Jaimoe: 21st Century Renaissance Man
RR: Let’s follow that line as we go back before the Allman Brothers. You played with Otis Redding in 1966. Does his influence still impact your playing today?
JJ: Yeah, now, I halfway know what I’m doing. When I was in Otis’s band, I didn’t. (laughs) Otis used to show me stuff that he wanted me to play on the drums, which was just funky and loud with definition. Otis was a great guy to work with. Otis Redding was like the College of Music. That’s how I looked at all the different people I played with. That’s not disrespectful to them, or anything, but that’s what it was. I didn’t make any money. Made enough money to pay your hotel bill and get your food. Until I started playing with Percy Sledge, I graduated to…and Percy recognized, by the advice he had been given, about the only thing that he didn’t need to pay was, I guess, a ticket home for somebody if they decided to leave in the middle of the concert on the tour. (laughs) He paid for hotels, he had transportation, and he gave us a food allowance. It was like Joe Tex—the College of Joe Tex. The Allman Brothers, man, was a university of going on. (laughter)
RR: Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band is opening up for Gregg Allman beginning in early January. Tell me about the specifics for rehearsals for this particular run.
JJ: We’ve been doin’ ‘em for the last three or four years. (laughter) When we rehearse, it’s basically to learn a song, or to learn something like “let’s try this chord right here in this section here, instead of what we were doing.” That’s basically how rehearsals go.
Being able to go out on the road with Gregory, the greatest thing about it is that we are getting to play, which in the years gone by has been the least thing that we did was what we did, and that was playing. A gig here…we made some pretty good money on weddings and birthday parties. We made real good money, better than three or four times what we made in a club. There are times when they want to pay you $700 to play a gig in a club, and I made as much as $7,500 playing a birthday party. And the only thing they said was, “Do you want a check or cash?” No kidding.
All those people who think that, you know, playing weddings and birthday parties is belittling themselves, hey, they’ve got another thing coming.
RR: I have to ask you about another musician who plays on certain songs on the new album, Bruce Katz on the Hammond organ and piano.
JJ: Oh, man, Bruce…[Jaimoe whistles] what a blessing. There’s another piano player on there, Jon Davis. Jon was in my Bebop band, and he’s a hell of a piano player, hell of a piano player. Most of the piano on there is Jon, with the exception of “Hippology” [which is also written by Katz, who guests on a few songs on Renaissance Man ], which only has organ. There were organ parts on “Dilemma,” which was Jon, but we took them off, and put Bruce on that because Bruce played a little more funky and what Junior wanted on it. Yeah, Bruce, man…I’ve known Bruce, shit, since he was playing in Ronnie Earl’s band when I met him about 20 years ago. We never played together, but we did a CD [ The Colour of Love ] with Ronnie Earl, and the guests on that were myself, Gregory Allman, Hank Crawford, and Marc Quinones was on that.
RR: Speaking of poignancy, I wanted to talk about the covers on the new album.
JJ: Yeah. (laughs) My friend told me that Junior sang “Rainy Night in Georgia” better than Brook Benton. This guy, his name is Charles Otis. He was my mentor. I was 16 years old when I met Honey Boy. We all called him “Honey Boy.” He told me, he said, “Junior Mack sings “Rainy Night in Georgia” better than Brooke Benton.” He has polyps, or something, on his throat. I think it happened because of stress, but it has been there now for almost ten years. He said, “[Jaimoe imitates Otis’s hoarse tone] Junior Mack sings “Rainy Night in Georgia” better than Brook Benton.” I said to myself, “Nobody sings “Rainy Night in Georgia” better than Brooke Benton.” Shit, man, I knew all of Brook Benton’s songs like “The Boll Weevil Song” he did with Dinah Washington. All of that stuff was recorded when I was in high school. Boy, in those days, I knew all of those tunes, all of those songs. And I really didn’t hear a lot of what Junior was singing just because of being behind the drums and not having the right monitor and everything.
This lady came to an annual party for Hittin’ the Note that they have. This lady recorded part of the gig with a cell phone. And somebody started telling me about YouTube and “Rainy Night in Georgia” and “Congratulations, what a great song,” and the rest of it, and I went, “Oh, yeah?” So, I went on there, and I listened to it, and that’s when I realized that Honey Boy was right. Junior did sing…I’ll say did a great job, a very great job on “Rainy Night in Georgia.” I won’t get into who is a better singer…maybe, that’s a different category—who is the better singer…it is more who performed this record of this song more to your liking? (laughs) Because I tell you what, what Honey Boy said…
My version of it is “Leaving Trunk” [the third track on Renaissance Man, which was written by John Estes]. Back in July, Taj Mahal…we did the thing for the liver thing that Gregory was doing. Taj Mahal came in, and he sang “Leaving Trunk.” And I said to my partner, I said, “Taj might have to get him another song because that song belongs to Junior now.” (laughter) It does, man, it truly does.
RR: You seem to have made “Melissa” your own, too.
JJ: Yeah, that’s a great version of that [track 8 on Renaissance Man ]. It’s a bossa nova; that’s the only reason; that made it different and really unique. We tried not to do any covers, but, again, “Rainy Night in Georgia” was so unique.
We still have five tunes in the can that didn’t make the record. We will record them over, but they are sitting in there, and didn’t make the record. I am sure that by the time we get ready to do another one, our expressions will have changed.
RR: Will you play some of that unreleased material in the live setting?
JJ: Yeah. Yeah. Yeah. Bruce has a tune that’s on his album, Crescent Crawl. Kris Jensen has got one that is also a New Orleans-inspired instrumental. There are three instrumentals and a couple with vocals.
RR: Thinking of that work that is unreleased, and what you are about to perform live with your band on tour, while looking at the title of the new work brings to mind this idea—what does the phrase ‘Renaissance Man’ mean to you?
JJ: Well, I asked my wife what did it mean because if I’m going to put it on there, what the hell did it mean? Like I said, the only thing I could think about was Rod Steiger. I can’t remember what she told me but it was like “If you really want to know what something means, someone could tell you, but go to the dictionary, and read it yourself, and you’ll get a better understanding of it.” And it said so much as ‘one qualified to (basically) do more than one or two things’. I would have thought that a lot of it meant ‘one who has existed from Caesar to Bill Clinton’. (laughter) Or, Caesar to George Bush, with all due respect to George. (laughs)
RR: With all due respect to you, thank you for all the great music, Jaimoe.
JJ: Thank you. That’s quite a compliment. I knew people would like the music once they got a chance to hear it, but, you know, you always know a lot of things, but, then when it actually happens, you’re knocked out more than all of your thoughts. Thank you, Randy.