As a mem­ber of Joshua Tree tour sup­port act Lone Jus­tice, Maria McKee met Frank Si­na­tra with U2, par­tied with Clash leg­end Mick Jones and pro­vided in­spi­ra­tion for a mooted Bono film script.

Hot Press - - 30Joshuatree - By Colm O’Hare

Lone Jus­tice were one of sev­eral acts who sup­ported U2 on their record-break­ing Joshua Tree tour, which first criss-crossed Amer­ica be­fore tri­umphantly head­ing to Europe. Hav­ing emerged from LA’s bur­geon­ing cow-punk scene, they blended coun­try-rock with punk to forge an ex­cit­ing roots rock sound. Later, the band’s singer Maria McKee would go on to en­joy a suc­cess­ful solo ca­reer both as a song­writer – pen­ning hits like Fer­gal Sharkey’s ‘A Good Heart’ – and as a per­former, scor­ing a UK num­ber one with the bal­lad ‘Show Me Heaven’.

But back then, Lone Jus­tice were an­other young band hun­gry for suc­cess. The group had al­ready played US dates on the Un­for­get­table Fire tour and were friends of U2 when the up­wardly mo­bile Dublin­ers asked to join the band on the Joshua

Tree trek. Strangely enough, McKee says she wasn’t a huge U2 fan ini­tially.

“Well, it’s kind of com­pli­cated,” she be­gins. “Lone Jus­tice formed as a sort of re­ac­tion to post-punk and new wave – that kind of clean­cut, post-Bowie, new ro­man­tic pop that was around at the time. We were into roots rock and coun­try and hill­billy and all that stuff. Shap­ing it into some­thing new with a punk en­ergy was our main thing. We would have ap­pre­ci­ated U2 as mu­si­cians but to us they were al­most in that MTV/ new wave cat­e­gory, so I wouldn’t have paid that much at­ten­tion to them, and I would have seen them as part of the old guard.”

How­ever, once McKee saw them in concert she was smit­ten, as she re­lates.

“When they first in­vited us to tour with them we went to see them play and I thought ‘wow you know, re­spect’, be­cause their live show was so oth­er­worldly. And Bono’s voice was just in­cred­i­ble, he would truly soar. It was oper­atic, al­most high church, rev­er­en­tial and trans­for­ma­tive. So ab­so­lutely, I be­came a fan. I was raised in a Chris­tian church and they were out­spo­kenly Chris­tian so there was that con­nec­tion too.”

In to­tal, Lone Jus­tice opened for U2 57 times and, as McKee re­calls, some nights were more mem­o­rable than oth­ers.

“I’ll never for­get the time we played in Las Ve­gas. There’s a fa­mous co­me­dian, Don Rick­les, one of the fun­ni­est peo­ple who ever lived, and his son Larry, who is no longer with us, was a big U2 fan. He ar­ranged for the band to come and see Frank Si­na­tra per­form in a small room – I think it was at Cae­sar’s Palace and Don Rick­les was sup­port­ing Frank at the time. So we all went along and saw Frank up-close in this tiny, tiny venue.

All the U2 guys were there and Frank was mak­ing wise­cracks on­stage about U2 sub­marines or some­thing. But I think he knew that this band was big and that they were on a big tour at the time.

“Af­ter­wards, we went back­stage and met him. I’m sure it was the first-time Bono had met Frank. That night changed my life ba­si­cally – I thought he was the great­est singer who ever lived and Frank and I had a moment (laughs). I was a very young blonde and dressed a bit like Grace Kelly and he did a kind of an old-time vaudeville dou­ble-take. But he was very gra­cious – he told me I was beau­ti­ful. Any time af­ter that if I was hav­ing a bad hair day I would just think about Frank and how beau­ti­ful he said I was.”

McKee says she re­mem­bers tour­ing Europe as be­ing like a hol­i­day.

“I ended up call­ing it the ‘U2 Lone Jus­tice Coun­try Club Tour’ be­cause it was lit­er­ally like a va­ca­tion pack­age,” she laughs. “It was when they were do­ing big open air fes­ti­val type shows – and

"Bono’s voice was just in­cred­i­ble, he would truly soar. It was oper­atic, al­most high church, rev­er­en­tial and trans­for­ma­tive."

they would al­ter­nate sup­port acts. Some nights it’d be The Pre­tenders, or Big Au­dio Dy­na­mite or Lou Reed, and some nights it’d be us. I re­mem­ber we did Wem­b­ley and in Italy we’d per­form in Rome – get on­stage and play for about 20 min­utes and then we’d have three days off. My road­ies and I would just train-hop and visit all the sights – it was just crazy and so much fun. Then I be­came a part of Mick Jones’ en­tourage with Don Letts and those guys and they knew where all the un­der­ground clubs and house par­ties were. I was very in­ex­pe­ri­enced in those days – I didn’t drink and I was still a vir­gin, but I was also an old punk and I was keen to see what was go­ing on. It was al­ways Don Letts who would say, ‘Who’s look­ing af­ter Maria?’ I was very un­cor­rupted in those days.”

Did she have any favourite songs from the

Joshua Tree al­bum?

“Gosh I’m try­ing to re­mem­ber them now. ‘God’s Coun­try’ is just gor­geous – one of the great­est song they’ve recorded.

It’s per­fec­tion. Ev­ery­thing about it is so beau­ti­ful: the gui­tar, the lyrics, all of of it. A lot of times, if we were in Cleve­land or some­where like that, I would hang around back­stage af­ter we played and I’d watch their show. Sud­denly. the tour man­ager De­nis Shee­han – God rest his soul – would burst into my dress­ing room and grab me and shout, ‘Bono wants you on­stage now’. He’d sneak me up on­stage and Bono would bring me out to sing. It would usu­ally be some­thing like [sings], ‘How long, to sing

this song…’ Then he’d fool around and maybe go into Dolly Par­ton and Kenny Rogers’ ‘Is­lands In The Stream’ or ‘Sweet Jane’.”

Did Bono pick her brain about Amer­ica dur­ing that time?

“Oh, I don’t know that I was his gate­way into Amer­ica or any­thing like that. Bono and I be­came close friends and he knew al­most ev­ery­thing about me. I re­mem­ber he wanted to write a script about a girl singer and he wanted to read my jour­nals. But I grew up in Bev­erly Hills and I was a theatre stu­dent – I’m not ex­actly the paragon of typ­i­cal Amer­i­can cul­ture. LA is a dif­fer­ent kind of Amer­ica.

“I don’t re­ally see Bono much any­more – his life is a lot dif­fer­ent to mine. His wife [Ali] is still a friend of mine – we reach out now and then and see each other oc­ca­sion­ally. But I have an en­tire life in Ire­land that is sa­cred to me. I have two best friends who are mar­ried, who I met al­most 30 years ago, when they were teenagers. They have chil­dren who are my God chil­dren and they have made my life kind of com­plete. So, I can hon­estly say that if it wasn’t for my re­la­tion­ship with Bono and the band, there’d be a whole part of my life that doesn’t ex­ist. Ire­land is my sec­ond home – it’s my home away from home. I feel al­most more at home there than I do here.”

Fi­nally, is there an out­side chance that Maria might end up on­stage with U2 at some point dur­ing the Joshua Tree 30th An­niver­sary tour?

“Oh, I doubt it very much,” she laughs. “Would I do it if I was asked? They’re fam­ily to me so, of yes, course I would.”

Home thoughts from abroad: Maria in Cal­i­for­nia

The cover of Lone Jus­tice's epony­mous 1985 al­bum

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