Jamiroquai

April 4, 2011

Born: 1992

Active beginning in the early ’90s, Jamiroquai has amassed a steady stream of hits in its native U.K. and experienced chart success in just about every other area of the world, with an irresistible blend of house rhythms and ’70s-era soul/funk (the latter, especially, leading early on to claims of Stevie Wonder imitations). The band has gone though several lineup changes during their career, but through it all their leader has remained singer/songwriter Jason Kay (aka J.K.). Born on December 30, 1969, in Stretford, Manchester, Kay’s mother, Karen, was a jazz singer who regularly performed at nightclubs, and in the ’70s had her own TV show. After leaving home at the age of 15, Kay found himself homeless and in trouble with the law (by committing petty crimes to get by). After a near-death experience (where he was attacked and stabbed) and being arrested for a crime he did not commit, Kay decided to return home, where he chose to pursue a legitimate career over crime: music. Kay didn’t have a band to back up his compositions, but he quickly came up with his future project’s name, The band name is a portmanteau of Jam session and “iroquai”, based on the Iroquois, a Native American tribe. The original band was Jay Kay (vocals), Toby Smith (keyboard), Stuart Zender (bass), Nick Van Gelder (drums), Wallis Buchanan (didgeridoo) and Alec Moran (pipeau). These are the founding members of Jamiroquai and were involved in the writing and production of the first album. The lineup of the band has changed several times, and the longest serving and now core members of the band are lead singer and songwriter Jason “Jay” Kay and drummer Derrick McKenzie (1994). Kay was the impetus behind the formation of Jamiroquai, deciding to form the band after an unsuccessful audition to become the singer of the Brand New Heavies. Despite his self-professed attempts to treat Jamiroquai as a band, Kay has always been at the forefront of how the group is marketed, and has therefore always had the lion’s share of media attention, to the point where he is viewed as almost a solo artist.

Kay’s home demos caught the attention of the record label Acid Jazz, which issued Jamiroquai’s debut single “When You Gonna Learn?” in late 1992. The single was a success and was soon followed by a long-term and lucrative recording contract with Sony. Jamiroquai’s full-length debut, Emergency on Planet Earth, followed in 1993 and became a major hit in their native England (peaking at number one on the charts), spawning such Top Ten hit singles as “Too Young to Die” and “Blow Your Mind.” The band’s second release, The Return of the Space Cowboy in 1995, managed to steer Jamiroquai clear of the sophomore jinx that affects so many up-and-coming bands by out-selling its predecessor in Europe and was a sizeable hit in Japan, as well.

With most of the world dancing to Jamiroquai’s beat, America was next in line for the band’s third effort, 1996’s Traveling Without Moving. The album spawned the worldwide hit “Virtual Insanity,” for which an award-winning video was filmed and helped the album achieve platinum status in the States by the year’s end (as well as a highlighted performance at the 1997 MTV Video Music Awards). After that, Jamiroquai contributed a brand-new track, “Deeper Underground,” to the soundtrack for the 1998 movie Godzilla.

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