In late 1983 I got a call from Rick Derringer asking if I could come down to Scotti Brothers Studios in West LA to record some sax for an artist named “Weird Al” Yankovic. I had no idea who Weird Al was or better yet who he was gonna be – but that didn’t matter to me. To be working with Rick Fucking Derringer had me stoked beyond belief. The Man behind “Rock N Roll Hootchie Koo,” partner for many years with one of my sax idols Edgar Winter and his brother Johnny too!! I think I pulled my horn out immediately and started practicing. Little did I know what was in store for me.
When I got to the studio I was introduced to Al and the band. Great bunch of guys who are still in his band to this day. At one point, Rick pulls me aside in the studio as I’m setting up my horn and he says,”…uh Jimmy …this isn’t the kind of record you’re used to playing on. Just roll with it for me…” I say “Oh don’t worry man, I can play to most anything.” The first song I played on was “That Boy Could Dance”.
In researching this tale and with some help from Weird Al’s long time drummer Jon “Bermuda” Shwartz, I was surprised to discover I had played on more songs and different Weird Al projects than I remembered! 🙂 The recordings stretched out over six years from 1983 to 1989!
Here’s a message I received from Jon “Bermuda” Shwartz:
“…But you were definitely on two consecutive albums, In 3-D (1984), and Dare To Be Stupid (1985.) You also played harmonica on “Generic Blues”, on the “UHF album “(1989.) I think that was it.”
That album would later be released in February 1984 as “Weird Al” Yankovic In 3D. The first hit single was “Eat It” a parody of Michael Jackson’s “Beat It”. The other singles were “King of Suede” and “ I Lost on Jeopardy”.
Weird Al was a household word after that.
I’d never quite experienced a session like this before and I remember thinking I’ve really got to start getting my solo career going. They’re giving record deals out for all kinds of crazy shit. But hell, let’s be honest here… if I’d just had a fraction of Weird Al’s success I’d be a happy man. Hat’s off to him and the guys. They deserve all their success.
So a month goes by and I still haven’t got paid. I tried calling the Scotti Bros office day after day and was getting the runaround to call back, and so on. Finally, I get one of the brothers on the phone, maybe Toni Scotti. I wasn’t very tactful and basically said, “I want my fucking money.” He was very cool and chuckled saying he liked my style and that he’d really like to meet me. So he says, “Why don’t you come on down to the office and I’ll pay you right now?” I said cool I’ll see you in a bit.
After I hung up I realized who I’d been talking to. The rumors around LA then was that Sly Stallone was invested in Scotti Bros and that they were Mafia-connected. I thought to myself… great… I’ve really done it this time. The thought did cross my mind several times that I might be driving into a set up. Now I know they might not be breaking my knees over a double scale session, but they might want to rough me up a little just for general respect type issues… Ya know what I mean? But I didn’t want to be seen as afraid or a pussy so I drove over to the office.
I gotta admit I was sweating bullets walking up to that Scotti Bros office.
I get to the record company and I’m ushered into an office right away and I’m treated like royalty. Can we get you anything Mr. Z? Hungry? Thirsty? They couldn’t have been nicer. I end up talking with a guy who I believe was Tad Dowd, the head of their Rock & Roll Division. He complimented me on what I’d played on the record and couldn’t have been more gracious and apologetic for the delay in my payment. Then he gave me a check for $500 which was more than the double scale I got at the time.
A funny thing happened just a couple of years ago. I was playing a casual party in Beverly Hills at a big mansion and it turns out it’s a birthday party for one of the Scotti Bros. We end up connecting and they all remembered me and we all had a good laugh about it all and enjoyed a great evening together reminiscing.
Weird Al, in the studio, was as silly and fun to be around and occasionally cracking jokes as you see him in interviews but deadly serious about the music and what he wanted.
Weird Al continues to successfully record and tour to this day.
I’m ready for the next call.