JAIME ST. JAMES (BLACK ‘N BLUE) INTERVIEW:
April 29, 2011
Recent Oregon Music Hall of Fame 2010 inductee Jamie St. James got Sleaze Roxx caught up to speed on his recent musical activity. St. James and his band Black ‘N Blue are readying their new album ‘Hell Yeah!’ for a mid-May release, the group’s first studio album since 1988’s ‘In Heat’. This will be the band’s first effort without founding member and guitarist Tommy Thayer, who has taken on the role as the Space Ace vacated by Ace Frehley in KISS. Jamie also filled us in on his time in Warrant, Black ‘N Blue’s replacement for Tommy Thayer and what it was like working with Gene Simmons early in his career.
Sleaze Roxx: Black ‘N Blue is up and running once again. You’re releasing a new album ‘Hell Yeah!’ on Frontiers Records in May. Can you clarify one thing? Were you still part of Black ‘N Blue during your time in Warrant? The reason I ask is that Black ‘N Blue has made the rounds in the American festival circuit.
Jaime St. James: I know exactly what you’re talking about. I got signed to a solo deal in England — I called Jeff “Woop” Warner (Black ‘N Blue guitarist) and asked, “Why don’t we make this a Black ‘N Blue record? You have the studio, I have the record deal.” He said, “Yeah why don’t we do this?” That was around 2003 I think — I went to Portland from L.A. and we went to work on the album. Shortly after that I got the call from Warrant that they needed a singer. So I thought, you know I love playing live and I’m working on this Black ‘N Blue record, let’s see if we can do both. Little did I know that Warrant was touring as extensively as they were, it seemed like I was flying out to shows weekly. That put a damper on what was supposed to be the Black ‘N Blue record.
Basically, Black ‘N Blue got back together in 2003. When Jani Lane rejoined Warrant, and I was out of that band, I could then focus on the next Black ‘N Blue album. It all didn’t have to do with me — Jeff Warner lost his studio, we had to find another studio, and they live in Portland and I live in L.A. It’s finally done and thank God (laughs)!
Sleaze Roxx: One more thing on your time in Warrant. How comfortable were you performing the bulk of a set that you didn’t have a hand in writing?
Jaime St. James: The first show that I did with Warrant was in Daytona Beach, Florida — we were opening for Night Ranger. I remember at that time I had rehearsed with them about four times and had to learn 20 songs. I was about to go on stage and I was freaking out! I thought, ‘these people are going to hate me. I not Jani Lane, I’m not that guy.’ I remember I was on the side of the stage and Jack Blades (bassist from Night Ranger) came up to me and saw that I was visibly nervous and started rubbing my shoulders. He said, “Jamie it’s okay, just go out there and be yourself. Go out there, be yourself, and you’ll be fine.” That was so sweet and meant a lot coming from him, since Black ‘N Blue toured with Jack and Night Ranger years ago.
The first show was scary, but 3 to 4 songs in I got comfortable and I was their singer for four years. Their audience was accepting of me — listen, when someone comes in to replace an original singer there are people who aren’t going to like him, that’s just a fact. I felt welcomed, not only by the band but by the fans. Having said that, I’m very happy to be the singer for Black ‘N Blue because that is who I am.
Sleaze Roxx: So by the time you left Warrant and you started to get the rest of the guys on board for a new album Tommy Thayer was already playing in KISS.
Jaime St. James: Tommy was employed by KISS and then he was asked to be their guitarist. I’ve been friends with Tommy Thayer since I was 17 years old, I knew what he was doing and I knew he couldn’t be involved. We found guitarist Shawn Sonnenschein and he’s great. I’m proud of Tommy, he’s got a great gig and he does a great job. We knew that he wouldn’t be involved. I think the fact that we have 4 out of 5 guys for a band that’s been around for 30 years isn’t bad.
Sleaze Roxx: I know you and Tommy go way back and you have great respect for one another. That didn’t make it any easier, right?
Jaime St. James: You’re right, yes. I formed Black ‘N Blue with Tommy Thayer — we formed this band. It’s strange not having him around. I played him the demos and rough mixes of the album and he said, “You guys are doing great, you don’t need me — you’ll be alright.” To be honest with you the Black ‘N Blue sound is five guys, yeah even though Tommy and I wrote the bulk of the material its five guys that make the sound. If Patrick Young wasn’t on bass it wouldn’t sound like Black ‘N Blue to me. There’s just so much that needs to be said about the players and I really do think that is why this album sounds like Black ‘N Blue right off the bat. I think we picked right up where we left off in 1988. To be honest with you I had my doubts that it would sound that way, but it really does and I’m pleased.
Sleaze Roxx: How did you guys find guitarist Shawn Sonnenschein? Was there an audition process?
Jaime St. James: Patrick Young played with him in a band in Portland. I think “Woop” might have also been in the band but they both knew Shawn and they introduced him to me. I didn’t hear the guy play but they liked him. I asked them, “Do you guys think he’s the guy?” They said, “Yeah he’d be a great fit.” I said, “He’s in then.” It was that simple.
Shawn hasn’t let us down. He’ll be forever the new guy, but he’s been in the band 8 years already and he’s come through on some very big shows. Like you said, we’ve done some big festivals and he’s been great. Shawn deserves a lot of credit and respect.
Sleaze Roxx: Black ‘N Blue was inducted into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame in October of 2010. Tommy Thayer even made it in for the occasion. That must have been a huge honor for you guys.
Jaime St. James: Yeah he did. Tommy plays with us every now and then. He has to get clearance from KISS but this was one event that he just couldn’t miss. I didn’t really know what this was all about — I flew in from L.A. for the event. This was different than a performance, because when you’re performing you step out and you sing the song. This blew my mind because I stepped out and I was there with the band to accept an award. There was applause, there were cheers and everyone was standing there in front of us! The Roseland was packed — the whole thing was just surreal to me. I can say that was one of the happiest nights of my life, I’ve never felt so much love from Portland. I always felt like we, Black ‘N Blue, were the bastard children of Portland. We didn’t play many covers when we started out, we wanted to play our original tunes and therefore were didn’t play as many clubs. I felt like we didn’t get the respect that we deserved, so it was very gratifying when we got into the Oregon Music Hall of Fame.
Sleaze Roxx: ‘Hell Yeah!’ is the new album and the first from Black ‘N Blue since 1988’s ‘In Heat’. Is the new album comprised of all new material or is it stuff that you were holding onto from previous writing sessions?
Jaime St. James: There are no old songs, these songs date back from about 2003 to the present day. We didn’t rehash old song ideas, it’s all new fresh songs written by myself and Jeff “Woop” Warner with some riffs from Shawn here and there. I say new, but how new is it when we started 8 years ago?
Sleaze Roxx: How was this particular writing experience different from the past? I ask this because the main writers have been you and Tommy Thayer.
Jaime St. James: I write a lot of the music for this band — I play guitar, not great, but enough to write a song. I’m not a good guitarist, anyone can tell you that, but I can write — I did write a lot. You’re right, Tommy and I were the Lennon and McCartney of Black ‘N Blue. Jeff also wrote a lot for the band on past albums. On the new record it was Jeff and I that wrote the songs. In fact one of my favorite songs on the new album is called “Target”, I didn’t write it… he did. We all know what the Black ‘N Blue sound is, when Jeff and I wrote for this album we found that we just couldn’t sound any other way — it’s Black ‘N Blue. In fact I played the record for Tommy Thayer and he said, “Jesus this sounds like a Black ‘N Blue record.” Each album we did was slightly different than the last, it’s because we were influenced by different bands from AC/DC to Cheap Trick to The Beatles — it’s in there. The new album ‘Hell Yeah!’ is different than the albums that came before — it’s heavier but it’s still Black ‘N Blue.
Sleaze Roxx: Sounds like you got Tommy’s blessing.
Jaime St. James: We did get his blessing. I was scared at first because I didn’t know how we were going to do this without Tommy because he was such a huge part of Black ‘N Blue. Would it be better if he were one here? Probably, but it is what it is and I happen to think that this album is awesome. I can’t believe how great it sounds and I’m so proud of it.
Sleaze Roxx: Frontiers Records, your current label, has done a lot for ’80s rock bands either making a comeback or continuing to release their music. They have quite a roster — Whitesnake, Mr. Big, King Kobra, and now Black ‘N Blue. How did you guys get hooked up with them?
Jaime St. James: It was by accident, we were on another label and we ran out of money to finish the record. My manger Jeff Keller put the deal together, Frontiers agreed to buy us off the old label and give us a little more money to finish the album. Frontiers is the best label that a band like us can be on period. I think ‘Hell Yeah!’ has a great shot when you have a great label like this behind it.
Sleaze Roxx: Periodically over the years Black ‘N Blue reunited for special appearances. The one that stands out to me was the show you did at Key Largo in Portland on Halloween of 1997. I think it was 1997… I don’t have the CD handy to confirm the year.
Jaime St. James: That was the show we did for the live album?
Sleaze Roxx: Right.
Jaime St. James: That was an awesome show! We we’re back together as a band — we just got together to record that show for a live album. He’s the funny thing about Black ‘N Blue, we might not see each other for 8 years and without so much as a rehearsal we can do just as good of a performance as you saw that night — it’s insane. All the songs are embedded in my brain because we toured an insane amount back in the day.
Sleaze Roxx: The energy and charisma was accurately captured on ‘One Night Only’.
Jaime St. James: Cool, thank you. That was just a one-off show to do the record in front of a home town audience. We had no intention of seeing each after that as far as being in the band.
Sleaze Roxx: I imagine you’re in the talking stages as far as live dates go?
Jaime St. James: We’re pretty much open to anything but we don’t want to play shitty gigs. As you made mention, the big festivals pay well — they take care of you, you get in, you play for a large crowd and you go home. The worst part of those gigs are the airports and the flights. We won’t be going in a van anytime soon and drive cross-country to play shitty gigs. We’re not Bon Jovi — a lot of people still don’t know who we are after all of these years. If this record creates a little bit of a buzz then maybe it’ll open some doors and we might be able to land on a good tour. I’m not 22 years old, I don’t want to drag myself across the country and sleep in crap-holes. I just won’t do it.
Sleaze Roxx: What was it like having Gene Simmons in your corner? He took Black ‘N Blue under his wing and helped with production and co-wrote some songs throughout your career.
Jaime St. James: He was great. Gene is a complete workaholic, he works hard and is an amazing person. I remember we were in a rehearsal space and he was sitting there listening to the songs and would give feedback. I remember him saying to me, “Listen, don’t sing about someone else, sing about yourself.” He did influence us a lot but at the end of the day we were Black ‘N Blue and we would do what we wanted. Gene had a lot to offer and he was brilliant. I have so much respect for the guy.