L.A. musician honors hometown of Elizabeth in new CD release

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ELIZABETH, NJ — Joe Normal, born and raised in Elizabeth, pays homage to his hometown in his newest compact disc release, “Public Works.” He pays homage to the beautiful park in his songs, “Warinanco Pond” and “Bayway Refinery,” which is on the border of Elizabeth and Linden. Then there’s “Small Town Factory,” about Wilson Jones Co., where his father worked.

“It wasn’t New York City; it was good old Elizabeth,” Normal said. “All the bands led me to where I am now. There’s no filter. No pretense. Stuff everyday people relate to.”

Growing up in Elizabeth, Normal, also known by his real name, Joe Hutchinson, saw how music impacted his older sisters. “My sister Rita was the cool, hip chick with platform shoes,” he said. “She came home with T-Rex and Beatles records. My sister Ellen had Queen, ‘News of the World.’”

But Normal didn’t want to be the one enjoying the music; he wanted to make music. He took piano lessons in school, but couldn’t track the notes on the page, so he began playing by ear. “I wanted to play piano in the school band,” he said. “I wasn’t good enough. The teacher put me on drums.”

Playing along with trumpet and string musicians was cool for Normal, as he loved The Beatles’ “Magical Mystery Tour” album. “There were strings, flutes. ‘Fool on the Hill’ — it was melodic,” he said.

Normal, along with his younger brother Jimmy, spent the last few years of high school in cover bands. Now Jimmy was on drums, and Normal played guitar.

They auditioned to be in a band with Sammy Serious, who also lived in Elizabeth. “Sammy hung out with my older sister,” Normal said. “He was like the rock star of our town. He said, ‘I’m looking for a drummer and guitar player.’ I said, ‘That’s me and my brother.’”

The name of the band was The Double O Zeros. They played glam metal and glam punk. Their ticket to popularity came when they recorded a theme song for Howard Stern, “H-O-W-A-R-D S-T-E-R-N,” which he opened his WNBC AM radio show with each morning. “Howard loved the song,” Normal said. “It spoke to his personality. It helped us go up the next level of the ladder.”

After releasing a vinyl EP on New Jersey’s Mountain Records titled “Be A Zero,” the band, which also included Mace Byers on bass, moved to England. Within a month, they were headlining The Marquee. “I got a lot of great memories from that,” Normal said.

Unfortunately, being unable to renew their Visas for a second time, they had to leave the country. “We went home with our tails between our legs,” said Normal. “Went back to our old jobs. It was a tough time, emotionally.”

The good news was the glam rock scene was exploding in L.A. With a one-way ticket, the band headed for the west coast. “It took a little time,” d Normal. “We ended up with the manager from Poison. He really showed us how to make an impact. Danny Dangerous from California joined the band. He was a cartoon character everybody loved. We shortened our name to The Zeros. We all had purple hair.” The Zeros also wore custom-made Converse thigh-high sneakers.

However, they had a hard time getting a record deal. Even though they were selling out hot night clubs such as the Whiskey a Go Go — two nights in a row — the label couldn’t understand what to do with the band. While bands such as Skid Row were getting big, The Zeros were kind of in-between. They had metal fans, punk fans, goth fans.

“A blended audience,” Normal said. “The labels couldn’t pigeonhole us.”

Eventually, they ended up on an indie label, but they didn’t have the backing that major labels did. “L.A. Guns and Guns N’ Roses were getting the big deal, tour buses. We didn’t get that,” Normal said. “We always thought over the top. No shame in that. Look at Kiss. We just couldn’t get there with the limited sources.”

The band also had their inner troubles. “After being together for 10 years, we imploded,” said Normal.

After Normal and his brother left The Zeros, they started The Hutchinsons. “Our sound was somewhere between Jellyfish and They Might Be Giants. Both of those bands were influential.”

Normal also worked with Dangerous, who played bass, forming the psychobilly band Cold Blue Rebels with vocalist Mickey Finn of Jetboy and drummer Spazz Draztik of Glamour Punks. He even had a solo effort called Hutch; a nickname he had in junior high.

With Hutch, Normal got an indie record deal with a power pop label Smile Records. The album “Turn It Around” was released in 2002 and Hutch appeared as a support act for The Smithereens and with Dramarama in Southern California.

Looking back at his musical journey, the 60-year-old fondly remembers other successful Union County based indie bands, such as The Characters and Pharoah.

He said, “You’re trying to find your true voice over the years. I always went back to Elizabeth, New Jersey — the roots. I’m a blue-collar, working-class storyteller with a glam rock heart.”

To learn more about Joe Normal, visit: https://joenormalusa.com/home.

Photos Courtesy of Joe Normal