JIMMI BLEACHER INTERVIEW:
March 14, 2006
Salty Dog may go down in history as one of the sleaziest bands to crawl out of L.A., with such gems as “Come Along”, “Heave Hard” and “Cat’s Got Nine”. However, when things started to go sour vocalist Jimmi Bleacher got himself clean and walked away from the music industry. But he hasn’t completely disappeared, he has just kept a lower profile while producing some young talent and writing at his own pace. In this exclusive interview with Sleaze Roxx, Jimmi talks about the highs and the lows of rock ‘n’ roll.
SR: Is there any truth to the rumor that you are trying to get the original Salty Dog band back together?
JB: Yes, that rumor is true. I recently produced an Atlanta band called Buttonhook, and through their management I was being offered a House of Blues tour in kind of a win-win situation. I thought it would be a good venue to play so I called Mike, Khurt, and Pete. They all agreed. I wanted it to be of the caliber that I knew it could be, so I immediately began trying to get the band logistically together in California. I even began to book shows on the west coast to fund process. We consulted each other along the way, but it was proving too difficult to get anyone on the same page. So other things came up, and I just let it slide. If we would have continued the reunion, we would be leaving for that tour next week.
SR: Would you say it was a case of bad timing and might give it another try at a later date?
JB: The timing is always bad. Things should have a natural ebb and flow in order for them to be productive and work right. I didn’t feel that at the time. That’s not to say that things couldn’t change in the future. But to anyone waiting for it to happen, don’t hold your breath.
SR: Not only that, but now that everyone has their own families, musical projects and jobs it has to be much harder to roll the dice and take a chance like when you were young.
JB: Exactly. That’s why the timing is always bad.
SR: Was the House Of Blues tour you got offered strictly for a Salty Dog reunion, or could you have done it with any musicians?
JB: It was offered to me either way. Of course a Salty Dog reunion I felt would be easier and have more leverage. However, that was not my main stimulant. What really gave me a charge was the chance to have closure on the whole Salty Dog thing. I wanted to see what it would be like to deal with my once close compadres on a mature and professional manner, and hopefully at the end of it all, the bitterness we have carried around for over a decade would be subsided.
SR: Even without the tour, did the talk of working together again produce some closure for you and the members?
JB: No. Unfortunately it only reawakened the awkward feeling of being caught in the middle of trying to perform a formidable task in a universe with very little common ground.
SR: Tell us about Buttonhook, and was this your first attempt at producing?
JB: Not really. I own a recording studio and I have recorded and produced many things for my very talented friends. Buttonhook, however, was the first band I produced in a major studio over an extended period of time. We recorded it at Tree Sound in Atlanta which won an award last year for the most platinum records made. The album turned out great. Unfortunately I’m not sure what happened to it after it left my hands, but it is a significant piece of rock music.
SR: Have you been writing much new music?
JB: Over the years I’ve written a lot of music. There are definitely parts of my life when I was more inspired, or should I say more plugged into the song grid. But that’s hard to maintain physically and emotionally over a long period of time. Now that I don’t write for a record label, songs come more naturally. I’m in no hurry.
SR: What sort of style does the music you write these days take?
JB: I don’t know if it has a style I can give you. Of course I’ve written heavy guitar music. I’ve written a lot on the piano and acoustic guitar. I’ve used the influences of funk and reggae, but more recently I’ve been writing on the 5 string banjo what sounds like early American Blue Mountain Rebel music.
SR: Do you have plans to release some of it before long?
JB: I don’t know. Why? Should I?
SR: Well, that is entirely up to you. But there are still some of us hard rock fans that would love to hear new music, plus everyone that had long hair at one time seems to be returning these days.
JB: Well that’s good to hear. The only thing is I feel as if I’ve lived a couple of lives since I left Hollywood and I’m not singing about getting laid or getting tall much anymore. I feel much more moved by the human condition that I’ve been surrounded by which isn’t all that glamorous. So I’m not sure whether I’ll be accepted by the fans of the raucous metal scene anymore if I don’t hold true to what it used to be. I can only be myself. Every year that passes I feel more like an island. I doubt David Geffen would be interested either in what I’ve got to say, even if I said it in a way with lots of pop hooks. What’s even worse is all of my pent up aggression comes out when I perform and even the guys I have played with wish I would tone it down sometimes. I can’t be what I used to be, but I’m not someone else. I’m not sure where my music is going to fit in.
SR: Would you say writing music is more of a therapeutic thing these days, whereas production would be used to pay the bills?
JB: I would say writing has become more of a therapy. It broadens my horizons. It taught me how to play many different instruments along the way. If you write everything off of a guitar riff, it sounds that way. Sometimes I write off a drum beat or a bass line and it comes out way cooler than I could have envisioned because I can give it space. I like it when the music can breathe.
You have to understand writing and arranging in order to produce. I love producing also. I never look at it as just a way to pay bills.
SR: How about making guest appearances on other people’s albums, have you done much of that in the last few years?
JB: Not a whole lot from people you might have heard of yet, but yes. Of course, you already know about the last Ampage album with Mark Mason where I sang some backup vocals. I also sang with Roman Carson on the Buttonhook album as well as played the violin part on Skipdropped. I played the bass for a guy named Cfoul on a funk album still in the making. I played guitar with a jam band named SIJUPANA who put out an album a week for a while back in 2000. More recently I played drums with a very talented songwriter named Frank Pank on some of his material. I’ve also played banjo with my friend Jon Wagoner for his Black Cat Bone album still in the making, just to name a few.
SR: Let’s go back to the beginning now, how did you first get involved in music?
JB: I first got involved in music when I was 6 years old. I got a nylon string classical guitar for a present and took lessons. I played and sang songs that I never heard before on sheet music. By the time I was 14 I joined my 1st band. I played bass and sang. We played at my high school dances and youth functions. By the time I was 16 I was playing clubs until 2 in the morning on school nights. When I was 18 I started an all original band called ‘Precious Metal’ (years before the LA girl band) and won a regional battle of the bands. I think we broke up the next day in the height of our glory, a pattern of demise which would follow me all the way through Salty Dog.
SR: You mean your early bands had a tendency to break up just when things were heating up? Why was that?
JB: Obviously they broke up or I’d probably still be in them. However, that particular band broke up because the lead guitar player quit when he and the rhythm guitar player got into a fight. We tried to go on but his playing was too influential. Like I said it was a good band, and good bands butt heads. Good bands have some friction or everything that everyone played would just be accepted. Those are called jam bands, and jam bands rarely put out anything exceptional.
SR: How did Salty Dog come together?
JB: Salty Dog came together for me when a mutual friend (Mark Chatfield, original guitar player for the GODZ) introduced Mike Hannon to me over Christmas in Columbus back in 86. I moved to LA to join with Khurt, Mike and Scott Lane in the original band that practiced in Kerry Doll’s garage in Cudahy just outside of Compton. It was very exciting times for me. Before I agreed to do this interview, I read the Sleaze Roxx credo which defines the music as a reckless pursuit of sex, drugs and Rock & Roll – paraphrasing of course. That’s what I remember. It was the last of those carefree times and I definitely was chin deep. Michael and I did most of the band promotion and those nights were always an adventure.
We never made it home before the next morning that I recall, but we also never missed a day of work at Zed Records in Longbeach. They always say that there’s great struggle to make it in the music business. If there is, I was not aware of it at the time.
SR: With some many bands emerging from that scene was it a cut-throat business trying to land the next recording contract or was there lots of comradery between groups?
JB: I remember a lot of comradery. Not everyone was like that but, in truth, there was not a lot anyone could do to cut another man’s throat. I saw no sense in hating everyone in other bands. In hindsight, just about every band that stuck it out got some kind of record deal. Not everyone made a good record though, and not everyone sold a lot of records, but even guys who weren’t good enough to play on their own record got a deal.
SR: Out of the early scene who were the bands you though were incredible and which ones could you just not get into?
JB: The bands I liked the most at the time were Guns N’Roses and Jane’s Addiction. I also liked the Nymphs quite a bit but not their record because it came out over-produced badly. I was friends with a lot of bands on the scene but I didn’t really know their music. Which is not uncommon.
There were many bands such as Bang Tango that I would go to their shows, but I really didn’t know their music very well. It was a scene for a while. I can remember our management trying to wean us off the scene after we got signed in order to focus our attention on selling records worldwide. But for that we really had to leave. The scene was an addictive. It came out in our first and only record. So I guess to answer the second part of your question, the only band I really couldn’t get into in the end was Salty Dog. But at one point we were on top of our game and we were ferocious.
SR: What was it like recording Every Dog Has Its Day?
JB: It was perhaps the greatest experience of my life. Not only did I get to go to a remote corner of the world for three months, I got to work with Geoff Workman and Peter Collins. Geoff is not only extremely talented, but he is also incredibly funny so we laughed our heads off the whole time. The atmosphere was very relaxing once we got underway. It was an adventure, and a lot happened during that time. Probably much more than I’m willing to tell you in a brief answer, but I’ll summarize it for you: We had parties, got into fights, fell in love, communed with nature, ate well drank well, and made a good record along the way. In fact, they had to change their policy on free beverages after we left, and that’s saying something considering bands like Black Sabbath, Led Zeppelin, and Rush all recorded there. I’ve been back to Great Britain 14 times since then. A couple of years ago I went and visited Kingsley Ward (the owner of Rockfield Studios) at the studio. The only picture of a band you will see when you get to the reception area, or anywhere in the studio for that matter, is a great big picture of Salty Dog. Like I said, it was perhaps the greatest experience of my life. The studio has been open since the sixties and has made close to a hundred platinum albums, but clearly we left an impression on them as much as they left on us.
SR: Speaking of platinum, you were signed with Geffen records which had a great track record for making bands successful. Why do you think Salty Dog didn’t break out in a big way?
JB: Well, we were the best selling new artist Geffen had that year. We were not the band they chose to back with financial tour support. We were not the band they chose to back with radio support. Of the 20 major markets that did pick up our single “Come Along” in the 2 weeks they gave us any AOR support, it was the number 1 single on 11 of those cities holding the record for the most time at number 1 in 9 of those markets. Frankly, any place that played us we were a hit. We even made a video for that same song that was a proven hit, and although MTV agreed to put it in medium rotation you never saw it because Tom Zutuat (our A&R Rep) asked David Geffen to call MTV and pull the video because it was not the way he wanted the band to be introduced to the public. Granted, it was a crappy video, but MTV agreed to play it, which is hard for a new artist especially one without any financial backing. So to answer your question; even Geffen Records said in the end that we did well in-spite of Geffen Records. They promised us in writing that we would receive top promotional billing for an entire month with our next record. At that point we knew we would be a household name.
Thus, our problems began.
SR: I’m guessing that once everyone knew they were gonna make it big that the egos grew and started to clash?
JB: Not exactly. Once again the timing was bad. It was the summer of 91, and Nirvana was breaking big time. The atmosphere in LA changed overnight. We had just finished about a year and a half of being on the road in close quarters and there was already distance between us. The music scene that we were once a part of was completely gone, and the powers to be were pushing us to put out a record. I knew we had to make a great record if we were going to survive. The problem was that the fabric that held the band together was starting to disintegrate. Mainly me.
I was the leader of the band. It was a position I was told I must take, and it was the only reason the band stayed together and made any passionate music at all. I was also the main songwriter, but I tried to be more of a musical director. Not to mention that I was the only one who was friends with everyone in the band, so I acted as the communication mediator.
Back to the making of the second record.
From the day Pete and I started writing together I knew there was great chemistry between us, and I liked our songs-so I knew they were good. We also had the ability to write in a jam format, which is where songs like “Come Along” came from. Or, I would write a song and bring it to the band and they would take it from there – like “Just Like a Woman” or “Keep Me Down”. That’s what worked for us. Any good idea was taken into consideration, and those of us that wrote more were always generous with those of us that wrote less so no one was left out. However, I was going through a dry spell and in a moment of weakness I succumbed to a temptation (with the best intentions mind you) that lead me down a road of darkness I never expected.
Soon I was incoherently being handed lyric sheets and told to sing uninspired songs so we could finish this record that I knew was going to bomb. The record company could see the band was breaking up and I was assured that I would still have a deal if it did. What the rest of the band didn’t realize was they were being played by the management who saw it as a win-win situation. If the band broke up, they would have 2 artists on Geffen records. They ended up with none.
SR: I knew Salty Dog eventually worked with a new vocalist, but does that mean the band also recorded songs for a second album with you?
JB: Yeah. I think we finished demoing about 10 songs. There was more, but it was getting hard for me to show up.
SR: What finally led to you leaving the band, and how much bad blood was there?
JB: Thin walls. I might have been incoherent 24/6 (I slept on Wednesday), but at one point or another I heard everyone’s true intentions. That’s how I knew the management’s intention to break up the band and have two. I truly didn’t want it to happen, but I was too weak to fight and felt there was nothing left to fight for.
At first there was no real bad blood. In fact, I had lost my home in Sherman Oaks through it all, and Pete let me live in his garage until it got too weird with him going off to audition new singers and me hanging around. It wasn’t until Salty Dog became an out-of-control rudderless ship that no one wanted, that the bad blood began to flow. I got cleaned up and moved away and remained conspicuously quiet about the whole thing. Over the years, I’ve read their attempts to reduce me and bolster their own contribution. In fact, at one point Michael called me a thief, which I found extremely offensive since they kept tens-of-thousands of dollars worth of publishing money from me, not to mention tens-of-thousands worth of equipment. They even kept the valuable equipment I brought out to California with me and left me homeless.
It gets extremely tiresome letting someone else define you.
SR: How bad did your drug addiction become and how did you finally get clean?
JB: What started out as an experiment into the mind ended up having total possession of my soul. I was like an Indian trying to drink. It just didn’t work for me. Unfortunately, it was the only thing that took away the intense pain and loneliness I was experiencing after the Salty Dog debacle. I can remember coming to in East LA with no shirt and no shoes wondering how I got here. I remember for a while living in the bushes. I lost my mind. Eventually my family came to the rescue, and with the help of Mark Mason and John C. (who unfortunately has since passed away) I got to a treatment center for 90 days, then I moved home to be surrounded by unconditional love for a while.
SR: Once you got sober did you try putting another band together, or did you think it was best to stay out of that environment?
JB: I never tried putting a band together. They always came to me though. What I did stop was trying to be known. I stopped all mention of Salty Dog in my life. I really wanted no part of the music industry.
I still had an obligation to Geffen. So I got together with a very talented musician from Cleveland named Tom B. and made a demo which I took to the label. Everyone loved it. I didn’t even stick around. Once I had proven to myself that could have done it, I left Los Angeles, filed for bankruptcy to get out of all my contracts, and moved to Manchester England. Tom B. got a job as Barbra Mandrel’s guitar player shortly after, which I think he still is to this day.
I still loved playing and Manchester was quite a happening music scene. So I got together with my old friend and ex label mate from the King of Kings, drummer Gus Hart, and we played all over England in what was the first White Stripes type of band. People really thought we were from another planet. We made enough money to buy a motorcycle a travel throughout Europe. With backpacks strewn on our front and back, we traveled most of 95 on what was one hell of a great adventure. We ended up in Greece on the Isle of Rhodes where we stayed and picked olives and made olive oil until my visa ran out and I had to come home.
I didn’t play much after that except the odd acoustic set for several years. I started pursing my other passion which was producing. I pieced together a studio and started recording really talented musicians. Some of them got together and asked if I would be interested in playing again. I felt ready, so we played my songs and quickly got noticed at a live gig by a producer from Los Angeles affiliated with a major label, and I flew to Nashville to work in the studio. Unfortunately he got the gig as one of the producers on the new Faith Hill record, so he was tied up for a year. By the time that was done-so was that band.
From that band another one emerged in what has for the last couple of years become my heavy-bag of aggression called MK Ultra (*a demo mp3 from the band can be heard here*). Rarely do we play out, but we have played some nice gigs.
You see, in the end I did get what I wanted. I got over my dry spell and wrote the kind of songs I needed to write. It was just a very indirect route.
SR: In late 2004 you played onstage with Michael Hannon for the first time in many years, how did the show go?
JB: Well it certainly was the highlight of that night. It felt good to be on stage with Michael again, who has always been a great performer, and his band played excellent. We didn’t get a chance to talk with each other much though, because so many people in the crowd wanted to talk and take pictures that the next thing I knew the night was over. Still, I think we got past some things that evening. Unfortunately I had a cold that settled right on my vocal cords, so I knew it was going to be an off night for me. But that kind of thing doesn’t matter live if you don’t let it. I had fun.
SR: When all is said and done, what would you like to be remembered for?
JB: Thank you for this question. This is what every one of us should ask ourselves. Many times knowing that I am going to die someday has given me light to see things in the proper perspective, and got me through some hard times.
I hope in the end to adequately have given back the love I received from family and friends. I hope to have done good work, and hopefully even to have done some good works that were needed and wanted. I hope I’m remembered for touching the people around me in a positive way. I hope that my last thoughts on earth will be that if I get to meet God it will be a great honor.
Secretly, I hope that after I’m gone someone discovers my music and realizes that I was more than a rock singer in a mediocre band from Sweden who in the late 80’s foolishly allowed himself to be looted and abandoned by his friends and those who were paid to protect him and then never heard from again.
Thanks to Jimmi Bleacher