©Elizabeth Sneed/Elizabeth A. White – Please do not reprint/reproduce without express written permission.
UNION bass player James Hunting was kind enough to take several hours out of his schedule recently to do a phone interview with The UNION Asylum and you will not be disappointed with the results. Ever hear of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? The one whose premise is that you can link any actor to a Kevin Bacon film in six steps or less? Well after talking with James, I think we’ve found the perfect person to use for the musical version of this game.
David Lee Roth. Eddie Money. John Butcher. James has had the pleasure of working with some of the best names in music and he shares stories about what it’s like to work with many of them in this interview! And yet, as has become the standard with the members of UNION, despite his globe trotting adventures in the music business James was incredibly down to Earth and easy to talk with. So read on to find out more about the man who once studied Fire Science and was a left-handed fastball pitcher before committing himself full time to his true passion, music and the bass.
UA: James, thanks for calling and taking the time to do this interview. How’s it going?
It’s going fine thanks, a little wet but everyone needs a washing once in awhile.
UA: We’re really glad you wanted to do this because we’ve been getting some fantastic feedback from people about the interviews we’ve put up so far. Everyone’s saying that not only do they like what they’re learning about the music and the album, but the fact that they’re getting to know you guys as people. They really like how down to earth you all seem.
Then maybe I should take the part of the deviate! (Laughs) Make it nice and round, be a little scheming like, “Bruce and Brent did this and that!” (Laughs)
UA: Well, I guess as a jumping off point maybe you could start with some basic stuff. For example, were you always interested in music or did you want to be something like a fireman when you were little?
Well you mentioned two points. I did take Fire Science my first year of college actually.
Yeah, I went to Pasadena City College. But I’ve also wanted to be a musician ever since I can remember, particularly the bass. I began playing guitar at a very young age, 9 maybe. Going to church when I was young, that was when guys were switching over from their uprights to electrics and I really loved the sound. So I was very attracted to bass at a very early age. I think I got my first electric in 1974, a Fender, and I’ve never really looked back since. I do have an upright bass and they’re very nice. Very nice to look at, nice decorations for the home. And I have actually recorded with it, but the electric is what I’ve been doing most of my life.
I had to make a decision early in life because another love of mine was baseball, I was a left-handed pitcher. When I was playing baseball we’d go onto city finals or that type of thing and I’d also have gigs to do so I had to make a choice. You know I’d be scheduled to start pitching in a game and I’d have to turn down a gig, or take the gig and call in sick on the game or something. So I made the decision to continue with the music. But I never really took up Fire Science, I wasn’t really that serious about it I just had some friends that were into it. Somebody’s got to do it. Those guys have steel balls I’ll tell ya!
UA: And they certainly don’t get paid anywhere near what they’re worth, that’s for sure.
Unfortunately not many people do. I guess the worth comes into how much you enjoy what you’re doing. We could say the same for people who take up music. I never looked at it as being a career, I always looked at it as just being an extension of my vocabulary. Actually, I think that sometimes I speak better without saying anything that’s why I love playing. ‘Cause you run out of breath! (Laughs) You run out of breath when you talk and you can tend to go in circles.
But with the music it’s great. It’s just always been an extension of my mind. And you have to develop a vocabulary. It takes years for some people, like me, being self taught “formally, ” which means hanging out with people, etc. You just develop your own thing by using what’s in front of you or your influences. People ask me what my influences are and I say, “the weather.” Then they go, “No, musically.” And my response to that is anything that was exposed to me while I was younger, the Carpenters, Neil Diamond, whatever you listen to. That’s the music my parents liked to listen to so I was exposed to it.
But my influences are Dennis Dunaway from the Alice Cooper band and a guy named Dee Murray from the old Elton John band. Dee’s work just floored me. It changed my life. I just missed meeting him up at this company called SWR that I have an amp from, they build bass amplifiers, and I’d love to have met him because he’s dead now, he died a few years ago. I’d like to have told him while I was shaking his hand what his work meant to me. When people do that it makes everything worth while. The money doesn’t really come into play, it’s just people appreciating what you do for them through what you do.
UA: I guess it’s fortunate then when you are able to combine doing something you love to do with making a living off of it. When the two meet I guess that’s a very fortunate thing.
Yeah it is, because the “make a living” part of it could almost take away from it and make it a turn off. Because when you have to make a living at something the first question is always, “What am I in business for?” To make money. So then you have to do things to make money rather than do things because you want to. So, yeah, if you can get the two together to where you’re really enjoying what you’re doing and making money consider yourself very fortunate. ‘Cause some people have families they have to support and you’ll find them on a Top 40 gig somewhere just basking in Hell ’cause they have to do it instead of want to do it. Me, I’ve been slutting around town playing with different bands wherever I can just for the fun of it! You know, to keep my ear sharp and meet some new players.
UA: Right. That’s what Brent said about you, “James will play anywhere, anytime.” He said you really love playing and that’s where you seem most comfortable and at home.
Well, I do enjoy playing but my mouth isn’t watering for it. When I do go out and play it’s important who’s there. Sometimes I’ll say, “No, I’m just here to listen.” But I do enjoy playing. I enjoy playing a lot because it’s like surfing, it takes your mind off of things and it helps me focus a little better. When I’m watching TV I could be noodling, paying more attention to the TV but I’m just noodling… it helps me concentrate more on what’s in front of me.
But yeah, I do love playing and I’ve met a lot of people that way. That’s how I met Bruce and Brent. I was playing at a place in Hollywood with some guys, and the players in that band are great. I learn something every time I play with any group. Anyway, they [Bruce & Brent] said that they liked my work and asked if I would be interested in coming in and checking out some music they were working on. I said, “Thank you” and “Sure.” I told them I’m as much into checking new things out as they are, that I’d be happy to listen to it, and if it’s for me then hell, we might have something!
It can’t hurt anybody to do that. I’ve gotten a lot of gigs that way, things like people hearing me through the walls at a sound rehearsal place or what not. It’s weird, I’ve never had a calling card. Basically my calling card’s a cocktail napkin! But I guess I’ve lost a few gigs that way too because people wash their clothes after they come home with the cocktail napkin still in the back pocket and there goes my name! But yeah, it’s been pretty much grass roots from the beginning, word of mouth.
So, I went up and we got together and… well, first of all I had just finished up a project that I was working on that ended tragically with the death of my friend West Arkeen. I had kind of came into his situation like I did the UNION situation, which is on the tail end of it. The last thing that they both needed was a bass player. West’s group was called the Outpatients, and all the guys in Guns ‘n Roses had played on the record because West was basically Guns ‘n Roses member number six, he was with those guys. Guns had two guitar players, Stradlin and Slash, and West was very influential on them. We did a record for Japan and it was going to be released in the States, it still might be. The way we lost West, it’s a real tragedy in the business of the arts, the music business, etc. Heroin, it will take everything away, including the people. It’s very tragic. I learned a lot from West. I don’t know if anybody ever really gets over that type of thing, and this was especially difficult because West and I lived together.
But anyway, the point I was trying to make was that I was looking for a new situation. Music is a living for me and I didn’t really have a band anymore because the thing had ended rather quickly with the death of West. The stuff I heard really impressed me and it sounded like something I could contribute to. The nice thing about it was I found out that everybody was multidimensional music-wise, everybody plays different instruments. So it wasn’t that they were calling me because I was such a “bitchin’ guy,” but because they probably thought I could really contribute musically. And that was nice, that was very cool. I was excited that we found a common denominator and proceeded from there. The rest is history! The record is done, ready to be launched, and I’m really excited about it.
UA: And it’s a damn good record, too! I do have a copy of the complete thing, in fact I’ve done a review of it for the webpage, and I listen to it on a daily basis.
I’ve worked on a lot of different records, some of them I don’t even own! It’s true. Probably at least half of them, maybe more. I usually let them sit on the shelf for at least a month, to get away from it, and then come back with a fresh palette and try to digest it. So I decided to listen to it continuously one night. I just decided, “Okay, I’m gonna spin it.” We got the final stuff done and I just kind of sat it there and every day I let it pass by, but I was aware that it was there. You try to become friends with it like it’s a brand new thing. Because when you’re making it, when you’re making a record what goes on the tape is what was happening that day musically in your head, or in whoever’s head that was tracking that day.
The bass and drums, we did a lot of it together. Some of it even went down live with me and Brent, first takes. If it’s like, “Wow!” why fix it? It’s already there. So I finally put it in and I found peace with it. It is a good record. I played it for a friend the other day and he just kind of skipped through it, didn’t listen to the whole songs. This record, I think you have to listen to it from top to bottom, kind of like watching a play without an intermission. You have to really give it a chance and let it flow, no pun intended! (Laughs) “Let It Flow.”
UA: Which is definitely one of my favorite songs off that album. That, “Heavy D,” and “October Morning Wind” are my favorite songs off the album. Very cool stuff.
Well, when the tape’s rolling I try and make them all my favorite; every one of them is my favorite at that point.
UA: And I guess it’s different from your perspective, as the musician, because they’re all your “children” so to speak.
Well, I have to fight with them, reach a peace with them and with all the other instruments that surround me as a bass player. It’s weird being a bass player because bass carries not only rhythm but also harmony, so it’s a fairly responsible instrument. And when I was tracking a lot of people were coming into the room and stuff, and I don’t mind that at all. I mean we even had some people from Beverly Hills 0U812, no Beverly Hills 90214, um…
UA: (Laughs) 90210?
(Laughs) Whatever! Yeah, some of those kids were coming over and checking it out, they were interested. A lot of the guys in the band were around, and it’s nice to have their support. It’s a very musical band, and Bruce had ideas before I was even in the picture. There’s some demo stuff that was already down and, with respect to demos, I always try to cop what was going on originally, but I have different hands and a different heart. I worked with Bruce very carefully on some of the stuff and kept it as original as possible, as it originally went down. I look at it this way, I need all of the help I can get so please jump on in and help me paint the picture. And there’s no ego involved, you know, not at all. If we had a difference of opinion, which didn’t really happen too often, I’ve always had to do it my way because the only way I can do it is my way. But I grew up with a guitar player as a twin brother.
UA: You have a twin brother?
Yeah. And I’ve worked with a lot of guitar players so I understand that I play the bass guitar and that the two have to work together. Bruce is real careful in bringing me into it, so is John, so is Brent. They all play the bass, and respectfully, so it’s really nice to have the guys around. Some of the stuff I just took off on my own and there it is. And I think the band will only enhance the record live, it’s not like we’re going to lose anything live at all. There’s a lot of room to grow. I hadn’t really been in the group that long before we went in and started carving this album out, so of course I can’t wait to play it live. I’m not foaming at the mouth or anything, but I am looking forward to it.
UA: Right. As far as the bass goes, and I’m not a musician I just know what sounds good to my ears and what doesn’t…
Then you are a musician, you’re just not a music player!
UA: (Laughs) If you say so! Well I’ve always been a big fan of the bass, it’s what I can pick out of the music most easily and what I really tune into in a song. I think a lot of people don’t realize exactly how important the bass line really is to a song. There are so many songs that if you took out the bass line there would just be a huge gaping hole in the song.
Damn straight, damn straight!
UA: And the song on the album that jumps to mind for me in that regard, where there’s just this really nice walking bass line, is “Tangerine.” The bass just seems to so obviously hold the whole thing together with everything else just swirling around it.
That cut went down in one take. I was basically tracking with Brent, there’s no train wrecks in it and it felt good. It’s never gonna be perfect, it’s not supposed to be. It just went down in one take like that and it’s great. If we had done one or two more passes it could have been different because I would have played differently. When time passes I change. I try to keep it relative, but I never play the same thing twice. It just went down well. Thank you.
UA: Well, I think the whole album did. Completely jumping topics here, but this has been dancing around in the back of my mind since you first said it. You were a left-handed pitcher, but you play bass right-handed… are you ambidextrous?
I am ambidextrous, and I do play bass with both hands. I did an interview for Bass Frontiers Magazine where we were talking about this, and both hands are important. I don’t know where they get right-handed, left-handed. McCartney uses two hands just like the rest of us. I guess it must be the picking hand that’s “important,” but what about the left hand? So I say I use both hands, no sexual pun intended! (Laughs) I say they’re equally important, and that’s my little argument against what the status quo is. Let’s see, I eat right-handed, but write left-handed. I kick right-footed, play baseball both handed, and I guess if I’m hungry enough I’ll eat with both hands too! You know?!
UA: (Laughs) There you go! Whatever works at the time, right?
Yep. Well, when I was real young I used to break into my brother Brian’s bedroom to steal his guitar, and I began playing it like Paul McCartney does. With the way the neck sticks out on his bass and the way his arm is when he’s playing it, it looks like he’s signaling for a right hand turn! Is that why they call it right-handed? But that’s how I started playing, upside down and bass-ackwards! Just like pitching, I started throwing right-handed and switched over to left. Whatever’s most comfortable.
UA: What was your best pitch?
Right down the middle baby! Heat! (Laughs) Then I had a slow curve change up, kind of like Fernando Valenzuela. It just kinda floated in and dropped to the right. A lot of batters are right-handed so it worked. It looks like it’s way outside and just crosses and breaks right over the plate at the last moment.
UA: Pretty cool. So I guess you enjoy sports in general then?
I enjoy playing them, but I don’t really enjoy watching. I haven’t played much baseball since then. I threw my arm out on a pitching machine still seeing if I had it, and I had it alright, good! But I enjoy sports.
UA: Interested at all in football or the Super Bowl?
No, not too much. But I’ll probably watch it. My dad was a football player.
UA: Oh really? Who’d he play for?
University of Santa Clara. Quarterback. And my grandfather was quarterback and a punter. He played in the first East/West game! He played against some of the greats in football like Bronko Nagurski. My next door neighbor was John Mackey from the Baltimore Colts, who played with Johnny Unitas.
UA: Greatest quarterback of all time, Johnny Unitas.
Incredible! A lot of people say sports and athletes are dumb. Not true! Football is a human chess game. And as with anything, if you give it a chance it might show a little bit of method to the madness. It depends on how much of a chance you want to give it. Soccer is boring to watch, but fun to play. Baseball is boring to watch, but it’s fun to play. You really gotta be heads up!
UA: That’s true. What other kinds of things do you do hobby wise or during your down time?
Well, actually I’m pretty much a homebody, I stay home a lot. I have my recording studio, and I have a little movie theater at the house so I just bring movies home. I try to live the quiet life. I just moved away from Studio City, and Studio City is a quiet neighborhood but it’s right off of Ventura Blvd., so it was a little bit faster out there. The whole scene I was involved in, there were a lot of people coming and going from the house and I like a real peaceful atmosphere. I pretty much keep to myself. If I go out I stay close unless I’m going to see the guys in Hollywood or something.
UA: So how do you like touring? Life on the road, is that something that you’re a fan of or something you just deal with?
It’s great. Depending on the situation, of course. I’ve never had a bad problem with it, any big problems with it. I’ve always enjoyed traveling places and when you combine that with the music, how lucky can you get? It’s nice traveling, it’s good. Touring is good. I got a chance to play some bigger venues when I was playing in the past and that was really exciting. And once you play your first baseball stadium or your first arena it’s like, “Okay, now we can relax.” ‘Cause there’s really no where higher to go… unless you wanna play on the moon!
That’s when I started playing a lot more bars and clubs and stuff and just having fun with it, because that’s really what it should be about. Really deep down inside I had this need to prove myself, because instead of finishing college I dropped out of college to go on the road. But not until I got honor grades with an 18 unit load in all solid classes. I just thought, how rough can I make it on myself because I wanted to know that I could do it. I wanted to know that if I came back to it, I could do it. So I took off. You always wanna please your family or the people around you, but you gotta realize there’s more to life. It was really cool with me growing up because my parents were supportive, but they also always kept in mind what’s important. I just ignored them. I went with what I felt and I love it and I’m still doing it.
And there’s something to be said for that, for anybody who sticks to what they really love, ’cause it’s not all the yellow brick road. There’s things that aren’t always pleasant you have to go through on the way, and that’s all just part of growing up as a musician instead of being a player. Anybody can play, but the musicianship is really important. That comes with paying your dues. So I hung out with guys, a lot older musicians, that brought me up. And I would just shut up and listen and play. And a lot of them were real hard on me, but it is a workout. I learned a lot from a lot of people, stuff that would take me years to learn. I learned a lot quicker by hanging out with guys that would teach me. Some of them I looked to them like cargo ships that were sinking, they weren’t really going anywhere but there was a lot I could learn from them. So I’d get on board and get that cargo before that ship sank!
UA: Sounds like a practical approach. As far as the touring goes, do you have any really memorable experiences or words of wisdom that you’d be willing to share from any of the tours that you’ve been on?
Yeah, make sure you laugh your ass of everyday cause it could be over! It’s supposed to be fun, and when I was with David Lee Roth we had a blast. David and I were kind of “drinking buddies.” I’m from Pasadena and when we were working together he was living in Pasadena, the same house where nearly all the Van Halen stuff was written. Since I was close he’d call me up and we’d go out often. Almost like brothers, it’s weird. Yeah, always have fun! But at the same time it’s very serious business, very serious. You do have to get to the next town because if you don’t show up you default. One of my friends was telling me that with guys like Chuck Berry, one of those icons, after the gig they were like, “See ya in the next town!” And my friend was like, “How do I get there?” And he got the response, “I don’t know, you figure it out!” (Laughs)
With the tours I’ve been on everybody was close together and we had buses and we all traveled together. I haven’t really been on a van tour ever. Well, except about eight years ago I did an East coast thing where we traveled in one of those stretch vans. Fortunately we didn’t have to travel far and we stayed in nice hotels. But the trick for touring is number one, before anything, make sure you stay healthy because if you don’t have your health you don’t have anything. One year I was sick, I got sick in Japan because we were staying at a hotel that didn’t have windows that you could open. I was like 40 stories up and the air conditioning got to me, I woke up choking. I could hardly even talk. So what I do is I turn the shower on full blast, the hot water, and you’ve got your humidifier right there. So we’d insist on getting places where you could open the windows at least a little bit. So number one keep your health, that’s first and foremost.
Number two, keep it fun and have a good time because there’s a lot of people that would really kill to be in your shoes. I really enjoyed working with Dave ’cause we laughed every day. Every day! When I was working with Eddie Money… well first of all I’ve worked with two of the tougher guys in rock n roll, they are very hard on their musicians. But with me, I look at it like they’re saying, “Hey, bring me your best!” They’re challenging you. The way I see it they don’t want to know that there’s a lot of weakness behind them, they will challenge you. And my attitude is, “Hey, bring your best ’cause I’m gonna bring mine!”
I’ve had a lot of good experiences, and gotten in a lot of trouble! Good experiences are that you meet friends that are always interested in you. You can not talk for a couple of years and they’d resurface, or you’d see them in the same town when you’re traveling, and they make it a point to see you and that’s nice. They’re thinking about you. And about the bad parts, we’ll just go off record for that! (Laughs) I’m teasing! Always come home in one piece that’s for sure. A lot of stories to tell and a lot of secrets to keep! (Laughs)
UA: I would imagine so. Other than David Lee Roth and Eddie Money, I know you’ve been involved in a lot of stuff and I was wondering if you’d like to blow your horn so to speak and share with everyone some stuff they can go pick up to check out some of your playing.
Yeah, blow my own horn! I love horns! I’ll give it a stab. I worked with a guitar player named John Butcher, and this is one of those gigs I got through the wall. I was recording with a producer named Bill Wray, doing some demo work, and this guy comes through the door and starts inquiring about who’s playing bass… and it was this fellow Tom Gimbel. He was working with John at the time and they were looking for a bass player to finish his record. So I went down and did it and the way I heard the final thing was funny. I don’t go into record stores very often, but I was in this Music Plus just kind of walking around looking for a gift or something, and I was listened to the music they were playing and it happened to be the same song I played on! The John Butcher stuff is on a record called “Pictures from the Front.”
I actually did some touring with John Butcher. I wasn’t playing in his band but my friends were. That was that East coast tour I mentioned earlier. I was in a group on Atlantic and I didn’t even meet John until we were getting on a plane to go back East. He’s standing in front of me in line to get on the airplane and he turns around and says, “I’m John.” I said, “I’m James. I played bass on your record.” And he says, “Yeah, I know.” He’s a good guy, good guitar player. Tom, Tom was playing with Foreigner with a friend of mine, Ron, that I work with now who’s playing drums. Tom also went on to join Aerosmith as the keyboard player. I don’t know what he’s doing now, I haven’t seen him, but he’s not far away ’cause I work with Ron all the time. It’s a small world for musicians… until you lose your luggage at the airport! (Laugh)
UA: Don’t talk about that! I just had that experience recently when I was coming back from visiting Chris.
You’ve had it too huh!?!
UA: Yeah. But they did find it the next day and drove it all the way to my house, so that was decent.
Yeah, and at that point you wanna go, “What’s missing? Who picked the lock?”
UA: (Laughs) They would have been very upset if they picked the lock on my suitcase. All they would have found was a bunch of dirty clothes and a pair of Gene Simmons monster boot bedroom slippers I just got for Christmas!
(Laughs) Alright, I love it! I clap if my luggage gets off in one piece, ’cause the cartoons they have about the gorillas throwing the luggage around down below the plane… it’s true! I’ve had some pretty road worthy bags come home just trashed. I should clap, and say, “Wow! I couldn’t do this to this stuff if I tried!”
UA: Anytime the bag comes out on the little conveyor belt and it’s not all strewn open with stuff hanging out is a good time as far as I’m concerned.
Right, right. When I went out with Dave we basically took our lives with us. Dave took these huge body bags, you could fit all kinds of stuff in ’em. When you’re out at sea, might as well have something to keep you busy. And if you don’t have to carry all that stuff around just bring as much of it as you want!
UA: Kind of like when you make it to the major leagues in baseball and you get somebody else to carry your gear. You pack a little different then than you did in AAA.
Oh yes! “Hold my spit bucket for me!”
UA: Why don’t you talk a little about the band you were in called Dear Mr. President.
That was a group that my brother got involved with in the early ’80’s. They were on Atlantic and Mick Jones had produced the record. I guess the bass player kind of ran his course with the band, and they were a very tight bunch of guys. Well with me being a professional bass player there’s always a thing with my twin brother like am I threatening his gig or something. Of course not, I was more into being a fan than I was into being in the band, but it just turned out that I was the guy for the job. So I reluctantly said, “Well okay, I’ll join.”
Growing up with a twin brother it’s always nice to have different projects, and now we had to work together again, as we also did on the Outpatients project. The situation was really one where I was just hanging around, I was close by. And they were very hard on me, they wanted to make me earn my spot in the band, and I guess I did. At the time I joined the group, Atlantic had changed the name to Flesh & Blood and the title of the record was “Dead, White & Blue.” We did a video, did some traveling, then went into the studio to do another record, but the thing just kinda fizzled out. I think it just kind of ended up that the singer decided he wanted to become a producer. So everybody kind of went their separate ways. I guess he’s still producing. I think Bruce is still in touch with him. This guy’s wife and Bruce’s wife were going to acting school together and Bruce was a fan of the group! I think I might have even met him years ago while Dear Mr. President was around… like I said, it’s a small world when you’re a musician.
Bruce is a real good guy, he’s real steady. He’s even-keeled and that’s good, that’s a plus. That was a good group, a lot of people liked that group. It was a musicians type of group, and that’s always nice. I guess groups like Poison and everybody used to switch outfits, and Flesh & Blood had the same outfit maker as them so some guy would take the coat, some guy would take the pants, and it was like ten different outfits that were separated floating all around these bands. It was funny. That was a fun band while I was in it, I had a good time.
Mick Jones is still around. He got my brother a gig with Billy Joel on the song “We Didn’t Start the Fire,” so my brother kind of beat me to the gold record. I was real proud of him for that cause he’s not a slut like I am, he doesn’t play around as much. I admit it, I’m a slut. It’s music, it’s fun. When you’re working, if you have a situation where you have to be responsible and keep your faith, I believe in that too. There’s always stuff like that in contracts, ’cause contracts are designed for protection. I wouldn’t be in this situation if I didn’t believe in it and that’s that.
UA: Bottom line is you believe in it.
Yeah. The other day I said to Bruce, “Hey let’s go play somewhere.” Not like breaking in, “Let us play!” or “Look at us, look at us!” just to have some fun. We played at this little place not that long ago as a band, a little place. I wasn’t really expecting to play, but some friends of mine were playing and it was a nice comfortable situation. We had a lot of fun and it felt good.
UA: Were you actually playing UNION songs, or just jamming?
We were just jamming period. I guess you could call it “UNION stuff” since it was all of us playing. We played some Led Zeppelin and things, but no, nothing off the UNION album.
UA: So you guys playing something from the album live as a band still hasn’t happened yet?
I wouldn’t have had a problem with playing something off the album, not at all. It’s not like any of us are going to forget this stuff. I’d have been cool with that, but it didn’t happen that way.
UA: It’ll happen when it happens.
Yeah. I think maybe deep down everybody’s like, “Let’s save that, let’s save it.” I would have played it easily. It would have been fun ’cause it’s good rock ‘n roll!
UA: I’ll tell you the song that I really am most interested in hearing live is “Let It Flow.” It’s already bordering on ferocious on the album, and I think it has the potential to just explode. The way that song just breaks down into these mini-jams that sound on the verge of out of control, whew! I think live that thing could turn into like a 20 minute jam.
Yes! Before it had been titled I think we were calling it “The Opus,” just friendly like because it does have so many parts. I think that would be a very good one to perform live. I think they’ll all turn up good live. That one is extended in length, which is good. Yeah, that one just came together real well. You’ll have to come up and shake it with us when we do it live!
UA: Me dance? That might not be a pretty sight! (Laughs)
(Laughs) I did this gig at a bikini bar about a month ago and man was that fun! There was this pole that was like 18 feet high and I made it to the top with my ’59 Fender on my back! That was tough to do!
UA: That must have been something to see!
Oh it was fun, it was a blast! All the girls were up dancing and stuff so that’s what I’m picturing, because it’s a groove song. You just want to wiggle to it.
UA: The music really makes you feel what the lyrics are saying, “I’m letting go, let it flow!” You feel like it’s taking you somewhere.
I tend to breath deeper when I hear that one, I don’t know what it is. The song’s just synonymous with, “Take a deep breath, exhale, and repeat….. just let it flow.”
UA: Absolutely! Ok, here’s a standard question I have to ask for all the musicians out there.
I’ll give a standard answer then!
UA: (Laughs) Okay. The gear question: do you have any particular bass or amps that you prefer to play?
Well, I love Ampeg SVT’s but I don’t like carrying them. They’re like a metric ton! I used to have to lift those out of the trunk of my T-bird, and I’m a tall guy, but I’ve hurt my back for life just carrying stuff I shouldn’t be carrying. But I love Ampeg SVT’s. For the bass player the key thing I don’t care what amp you use, if you have decent power the tone comes from the hands, everything comes from the hands. Just give me enough power and a volume knob. I don’t like stuff with a lot of knobs. The stuff I’m using now, I have a bunch of different types of gear for different occasions, you know?
For example, when we recorded I used one of Bruce’s amps, an old Fender Bassman, I think it’s his mid 60’s Bassman Fender amplifier, and just a regular 410 SWR Cabinet. We tried out different things, tried out some of my stuff, and we came to that. I don’t really care as long as it satisfies the requirement of the song. We experimented and that was pretty much what we used for the whole record. Running direct and running an amp you just wanna get that speaker resistance tuned to get a little bit of… well like we ran some distortion on the bass. I over-drove the Bassman amplifier to get that grunge type of sound, which is kind of cool.
I used three types of basses on the record. I have an old ’59 Fender. When I was playing the Eddie Money Band my friend who wheeled and dealed helped me get it wholesale, and I’ve been using that. It’s like a Chevrolet, it keeps on going! And then Bruce brought me to this company called ESP. I was familiar with ESP, but had never been to the shop. He brought me to the shop and what do you know, I see a friend there who used to play Dread Zepplin, my friend Carl. And it turns out I also know the custom shop guy! So I really had a good time since I knew some people there. Bruce also introduced me to Matt, the guy who runs things over there, and we picked out this ESP bass, a B-1, and man it sounded great! We used it on at least half the record, if not more.
I used the Fender on “Old Man Wise” and the ESP on “Around Again,” “Pain Behind Your Eyes,” “Love,” “Heavy D,” “Empty Soul,” and “October Morning Wind.” I also used the ’59 on “Let It Flow,” “Get Off My Cloud,” and “Tangerine.” I was real pleased with the ESP bass. It satisfied the sound, it really worked. The 12 string bass, which is made by Hamer, could have worked on a few tunes, but we only used it on one song, “Pain Behind Your Eyes.” If you listen to “Pain” you might be able to hear little chimes at the top, which is because sounds kind of like a harpsichord. And when you play chords on it it sounds like a pipe organ, it’s really interesting.
UA: I had never even heard of it until Bruce mentioned it. I didn’t know there was any such thing as a 12 string bass.
People ask me if I’m a session player. There’s a commercial that they’re running right now for Disney’s World on Ice where I actually play the 12 string. I brought my old Fender bass, which is the Chevrolet, the bread and butter. But I also bring this big case and I’m like, “You guys want to check out my electric piano, you might like it?” Sometimes they pick it over the ole Fender, so just give it a chance, you might like it. I chuckle every time I see that commercial. But it looks like I’m going to be using a lot more ESP stuff this next year. They’re really good guys down there and I’m looking forward to getting some more instruments, stuff that’s more closer to my hand, and really working with them on some. Bruce has been with them for years and has a really good relationship with them.
UA: Both of you guys are going be featured in their next catalog, right?
I believe so, yeah. I’d be more than happy to. I took some pictures with their products and I have no problem with that at all. It’s true, I actually use the stuff, so no problem at all.
UA: There’s nothing wrong with one hand washing the other when you’re both getting something you want out of it and it’s honest.
True. Some guys just run around to all of these companies and collect firewood for the winter, but I actually use these damn things! I do have like 12 or 15 basses laying around the house. When I was with David Lee Roth I played predominately fixed string basses and those are made by a company called Ken Smith in New York. They’re really high end instruments, so when I got home I went back to my old Fender, back to the old 4 string. But I could play the multi-string instruments. The 12 string is really exotic, truly exotic sounding. Maybe we’ll work up some stuff with ESP, we’re trying different basses.
Bruce has numerous guitars, but I’m the type of dude who will use just one bass all throughout the record for just continuity. It’s pretty tough to tell the difference between these instruments, but you can if you listen. There is a difference. The ESP bass has a lot more sustain and you can hear that at the beginning of “Heavy D” and “Love,” there’s a lot more sustain involved. On “October Morning Wind” that’s why we use this instrument, because there’s a heavy, heavy pick-up in it. It just keeps sounding and sounding. I was even up to bringing my upright out! I wanted to experiment with it. I love experimenting with sounds.
UA: You used the ESP on “October Morning Wind?”
UA: Wow. That’s a very subtle sound compared to some of the other songs you use it on. It’s really interesting that you got such different sounds out of the same instrument, but I guess that is why you are “the man.”
Well, I wish I could take all that credit, but I had very good direction from Bruce. He had a good idea where he was going and I was basically just trying to cop where he was at with it. Kept it very simple, just copped what the guys are doing and we got some good sounds there. It’s all in the mixing of it too, the guys did a good job mixing it. I actually like that song a lot.
UA: Yeah, it’s way up there for me. I mean, I love the whole damn album, but I think if I had to pick just a few it would be “Heavy D,” “Let It Flow,” “October Morning Wind,” and “Empty Soul.” Those would be the ones.
Yeah. And if you were in a troublesome relationship I guess the eleventh track, “Robin’s Song,” would be appropriate.
UA: No kidding. That song is just about the most intense thing I’ve ever heard in my life. It would be even if people didn’t know the story behind it, but since John was so incredibly honest in our interview about the motivation and where it came from it’s almost difficult to listen to, and I mean that as a compliment. It’s just so raw emotionally. A really powerful song.
I wish I had written it. Yeah, I’m proud to be working with these guys. If it wasn’t happening I wouldn’t have done it, period. That’s just that. I’d rather keep my sanity and play with guys that I can have fun and enjoy their company. These guys are good guys.
UA: That definitely seems to be the impression I got from speaking with everybody, and all of you say that about each other as well. And since you can’t all be sustaining a lie that well… (Laughs)
(Laughs) Right! Well it’s not the “mutual admiration society,” but in past situations I’ve been what they call a hired gun and that never really was what I set out to be. I stressed that with Bruce in the beginning, that I was really interested a band thing where everything is equal and there’s no imbalance of power. I was in a situation where I was playing a guy from Don Henley’s group and a guy from Steve Stevens’ group and everybody was somebody, somebody from somewhere… like Jesus of Nazareth or something, “James from Pasadena.” And when I get involved somewhere I just asked the question, “Is this you or your lawyer talking? Cause we can make this meeting real short!”
Bruce is very honest, and a very solid person that you can rely on. He takes care of business. Every band needs that. Every band also needs a warhead. I wonder who our warhead is, we haven’t figured that out. There’s a good balance of intellect and responsibility and musicianship in this group and that’s very important. Because after all the training and all that, this is when it pays off, it’s like, “Hey, who’s still standing?” Even junkies and hookers get respect if they hang around long enough, know what I mean?
UA: Right. Longevity speaks volumes.
Yeah. And this looks like a situation where there could be some years involved, good years. So there’s a comfort zone. Nobody has serious problems that have snuck up, there’s no…
UA: No egos run amok.
Absolutely not. I guess the people who have egos feel that they need to have them. The ones that don’t have egos feel that they don’t need to have them. Maybe it’s that simple. This is professional, this is a business, but let’s have fun. Let’s make it good.
UA: Yeah. Do you write a lot? Do you foresee yourself maybe showcasing a lead vocal on albums down the road?
Yeah I do. I actually I sang on damn near every tune on this record. Which is kind of surprising, because with John being the vocalist and a lot of the demos were complete and very impressive, it’s like do they even need me? But if they needed me I was happy to do it, let’s just try some stuff and see. Bill likes singing stuff that’s out of my range, and I don’t think anybody should do that! Always stay where you voice belongs, that’s when it sounds best. The producer and everybody seemed to dig it, and it’s nice that I can contribute in that area too, cause nowadays if you can’t sing, dance and play at the same time, there’s always another guy who can, know what I mean? Put some time into it. My mom was a singer too. She sang gospel music and had a full scholarship on her voice.
UA: Is she recorded anywhere?
I don’t think she did. She used to sing on the radio but she never put any records out as far as I know. I’d like to think she did. She made many sacrifices, worked two jobs to buy the first bass guitar for this kid tugging on her skirt. I used to take the bus downtown when I was very young and I’d go to all the music shops and play the basses until I got kicked out. Sometimes they’d even check my pockets to see if I had stolen anything. Just the sight of those four big tuning keys was a turn on to me, I loved the bass. She bought me my first bass a long time ago and I’ve never looked back.
Some people in the past have jokingly said I have a better voice than I am a bass player! But I never took singing seriously. I’ve always taken the part of the guy who stands relatively back and doesn’t have to answer a lot of question, good comfort zone. Like John Entwistle of the Who. I remember when I was playing with Eddie Money, I used to have to sing. He had me singing lead on “Take Me Home Tonight” in certain parts like, “I can feel you breathe/I can hear your heart beat faster.” I was going, “Jesus, are you sure about this Ed? They came to see you not me!” I just did the best I could. I sang a lot in Dave’s group too.
And I’ve also been doing this Beatles gig with Brett Tuggle and some of my friends from the David Lee Roth Band and man people just love that stuff! I mean everybody comes out. We just got a call from Billy Crystal, who wants us to come up and do the party for the Seinfeld ending! They want The Lads to play. It’s great, but I really would sweat it. Playing Paul McCartney’s bass lines and singing Paul McCartney’s vocals is very difficult, I have to work. But hey, these guys are doing it so I might as well do it. I learned a lot. Singing and playing is hard. It’s like chewing bubble gum and walking at the same time… difficult. (Laughs)
I don’t know how Geddy Lee does it. I guess practice, practice. You don’t say can’t, just do it. How do you know you can’t do it unless you try? (Laughs) I sound like a Columbia Broadcasting commercial, “You never know what you can do until you try.” But it’s true. I taught a couple of people on the way up who wanted to learn bass, and I taught this one 14 year old females bass. My God we need more female bass players! It’s a very attractive instrument because it has such a simple movement but such a big output, such a huge sound. If you watch a good bass player it’s just like you can almost taste it just looking at their fingers tickling the strings. It’s this huge sound and it’s just so commanding.
UA: I always loved the fact that you don’t just hear it, you feel it.
Damn straight! Right between the shoulder blades. I had this concert rig that used to shake my pant leg when I’d stand in front of it, I loved that!
UA: Just rattles your spine.
Yes! It’s like a good ride on a motorcycle that’s revving up real high. I love it! Oops, I think we lost the question. What question did you ask me?
UA: Whether you thought you would ever be interested at all in doing a lead vocal?
Let me see… I’m going by the way I felt, and I really feel good doing it, so I think so. The more I do it the more I enjoy it. It’s something that… well, like Jimi Hendrix. He didn’t like his voice so he sang like he talked (sings a line from “Purple Haze”).
UA: Well, I guess the bottom line is that, in a way, it doesn’t really matter what you think of your voice if everybody else is diggin’ it. I guess then you just kind of shrug your shoulders and go with it.
Right, right. I’m like, “Come on Bruce, come in here and sing with me, will ya?” I was starting to have too much fun with it! Curt was a great producer to work with, everybody was. There was a focus, ‘Let’s get this stuff done,” but it was also, “Let’s have some fun with it.” I actually thought I was overworked on the singing department but you know what, there’s nothing we can’t do live and that’s really what’s important to me. It’s like, “Can we do this live? Yeah, of course we can!” ‘Cause while I’m singing it, I’m thinking, “Okay, playing it and singing it, I gotta be able to reproduce it.”
Once I was in this group and I read a review that said that vocals were so good that they had to be sampled. Well I felt like writing a letter back to this guy, “Hey pal, you know what? For your interest, if you care or not, ’cause you certainly write about it, they weren’t samples!” It was a very high compliment, indirectly. It was in a popular magazine, but he wasn’t accusing us of it, he just said it like they had to be because they were very good. But they really weren’t sampled. Vocals are very important. Even if you’re not singing, in songs like… um….. the opus….
UA: “Let It Flow.”
Yes! “Let It Flow.” Thanks, I’m drawing blanks here. I wanted to put this like (makes “huffing” heavy breathing type sound), you know you can make “gutter sounds” if you’ve got like five to ten guys doing that, then you can mix it way back. It’s like a feel thing. Or you get like a stamping going on the studio floor, just trying all kinds of stuff. I love trying new stuff and I love trying things I’ve learned from other situations and my personal stuff or stuff I’m working on. But the studios are expensive and we only have time to do so many things or I’d probably still be there playing around.
UA: Well, you’ve got your own mini-playground at your house.
Yeah, but it’s no fun doing it by myself. I gotta have people here.
UA: Invite people over and have a party.
Yeah, well at last my place we had a 24 track studio in the house.
UA: That’s why you always had people dropping by then I guess.
Yeah. Because that’s really where the whole deal is. Writing the music is very important in this business. Authorship, the arranging. Being called into situations that are almost complete has happened a lot with me, and I’m really looking forward to starting some ground up stuff with these guys because already there appears to be good chemistry happening. And I think there will be even better chemistry happening with Brent and me being more involved. Brent is certainly musical enough, and I’d like to think I am, so let’s throw it up and see how it comes down. It’s definitely gotta be democratic, make it all of us.
John and Bruce have come from groups where there’s a lot of press going on, especially with Metal Edge magazine. And it’s not like me and Brent are left in the cold, and those guys truly don’t want it that way, but people are gonna have some questions: What about KISS? What about Mötley Crüe? To get that out of the way real quick, Vince Neil used to be in a band with a friend of mine and we used to play around Pasadena together, a group called Raw Candy. And Tommy Lee used to play with a friend of mine in a group called Dealers, this was before Mötley Crüe. The lead of that band sent me a CD and I had forgotten that I had played on it, but Tommy Lee had worked on some of the music for them too. I was just kind of surprised, I didn’t even know that we had worked on projects together.
UA: What was that you said about a small world?
That’s right! Getting smaller too.
UA: It’s closing in on you, and you look like a pretty big guy from the photos I’ve seen.
Oh yeah, watch out man! I’m kicking asses and taking names! (Laughs) I’m up there. I was hanging with Sebastian Bach one night and my God he’s a tall guy! A really good looking fellow too. If you see him in a picture you would think he was 5’7″ or so because it depends on your perspective too, it’s hard to tell in single pictures. Proportion also has a lot to do with it. I mean, my twin brother and I are about the same size, and for being tall and fairly thin as a bass player I guess it kind of works you know? And I worked with Howard Stern on this thing in Cleveland and man he’s a tall fellow too! But he’s like a bean pole, he’s very thin.
UA: What did you work with him on?
We did what you call a funeral. When he went number one on the radio in Cleveland and knocked the top jocks off there he threw this big party set next to strip bar. He called Dave up and said, “Hey, you guys wanna do it?” We all said, “Yeah man, let’s do it.” So we went out to do this thing called a funeral where he throws this big party to kind of like rub it in the DJ’s faces, the losers! It was a great event! There were like 100 strippers on the stage and all these people like Joey Buttafuco and his wife, the president’s brother, Howard’s whole crew was there and it was all live on the radio! It was a blast!! Our guitar player, Rocket, was on the stage and when we were ready to start playing nobody could find him there were so many people on stage! So we were kind of delayed. We were playing “Jump,” “Panama” and I know he’s a David Lee Roth fan, a Van Halen fan, so Howard was just looking at me and I looked over to him and I just kind of nodded, “Come on over man, jump in.” So he walks right out man and jumps on a mic and we shared the same mic. I was really, really excited because people think he’s this jerk, this pig. Like everybody thought Archie Bunker was a snob and a pig, but there really is a heart in people like that they just have their own way.
After the show I was at the airport, it was kind of like a midnight run where we just went out there and did the gig, hung out at the strip bar, got to bed for about an hour’s sleep, then turned around and went back. Anyway, he comes running across the airport, him and Robin, to thank us all graciously, and Dave wasn’t even around. I’m like, “God, this is the nicest guy in the world.” I just turned into a big Howard Stern fan. I don’t listen to radio much, but I would support him because I think he’s a nice guy. I had a personal experience with him, and it really blew me away. But he’s really tall, there’s a lot of tall people around in rock ‘n roll. I love people of all sizes.
UA: There you go.
I love this Coors beer I’m drinking too.
UA: I love this Harp I’m drinking.
Harp, that’s a good beer.
UA: My second favorite beer, right behind Guinness. I’m a big fan of the British and Irish beers.
Going through Ireland and Britain and all that there’s a lot of stuff to taste. I remember this stuff called Dogbolter, I had it in London. Two pints of that and my God get me out of here!
UA: I’ve never tried that one. Did you try Brains when you were in Wales?
UA: It’s called Brains S.A. The locals call it Skull Attack ’cause that thing will put you under the table!
Natural sedative, you’re right. Actually, I don’t know if I have tried it or not, Beth.
UA: Maybe you did and you just don’t remember! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Yeah, but the stuff that I remember that really kicked me was this Dogbolter stuff.
UA: I’ll be sure and look that up the next time I get back over there.
It’s tough stuff I’ll tell you. Coors in a can is good for me. I hate to sound like such a lightweight, but when you have those heavy beers you can have just one of them and you feel like you’ve had a whole meal.
UA: That’s true. Moving on… Do you have any pets?
I had a big snow dog, a cinnamon and white malamute/husky type that I found around New Year’s day. I figured somebody had come in from out of town and lost it. We came to this conclusion because they’re not very good homing dogs, but they love to run. This dog was big, alpha male and he boogied and just took off. He’d get out of anything! I called him Houdini, but his real name was Buck. I lost him when he got loose and got hit by a car. I didn’t even bother taking all these signs down… he got out so often I finally just kept the signs up. I left them up and one day I got a call from a vet saying, “I have your dog.” I said, “That’s impossible, I found him on the destroyed list at the pound.” He told me he could loose his job because he stole the dog before they destroyed it, he just couldn’t do it. The dog had lost his tags in all the commotion and when he got hit by a car they didn’t know whose dog it was and so I never saw the dog again. He told me it had gotten loose, that he’d taken it up north up to Northern California to his mom’s ranch and it got loose. That sounds good, because that was basically my experience with him.
I have an Amazon parrot named Paco, it’s a yellow nape. I call him my automatic letter opener. I take him to the mail box, I actually take him a lot of places, but I’ll take him up to the mailbox and he’ll be sitting on my arm or my shoulder and I’ll hold the mail out and he’ll take it and just tear all the way down the side of it. They like to use their beak, parrots like to keep their beaks up so they’ll chew on all kinds of things.
UA: Does he talk?
Yes, but I haven’t spent a lot of time training it to talk. He’ll say his name but you really have to work with him a lot. When I got my bird I thought it had been abused ’cause his feathers were messed up and the other birds around him, there were a couple of big scarlet macaws, he’d been picked on by the other birds. So I had to be real easy with it. Birds like mine are like that, they either like you or they don’t. You know very quickly if they like you or they don’t. I always warn people to keep their hands away from him, because they have to get to know you. People are big and they’re just these tiny things, you know?
UA: Um, yeah, I’m in touch with that.
(Laughs) They’re very protective of themselves, but my bird is a sweetheart. He does talk. He says things, little phrases. He doesn’t sing “I Left My Heart in San Francisco” or anything! You have to work with him with tapes and stuff. You’re supposed to get a rotating tape that says things continuously. That’s all I have, I have a bird. I had a tarantula. I had a Chilean Red, but when I moved out of the Studio City place after West’s death I gave it to my friends there to take care oft. That’s the extent of my pets.
UA: An interesting variety. How about your birthday, when is that?
I was born in Pasadena on September 23, 1963. I’m a earth sign. What’s that joke? My mom’s a water sign, my dad’s an earth sign, together they make mud! (Laughs) I think that was the year of the cat, I don’t know. That song “The Year of the Cat,” what’s he talking about? It’s like “The Age of Aquarius,” I’ve always been the kid in a lot of groups. In ’84 I was playing in the Copacabana in Tokyo, Japan, playing swing orchestra, and I was 10-15 years younger than everybody in the band. I was kind of like the smart mouth little kid that used to get fined for being a minute late. Trying to get a cab across Tokyo is a nightmare! But still, they were really busting my chops, you know what I mean? Keeping me in line. And that’s good, but never give yourself up. You learn things, punctuality, etc. and they’ll go out of their way to make sure you do learn it. They gotta beat up on somebody. I think Brent’s the youngest guy in this band. I’m gonna be 35 and I act like a 10 year old for Christ’s sake. Brent’s… I don’t know how old he is.
UA: He’s 27.
27?! He’ s still in his teens! 27-teen. (Laughs) Seriously though, everybody seems like they’re the same age in this group. I can’t believe I’m as old as I am, but I made it this far.
UA: Yes, you have. And just for the record, there’s one thing I’d like to clear up straight from your mouth. Who are “you?” James or Jamie? Which do you prefer?
It’s funny cause I was just talking about that with Brent. I have a relative named Jamie, he’s a race car driver, and growing up around the house I was always Jamie. I always said Jamie to give room for people who want to call me James, ’cause everybody knows that Jamie is James. It’s like Eddie Van Halen, Eddie always hated Eddie. If you know him call him Edward. The guitar magazines called him Eddie Van Halen, but he prefers Edward Van Halen. I would prefer James. I’m more of a James than I am a Jamie. As I get older, the years are getting shorter so I take either one, but I prefer James actually. But I don’t mind Jamie. I don’t know if I’d ever be a Jim or Jimmy, nobody’s gone there so I guess that’s cool.
Being a twin, I would answer to my brother’s name Joey. Names aren’t really even that much to me because I did grow up a twin and I’ve even shared my name and identity. James is cool and I have no problem if down the road everything becomes James, I wouldn’t mind it at all. Bruce asked me about what name and I don’t know why I said Jamie but I think the reason is so people can call me James if they want. Some people are real persnickety about their names, I’m not. It’s up to whoever wants to call me James or Jamie, they call me James or Jamie.
UA: They could be calling you worse.
Yeah. Either way I’m gonna look around.
UA: Speaking of sharing names and identities, do you have any interesting stories about some of that funky stuff people say twins always do like faking people out at school?
I don’t really have any good stories, but if somebody comes up and starts talking to me and thinks I’m Joey, depending on my feeling I might listen for a little bit, especially if they’re talking about me! But not for too long, ’cause I’m just harassing them. If you pay attention you can tell a difference. It just tells you how much people pay attention because we’re two different individuals. Some people tell me, “I don’t know how people get you guys mixed up, you’re like night and day!” But then there’s another group of people that say, “I can’t tell the two of you apart.” I don’t really know where that’s at.
UA: I would think the distinction would get wider and wider the older you got as well. It’s different when you’re talking about two kids that mom is dressing the same or similar, the same haircuts…
Right, the Bobbsey Twins! Mommy got us each one of everything.
UA: But I would think at this point in your lives as grown men who have led different lives and have experienced different things that there’d be a world of difference.
More like grown men playing hookey from life!
UA: Hey, well it’s a good gig if you can get it.
Yeah, certainly. Everything takes a little bit of effort. My brother actually got called to play with KISS and went down and to play with them. This was before Bruce had even joined, this was when Ace left the group. KISS was a big thing back then and here’s Gene Simmons calling my house! We were like 17-18 years old.
UA: Did he just try out, play demos, what?
A fellow from this group Smile that was playing around with Van Halen at the time, who later got in the Eddie Money Band, recommended my brother, said he’d be perfect. Tall, thin, dark hair. My brother ended up not getting the gig after trying out, but it’s kind of an interesting thing that I ended up working so closely with somebody involved with KISS, Bruce. It’s just strange how things work out. I really I’m excited to work with Bruce, he’s a very unique. I met his brother years ago when his brother played in a group called Skull.
Bruce is a mysterious fellow. He doesn’t lead on a lot, but he’s very sincere and speaks his mind and with people of his caliber that’s what you should expect. They are very direct about what they want. That’s why it’s kind of cool. It’s kind of the same attitude when we first got together, I’d like to see that this band is for me too. I don’t want to be a hired gun, I’d like to be a part of the band. And so far he and John have been very good about that. I had a friend, Walt Woodward, that was playing drums in John’s group, The Scream, and I actually called him in to do the Outpatient’s tour. Once again, small world.
UA: Yeah, you can feel it getting smaller all the time.
Right, and now that we’re one nation under cable it’s smaller!
UA: How about one nation under the Internet? You mess around with that much?
I don’t mess around with it much. I have a computer, I just haven’t hooked it up to the Internet and it’s high time I do it. I have to go and get set up. I have all the discs and everything to do it, but I’m afraid of falling in and never getting out!
UA: There’s definitely the potential for that.
Certainly, the world at your fingertips. My brother had some steaks flown in from Omaha. You order them and they come in on ice, so we had these beautiful Omaha steaks! It’s wild. I’ve been on a few other Internet sites with different projects where they asked me a little bio and what not and there it is. I don’t even know where they are, but it wouldn’t be hard for me to find out, ’cause they’re my friends. I was reading Brent’s interview and he mentioned something about Jaco James. Over the years I’ve gotten that, and what’s funny is I never really studied Jaco.
Jaco played with a group called Weather Report, which was a very high infusion group from the mid 70’s on up. Jaco was this crazy guy, this white guy that kind of brought the younger white people to Charlie Parker and these great jazz players. He had like these Pete Townshend things where he used to do back flips off his amp, but he’s an incredible bass player. Self proclaimed world’s greatest bass player. He died a tragic death. I play a lot like him. Although I get calls to do a lot of rock ‘n roll stuff, at home I play very different styles, very ethnic oriented and I enjoy playing very technically difficult stuff, but I don’t sit home and shred all night. I guess the next time I go online I’ll be checking out our interview. I haven’t read John’s or Bruce’s so I guess they’ll all be complete and I can do it all in one sitting.
UA: Yep. You’ve done things obviously over the years like the NAMM show, and that actually according to Brent is where he saw you for the first time. Did you guys actually meet there, do you even remember that?
NAMM, it’s an acronym for National Association of Music Merchants. It means that everybody who sells music equipment is there and everybody who plays musical equipment is there. So it’s quite a horse show if you know what I mean. A horse show is a bunch of horses showing their asses to a bunch of horses asses showing their horses! A lot of good stuff though. I was hanging out with Al Hendrix and Noel Redding last year. I played with Edward Van Halen… I mean everybody’s down there! It’s just wild, it’s a lot of fun. I don’t remember meeting Brent, and even though there’s so many people at these things and I’m sure I’d remember Brent because he has these piercing eyes.
UA: He said that he saw you on stage doing some kind of Beatles thing.
Those were The Lads. It’s possible, yeah, it’s possible. That convention is the type of thing where you if you don’t have personal relationships with people, that’s where you kind of rekindle them every year, the Winter Convention. They have one in Chicago, and the Winter one happens out here in Anaheim. This month it’s gonna happen in L.A. because they’re remodeling Anaheim. It’s quite an event and you keep up with people that you don’t see often because they’re on the road or whatever. That’s a place to update phone numbers, etc. It’s a hang where you also can hook up with things. Meet a lot of people, what am I trying to say? It’s a good place to be a musician. It’s a good place for…
Contacts! That’s the word, thank you. I’m sitting here struggling, you throw in one word, I’m like yeah, thanks.
UA: Yeah, well, three years of my life and a huge sum of money from law school and I can fill in blanks… there you go.
That’s good though. I think it’d be great to be a lawyer. As a matter of fact, you almost have to be an entertainment lawyer to survive in this business, that’s half the game is knowing.
UA: It seems like music business is very cutthroat.
Anything that has a bit of glamour and good money involved, you know everybody’s gonna be going after that. Anybody can play music, that’s a very small part of it, and having political awareness. Writing a song and recording it and playing it is one thing, but in selling it and marketing it there’s all kind of different facets that you have to take into consideration. You better be pretty knowledgeable if you want to succeed in any form in this business. You have to grow up, otherwise the mutts are gonna get the money! Everybody’s ripped off at some point, it’s just a matter of how much. You can’t keep track of everything, like the pirating, so it’s good to nail your tent down and have people you can trust around you. Because there are, as you said, a lot of cutthroats and a lot of jive turkeys, and a lot of them are talented. Some people that are really talented actually went to the business side of the track because that’s where they could make more money. They can still play at the pub or whatever, bring the grand piano home, but they’re making so much money on the business end. What part of law did you study?
UA: General practice, I didn’t specialize in anything. I only recently graduated and am still up to my eyes in debt.
You know what though, you’ve got something to show for it! That’s the most important thing, you have an education.
UA: Yeah, and I guess as corny as it sounds that’s something that no one can ever take away from me.
You said it! And being a tax payer, I’m happy to have been a part of it! Some people have those opportunities and they don’t take them. I was doing a gig down by USC and I never saw so many people treat college like it was a sandbox! They just didn’t care. If I went back to college I’d get my degree in international marketing or finance. Why would I study music? Why? It doesn’t make any sense. The teachings of my father would be go where the money is. There’s a lot of lawyers though, especially in California. You probably know more about that than I would. I don’t know, I’m guessing that there are a lot of lawyers.
UA: Um, yeah. And California I do think has the most lawyers of any state.
That would explain it. That’s why we have a lot of Mercedes Benz out here! Pretty soon out here they’ll have us wearing football helmets in the shower so we don’t sue the guy who put the grouting in, you know.
UA: It is out of control and I can say that. I’m not one of those people who takes the lawyer jokes personally. The way I look at things, you should only take things personally if they are appropriate, and if not you let it roll off your back. You shouldn’t be offended if you know it doesn’t apply to you.
Exactly! Like me being a musician, sometimes I’m treated like I’m a low life that possesses only the primitive elements. People actually do treat me like that!
UA: They’re surprised when your IQ is actually higher than the number of strings on your guitar, right?
(Laughs) Yeah! I played in places where people talk to me about making it and all that. I remember playing a stadium gig and coming home later that night and playing a dingy little bar with my friends and having just as much fun. But there’s always somebody who goes talking to me about making it and all that. I just listen, yeah yeah, and in the meantime that might be me playing on the jukebox in the background! I just try and be polite about it, yeah thank you for your support and all that. They’re just trying to be nice and relate, but a lot of times it seems like they’re putting you down. I’m there ’cause I love playing, I’m not there to entertain them. They can entertain themselves. Know what I mean? Sometimes people don’t always give you the benefit of the doubt, they think since your playing in a dumpy little bar you can’t or haven’t made it.
My friend Bob Birch, who plays bass in the Elton John Band, when he gets off the road he still goes out and plays. I walked around the corner in Studio City and saw him playing and kind of did a double take. But the guy is just like me, you know? He just loves playing. You don’t always have to be playing on a huge stage or even with a lot of people. If there’s one person that comes up and really enjoys what you did then that’s really wonderful. Everything doesn’t have to be big and glamorous and this and that, that’s not really where the rubber meets the road. It’s important if you’re looking for longevity, but it’s not what really makes the fundamental wheel turn. What matters is just having a song with some friends. Leave it alone, I’m not here to change the world. Don’t put me there! You can buy me a beer, but don’t put me there as president!
UA: Damn! There goes my whole next line of questions about health care, nuclear proliferation, and other random world events! (Laughs)
(Laughs) Oh yeah, very important, very important.
UA: I’m sure many people have said it, but I remember Paul Stanley said something like, “There’s nothing more boring than a musician who gets a hit record and suddenly thinks he knows something,” referring to musicians spouting off all their opinions on world events and how we should solve this crisis and that and it’s like, “Shut up! You play the guitar.”
Yes, and you usually find a lot of them at the democratic convention! Like just ’cause they’re an actor everybody should swing their vote to the tune of whatever party they represent. Keep all the actors and entertainers out of it. Let the people decide for themselves. It’s all politics. Everything is political, it’s ridiculous. The bottom line is everybody should vote with their conscience, if they vote at all. It’s all politics and unfortunately the world of music is politics at its best. There’s a lot of first string attitudes with fifth string abilities, and a lot of the jive talkers you find on the scene can make a life of that by just being in the right place, schmoozing and all that. I just could never do not that, I’m really not a good schmoozer. That’s a whole scene that I don’t really know much about, but you have to put some time into it. I’ve been lucky to get any gig I’ve gotten, I’ve been very fortunate.
UA: It’s all a great big game. Life is a big game to a certain extent, the question is just how are you gonna handle it and how much are you willing to play the game.
Right. Just do your best, have a good spirit, play your best and have something to talk about in the locker room after you’re done. You don’t try and hurt anybody, but there’s a lot of kicking and clawing. If I wasn’t playing music who knows where’d I be. I’d probably be in jail. But when I’m driving I listen to classical music. Not like it’s the violins taming the beast, but it actually helps me to think and relax. I guess that’s what I use music for. What I listen to and what I play are two different things, they vary. You don’t want to come home and listen to high energy music when you just got finished playing it. So, I’ll pop in a harpsichord record just ’cause I want to go mediaeval, to put me in a certain state of mind. That’s what’s kind of neat about this record, there’s different places it takes you to: there’s some canyons, some valleys, some mountains, and it’s all pictures. Music is pictures. Notes are colors and music is pictures! How’s that? Does that sound worldly or what? (Laughs)
UA: That sounds very worldly! (Laughs) Probably frightening to some people too, “Oh no! What did he mean by that?”
It means I don’t know much. I have to try and break it down into simple things. Simple. I’m not schooled in music, but at the same time I am ’cause I’ve put so much time into it. Notes are colors and sound is like a picture. I wrote a thing in college about music from the past and how when you hear it, immediately it brings back memories in picture form, to me at least.
UA: Yes. Actually John and I talked about that same concept. He was talking about putting up Christmas decorations and hearing that song “Unbreak My Heart,” and he said that it stopped him in his tracks because it brought into his mind and into his heart an exact snapshot of a moment in his life that was almost overwhelming.
UA: Yeah. I’ve had that experience too, as I’m sure most people have, where there are certain songs that forever will be associated with certain moments in your life because you just so identify the song with the event.
UA: And it goes beyond the audio facet and becomes an almost visceral experience.
Exactly! And it doesn’t change, it’s a feeling. For me it was “Silly Love Songs” by Paul McCartney. I was driving through Los Angeles and there’s this 76 sign painted on the side of this building, huge, you know? And I was coming back from the beach, I was playing electric bass back then and really digging on the bass parts, but for some reason that 76 sign and the music and the whole feeling at the time is just so vivid. This happens with many different songs and it can be negative too. You could dislike a song ’cause when you first heard it or whatever you’re having a bad experience. I don’t know how it works, but for me that’s why I say that songs are pictures. That’s primitive and I think everybody has that, I would hope. Everybody’s a musician, everybody has talent. Talent seems like a word that someone would use dismiss years of hard work like it just fell out of the sky and hit you on the head. I don’t think so! It takes a lot of time and effort, not calculated effort, but just interest and genuine love.
UA: Being willing to put in the hours.
Yeah. “Talent” could be somebody that’s able to drive their car in the rain without crashing, who knows, but everybody has ability. I think everybody has talent, maybe some just don’t know it. I received a gift from a friend I had helped out with the bass, helped her get a bass guitar and got her really going on that, and she gave me this thing that says, “Failure is Impossible.” It’s this hippie pendant, and if you look close at any pictures of the band I’m probably wearing it. It’s all written in, it’s from 1966, and it has like these really hippie letters so you have to look real close to see what it means or what it says cause it’s not easy to read. So failure is impossible, hell what do you have to lose? We all have the right to make an ass of ourselves in the spirit of learning or discovering. Just take a bite or, like Van Halen said, “Jump.”
UA: The bottom line is, with the exception of very few things, most decisions are not life altering. You try it, if it works it works, if it doesn’t it doesn’t. The sun will still rise tomorrow and the earth will keep spinning in any event.
That’s right. And if you go around that earth you feel more and more humbled ’cause there are so many different things going on. At the time of the Bible there’s not that many people on the planet. Now the planet’s having a population explosion and all of that, there’s a lot of bodies out there and very few souls. It’s weird, it’s your life as soon as you figure that out you can do anything you want to do. Hell, if I’m here playing and making records and doing this stuff, I definitely support the theory you can do anything ’cause I’m doing what I always really loved to do. And I’ve had a chance to work with some of my idols!
It’s almost a joke, you have to take it humorously. You can’t take something like that too seriously. I say jokingly, I still have ’em all fooled! (Laughs) I just love playing! It’s not about being the best or the worst, I just love playing. And I want to be around people who love playing. It’s not everything to me, I love doing other things too, but music is serious business to me and always has been. If I had a passion for anything, especially to last this long, that’s it. It’s just a turn on. We’ve been talking for about two hours, is that too long?
UA: Actually, with you guys that’s turning out to be about the average.
UA: Yep. I talked to Brent for two hours and I talked to John for three. But like you said, once you get talking it doesn’t seem that long. Hopefully this hasn’t been painful for you, it certainly has been enjoyable for me.
No, not painful at all. Today felt really good because it rained and it was real quiet and I didn’t do a whole lot of interviews. I don’t mind doing them, in fact I certainly don’t mind because I do have a voice and I do have an opinion. I think there’s something to be said for the time I’ve put in and the things that I’ve learned… if I can only figure out what it was! (Laughs)
UA: (Laughs) Well we were very interested in talking with you and Brent in particular because you two are the guys in the band least known to the fans. We really thought you guys needed a platform, and so we wanted to give you a chance to say what was on your minds and let the fans get to know you. And they’re really liking what they’re seeing and reading!
Great! Tell ’em if I get broken down that I got spare parts.
UA: They can rebuild him, they have the technology.
That’s right! I came with spare parts, batteries included!
UA: We’ve covered quite a bit, but is there anything else that you want to say to all the fans who are going to read this and are waiting for the record?
God Bless you and I hope you enjoy it! We’ll see ya there. There’s nothing better than playing for people that really come to see you. If it were up to me we’d play for five hours. I just say thanks, thank you! Thanks for letting me be here. Anything worthwhile takes a lot of work and focus is the most important thing. You can do anything you want to do, don’t let anybody tell you you can’t, that’s the deal. I’m more than happy to share my feelings about things, this band, my idea about this, that or the other. This web stuff is really powerful. I’ve never done anything this extensive for a website and I’m really excited about it! I hope everybody doesn’t think I’m full of shit. I’m just saying how I feel today. I thank God I’m still doing it, especially with guys that are so cool! There’s four different individuals in this band that were each a letter or number, and together we all add up to something. This is the first effort, this record, and I’m really excited about it. I’m proud to be a part of it!
UA: Very cool.
And there’s a lot more to come. There’s more where that came from, as they say! I’ve always wanted to meet “they,” who’s “they?”
UA: Yeah, like the four out of five doctors who recommend… personally, I’d like to know who they are and where they went to school.
And who’s paying ’em!! (Laughs) It was nice chatting with you, Beth. Thanks for being so cool and going easy on me!
UA: Hey, this isn’t 60 minutes here. I just wanted to hang with you a little bit, and on behalf of everybody who’s going to read this I thank you so much for taking the time to do it.
You’re welcome! I did my best.
– UNION: Do Your Own Thing Live DVD Promo Clip –
Note: This interview was originally posted on the website UNION Asylum, which I was co-owner/content manager of from 1997-2002. ©Elizabeth Sneed/Elizabeth A. White