Kevin Savigar played keyboards in the Rod Stewart Group when I joined in 1981. We met in Japan, hit it off right away, and became partners in crime immediately.
He’s one of the most talented musicians and successful songwriters you’ll ever meet and a wicked sense of humor and wit to match, Kevin and I raged and pillaged relentlessly for four weeks in Japan, 10 days in Hong Kong, and another 10 in Bangkok.
When we got back to Los Angeles to start recording “Tonight I’m Yours” at the Record Plant, Kevin got an apartment in on Alta Loma right down the hill from the infamous Sunset Marquis Hotel, a.k.a. Rock ‘n Roll Central. I lived a mile away on Hayworth and Fountain. All of West Hollywood became our playground
We terrorized the Rainbow Bar & Grill (you can still visit it today, it’s right next to the Roxy on Sunset Boulevard). The Rod Stewart Group was nothing less than dangerously notorious in the early ‘80s and we would be routinely 86ed from the club every week. And then Mario, Tony or Michael (the owner, manager, and assistant manager respectively) would give us “one more chance” and we’d start the whole cycle again by throwing girls panties up in the rafters, tennis shoes and other items of clothing we could get our hands on, dancing on tables and other various forms of silliness. To this day Tony and Michael still welcome me with open arms and often fondly reminisce on our antics and lament how groups just aren’t the same.
We finished the album and embarked on the “Tonight I’m Yours Tour” of North America. Kevin’s marriage to a British girl was on the rocks and he wanted out. He had fallen in love with a very beautiful and fun girl that happened to be a top model named Sue Bradshaw. Kevin had a thing for Brooke Shields and Sue was (in my opinion) a better-looking version of Brooke. They met at the Rainbow and they both fell for each other big-time.
We were on tour in Boston and Rod had stubbed his toe real bad on stage, so we cancelled a few dates so he could fly back to LA to get his toe worked on. Kevin and I were sittin’ around the hotel room one day bored smoking cigarettes and drinking. He was really depressed. I asked him what was up and he said the British guys in the band were busting his balls for leaving his wife and kids in England and hooking up with Sue. I asked him if he loved her. He said he did so I said “Fuck’ em it’s your life.” He looked at me like I’d just invented sliced bread. “You’re right mate. Fuck ‘em. I’m gonna ask her to marry me. Will you be my best man?” I said sure.
Man, if I’d known then what I know now what that would entail I might have answered differently. But probably not. We were mates now.
It was hard to believe that some of the craziest, world-class hooligans would have such conservative attitudes on marriage and especially of one of their fellow members of “The Sex Police” They came down hard on Kevin when he proposed to Sue and when he announced that none other than Jimmy Z, a lowly Septic Tank Yank and not a Brit would be best man all hell broke loose. The audacity. The nerve. Was nothing sacred? Apparently not!!!
As the wedding approached I was starting to freak at the reality of what it meant to not only be a best man, but best man to a member of one of the biggest rock groups in the world at the time and definitely one of the most insane. The imagination, creativity and bloody expense to host one of the most memorable Bachelor Parties of all time. Kudos are in order to Jim Cregan for all his financial help and creative input, although it must be said some of his ideas ended up coming back to bite him in the ass.
And so, it began…
I went to Western Costume Rentals in Hollywood where all the movie studios went to get costumes for decades. What a place it was (and still is)!! Four huge stories of every costume one could imagine. I’d settled on Catholic Priest outfits for us.
Fifteen of us, Rod Stewart included all decked out like Catholic Priests. I had a kit for each guy, which included a squirt gun, cigarette loads, firecrackers, cigarettes and water balloons. A pair of handcuffs with key was also purchased. I rented a fifteen-passenger van with driver and a load of booze and beer on ice (this was before stretch Hummer-Limos). I had a suite booked at the Chateau Marmont Hotel in what was supposedly the room John Belushi spent his last night on Earth.
The plan was to hit Benihana’s for dinner first and then bar hop all over Hollywood to pillage and plunder. We didn’t last through the starters. Bassist Jay Davis did one of his trademark stool tumbles bouncing right on and off the hot grill. Everyone started shooting squirt guns at him, the customers, the chef and well… we were tossed out on the street and back in the van in no time at all. We tried the elegant Palms Restaurant but they took one look at us and said no way we were gonna even walk through the door… Rod Stewart or not. NO WAY!!!
Of course we end up at the Rainbow and Mario let’s us in with the warning we pay for any and all damage. Period. No problem Mario!!! We drink ourselves silly and close the Rainbow and the party heads for the Chateau Marmont with a few more recruits along for the ride with party favors galore. I forgot to mention we used to frequent a strip club that was on La Cienega right across from one of our favorite watering holes, the Coronet Pub. We had picked up a few of the girls on the way to the Rainbow and others were invited to join us at the hotel after their shift.
The party rages and guitarist Jim Cregan makes the fatal mistake of falling asleep. He is promptly handcuffed to the bedpost along with one of the strippers. Picture him in his priest collar handcuffed to a girl with her tits out. Photos are being snapped (if it was 2012, they would have been posted instantly on a Facebook Wall) and he awakens in a surly mood that only gets worse when he surmises the situation he finds himself in. Fucking hilarious and even the more so because the handcuffs were his idea and they had been intended for Kevin. He bellowed for hours for the keys as the party went on around him. Oh well… we all pleaded ignorance to the whereabouts of the keys to the handcuffs. I still can’t recall how all that got resolved but we sure had a good laugh.
Kevin and Sue were married in a beautiful ceremony at the Bel Air Hotel and are still happily married and going on 30 some odd years and counting… and they said it wouldn’t last.
Disclaimer: In the following, I discuss my use of illegal drugs. Let me be clear, I no longer do illegal drugs or have plans to ever do them again, nor do I wish to condone or encourage their use by anyone. Illegal drugs were a part of my life in the past and I can’t change that.
I used to do sessions in the late 80’s/early 90’s for a very talented keyboard player and producer named Kim Bullard. He had played with Stephen Stills in a group called Manassas.
Around midnight one night in 1994, I get a phone call from Kim. He’s in a session at his studio in the Valley (or on the Benedict Canyon side of it, anyway), and he needs me to play harp on something right now. I asked if it couldn’t wait, and he explained he was working with Steve Stills, who was there, and the song had to be finished mixed and turned in by the morning for a movie called The Crossing Guard. Jack Nicholson starred in it and Sean Penn had something to do with it. He needed me now!
Well, when duty calls… I said sure, got the address and immediately called my dealer. I figured I’d be making double scale (around $600 at the time) so some refreshments might come in handy. It turns out he was at a night club called Number One which was located right on the way – on Sunset just past the Strip as you’re heading into Beverly Hills. I only needed to run in and I didn’t want to valet and parking is a bitch so I’m thinking of things to say to security when I pull up and who do I see but Steve Maruchi, an old friend from my Rod Stewart days. He was Rod’s bodyguard. I was driving my black Mustang 5.0 and how I didn’t kill myself and others with that car I’ll never know. I was a speed demon to the max. I pull up and he’s about to tell me I can’t park there when Steve recognizes me. We have a laugh together and I tell him I just need a minute in the club so he let’s me park right in front. I find my guy, cop a bindle, and I’m on my way.
Kim’s studio was on a very nice piece of property with some kind of creek running through it. If you didn’t know better you’d think you were in the country and not in the middle of a major city. LA can be like that. I meet Steve and he was not in a good mood.
After I was introduced we listened to the track and he said something in a gruff, gravelly, impatient, cigarette voice, “Well… ya think ya can play something on it?
I figured out what key the song was in. I believe in D as I played a G harp. How I remember these things I will never know… and wish I could tell you because I’ve forgotten what the hell I was supposed to be doing today… oh yeah!! Write!!!
I start playing some harp in the control room with the track and he’s already diggin’ it and his mood is getting way better. I go in the room play it through a few times with input from Steve and Kim and Whommp! There it is!! We’re done.
Everybody’s happy and now we’re just hangin’ and Steve asks if I’d like a glass of wine and I say why not. The studio had a big porch with sofas and chairs like an old southern house and I was doing a hit of blow when Steve walked up with the wine. He asked what I had there so I offered him some. He accepted. We drank wine, I told him what a big fan I was of Buffalo Springfield when I was growing up and how much I loved one his songs, Bluebird. I was hanging with Steve Stills… and he dug what I’d just played…
Life was good…
At the time, I was living in a Hollywood Hills apartment on North Fuller, which I had rented when I’d gotten the part in a Jennifer Jason Leigh movie, Georgia. We filmed it on location in Seattle. (Go rent the movie — I did a great job playing a musician – it was a stretch, but I pulled it off.)
I don’t think the neighbors appreciated my lifestyle. I had moved in with Heather – a 22 year old, recent grad of the University of Kentucky (yes, that one). She was beautiful, blonde, mesmerizing green eyes, long legged and full of ambition… with an incredible thirst for cocaine an insatiable sexual appetite to go along with it. It was quite a circus at times trying to feed both of them. It was pure heaven and hell with her. I suffered through it like the trooper I am.
Her Daddy was a millionaire high roller – what they call “a whale.” Caesar’s Palace used to send their jet to fly him in from Kentucky. I saw him drop $100,000 in a few hours playing blackjack in Vegas.
When I met her I thought I’d try and shelter her from my decadent lifestyle. Yeah right. One day she said she had to pick up something at her hairdresser’s place for her Daddy who she was to meet in Vegas. We drove in her late model sports car to a funky apartment building in Hollywood. I waited in the car. She goes in and comes out in 15 minutes, jumps in the driver seat and tosses me a tennis ball. I’m thinking Huh? She says squeeze the ball. I do and inside was a small baggie stuffed full of sparkly flakes of crystal meth. She’d just copped a half-ounce of meth for him to gamble on. Yeah I’m gonna keep this girl pure as the driven snow.
Anyway… few days after the recording session for the song on The Crossing Guard I get a call from Steve’s management. They said Steve wanted me to come up to his house in Beverly Hills to play the song we’d recorded. Now I’m confused. I ask the agent, “He wants me to come over and play the song?” He says, “Yeah”
So of course I ask why? I mean, it’s already recorded and mixed. We’re done. WTF? He says with some attitude, “How the hell do I know? Steve wants ya up there around 2:00 Saturday afternoon.” He gives me an address on Summit Drive.
My girl had a job as a receptionist at a Hollywood recording studio. Besides doing fair amounts of blow together we were in the midst of an erotica/ sexual toy phase of our relationship. I mean it seemed this girl didn’t see a sexual toy/dildo she didn’t want to try. Who was I to argue? After a while we had a small gym bag full of these things.
So it’s the Friday night before the Saturday that I’m to go to Stills house. My girl and I are on an all night binge of sex, drugs, video… and sex toys!!! We were like two little maniacal bunny rabbits all over that apartment till the sun came up. Whole lotta fun!! So I come to my senses the next day, look at my watch and it’s 1:30 pm. I jump out of bed and she’s out to the world. Fuck. I’ve got to be at Steve’s in 30 minutes. The apartment is trashed. Bottles, drinks, toys all over the place. I take a quick shower and usually I always take all my axes (harps, saxes, flute) whenever I go to a session or rehearsal. But this was… hell, I didn’t know what it was so I grab just one G harp for the song I played on. I figured we’d play it a few times and I’m out of there. Big mistake.
As I’m walking out of the apartment I see a note on the door from the building manager saying they had to come in and check something in about an hour. Fuck. I gather up all the toys and dildos and put them on the kitchen counter and run back to the bedroom and tell my girl the manager’s going to be there in an hour and to clean up a bit ‘cause I had to run up to Steve Stills. She mumbles something and I’m gone.
We didn’t have GPS then. The old handy Thomas Guide was my best friend. So I’m navigating to Steve’s and I take Coldwater Canyon Drive and then start driving up… and up. It ain’t called Summit Drive for nothing.
I get to the top and you have a 360-degree view of Los Angeles, the Ocean, downtown, etc. I find the place and it’s a huge incredible house. I was told later it was Barbra Streisand’s place and that Steve was renting it for $10,000 a month. Nice. It’s all right for some, eh?
I knock on the door and someone answers and tell’s me Steve is rehearsing in the barn. Rehearsing? Hmmmmm. They give me directions to the “barn” and as I’m getting closer to this actual large barn I hear a band playing very loud one of Steve’s hits, For What It’s Worth. How apropos.
I walk in and it’s a full on band rehearsal. Shit! They’re in the middle of a song. Steve sees me but looks right through me like I wasn’t there. So I just hang off to the side and listen to the music. I knew a couple of the cats, the bass player Gerald Johnson and piano/organist extraordinaire Mike Finnigan.
They finished the song and went right into another one. I’m thinking shit, this is a band rehearsal for a show — not a session. I’ve got to get Steve’s attention or I could be here listening to this all day. So they finish that song and I walk up to Steve and ask if we should play the Crossing Guard song so I can get out of his hair and he can get on with his rehearsal. He looked up at me with an annoyed, confused look and said gruffly, “Just play what you played the other day!!!”
There was silence and a pregnant pause you could stick a fork in. Finally, Finnigan in his stentorian voice (God bless him), said into the microphone, “…uh Steve… Jimmy wasn’t here the other day.” Talk about awkward. Fuck! He thought I was someone else! Steve is looking flustered and in a split second I’m thinking there’s a gig to be had here. I say real fast, “Hey, it’s cool Steve. I just live down the hill and I could go grab my sax and harps and be back in half and hour.” Yeah right. He says “Yeah, go get ‘em.” And they launch into another song.
I’m driving my Mustang 5.0 and I’m flying down that fucking hill. A gig!!! With Stills!!
“Down the hill” was more like thirty minutes minimum from Stills place to mine. I get to my apartment door and there’s a note on the door. It’s from the manager saying they let themselves in because no one answered and that they had fixed the problem. I walk in and the place is just as I left it. Dildos, bottles, full ashtrays, and shit everywhere. Jeeeeez!!!
I go to the bedroom and my girl is still in a coma. Great! I say, “Baby, I told you to clean up cuz the manager was coming over! He’s come and gone (no pun intended) and there’re dildos everywhere!” It didn’t seem to bother her or be of any importance at all at the time to her. She just rolled over and went back to sleep. Oh well, too late now.
I grabbed all my axes and bolted out the door. I get back to the barn and set up all my stuff and finish off the rehearsal. Everything seemed cool but I had no idea if I had the gig or not. The next week I get a call from Steve’s management telling me about a gig in Las Vegas. It was a corporate gig at the Hotel Rio Casino. At the time I had no idea what a corporate gig was. All I knew was there was a gig. I asked if I could get a CD or tape of the show/songs with which I could rehearse the songs. They said they’d get one over to me. I never got one.
The British have a quaint phrase for how I felt on that first gig. I felt “like a spare prick at a wedding.” At sound check no one had thought to tell the sound people or anyone else for that matter about a sax/harp player in the band. No one had given any thought to where I should set up on stage. It seemed I was just in the way. Since I didn’t know the material I figured I’d try to set up near Finnigan so I could see the keyboard and follow the changes. Smart move. Mike was so cool shouting changes to me that night and I will always be thankful. I stumbled through the gig and didn’t feel to good about it but I got the call for another gig in South Lake Tahoe.
We arrived the night before the gig in a massive snowstorm. I remember smoking coke all night watching these huge flakes come down out of my hotel window. I had grown up in Sacramento and every summer since I can remember we had spent at Donner Lake. The Lake Tahoe/Reno area was my stomping ground and I had lots of friends. A couple of pals came to the gig and it went a lot better this time.
Right before we were to go on stage I see a telephone on the wall right on the stage. I checked and it had a dial tone so I called my girl. We hadn’t been getting along and sure enough we start getting into it on the phone. Steve hears this and comes up to me and says, “Hang the fuck up! Are you outta your fucking mind! Never, EVER, talk to your chick before going on stage!” He was right. I should have known better because all I did was think about how pissed I was at her instead of the music. Good advice, indeed.
We had a good show and the house was a rockin’. It was a large casino showroom and we had rooms in that hotel. After the show my pals and I were hangin’ at the casino bar when we see Steve rumble through to a blackjack table. He looked in a surly mood. My buddy was a really good blackjack player. A few years before he’d had a card counting team and they did pretty well until they were all rounded up one day by some casino thugs who threatened to smash up their knees and knuckles if they ever tried that shit again. He wanted to meet Steve and I tried to convince him that now might not be the best time. He didn’t listen. Steve was alone at the table and when my pal sat down with him Steve told him to fuck off. Pretty funny. Steve was fucked up drunk and his penchant for blow was no state secret so he was probably gacked out of his brain because I saw him at 6 am across the street gambling at another casino.
My pals and I finally got back to my room and ordered some food from room service. One thing lead to another and a food fight ensued. And then we started trashing the room. I know… not too intelligent. When I woke up in this trashed room I look at my watch and realize I’ve missed the shuttle to Reno for the flight back to LA. I quickly dressed and inquired about a ride to the airport. If I hustled I might still make my flight. My room was a complete wreck. I left.
As I’m waiting for my ride in front of the casino this tricked out early 60’s Ford Fairlane screeches to halt right in front of me with the motor revving hard. Sounded like a fucking tank. Stills is driving. He yells at me to get in, we’re going to the airport. It wasn’t snowing but it had the last two days and the shit was piled up everywhere. I’m thinking no way I’m getting in that rocket with that maniac behind the wheel who’s been up all night drinking and doing blow. Not to mention we had to drive over the Mt. Rose summit to get to the Reno Airport. He’s getting really pissed off now yelling at me to get in the car and I’m saying it’s cool. I’ve got a ride coming. It must have looked hilarious. Finally I tell him there is no way I’m getting in that fucking car with him and he roars off all pissed off.
The next week in LA I get a call from my manager, Gary Ballen. He says he just got off the phone with Stills management. Apparently my services will no longer be needed. He asked what the fuck went on up there. The hotel is asking for a lot of money in damages. I said that’s bullshit. Just some food on the walls and some chairs turned over. Then he got me. He asks, “Well, what did you do with the door to your room?” WHAT?! He says the door to your hotel room is missing. Wait a minute. Those doors are heavy. I’m not sure but I would think you’d need tools to get the damn thing off and where could I carry it. Of course, I deny it. But now I’m not sure. I could’ve sworn there was a door to the room when I had left… LOL.
Another gig bites the dust.
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.
I first met Whitesnake’s David Coverdale after an Etta James gig up at Caesar’s Palace, in South Lake Tahoe, sometime in the mid 90’s. My parents were there and I was looking for them after the show to let them backstage, otherwise I would have missed David. As I was looking for my folks, I heard this guy with a British accent. He was about to get booted out by a security guard. He was saying, “But I’ve got to talk to Jimmy Z!!” I didn’t recognize him. He had on round wire rim glasses and long overcoat and did not look like the Rock Star he is.
For some reason I told the guard “It’s OK, he’s with me.” After we got my folks through, he introduced himself and I was surprised. He was such a gentleman and went on about my harp playing and how he wanted me to come up to his home studio in Tahoe to record on his new album. It just goes to show how fate can be such a part of show business. As luck would have it he saw the right gig. Sometimes Etta wouldn’t even call the Jimmy Reed song I performed with her and I could go several concerts without ever playing harmonica. (Here’s one story of what happened to me when I played this song with Etta.)
We exchanged numbers and I went back to LA. He called and we set up a date. David called me the night before I was to fly up and said he was really sick with a cold. He wanted to postpone the session. I had a six month old daughter, a wife, and I had just gotten clean. I had just sold most of my saxophones to rent an apartment, so I really needed the bread. I lied and told him we’d have to do it now as my schedule was so busy. So he said. “OK, come on up.” Sorry, David, I really needed the money…
He arranged for my amp and me to be flown to Reno where I was picked up and taken to his house. And what a place! A huge mansion on the North Shore of Lake Tahoe overlooking over one the most beautiful views in the world.
He had an incredible studio in the house, too. And sooooooo many gold and platinum records on the walls. I have to be honest; I didn’t know all his history. I was not aware he was the singer in Deep Purple and so many other big, successful groups and the singer on so many songs I knew.
David was sick, but damn, he worked me so hard on that song. I swear I must have done 38 takes. He worked long and hard as if he was healthy as a horse, but he was coughing and apologizing the whole time. I’d hate to see him work ya when he’s healthy!! LOL. We even tried a couple of other songs but the harp didn’t fit.
He was the most gracious host. There was some talk this past spring (2011) that I would maybe see David again at the largest rock festival in Sweden. I was there in May and June touring with Swedish bluesman Slidin’ Slim. The promoters found out that I’d played with David and asked if I’d join in the All Star Jam. As it turned out my schedule didn’t work with the festival but that would have been great fun.
Slidin’ Slim found an interview with David where he mentions me. It’s funny… ‘cause deep down Slidin’ Slim – an award winning blues musician – is a hard-core metal head. He knows them all. Sometimes on long drives he’ll mention one or slide their CD in and I’ll say, “Oh I know those guys or I played on their CD.” During the 80’s I recorded and hung with some of the biggest metal groups and didn’t even realize it…
Excerpt from MelodicRock.com’s Interview with David Coverdale:
…No, I haven’t.
DC: Now he used to be with David Bowie, its like I’ve got all of Bowie’s guitarists in. He worked with the Tin Machine when Bowie was working with him. And a bass player guitarist called Danny Sabre who does work with Bono and U2 and stuff and was gracious enough to add some wonderful elements on “She Gives.” Yeah, so other than that I’m just trying to think what I can say. Oh, a killer harmonica player, Jimmy Z.
Oh yeah, I know him.
DC: Yeah, I’ve got, he played on “Missionary Man,” Eurythmics, but I’d got down to see Etta James whose one of my favourite singers, and he, Jimmy Z’s actually a sax player who just happens to blow insane, insanely beautiful harmonica. And, and he did a feature with Etta and I went oh, I’ve got to get him on the record. So I looked at all the songs and the only one I could really think of was “Cry For Love” but he brought a completely different dimension to the song.
So that was, that was just a thrill and a half!…
Read the complete interview on MelodicRock.com.
I could not find a public recording of Cry For Love, the song I played on, but here is a video of a guy playing along with the record.