In early 1986, I was sitting around the pool of my West Hollywood apartment thinking of what most professional musicians do 99% of the time – “Fuck, I need a gig, I need money, RENT!!!FOOD!!!” Ahh… our lovely mantra. It had been about eight months since I’d had a steady gig with Tom Petty & the Heartbreakers and the Pack up the Plantation Tour. A great tour, great guys…. and girls – but more about that at another time.
Needless to say the ol’ bank account was looking a bit peeked. I’d spent the better part of my meager tour stash perusing a record deal fronting a ten-piece band doing original soul/rock music. I had some of the best musicians in the world playing the gigs AND rehearsing for FREE!!! – nobody rehearses in LA, especially for free. So, being the natural sharp businessman that I am, I insisted on paying them – sometimes $100 bucks a night. It’s not a lot, but you do the math with a ten-piece orchestra and it’s a wonder I lasted one month let alone eight.
As I lay around the pool brooding about the direction of my career and chatting with the French girls that lived in the same apartment building or were just visiting – “The French!!!, “ my ex-wife Shelly used to say, “they travel in packs!!” – had an annoying habit of sunbathing topless – It was horrible – I heard my phone ringing in my 2nd floor apartment, right above the pool. Normally, I would jump up and try and answer but this time I said “fuck it”. As the volume on the answering machine was quite loud and close by, I could hear a British accented male leaving a message. I bolted up stairs only to arrive as he was hanging up. I replayed the message. It was Dave Stewart of Eurythmics calling from Paris. The message went something like this in that irreverent, nonchalant style Dave has mastered, “’alo, Jimmy. I’m sitting in my flat in Paris, and Annie and I were just wondering if you’d like to come over and blow some wind down bits of metal for us. You can call me at….uh…oh I can’t remember my number….oh well…. I’ll get back to you. Later mate.”
Oh, I was so pissed with myself. If I’d have just got off my ass two seconds earlier , I’d have gotten to the phone in time. Here it was – A MAJOR GIG!!!! PARIS!!!! ANNIE LENNOX!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!! SHIT!!!!!!! – And I don’t have any way to get a hold of them. Well, at least he called and I figured, hell, he’d call tomorrow. RIGHT. No call the next day. Or the next and the next, until I was a wreck. I was NOT a pleasant person to be around. Finally, the motherfucker calls – TEN DAYS LATER!!!!!! – I was suicidal.
Dave asks if I can bring all the “plumbing” (the British seem to have no capacity to call a saxophone a saxophone) over to Paris for a couple of weeks. As it turns out my passport was just about to expire. I took care of that and we booked a flight for Paris the next week.
When I arrived at the airport, I was pleasantly surprised to find that Phil Chen, the legendary bass player was flying to Paris for Eurythmics, too. Phil played on so many great critically acclaimed records such as Jeff Beck’s Blow by Blow and he had played with Rod Stewart for years – he was the bass player on a little hit called Do Ya Think I’m Sexy.
What a treat!!!! Phil is a sweet heart of guy and a real gent. And with his Jamaican accent, Jamaican/British silly sense of humor and encyclopedic knowledge of legendary Motown bass player, James Jamerson , this had the makings of a great adventure. For some unknown reason, our flight was routed Los Angeles to London with a minor little layover, like an hour or something, and then on to Paris. It doesn’t sound like much, but any extra hours in London can be brutal. So the flights cool – we’re both stoked and catching up on things and the cocktails are flowing – then we land in London and things started going downhill fast.
Phil had this bright idea we should get off the plane and stretch our legs. So we did. Of course as we are trying to get back on the plane, we learned we had left the security area we were supposed to have stayed in – and I don’t think our looks helped any. Picture this: a slight Asian man in red converse basketball shoes who speaks like he is from Jamaica – maybe because HE IS – and me in an old Colombo type trench coat, hair sticking up in every direction, two days of stubble with my Mexican/Latino looks. I guess our appearance screamed drug dealers to these security-customs men. When we walked up to security it was like “yeah, right boys….over here please.” We tried to explain that our flight was just about to depart but can you imagine???…They couldn’t give a shit!! What a surprise!!!
So they take us to this room and make us strip, sit on very cold folding chairs and repeatedly go through our clothes and, of course, take a look up that place where the sun don’t shine. Oh well, just another charming day at the office.
When they finally figured out we weren’t running the big stash over to Paris on their watch, they let us go. I thought for sure we’d missed our flight but there it was and we just made it on in time.
We finally arrive in Paris around midday and considering that terrorists were blowing up storefronts and Metro stations that spring, we cleared customs fairly quickly. We looked around for someone from the Eurythmics to pick us up but no such luck. So we sat down and waited…and waited… for four hours. I was livid. I had been playing in France for a few years with Rod Stewart and had many friends and girlfriends I could have hooked up with and hung for a few hours or days but I didn’t because I figured we’d be covered. Or just get in a cab and go the hotel. But that wasn’t possible because we had no info and if we got one they wouldn’t know where to find us – so we waited.
Finally, this guy walks up and says in a thick Cockney accent “oy, you must be the two I been lookin’ for – let’s go”. I look up to see a living caricature of the old circus muscle man. Shaven head, handle bar moustache and tattoos covering most of his upper torso. He was a massive specimen. I get up and as I walk by him I remark dryly “ you’re late” and after a few steps he shouts “oy! I don’t do luggage or equipment.” So I calmly walk back and start pushing my luggage cart which with four saxophones, flutes, harmonicas and luggage was stacked up to my neck, and I said to him “ that’s strike two…one more and you’re out.” – So he and I got off on the good foot together.
As it turns out this guy is an ex-con who loved to brag about his favorite way of killing people, which was to grab the intended victim right between the rib cages and push in, and then, as he would delicately put it “ rip their lungs out, mate!” Or how he just did nineteen months in a British prison for cutting a guys finger off with a broken beer bottle – Charming, n’est-ce pas?? And he’s telling us all these wonderful tidbits within minutes of meeting him as we are driving into Paris from the airport! Which, of course, he was totally useless at as he proceeded to get lost immediately. He then asks if we want to go to the hotel or the studio and I reply “which one do you think you can find?” Needless to say he wasn’t amused by my humor but I was serious. By then it was around five in the afternoon and Phil and I had been traveling for what seemed like weeks at the time but in actuality had only been about twenty two hours and neither of us had bathed or shaved – so of course we say “ the studio.”
The studio, Palais de Congres, is located in the heart of Paris at one end of the Champ Elysees on the other side of the Arc de Triomphe – landmarks any tourist could find their sleep – and this idiot still got lost and couldn’t remember how to get to the studio. I’ll never forget walking into the control room of the studio. The speakers were blaring with what sounded like an AC/DC song with a ballsy guitar riff and heavy drums. I must admit I was a bit surprised as Eurythmics were very big at the time but were basically known as a techno pop band. I had met Dave before when he had come out for a week on tour with Tom Petty and then after I had done some sessions with him producing Feargal Sharkey and Stevie Nicks. He had produced and co wrote the hit Don’t Come Around Here No More with Tom Petty.
So Dave and I knew each other but I had never met Annie so we were all introduced and I looked like shit and she looked, as always, like a million bucks. What a force of nature this woman was (and still is). An aura of energy emanated from her that you could actually feel physically. She was a gracious host and brought me a beer and some tequila. Some of the engineers had fashioned a hash pipe out of a mini Heineken beer can and I starting to feel right at home.
The aforementioned song they were working on turned out to be Missionary Man. I later learned it was a calculated effort to reach out to Album Oriented Rock stations in America – and a successful one at that – but at that moment I had no idea how big a part of it all I would eventually become. Phil Chen immediately went to work and laid down a bass track on it and it was really starting to sound good – it was rockin’. So Annie jumps up and says, “Ok, Jimmy, you’re up. How about some harmonica.” I jumped up fairly stoned and jet lagged and said, “alright, let’s go” and Annie says “no, no, Jimmy…. I was just kidding…you’re tired and we can do it later” and I can see she’s trying to fuck with me and I look her in the eye and say “Put it up, let’s go”. She says “Ooooooo macho” and that pretty much sealed the deal how our relationship would be. Always playfully needling each other and at other times not so playfully. It was like High Noon in that control room and we were facing off.
But she was right. By now I WAS jet lagged and with the help of the hash, beer and tequila, I was feeling a bit wobbly, too. The engineers helped me sort out an amp and get me set up to record that was no easy feat with my limited French. I managed to get a halfway decent sound out of the amp and we got levels and away we went. Dave’s sage production advice was we’ll roll the tape and you play – so the tape rolled and I played and played.
Usually in an overdub situation the producer will pick a section of the song (intro, solo or vamp) and concentrate on that part until he is satisfied and then on to the next section. In this case I started playing on my harmonica from the beginning and just kept on jamming all the way to end, which was LONG as they hadn’t edited it yet. It must have been at least seven minutes. It doesn’t sound like a long time but that outro section seemed like it went on for ever and I was getting cotton mouth and my chops were starting to call in for a break – but something in me just took over and I just wasn’t going to quit until that GODDAMN song was over.
When it was over, I stood there staring at all these people silhouetted through the glass in the control room and they just stared at me. And nobody said anything. So now I’m thinking “uh oh….they ain’t diggin’ it” and finally Dave says “come on in you’re done.” Now I’m really feeling like shit and I walk into the booth and I say “ no good???” and Annie Lennox is standing right next to me and hugs me and says, “that was unbelievable, fucking brilliant!” WHEW!!!!!
So I kick back and listen. I was pleased but I thought I could improve a couple of parts but Dave would have none of it. I begged to just have one more pass at the solo because I didn’t really know when it was coming the first time – but he was adamant – NO!! And you know something? He was right. A few weeks later I was in the studio and we had some time – Dave and Annie were off doing some press or something – so we put up Missionary Man and I blew a few solos and they were OK but none could match the original. Sometimes you just get it right the first time. Missionary Man went on to be a big international hit and we toured the world for three years behind the Revenge album.
© Zavala Music, Inc.