Talkin' Blues with Jaimoe

Alan Bryson By

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As a 2012 recipient of a Grammy Award for Lifetime Achievement, Jaimoe needs no introduction. He has been a beloved figure on the music scene for over four decades, as a veteran of the R&B circuit with Otis Redding, Percy Sledge and Joe Tex, and as a founding member of the legendary Allman Brothers Band and the critically acclaimed band Sea Level.

In late 2011 his Jaimoe's Jasssz Band released Renaissance Man (Lil'Johnieboy Records, 2011), an album that is generating well-deserved praise and a lot of buzz. Out front is Junior Mack on vocals and guitar, slide, and dobro, with Paul Lieberman on saxophones and flute, Kris Jensen on saxophones, Reggie Pittman on trumpet and flugelhorn, Dave Stolz on bass, Bruce Katz on Hammond B3 and piano, and, of course, Jaimoe on drums. There is great chemistry and an abundance of talent, and with Jaimoe's musical instincts, the future looks very bright for this band.

Keyboardist Chuck Leavell and now singer/keyboardist Gregg Allman have written biographies, and after an hour of candid conversation with Jaimoe, there's no doubt he could produce a page-turner as well. Amazing stories intertwined with his infectious laughter, what a treat it was to speak with Jaimoe.

All About Jazz: Congratulations on Renaissance Man, this CD was a long time coming, but well worth the wait. It struck me, your band is almost like two bands in one: a jazz band, but when you add Junior Mack to the mix, you also get a blues band with a solid horn section.

Jaimoe: Thank you. Actually, a lot of people had these kinds of bands before, but if you don't tell people something, they'll pretty much go along with what it is. The fact is, jazz is American music. So anything that a musician plays who's coming out of here, it's jazz. It may have originated in Germany, Sweden, Japan or elsewhere, but this is now part of us, and this was developed here. That's what it is, it's improvised music, it's jazz.

AAJ: . Lots of bands would be lucky to have a guitarist with Junior Mack's chops, and most bands would be lucky to have a singer with Junior Mack's voice—he's amazing, you've got the whole package in one, and if that weren't enough, he's writing great songs, like, "Drifting and Turning."

Jaimoe: He's a great musician and a great entertainer, and like you said, he's got the whole package: he plays the guitar, he sings, he writes songs, and he's a businessman. He was a computer specialist for 25 years, and worked for a big computer company troubleshooting, and they laid him off. So he began concentrating on his music, and played what he wanted to.

He ended up never going back. When they tried to call him back in, he didn't do it, and instead he became a fulltime musician.

I met him through a friend of mine named [Hewell] "Chank" Middleton, I've known him since he was 17 years old. We met in Macon when I first moved there in 1968. He kept telling me about Junior Mack. He said, " You don't know Junior Mack!? Frown [Jaimoe's nickname] you gotta meet Junior Mack!"

So one night before I went to the Beacon we met and I said, "Man you got anything I can listen to?" And he handed me this CD, he had it right in his pocket. It was Junior with Dave Stolz, the bassist in our band, and Kris Jensen, our saxophonist, and Dickey Betts. Those guys along with Mark Greenberg, one of Dickey's drummers, and Matt Zeiner his keyboard player, did a gig with Junior and recorded it.

So anyway, I called him up one day and said, "Hey man, I finally listened to your CD. Would you be interested in playing a gig?" Junior said he wasn't too busy, so I called this guy who owns a restaurant called the Double Down Grill in Avon, Connecticut and told him I wanted to do a dress rehearsal. But really it was just a rehearsal, I just wanted to play. I told him he could tell people, it's not going to cost you anything, and you can stay if you want to—you know, I didn't want to interfere with his business.

So I thought, in between the Super Bowl and the last official football game of the season would be the time to do it. We recorded that and put it out as a CD, and I think that's the best thing we've recorded.

AAJ: So that was from the first time playing together, almost like a jam session?

Jaimoe: The first time we ever played together. So there's Live at the Double Down in Avon, and another CD that's a recording of an Ed Blackwell Memorial Concert at Middleton. It's pretty good and the most different thing I've ever done.

AAJ: Ed Blackwell, wasn't he a kind of free-style jazz drummer?

Jaimoe: Yeah, from New Orleans.

AAJ: I've been lovin' the Renaissance Man CD, but I've been mistakenly telling people I think it's one of the best debut CDs I've heard in quite a while.

Jaimoe: Well, Junior and some other people think if your don't make an album in a studio, it's not legitimate.

AAJ: I don't know about that, the Allman Brothers' At Fillmore East (Capricorn, 1971) wasn't recorded in a studio and that was certainly an album.

Jaimoe: [Laughs] Oh boy.

AAJ: It's kind of strange, the first time I listened to Renaissance Man I thought Gregg Allman must be singing harmony, I even checked the CD credits. To paraphrase Herman Cain, Junior sounds a lot like an Allman Brotha from anotha motha. Have people mentioned that a lot?

Jaimoe: [Laughing] No not a lot, it's pretty obvious when you listen to the CD, but when you listen to him in person, it's a completely different thing. You know, Junior still sings in a men's spiritual group with his church, and he's been doing that for about 30 years. He's also a disk jockey and does a blues show, he's a chef, all kinds of stuff, he's something.

So anyway, during this gig and we took a break, and I told him, "Man you play different than the rest of these guys." And Junior asked me, "Different?" And I said, "Man, I haven't heard anybody play like that since I left Mississippi, with the exception of one other guy, George Baker." He's from Baton Rogue, Louisiana and was the musical director for Marvin Gaye for about 12 years. They play very similarly, but George is more of a jazzer, but otherwise they are very similar.

Like Junior, he's got a great voice, he's a great guitarist, and he writes, but two completely different people. One's no better than the other, just different. But anyway, I told him, "You don't play like Derek, or Warren or any of the other guys. Don't get me wrong, it's just different, you've incorporated less rock into your playing, you're more bluesy." And Junior said, "Well how should I take that?" I said, "Don't worry about it, just keep doin' what you're doin'!"

So we did that gig, and I started thinking, I've got a bunch of guys here, so I need to think about keeping them together. So we started doing birthday parties and weddings, and that paid a lot better than what these clubs wanna pay you. So we did that for a while, and then we got the itching to be on the other side.

So I talked to this guy who's been booking the Allman Brothers since we've been together, and he booked us. The rest of it is pretty much what it is.

AAJ: Man it really worked out, you guys clicked.

Jaimoe: I couldn't have ask for more. I've heard some CDs and thought, "I sure wish I could have recorded something like that." I remember George Porter Jr., the bassist from The Meters, after they broke up, he released Things Ain't What They Used to Be (Independent, 1994) and man, what a record! You hear a record like that and think, "Man, I don't care what anybody else thinks about it, what a record, I really want to cut a record like that."

And I can say, thank God, I got my wish. I couldn't be happier with what we've come up with. And the guys—just great.

You know, I could have had three piano players. Jon Davis who played bebop with me back before I met Junior, Bruce Katz, and one guy who ended up getting shipped back to France. He was a most interesting guy—I called him Inspector Clouseau, because he was a little wiry guy, but he played piano, sang, played guitar and the drums. He was the Thelonious Monk of the band, I would get lost sometimes listening to what he was playing.

So my band was booked for the Wanee Festival down in Florida, you know it's down by the Swanee River. So I'm thinking, how are we going to get him down there? So, he can't fly and he couldn't catch the train, and finally Junior says, "I'll just drive down there, and that will take care of it." Then four or five days before the gig he says, "You know what, I'll just fly down, it will be alright."

And I told him, "Man, don't mess with taking an airplane," but he went down there anyway. Well, as soon as they saw his name, lights and shit went off, and they pulled him to the side. He'd been over here ten years, he just blended in until he went and tried to board that airplane.

AAJ: Man, that's sad.

Jaimoe: Yeah, a really nice guy and a great player, Mathais Schuber is his name.

AAJ: We've got to get you guys over to Europe for a reunion concert.

Jaimoe: Book us!

Jaimoes Jasssz Band Renaissance ManAAJ: Jaimoe I read that you played with Sam & Dave for a while.

Jaimoe: No, no, no. It's funny how I can't get some of these things cleared up. Sometimes I think, maybe I should just go ahead and take the free ride. But no, I didn't play with Sam & Dave, however, I did play on quite a few shows that Sam & Dave were on. Like in the Apollo Theater on the Otis Redding tour I did in 1966. Sam & Dave were the co-stars.

AAJ: Is it true that Otis Redding said that he wouldn't be booked on any more tours with them because they were like human-dynamite or something like that?

Jaimoe: No, that's why he hired them in the first place. They put fire on him, you know, when he came on the stage after them, he was quite inspired. See, Otis was one of those guys who was not gonna be outdone. You know, that disease, Little Richard had it, Johnny Winter used to have it, and Jerry Lee Lewis.

You know, they'll get up and perform everything they can think of, so that whoever follows them won't have anything left to play, because they've played everything under the sun! Man I know some guys like that, and I know some guys who took care of them too.

Anyway, Otis wanted somebody who was gonna put fire on him. So when he came out on stage, he was left with no choice, he had to be on fire.
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