Meeting Eazy E and Dr. Dre
In 1989 I was playing with my band Jimmy Z and the Soul Lips at the China Club in Hollywood to a packed house when my manager Gary Ballen came up to the stage and told me Dr.Dre and Eazy E were in the house. NWA had just exploded not only just on the burgeoning Gansta Rap scene but nationwide with Fuck Tha Police.
Gary had been their tour manager on their record setting Fuck Tha Police World Tour (just imagine what that gig was like – LOL). Gary was also a VP of Easy E’s record company Ruthless Records… and white… and Jewish. I used to say, “hey you fuck!! and “muthafuckaaaaa!!!!!” in my act back then… a lot (still do). So they come back stage and the first thing Dr Dre says to me is “man, it’s not motherfucker! Its muthafucka!!!” So I say “I know that mutha fucka!!!! That’s what I’m saying muthafucka!!!!” We had a good laugh and a lot drinks and hit it off pretty well…
Late Night Rendezvous with Dre and Eazy E
A week or so after we’d met I’d given Gary a demo tape of a couple of songs I thought were rap. Livin’ Life A to Z and The Company You Keep. I had totally immersed myself in NWA records and any other rap shit I could get my hands on. I was tryin’ to be dope… not a dope… or on dope… but dope. Which now every white kid in America or the world for that matter knows means, “it’s cool.” Well, now you know the reason reason Dre raps on my album and I don’t.
I was only ten years older than Dre and Eazy and from early on in my career I had hung with a lot of brothers playing in dives not far from the shit everybody thought was so funny in the movie The Blues Brothers but for REALZ with some Baddaassss muthafuckas with all the slang and jive that comes with the territory. But with these guys it was a “whole ‘nother universe” of shit I’d never heard.
So Gary calls and says Dre and Eazy liked the demo and they want to meet that night out in Westlake Village. Now if you’re not familiar with the Los Angeles city proper, Westlake Village is way out west on the 101 Freeway past the San Fernando Valley, past Thousand Oaks and just about as far outta Compton on so many scales, as it gets. We’re talkin’ one of the last bastions of upper middle class Caucasian World. I remember Dre’s white neighbors sent their little daughters over once, they couldn’t have been over nine years old, to ask us if we could turn the music down. What a chicken shit mutha fucka… sending his little girls over.
Gary and I first went to his cousin’s house in Westlake Village. Gary’s cousin is the infamous Jerry Heller, manager at the time of NWA and President of Ruthless Records and the first thing he does is show me his gun. Keep in mind Jerry and Gary are both white and Jewish. I often commented to Jerry Heller how amusing I thought the teaming up of one the most notorious “Gansta Rap Bands” in history and one of the most notoriously ruthless Jewish booking agents in showbiz and Jerry would shrug and say, “It’s not so far fetched. We are two of the most abused and trod upon peoples in history.” Hard to argue with that, especially when he’s holding a gun on me… You can read all about what Jerry thinks of things in his autobiography – Ruthless: A Memoir.
Writing songs with Dr. Dre
We set a day to meet at Dre’s house in Westlake Village. I show up and no one is home. I sit in my car an hour and finally he rolls up in a brand new Corvette with a shit eatin’ grin.
He jumps out of the car and sprinting to his front door he waves me to come in. Apparently, he was under some kind of court ordered house arrest with some kind of electric bracelet around his ankle. Dre was trying to beat the clock and if he didn’t… well LA County here we come…
We go up to his studio and I set up all my shit, saxes, flutes, harps and amps and he…looks them over and says, “How ‘bout the flute?” I’m like, “ok” but really it’s the one wind instrument I’m really not that proficient on. That day we wrote The Funky Flute. Dre raps on it and I sing and… drum roll… play flute!! Pure genius.
I think Dre says my name 50 times in the song. Apologies for the video quality, but it’s all we’ve got… It was a fun shoot – LOL.
The next song we wrote came about from my answering machine at home. I’d just separated from my first wife and was wasting no time getting back on the scene with the women. Every time I’d get some crazy message from a girl I’d call Dre and say “Hey, I got another one…check it out.” We’d laugh and then finally after the 20th one he says “bring those messages to the studio and we’ll make a song with ‘em.” Hence the next song Phone Sexxx. When you listen to that song please keep in mind every one of those messages is real from my old style mini tape answering machine. You cannot make that shit up. LOL What I dig about the song is the rhythm and melody of the verses Dre wrote for the black girls to sing. It really is a very sophisticated piece of writing. Now the lyrics were another story. The girls sing this:
Call me when you need someone for satisfaction
When you’re all alone just reach for your phone
You got the number, off the bathroom wall
Do yourself a favor, give Jimmy Z a call
And then I come in with a deep, Barry White type voice saying
For Phone Sexx, baby… Yeah, just reach out and touch.
Let your fingers do the walkin’.
Pure cheese. But it was sooooo damn funny at the time.
We were falling down laughing with tears in our eyes, cracking up too. But after a while I’m really getting sick of hearing my name in these songs. I swear my name was literally said close to 50 times in two songs. I brought it to Dre’s attention one day as diplomatically as I could and he just barely gave me a sideways look from the recording consule and as he went back to mixing a track said, “Shut the fuck up, you’re gonna be famous & rich… and you gonna be fucking Apollonia!”
I sighed and just stared at the wall. I really just wanted to make a funk, R&B, Blues type record. Who was I to argue? He wasn’t the household name yet at the time that we’ve come to know now doing Dr. Pepper commercials and stuff like that, but he was a very successful producer with Number One records on the charts as we were working on my album. And we still hadn’t got signed to a record deal yet… soooooo… I shut the fuck up and had fun and worked daily for over two years with one of the most talented cat’s I’ve ever worked with.
Recording with NWA
Eazy E was one crazy muthafucka… and funny too. One day I had just pulled into the Ruthless Records parking lot and saw Eazy standing next to a brand new beamer, a 750i with all the trimmings. It was just one of his 20 or so cars.
He calls me over and asks me if I could get down to the recording studio Audio Achievements in Torrance to record some flute and sax on an NWA album they were working on that eventually became EFIL4ZAGGIN or backwards NIGGAZ4LIFE. Of course I said sure and he pops open the trunk and the smell just about knocked me over. He must have had at least a kilo of chronic in a big bag in the trunk and he grabs a big handful and says ‘ya want some…?” I was wondering if this was supposed to be the payment but I just took it and said “Thanks, bro” and figured I’d work it out with Gary and Jerry later.
When I get to the studio the first thing I see is this big white biker looking dude behind the desk who turns out to be the studio owner Donovan the Dirt Biker. I introduce myself and he says that I would have to check in my piece (gun) at the desk before I can come in. I say all I’m packin’ today is a tenor sax, flute and some harps… I thought he was going to frisk me. You would have been amazed at the arsenal behind that desk some days and nights. After becoming part of the crew and seeing what went on in that studio in the ensuing months I understood the wisdom of this rule
Soon to be an internationally known thug and bad boy record exec, Suge Knight started hanging around during the making of my record. One night he comes barging in our session laughing about a drive by shooting he’d “just done” on the 405 Freeway on the way to the studio. As I came walking out of the main recording room into the control room he shot me one of those looks that can kill and said, “Sup, Jimmy Z??” My standard reply was “I’m cool.” That’s about all we ever said to each other. I really didn’t want to hear too much of what Suge had to say or else I might find myself in court… or worse!
I had a funny run in with Suge one night right after Dre’s The Chronic had hit big, selling millions. I suppose it was around 1992 or ‘93. I had just got done doing a gig with Gary Ballen, where I got paid in tips. A lot of tips. One of the funniest, fun gigs I’ve ever had. Gary’s Fuck That Song schtick is priceless. Anyway, I’m at Jerry’s Deli in the Valley and my pockets are bulging with small bills so I have the bright idea to count the money near the public phones (remember those? LOL) and bathrooms. I had seen this tricked out, styling, pickup truck pull in the parking lot when I walked in with a brother driving but didn’t pay it no mind. As I’m counting all these one dollar bills I see these big brutha walking towards me and I got money falling out my hands and pockets. I try to stuff all the shit away when I hear Suge’s high voice, “ Is that you, Jimmy Z? I thought it was you outside. How ya do doin’ bro? You was always cool Jimmy Z. You take care, man.” I said everything was cool and then he walks in the restroom. I was stunned. I had never seen Suge so cordial. I guess I caught him in a good mood. I couldn’t help but think here I am counting small change and there goes Suge driving a new car and living large off Dr. Dre’s talent. Oh well. That’s showbiz.
A typical production meeting at Ruthless Records
All in all things were going fairly smoothly on my record Muzical Madness, if you can imagine living in the world of the “Worlds Biggest Gansta Rap Group” could be. There was some definite tension in the air though. Ice Cube had just left the group accusing Eazy E of taking too much of a cut and other complaints. The harassment of the group by the FBI and other LA police agencies was no joke either.
I remember being with Gary Ballen numerous times when Eazy would call and say “…they’re pulling me over right now and I ain’t done nothing, man!!!” The cops were always pulling him over and I am still amazed how he never got busted with a stash in the trunk.
Dre was getting a little bit annoyed at Eazy E for the deal he was getting for producing Ruthless acts and with Suge talking in his ear every night to start Death Row Records. And MC Ren and DJ Yella were trying to get their licks in with solo projects, so the pot was simmering. Not to mention the racial climate was heating up in Los Angeles just a bit with the Rodney King beating and video.
So one would think with all this shit going on, that the last thing that would be on the minds of the two most powerful Niggas With Attitude would be the song list for the album of their new honky sensation. But it was….
One day in the studio, after sufficient quantities of Gin and Juice, they started arguing about a Prince song Crazy You I’d recorded and whether or not it should be on my album. Soon it was a wrestling match and then escalated to an all out brawl with furniture flying. Infamous Zydeco piano man Eddie Baytos was in the studio that day and had the misfortune of walking in when a piece of furniture whizzed by his head. He gave me a WTF look and I shrugged and said, “It’s ok…just an Executive Production Meeting.”
I’ve never really talked too much about it publicly, but I caught a lot of shit from my peers for fallin’ in with NWA back in the late 80’s. I’d been playing the blues from the first time I ever played music and was lucky enough to fall in with blues disciples like Rod Stewart and tour the world. It was Rod who first unleashed me on the world and let me blow my brains out in front of them and I will be eternally grateful. Playing black music to millions.
People forget how much rap was hated back then and still is in some circles. And now these same rock n’ roll musicians in my generation who came from black blues music back in the 60’s were punkin’ me off for hookin’ up with what could be thought of as the next natural progression. It felt like I was floating away from them.
I came from the world of blues playin’ and opening shows for the likes of Muddy Waters, Albert King, James Cotton, and Willie Dixon. And all the blues cats influenced a generation of white kids including the likes of Eric Clapton, Mick Jagger, Keith and all the rest and me included on how we played, dressed, picked up women and everything else.
I believe Rap is like the modern day blues and the influence on white kids, black kids, hell all kids in the world is undeniable. I was lucky to be in the trenches with the likes of Eazy E, Dr.Dre, Ice Cube, MC Ren and DJ Yella and witness their dedication and genius and watched them literally change the world. Look at how kids dress to this day in baggy low hangin’ clothes. That was NWA. Listen to the beats. That’s Dre.
And when I’d tell my bros I was playing with NWA and signed a record deal with them they thought I was a sellout, an asshole and much worse. It was so strange, because it all sounded so familiar to what we used to hear from our parents and older people when we were kids listening to the Stones, Elvis, Bob Dylan and Beatles and so on in the 50’s and 60’s.
Rap is so huge today. It’s influence is everywhere from commercials sellin’ soap to tampons and the newest cars from the largest car makers, to the clothes all the kids we… And sells the most CD’s.
And white kids are still eatin’ it up along with the rest of them, like we ate up the blues a couple of generations before and there ain’t nothin’ the parents can do about it.
There is another long story about why Muzical Madness never got the release and exposure it deserved that, but you can buy it today used on Amazon and see for yourself what the world missed…
And I’m out…. as Eazy E used to say.