to the sound.
While the band isn’t necessarily a Southern rock band, they wanted a name that summed up the Southern flavor they identified with. As the two became acquainted, Jackson mentioned his father, a Texas court judge in Dallas, Judge Jackson.
The name immediately resonated. “It just sort of fell into place,” McTavish says. While Judge Jackson wasn’t immediately in favor of the idea, he’s grown to be one of the band’s biggest fans, McTavish says.
The band has a few more misleading habits. Not only will this be Judge Jackson’s third time playing Big Bear Choppers Ride the Mountain event come June 19 at Snow Summit Resort in Big Bear Lake, they’re veterans of other chopper-themed events, as well. They’ve played the Laughlin and Sturgis bike runs. But they’re not bikers.
So they are not Southern rock, not judges and they’re not bikers. What are they?
“It’s honest music for honest people,” McTavish says. “No smoke and mirrors, just the straight goods. … We do have a lot of songs about being out on the road, and I think that is where they (bikers) identify with the music.”
The band’s fifth studio album, “Drive,” out Aug. 3, offers straight-up rock ’n roll in the vein of Guns ’ n Roses, Lynard Skynard, Gov’t Mule and Buckcherry. Their amped-up songs have soundtracked everything from the TV shows “My Name is Earl” and the NASCAR reality show “Victory Lane” to the Stanley Cup finals, Monday Night Football and the NBA.
Judge Jackson evolved during the years, with McTavish and Jackson remaining the band’s backbone. The most recent additions are bassist Brian “Chuey” James and drummer J.J. Garcia, making the band complete.
“Any band will tell you it’s the relationship, the chemistry,” McTavish says. “When you get along, it’s a big deal. Half of it has been about writing some great songs and the other is about the boys club. We’ve always liked that feel to it. We are honored we get to play with each other. Every gig is the same gig to me—whether we’re playing in front of 50,000 people or five, we’re honored to play and give 100 percent.”
For McTavish, being a front man didn’t necessarily come naturally. He got into music because of his affinity for songwriting. But the elation that comes with entertaining and working a room did take root early. The first time he felt the call of the crowd was at age 15 as a camp counselor in training.
To entertain the kids, McTavish and the other counselors put together a stage show complete with air guitar and broom handles standing in as mike stands. McTavish gave Foreigner’s “Jukebox Hero” his all. The crowd went wild.
“It went off like the Beatles,” McTavish remembers. “I still remember the ringing of people screaming in my head. There was a moment when I thought that was pretty cool. That was a bit of a rush. There was this moment of performing in front of people you can’t help but be moved by.” It’s what drives him.