WabiSabi Music



Jimmy’s Biography

Writing a biography one is liable to learn first hand the meaning of the word hokum. You know, that’s the yarn the medicine man at the circus spins when he’s trying to sell you a bottle of “doctor good”. The Gypsies, Tramps and Theives are mostly on television these days; they’re either brushed an’ buffed or showin’ some skin an’ they’re pretending that it’s not a circus but I think we all know that it is. The ethics of Madison Avenue have created an ethos whereby we are casual about the fact that we are being lied to with constipating regularity…we accept this in our daily lives until it seems like common sense to us that selling ourselves be one of the bedrock concepts upon which we found our social order. It’s a dangerous situation.

So I should start by telling you that I had my first garage band in grammar school; that I met Blind Blake in a roadhouse in Tampa, Florida years after everyone thought he was dead, and he told me to “keep pickin’ “, …maybe even that I used to shoot hoops with Jaco Pastorius down in Fort Lauderdale in the ’60s….but that would be pure hokum. I never met Muddy Waters, just missed Elvis, or shared a cigar with Johnny Cash…”an’ if that ain’t country.”
I know that a bio is supposed to be a string of superlatives that reads like the back of an airport novel…How I’m blazing a new trail through the music scene, opening doors that have never been opened, stopping hearts dead in their tracks, an amazing multi-instrumentalist, who of course never plays it the same way twice, forging a new synthesis……but I’ve got no talent for that kind of hyperbole. I figure if you’re reading this, chances are you’ve seen my show. You don’t need that. But maybe you’re curious about how I came to be doin’ what I do. So here it is, 99% hokum-free, a desultory look at the man behind the one man band: I’m gonna skip all that I was born stuff, and start somewhere in the sixtys ’cause that’s pretty much when it really started anyway. Oh, and have fun lookin’ for that one percent.

Volume One

I grew up in Florida. The first song I ever sang and played for anyone outside of my close friends and family, walking along Cocoa Beach just before sunset, was, Where Do the Children Play. When I was nineteen I wrote a handful of songs, generally inspired by the mysteries of womankind, four of which I played in a basement coffee house, below a church in Lafayette, Indiana. That was the first time I ever performed properly. I can still sing two of them. Nietzsche says that if you want to learn something about yourself, go back to the beginning and ask yourself what you have loved, everything, from the beginning! There will be something in there that opens your eyes to some essential fact about yourself that you’ve forgotten. Try it! Anyway, here’s another one: five record albums that you would choose as formative influences…not necessarily “the best ” but the most influential in shaping your musical personality. Try it! Here’s what I came up with: John Wesley Harding(I suppose, by the way, that’s the one that Dylan suggests,in Chronicles, was inspired by a book of Chekov short stories), the first fold-out Crosby Stills and Nash, the one with Suite Judy Blue Eyes and Wooden Ships; Tea For the Tillerman; Kind of Blue; and Rikki Lee Jones’ first one. That points a musical direction I’m happy with. Of course there are easily five by Dylan alone, that could have been picked. Subterranean Homesick Blues was Dylan’s “Howl”, and Like a Rolling Stone was the reason I bought my first guitar, a Kay, called Silvertone by the Western Auto in Leesburg, Florida. I can still remembber it sitting there between a red truck jack and some spools of tow chain. I guess if I had to pick a sixth it would be Volunteers, by Jefferson Airplane. O Yeah, and maybe For Everyman by Jackson Browne….I’m gonna stop at seven. There are some perfect ones like Tapestry, Sgt. Peppers, Rumours, Walk Under Ladders….but I said I was gonna stop.
I met Bob Dylan in January of ’69…went to his house. I had travelled from Indiana to Buffalo in a Buick 6, and then by 727 across the state. I hitchhiked down to Woodstock from Albany. It had been snowing a blizzard upstate but that Sunday morning it was beautiful and sunny. A couple in a Porche picked me up and said they’d help me find his house. They did. “Rabbit running down across the road…” across from the old opera house on Upper Birdcliff Road. This was the place. The garage was set over away from the main house, a dark wooden enclosure, open to the weather: Cadillac and a Mustang…a little vestibule outside the front door… That’s where we stood and talked. Photos, little cameos of famous people on a poster on the wall beside us…I didn’t notice who the were. Bob was very kind to me…not haughty, didn’t seem annoyed. I dont think I was, to him, like those he talks about in Chronicles. I wasn’t a party or a pantry crasher, just a fragile young man chasing inspiration, and he seemed sensitive to that. I asked him about God and Truth and Right and he , paraphrasing “Too Much of Nothing” said, “It’s all in the books.” “What books?” I said. And he told me what he’d been reading lately: Ernest Holmes, Manley Hall, Maxwell Maltz, and Raymond Charles Barker…that’s the ones he’d been reading lately he said…His daughter who must have been two or three came out and he put her up on his shoulders and said, “Anna, this is Jimmy.” “That your guitar?” he said tossing his head in the direction of my suitcase and guitar which were still out in the middle of the dirt driveway where I’d gotten out of the Porche. How about that! …something rhetorical from Bob. “Yeah.” I said. He mentioned his brother David, teaching English, I think, at University of Minnesota…and some other stuff. I hitchhiked down for my first taste of New York City, that afternoon….walked into the city, as it was, from New Jersey across the George Washington Bridge…so cold my face was wind burned on one side just from walking across that bridge. The sun was going down. “Wintertime in New York Town…Somebody could freeze to the bone.” I think I stayed on the east side in the 70s somewhere…not sure anymore…It was a squat, and I remember there was plaster falling from the ceiling into the toilet…dont know anymore how I got there…
I went to Europe for the first time in the ’70s after receiving a Bachelor of Science Degree. My father was a plant pathologist and I suppose I figured I might be something like that too although my true ambition was to be a poet. Lawrence Ferlinghetti was my first “hero”. I remember I chose Purdue University because they had a cool pool hall in the basement of the student union. (Also my Dad had received one of his degrees from Purdue). In Europe I saw young guys singing and playing on the streets and I’d never seen that before. There was one old blind black man in downtown Orlando, sometimes, over from Dixon and Ives Department Store, when I was a little kid. He had an aluminum cup wired to the headstock of his guitar for coins, a piece of twine for a guitar strap, and was more of a country singer than a bluesman. It would be years before I became aware of Reverand Gary Davis and fully appreciated that these southern street singers had been the very spawning of the blues… But these guys in Germany were young like me. I had a guitar. I dug ditches in Heidelberg that winter,saved a few thousand marks and when spring came I became a street singer. I had a stash and a few friends places where I could crash…a good afternoon on the Hauptstrasse meant a good dinner that night and my savings from the Jakob Schmidt job bought me a Eurailpass which let me drift from Seville to Amsterdam, via Lisbon and Paris. At the end of the summer I went back to Florida and got a job teaching mathematics in Jacksonville.
I was one of a few hip teachers. I had long hair and a bit of a rebellious attitude and that made me popular with some of the students and unpopular with some of the older teachers. I took teaching seriously because I had great respect for mathematics. I taught 3 periods of geometry and 3 periods of general math which I called applied psychology, because that’s what it was for me. I loved that year teaching but I loved Europe more…so I declined the offer to return to Orange Park High School as a Biology teacher the next year…with a couple thousand dollars stashed I went back to France.
I studied French and guitar on my own, lived like a hermit in a little mountain village near Montpellier and when summer came I went to Saint Tropez to try my hand at playing on terraces and in restaurants, troubadour stuff. I had a small motor bike and a tent and found a mentor, a Spanish man five or six years my senior who seriously accelerated my learning curve. Pepe Alverez was like some prize rooster. A small handsome man, a good player and singer, held his head high. Like the stories they tell about Richie Havens on the scene in New York City in the ’60s….Pepe taught me how to approach the patron (owner) of the restaurant to be allowed to play in the first place; anyway Pepe knew every restaurant from Marseilles to Monaco that would let you play…He would step on the floor, play one of his best songs first and take note of who was listening…then he would go to those tables and play one song, a foot stomper for the partying kind, a heartfelt love song for the doe eyed couple in the corner, and while the other guys would go around with a bread basket askin’ for coin, Pepe would be quietly slipping unsolicited banknotes in his back pocket. We toured the Cote d’Azure together, all that summer, with our tents on the back of our little motor bikes, returning frequently to our base, the campground called Les Tournelles at the south end of the Plages de Pamplona below Ramatuelles where Brigitte Bardot was said to live. Word on the street was that James Taylor had once played in the streets in Saint Tropez…but I still dont know if that’s true…never heard anything more about it, than that , “…They don’t know nothin…” line in that Honey Don’t You Leave L.A. song.
After that summer on the Riviera I went back to the States.
I got a job singing “Hey Dum Fiddle Dum Dee” bawdy English folk songs at a dinner theatre in Orlando. It was a fast growing chain and I soon found myself to be the manager….cast myself as fool to King Henry VIII in the play, and tried my hand at being an actor. It was a great job….After that I waited tables, drove taxi and did those gigs that they call “payin’ your dues”. Doing street shows around the world I meet lots of people and I often get the comment, “Yeah, but do you ever do real gigs?”…and I always wonder if they actually saw my show, because it always feels pretty real to me. I suppose they mean, bars and lounges, supper clubs, places with stages, starting times, and a boss, and all that smoke and noise that makes a gig real, and Yes, I’ve done lots of those gigs….But excepting those really nice private parties, and some exceptionally charming small clubs, nothing tops the street for appreciation and crowd interaction. It is a little known fact in the music business but, if you are at a certain level of professionality, the street is every bit as real and rewarding, spiritually and financially, as the Holiday Inn. I have never done arena rock and those guys have every right to scoff and call me an amateur.
A few days before Christmas, 1983, in my apartment in the centre of Biel, Switzerland with a few other performers, jugglers, one-man-bands, a young multi-talented performer, Glen Nichols, and his partner a beautiful young dancer, who were passing through on their way to California…Glen had been a one-man-band, but could do many things well, and later would become a T.V. personality in Australia…I had, for the past year, been part of a duo, with Saint Tropez Pete, who was actually an Englishman from Bristol, the first one-man-band I had ever seen. We had done street performances from Canterbury to Florence, Paris to Berlin, travelling first in Pete’s blue Ford saloon, then in my red Citroen GS, living out of hotels or crashing at other musicians pads across Europe. Pete didn’t stand in one spot when he played the drum rig but liked to move laterally from side to side playing face to face to the front row of the crowd. I had taken to stepping up and down next to Peter, in what appeared to be an imitation of soul groups like the Temptations. It created a visual interest beyond our two part harmonies and dual guitar work and nobody really realized that I had commenced doing it to keep warm on the streets of northern Germany and Holland that previous winter. In those days there were active street scenes all over Europe, musicians, acrobats, jugglers, comedians…There was a scene in Paris, another one in Frankfurt, Cologne, Florence, Amsterdam…We were the Swiss based scene…(many of whom in summer migrated north to become the Oslo based scene)…During the week we all played the different cities of Switzerland…There was usually a particular bar in each town which was called “the office” where you would go for your morning coffee and to find out what other performers were in town… and on Saturday night everyone would turn up on the Niederdorf in Zurich and catch each others act. Big John’s Bootleg Band would drive a van up onto the Hirchen Platz and drop off an upright piano and with Mirko on a little snare and hi-hat rig they played kick-ass rock’n’roll. The best spot to perform had been named the Tomato Platz because Big John had once been beaned from the windows above with tomatoes. We would queue up with our drum rigs in a line for our thirty minute shot…unwritten rule of the street. The Kleine Rheinfelder served a good leber und rosti, and the crowded restaurant had a room half-way below the street from which you could watch your buddies perform with your eyes just above street level while you quaffed your beer or coffee and/or shots of grappa or calvedos. Harry Manx, a young ,very talented,song writer and lap style guitar player was a part of this scene. So on this particular Monday morning I had just learned that “Santro” had decided to go it alone for the Christmas season, leaving me to fend for myself during the best time of the year. I was miffed but not defeated. “You can do, Jimmy”, Moti told me, “Put it on your back and give it a try!” For some reason it had never entered my mind to play the one-man-band. So that day I wood-shedded for three hours, put together six songs with the drum on my back and the next day with a borrowed rig I went to Berne and did my first shows as a one man band. I bought Pretty Richard’s drum rig off of him, as he was moving on to other things and for the next three months I played in almost every medium sized town in Switzerland.
In April, with my friend John Greet, who had loaned me his rig in the beginning, I flew to Bankok. I spent two months in China doing free shows across the south and west from Shanghai to Kunming, in the summer of ’84, one of the most interesting things I’ve ever done in my life. In the trains they blasted you with Tchaikovsky at 5:30 in the morning but things were beginning to change…

they had their own form of pop music beginning to emerge…and I learned one that was a current hit. In some regions many of them had never even seen a white man, let alone one standing in a public place jumping up and down with a drum on his back singing songs from another place and time. They knew Jambalaya but because of the timing of the cultural revolution had mostly never heard of the Beatles. And I remember feeling a rush of power when I almost instantaneously blocked a six lane intersection with bicycle riders beneath a Mao statue in Chengdu…The police politely ushered me away and I had to jump on a city bus to escape the curious crowd. At the end of that 5 month Asia trip I discovered Japan, where I would spend a good portion of the next 18 years…

they had their own form of pop music beginning to emerge…and I learned one that was a current hit. In some regions many of them had never even seen a white man, let alone one standing in a public place jumping up and down with a drum on his back singing songs from another place and time. They knew Jambalaya but because of the timing of the cultural revolution had mostly never heard of the Beatles. And I remember feeling a rush of power when I almost instantaneously blocked a six lane intersection with bicycle riders beneath a Mao statue in Chengdu…The police politely ushered me away and I had to jump on a city bus to escape the curious crowd. At the end of that 5 month Asia trip I discovered Japan, where I would spend a good portion of the next 18 years…

I really learned to play the one-man-band-drum-rig after the Asia trip, playing along with Billy Higgins …I ruined one walkman wearin’ it on my hip….Billy had a real smooth fluid style and thats how I wanted to play the drum.
It was Lee Morgan’s jazz crossover hit, The Sidewinder, or maybe it was The Rumproller, I can’t remember, they’re both excellent…the next walkman I hung from the ceiling and played for hours in my sister’s bedroom in my parents house in Florida. You see, all the guys whose playing inspired me, Moti, Little Joe, Scottish Craig and Pretty Richard, they all played a fast double beat on the kick drum and used the hi-hat like it was a snare. That’s still pretty much the way it’s usually played. Pete didn’t use a double beat but had a great variety of moves with the hi-hat, dipping the shoulder, or letting the heel come back up off the ground after the downstroke, keeping real loose in the knees . I learned alot from Pete about that stuff just playing guitar beside him. I wanted to make myself different than all the other guys so I invented the Jimmy Stick, a drumstick on the hi-hat splash cymbal worked off the right foot toe. It feels natural to play it that way. Now there are other guys who use a stick on the hi-hat but only one I know who claims to have thought of it first. That’s Bill Johnson, who I run into in Germany from time to time, but he doesn’t use it anymore… the other guys, they have the stick attached to the headstock of the guitar which doesn’t seem as fluid to me. The first stroke of the double kick can be on the beat, or ahead of the beat which is the way I do it most of the time…for smooth stuff and ballads. I learned the other one from Jim Franklin and it’s better for rock’n’roll. There is a syncopated double beat for songs like Stand by Me and Under the Boardwalk…and of course once you can play the thing there are a million possibilities…just listen to any good funk drummer if you think you’ve done it all.
The rivers of Norway are icy cold and full of trout, providing both a morning bath that will jolt you awake faster than a double shot of Italian expresso, and an evening meal of smoked fish…the nightlife, including the light of day goes on ’til morning…Most of my friends were headed up there when I returned to Europe in the spring of ’85. So I hooked up with Simon Murley, an excellent English alto player and headed north. Somewhere in Sweden Simon took off with an old girlfriend and I made it to Oslo just in time for Danny’s birthday bash and the traditional “Big Pitch” where all the performers get together for one big show at the top of the Carl Johan and all the money goes to pay for the birthday party. We did a kind of caravan thing around the coast jumping ferry boats, catching mackerel in the apparently bottomless fjords, and playing the main towns on week-ends and market days…in Norway your fishing rod actually becomes more familiar to your fingers than your guitar neck…We made it to Tromso in the Arctic circle, a very happening town as it is the only action for many a mile…but the encroaching autumn finally chased us all the way back to ….
Japan was like no other place for a street singer…they had a tradition of street performance, dai dogei, while in the bars at night they clustered around the karaoke monitors and sang Yesterday and My Way with scary amounts of reverb…we were like a new synthesis and they loved it. They were a good audience, attentive, if a bit shy, and able to clap only on the back beat which is always a good sign. The action was mostly after dark. The nightlife areas, usually clustered around the main train stations, were a bustle of salarymen, geishas, Philippina hostesses, and very occasionally another gaijin(foreigner)…the air was thick with Asian scents, mouth-watering yakatori and sour smells from the steaming stock pots in Ramen Alley mingling with incense from behind the walls of the temple. When I’d been there in ’84 I didn’t encounter any other street shows, although I knew from the grapevine that I wasn’t the first. There weren’t even that many foreigners evident . Now, two years later, I found another one-man-band, Jim Franklin, had nestled in for the duration. He had had Tokyo to himself for a year and was happy to share it with me . I designed a rig and had it bolted on to the back of my Kawasaki 200 to carry my drum, guitar, and a small amplifier with almost the whole city being virgin territory. Shinjuku Station, which we called The Belly of the Beast, sees more people on one day than occupy most European cities and The Ginza with the Chuo Dori blocked to traffic on Sunday afternoon was the classiest pitch I had ever done. After a while, Jim and I, toured Japan from Osaka to Sapporo as a two-man-one-man-band. We called ourselves Gemini. There is usually a good energy present when journeyman types hook up and make music together…the people feel the spark and they love it.