Talkin' Blues with the Groovemaster, Jerry Jemmott
AAJ: You're actually the first person I've interviewed who knew Mike Bloomfield.
JJ: Ah, Mike Bloomfield. Wow.
AAJ: Well thank goodness Al Kooper discovered those tapes of the Super Session (Columbia) at the Fillmore East from 1968. And then when I heard it, Mike Bloomfield introduced you to the crowd, and I had no idea you'd played together. Did you know Mike prior to that night?
JJ: I knew him prior to that night and up until he died. I remember when he died. Jaco Pastorius and I were hanging out when we heard that Mike had died.
Mike and I worked a lot together in the studio, but there wasn't much chance to get too personal. I can't recall exactly which sessions; it might have been a session with the organ player Barry Goldberg.
Mike was cool, a generous guy, full of love, and he was a great musician..
AAJ: I like to pin down where guitarists' influences are from, but Bloomfield is a challenge in that regard. I don't know if Mike ever mentioned it, but I wonder if Cornell Dupree influenced his playingnot his single note playing, but he and Cornell both had that knack of playing in a way that's not quite lead, and not quite rhythm. Playing groups of notes moving up or down the neck.
JJ: Cornell certainly had that, and it's almost a lost art in a sense. I try to do something similar when I play bass, I have the basic part, but I also have a harmonic or melodic part that's going to intertwine. [Laughs] That's called good taste. Knowing what to play, and when to play it.
AAJ: What really struck me about that Fillmore concert is that it was truly musical history. You guys called Johnny Winter up on stage, and in Al Kooper's liner notes it mentions that concert was on a Friday night, and by Monday morning Johnny Winter had a record contract. You've been part of so many things in your career, but I'm guessing that seeing an unknown skinny albino from Texas with shoulder length white hair deliver the blues so powerfully is something you probably remember.
JJ: Right, I didn't know who he was, like you said, a tall skinny white guy from Texas coming up and playing his butt off. You know, I've done plenty of talent shows, or showcases, so for me that kind of thing was just another day at the office. You do your best to make the people sound good, but you just knock it out, like you know, "Who's next?"
But I'm glad to hear that it paid off for Johnny!
AAJ: Did Al Kooper give you a heads up that he was bringing that out, did you get an advance copy or anything?
JJ: No, I had no idea. I'd heard about it, because there were some bootleg copies going around, and people started sending them to me.
I saw Al at a book signing he was doing out in Long Island sometime after 2000, and I believe that was the first time I'd seen him since the session at the Fillmore. I think I've heard just about all of it, and I've got some nice reviews on it.
AAJ: I have the feeling that if Bernard Purdie had been with you that night, that might have been an iconic recording rather than disappearing in the vaults for over 30 years.
In the liner notes Al Kooper wrote that it was his mistake hiring John Cresci to play drums on that particular gig because he wasn't too familiar with Chicago style blues, and he stepped on your groove. Still, it was an amazing piece of history.
JJ: When those situations occur, it really puts an extra load on me, but it's my job to make the band sound goodsometimes it's easy, sometimes it's hard to do.
AAJ: Let me jog you memory on another time you worked with Mike Bloomfield. He and Nick Gravenites produced Otis Rush's Mourning in the Morning (Cotillion Records, 1969) in Muscle Shoals. What fascinated me is that you and Duane Allman played on those sessions with Mike Bloomfield.
JJ: Mike produced that record? That's funny, it was at F.A.M.E. in Muscle Shoals and I remember Otis, Duane, and Nick, but I don't remember Mike being there. It's been 40 years, that's a long time, but sorry Mike, I don't remember him being there. [Nick Gravenites confirmed that Mike was indeed there. We can look forward to a future interview with Nick].
AAJ: Let's talk a bit about Jaco Pastorius. First, I was wondering how he first came up on your radar, not when you first met him, but when you first heard him.
JJ: From Jimmy Tyrell, who, at the time, was a vice president at Columbia Records. When I came into the business, he was one of the bass players who was in a position of power. He and Bob Bushnell were the black guys doing most of the work, so after Jimmy moved up, Chuck Rainey and I had became the "guys."
So Jimmy would send me a bunch of records, and one of the records he sent me was Jaco's. I remember it distinctly, I'd never heard of him before, and I thought, "Wow, this cat is something!" And then later I found out I was one of his heroes.
Then we met around 1981 or 1982. I was introduced to him by a bass and guitarist named Pablo Nahar. He worked around Europe from his home base in Amsterdam, but he was from Suriname. He gave me Jaco's phone number and I called him up and he came over to my house and we started hanging out.
We developed a good relationship, he was good people, he had a clear vision of, as he would say, "leaving something for the kiddies."
AAJ: What might be something you knew about Jaco that the general audience might not know? When you were hanging out, did you have the feeling you were with someone extraordinary, a genius?
JJ: You knew he was gifted, and he was a bundle of energy. In all the time we spent together we never got high together. We were straight and focused on getting the video done, and it took us four years. He was all about sharing what he had with other people.
AAJ: There a great quote from Jaco, a reporter once asked him where he thought the future of music was heading, and Jaco said something like, "Well, tomorrow I'm heading to Miami." Did you also see him as perhaps the greatest bassist on the planet at that time?
JJ: Oh, without a doubt. He didn't just have a command of the instrument; he had the music in his head. It flowed from the beginnings I came from, and while I might have thought along similar lines, his talent and skill allowed him to accomplish some things I had only thought about.
As human beings we live like monkey-see-monkey-do, so once someone does something, you realize it can be done. He did the things that seemed impossible, and without his example I might not have even considered going in that direction. Like I'd fooled around with harmonics when I began playing electric bass, but I'd never really explored them. He took it to another level. Like most bass players, I had used a harmonic octave in the high register, but he found all the upper harmonics on the instrument that I didn't even know existed.
AAJ: And when he talked to you about filing the frets off of his bass. Now that it's been done, it's like sure, that's an option. But to be bold enough to do that. From playing guitar I would never consider that, because I would have imagined the strings would have rattled or buzzed against the fingerboard.
JJ: Right, it would be the same thing on a fretless bass, it would have to be perfectly arched, and your fingers would have to be in the perfect spot. He just went for it. Then he did the thing with putting polyurethane and epoxy coating on the neck after filing it down to help spaces. He was on it!
AAJ: I wonder if you agree with this, but this idea of overcoming the frets is something important that he shared with Duane. Jaco filed his down, and Duane did it with his slide.
JJ: Hey, that's right! Great analogy. I never thought of it like that, but the slide does give it that bending quality that gets beyond the static note.
AAJ: And, like Jaco, he took the instrument to a new place. He started out in the Elmore James tradition, but when you listen to things he did, like on "Mountain Jam," he used the guitar like a horn and took it to a whole new place.
JJ: It's what made him unique, he went beyond the confines of the stereotypes of what the instrument was, just like what Jaco did with the bass.
AAJ: You know, from reading about Jaco, you get the impression that by the '80s he was kind of out of it, and wild. But on the video you did together he seemed so lucid, and grounded, and funny. So the black-and-white biographical sketches of him that portray him as flipped-out in the '80s aren't necessarily true?
JJ: There might have been some episodes and some events, and he was going through some stuff. But the music was very grounding to him. It gave him a focus, and this video was something he wanted to do, and he didn't want to do it without me, and he stuck to his word.
So what you saw on that video was someone on the job, some of the stuff what was said about him was probably true, and some was probably blown out of proportion. But a lot of things were true that his family and I knew about. He had lost his wife Ingrid, who I believe just passed away this year. But for that video he was grounded.
AAJ: So you guys saw each other regularly during the '80s?
JJ: Yes, but it was generally something to do with this project or some other educational projectteaching and clinics. I might come and hang out with him at a session. He put a band together, but it didn't work out, and that's when I knew things were really getting bad for him. At that time he wasn't getting the respect he should have received from his fellow musicians.
He took a job he probably shouldn't have taken, and when you take those kinds of jobs it rarely works out well. But he took it for the money. Over the time we had been planning this he'd gone through a lot, he'd broken his arm in Europe and it was tough, but he manned-up when we did the video. He showed up early, and we left early. We were there at 8:30 and left an hour and a half early at 3:30it was scheduled to go from nine to five.
AAJ: Your conversation with Jaco for his Modern Electric Bass video is a great piece of history, a treasure for bass fans, and of course a must for modern electric bass players. You must be pretty proud of that achievement.
JJ: I wanted to promote his music and preserve his legacy, and you know, within the year he was gone. Of course I was shocked, but somehow not surprised. We did that video before we had signed a contract, so the publishers wanted to pay us royalties once a year, and through my work with B.B. King I knew the difference between getting paid quarterly as opposed to semi-annually. And I remember telling them, one of us could die between payments. Then that's exactly what happened.
Jaco was asking for money between payments, and was in jail, and got bailed out. But I believe if he had gotten his payment quarterly and hadn't needed the money, I don't think he would have gotten killed.
AAJ: The interview on the video, that's really difficult what you did, but you made it look so natural. How did you do that, was someone holding up cue-cards or something?
JJ: Well first of all, we'd been working on that for three or four years. From the time we met we'd decided that we were going to do something. We were doing some teaching together and had that going on. So in a sense I was prepared, but I didn't know when it was going to happen. So when it finally took shape, I found out two days prior to the taping. So the night before I wrote down 20 questions, so you might notice me looking at a yellow pad.
AAJ: No I didn't notice that. Because I interview people I was really impressed, and I appreciate how difficult that was.
JJ: I knew what he wanted to get out, so I wrote the questions with that in mind, and I tried to be a little provocative. I wanted to make him look good and keep him in good spiritsyou know that was a difficult time for him.
AAJ: In one sense you got paid very well, because when you asked him about some of his primary influences and asked him to pick one, he played one of your own licks back to you and said, "Enough said?" Something like that is cool, but to have it on video, that's priceless, it doesn't get any better than that.
JJ: [Laughing] I wasn't prepared for that! The way he could just summon up something like that, he was just an incredible musician.
For me it's funny because I've never tried to copy anybody, so to hear someone like Jaco do that, it was cool!
AAJ: There's something special about listening to two artists discuss their music and instrument. You worked with Paul Desmond on Bridge Over Troubled Water (A&M, 1969) and I was wondering if you ever listen to his interview with Charlie Parker? It's really cool to hear the two of them talk shop together.
JJ: No! Yeah, Paul was great. I remember we recorded that album at the Hit Factory on 48th Street, and I remember that session well.