It began this way…
Around 1988 I did a basic cable TV interview in Santa Monica, CA. It was a favor for a buddy. I was to come in to the studio, do the interview and play a couple of songs with the house band. I was to bring in a video highlight reel of me playing with Rod Stewart, Eurythmics, Tom Petty, etc. It was basic cable so I figured it reached 20 people on a good day. Lesson learned. Never under estimate the value of exposure… even on basic cable!
A week or so later I get a call from Richard Marx’s reps asking if I would be interested in auditioning for his band for an upcoming world tour. It seems Richard Marx had seen the damn cable show!
I had asked him later what he saw that made him think of hiring me and he said, and I quote, “That you seemed so cool.” In hindsight that should have been a red flag right there. I mean c’mon… if RM thinks you’re cool ya might wanna think about your whole persona.
Anyway, I said maybe to the offer. What’s the deal? They said they would discuss it if I passed the audition. I politely said thanks but no thanks. I don’t do auditions. Yeah I know. I was a cocky SOB.
They call back in a week and make me an offer well below what I had been making with Rod Stewart, Eurythmics and Tom Petty. Marx was on a roll with a string of #1 singles such as “Endless Summer Nights,” “It Don’t Mean Nothin’,” and currently on top the charts with “I’ll Be Waiting.” He was to be playing the same arenas the previously mentioned artists had been and he was selling millions of records/CDs so I figured why shouldn’t he pay like the rest. I turned them down.
They kept calling. Finally they catch me in a surly mood one day (probably after a night of debauchery) and, after another request to do an audition, and a ridiculously low offer I screamed in the phone “I need $5,000 a week and I DON’T DO AUDITIONS!!” and slammed the phone. I figured that’s the end of that. I think back on it all now and I realize I must have been fucking insane. I was doing OK at the time doing sessions in LA but not making nearly what I could make with the steady work of a major world tour. I have figured I could have made $100,000 minimum and possibly closer to $200,000. Yep. Insane!!!
What is even crazier is that they called me back. They make a decent offer and tell me the gig is mine. They ask if I could come to Sunset Sound and play on some of Richard’s music because he’d like to meet me and hear me play. Sunset Sound was a top studio at the time and still is. Prince used to have his own room there and I knew the girl who booked and ran the studio. We set up a date for me to come in.
Now at this time, I was fairly close with the Progressive Rock group Yes. I had played harmonica on their hit song ” Love Will Find A Way”. They were handled by the same management company as Tom Petty, and I played tennis with keyboardist Tony Kaye often.
The bassist, Chris Squire, had me come in to play on a few songs he was producing for a girl. He called and asked if I would appear in a video of the song I played on with her that they were filming in Venice, CA. I said sure, hung up and then realized it was the same day I was supposed to come to Sunset Sound with Richard Marx. (Dick Marx in some circles.)
So I go to Venice dressed in black Levis, black shirt, green sharkskin jacket and a Duran Duran hairdo. We filmed in the hot sun and the circus that Venice Beach was and is still to this day. The girl was sexy and pretty but I can’t remember if anything ever happened with her single and video. We wrap it up and I go straight to the studio dressed like I’ve been out drinking and partying all night. I say hello to my girl at the desk and she says, “oh cool, so you’re here for the audition for Richard Marx, too.” I looked over in the lobby and there were a few sax players sitting there with horn cases and electronic horn gear stacked up.
I was pissed and told her what I had said to RM’s people. I said fuck it I’m out of here. She basically said JImmy cut the crap and come down off your high horse and do the damn audition. So I did. There were some of the best horn players in LA there with alto, tenor and baritone saxes and flute in tow along with electronic mixing gear for the Emu.
All I had was my one horn, a Selmer Mark Vl tenor sax.
I was coming out of the bathroom passing another horn player when she called my name. I joked with the guy don’t worry this won’t take long. I was introduced to Richard, his dad Dick Marx, who was a well-known and successful jingle writer from Chicago, guitarist MD/band leader Paul Warren, and a few other people. Richard thanked me for coming and asked if I would play along with one of his first hits “It Don’t Mean Nothin”. I said sure and went out into this big room with on lone microphone set up on a rug in the middle.
The lighting in the room was down low and moody and I could see the control room all lit up with all these people watching me. I started making smart ass comments like , “WTF?? Is this a Woody Allen movie or something? Don’t you people have somewhere to go?” I just didn’t give a fuck. We get a sound level in my cans and the track comes on and I just start doing fills around his vocal. Then I just start wailing, hitting really super high altissimo range notes and soloing all over the vamp out. The song ended and they all just stared at me said nothing for a minute or maybe they were talking. I don’t know but finally they asked if I would come on in. I remember thinking to myself well so much for getting this gig.
When I get in the control room they all start talking at once saying how great I sounded and asking me if I could go on a one to two year world tour. I was actually kind of shocked. They said Richard’s management people would be in touch.
I packed up my one horn and walked out and saw two more horn players waiting to go in and audition. I said good luck guys and left.
The management got hold of me and said everyone in the band was making $1800 a week. I told them that’s great but won’t work for me. In the end we worked out a deal that came to about $3000 a week plus per diems. I’m not sure, but I’m fairly sure the bandleader Paul Warren got wind of this and he wasn’t pleased. At rehearsals he was a real prick with the band, berating them over little mistakes and shit. At one point I missed my riff on the intro to a song a couple of times. I was on a riser right behind Paul and he turned around and looked up at me and said, “UUUUUhhhh… any chance of you coming in with the band this time?” with a real sarcastic edge. It was the first time he’d said anything to me and the whole band was watching and it got real quiet. My response was, ” Are those all your real teeth?” He looked confused and said, “yeah” and I said calmly, “Amazing.” We had a bit of a stare down and then he counted off the song again. I came in on time. But now the die was cast.
The tour begins
It was summer, so the tour started in America. It was kind of a mixture of a promotional tour and club tour with some county fairs thrown in. It was a little different from the tours I’d been accustomed to with Rod Stewart, Petty, and Eurythmics. With those tours the band members were treated really well and with respect. That was not the case with the Richard Marx organization. Now believe me, after playing with Rod Stewart, I know who the star is and that I’m not going to be getting the same treatment as he is. I’m cool with that. But some things are no brainers. I mean, how hard is it to have a guy grab all the luggage in a van and take it to the hotel in the “luggage van.” I mean even Etta James, who wasn’t’ selling millions of records, had that together. So when I suggested to the road manager to have someone else do it instead of the band waiting around a fucking carousel and going to hotel to rest and cleanup for sound check and the show I was labeled a troublemaker.
One of our last county fairs before we headed back to LA was in Minneapolis. The band was bummed because there were so many pretty girls and we were catching a flight to LA right after the show. But not me.
A pal of mine I’d worked with before was producing an album at Paisley Park, Prince’s studio. His name was Chris Lord Alge and a good thing it was. Mr. Alge had already reached legendary status in the 80s. Some how he’d tracked me down and had left a message with RM’s management.
Otherwise, I don’t think Marx’s management would have let me stay. Ya see, they had rules and the rules had to be followed. One of their rules was nobody stays or strays off the tour. I pointed out where and who I was recording with and I could find LA from there. Also, I’d be back in plenty of time for the West coast swing of the tour that was to start in 3 days. So I stayed.
Now it just so happened that an artist guy I knew who had a line of T-shirts that I was endorsing and wearing on stage was flying in from LA. I asked a favor if he could bring me an 8 ball of blow and he did. He was Canadian and was very nervous doing this but it was the 80s and you could pack just about anything on a plane back then. He arrives with a buddy, another Canuck and we meet up after the show and decide to hit a couple of clubs. His buddy wanted to meet up with his girlfriend who lived there so she told us to meet her at this club downtown.
It must have been Sunday night, or something, because the club was DEAD. The whole damn city or downtown was DEAD!!! I was carrying my sax and a briefcase with the blow in it. I was dressed in a green, sharkskin jacket, black pants, snake skin boots with hair a mile high. Yeah, I looked like a local.
So we go in this club and it’s big. It’s nice with disco lights and dance floor and different levels and bars everywhere, but it’s dead. The guy meets his girl and they’ve got the dance floor all to themselves and I look at my buddy and say we gotta get outta here. He says let’s just give them a few minutes, a dance or two and then we’ll split. I’m cool but all I wanted to do was get to the hotel and party with the crew. They knew I had a shipment coming in and the boss would be gone. Drugs were absolutely forbidden for everyone on the Richard Marx tour so this was our chance.
So I’m having a drink with this doorman/bouncer who is a fucking huge motherfucker. He must have been 6ft 9. He’s asking questions about the tour and shit and things are cool. Then from behind me from out of nowhere this voice says, ” You suck Richard Marx’s dick after he takes outta your asshole.” Whoa!!!! That’ll get your attention. I glance over my shoulder and it’s another bouncer glaring at me. He wasn’t so tall, maybe 6 ft but this guy was thick. A solid 240 pounds minimum, with straggly long blond hair. Picture Bam Bam from the Flintstones on steroids. I turn back around and casually mention to my new bouncer friend that I didn’t want any trouble and he said don’t worry he’s just an asshole. As he’s saying this Bam Bam is spouting out little pleasantries to me that are more filthy and disgusting than the first line I gave you. He just never shut the fuck up. I’m getting a little nervous now and look over at the bouncer and he says don’t worry. I got your back. Yeah.
I go over to my pal and tell him it’s time to go. He tells his friend and they say just one more dance. I wanna get the fuck outta there. I have the bouncer call us a cab.
As we all walk outside on to a wide downtown sidewalk towards a cab about 15 yards away Bam Bam is following us saying all kinds of crazy shit and starting to get in my face now. Calling me a pussy, RM cocksucker. You name it.
Up to that time in my life I’d been in about two very serious almost to the death, knockdown, drag out fights. I didn’t know Karate but I knew Karayzeee. This guy was trouble big time and one knows when the shit is gonna hit the fan in these situations. I had been cold cocked by a bouncer in Sacramento once and I remembered I’d had my sax in one hand and a briefcase on the other at that time. The thought flashed through my head and I lowered both to the sidewalk.
Now there is a scene in the movie “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” where one of the gang is telling Paul Newman that he ain’t the boss no more and they’re gonna fight about it. The actor was massive, I think the guy who played JAWS in all those James Bond movies. Anyway, Paul kicks him in the balls before he can do anything and he goes down like a ton of bricks. Yeah right. That’s Hollywood. The movies.
So Bam Bam is going off in front of me. I wait for my moment and then with all I had I kick him right square in the balls. Nailed him.
He just looked at me and chuckled and said, ” I’m gonna kill you.” And laughed some more as he came at me.
Now the motherfucker is looking more like Chucky on Steroids than Bam Bam.
His fists felt like hammers as they rained down on me. I’m trying to dodge these blows as I happen to glance over and see the bouncer who I’d been chatting with and thought was my friend was now holding my buddy and his friend so they couldn’t intervene as if that would’ve done any good. WTF!!!
Bam Bam gets a hold of my jacket with his left hand and with his right he is just hammering the shit out of my face. I’m seeing flashes of the Milky Way with every blow and I’m thinking I gotta do something fast.
Somehow I get inside of his arms and wrestle him to the ground. We end up next to the brick wall of the club (is everything made of brick in the Midwest?).I’m on my back and he’s on top of me with our faces just about touching. We are both huffing and puffing and he looks me in the eyes, laughs and says he’ gonna kill me. Again.
Right at that point I jabbed my thumb in one of his eye sockets and my middle finger of my right hand in the other eye socket and pushed as hard as I could. Writing this I can still remember the feel of his two eye balls being pushed to either side as my thumb and middle finger connected behind the bridge of his nose. I then yanked and pulled with all my strength.
Chucky/ Bam Bam let out the most God-awful scream that I will never forget, not to mention we were very intimate at the time. As it turns out, everybody watching the fight thought it was me screaming so consequently I guess they thought I’d had enough of a beating and decided to drag him off me. So they picked this big screaming piece of shit up and I never let go. As they lifted him they lifted ME with all of my 169 pounds pulling on his face. I hate to think how that might have felt but to be honest, at that moment and to this day I still don’t give a shit for that motherfucker.
Anyway, everybody thought it was me screaming and that I was dead so when I finally got to my feet I was hell on wheels. I was so jacked up on adrenaline (ok a little blow too) that I went off on the bastard. He was blinded and holding his eyes and I literally beat and kicked the shit out him. If they hadn’t stopped me I hate to think what would’ve happened but I think we know.
At a point where it was obvious it was over his bouncer friends try to drag me away from him. We were all standing, linked together and it was kind of like a scrum in Rugby. They’re yelling at me to stop and let him go and I’m saying fuck off!! Finally I catch my breath and I remember that I had an incredible moment of clarity. Still holding him, I see the cab, and my horn and briefcase on the cement. I say, “Ok!! I want my horn and briefcase in the car along with my friends. NOW!!! Then I’ll let him go.”
So it happens. Everything I asked for was done.
I see my friends are in the cab with my horn. I back away about three steps. He was bending over and I kicked him in the face with the heel of my boot as hard as I could. He was already bleeding but the blood really started to flow then. It’s funny how none of his bouncer buddies didn’t jump on me then but they didn’t. As I started for the cab I’ll never forget the sight of him still bent over holding his face crying in an almost childlike voice saying, “He kicked me.” I mean if I put “WAaaah Wahhhhhh” right here it wouldn’t be out of place. But he didn’t say “Waaaaahhh.”
I didn’t feel it right then but I did later and that is that I hoped I didn’t injure him permanently even though he started it and asked for everything he got.
I jumped in the cab and the driver, who has just witnessed the whole fucking thing, lazily looks back at me and says where to? I could’ve killed him. I yelled just get the fuck outta here NOW!!!! He did.
And then the pain hit. Oh fuck. It hurt. To say my eye was swollen just won’t cut it. Besides looking like hamburger meat around my eye, my head on the left side was so swollen it looked more like a bowling ball. Somehow my glasses didn’t break and when I put them on it hurt like hell.
The Canucks were speechless. I had to tell the girl to shut the fuck up. She wouldn’t stop saying, “OMG, OMG, OMG. I thought you killed him. Why’d you do that?”
I really wasn’t too pissed of at them but I did say thanks for the back up fellas. They didn’t have chance. They were surrounded by at least five huge bouncers and they had their hands on them holding them back telling them to just let us fight.
Finally, my buddy, who was looking at me like I was a ghost, spoke up. He said, ” We thought you were dead Z. He was just beating you so bad. Then you went down… and then the scream! Oh God the scream. We all thought it was you. I swear I said to myself, Jimmy Z is dead. And then you rose up from nowhere like some crazed Phoenix and just kicked the shit out the guy. It was unreal, eh?”
Canucks. I love ’em. They proceeded to tell me they’d grown up playing hockey and seen all kinds of fights and brutal acts but nothing compared to that night.
When I got to the hotel I went to a couple of crew guy’s room to do some blow. All they wanted to do was get in a car and go kick some ass with those bouncers. I talked them out of that. I was so beat up I couldn’t even think of snorting cocaine. I gave them the 8 ball and went to my room.
Thankful to be alive.