Jaimoe is having issues with his cell phone. Calling in from Florida where he is playing a show later that night with his ensemble, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, the connection is staticky and beginning to frustrate the longtime Allman Brothers drummer. “A waste of money,” he fusses before finally pulling this and twisting that to attempt a better reception. After a few minutes, he laughs and we are finally able to talk about his new CD Renaissance Man, which took a bit of prodding from JJB vocalist Junior Mack to actually get Jaimoe in the studio to record it. “He had this delusion about a legitimate record,” Jaimoe says with a hearty laugh. “Some of them are fine and some of them you can have them. But it takes a lot of time. If you don’t have your music written out or you haven’t played them in quite a while, it can be a nightmare”.
Renaissance Man turned out to be a smooth cool hybrid of blues and jazz that takes listeners on a journey into the music that Jaimoe has loved since he was a young boy growing up outside of Biloxi, Mississippi. “For a while I wanted to be Mr. America,” Jaimoe revealed about his boyhood aspirations. “Then when I discovered Cozy Cole, I wanted to be the world’s greatest Jazz drummer.”
And what a ride he has been on ever since. After playing behind legends like Otis Redding and Sam & Dave, he was recruited to form the backbone of a new southern blues band that a young session guitar player by the name of Duane Allman was putting together in Macon, Georgia. And for the better part of 40 plus years, he has been giving the band its heartbeat alongside Butch Trucks, his brother in sticks.
But still, Jaimoe’s own heart beats with a jazz rhythm. He doesn’t just like jazz, he loves it. “There’s a great difference between love and like,” he laughs as he happily explains what caught his ear about the musical genre. “It just sounded so good”.
His earliest exposure to it was at a very young age back in Mississippi. “Most of the stuff, I heard on the radio when I was growing up,” he remembered. “This lady across the street from my mother’s house used to play the radio on the front porch all day long while she crocheted and she watched us play ball in the street. And she would buy orange juice for the winners of the ball game. But back in those days there may have been a classical music station, there may have been a blues station. The rest of it was popular music, not like all of these names and stuff like they got today … People need to be educated about the fact that jazz is American music, it’s improvised music”.
With songs like the old Sleepy John Estes foot-tapper “Leaving Trunk” and the soulful “Rainy Night In Georgia”, Jaimoe and his band are bringing back music that gets into your arteries and wiggles around until it finally finds a home in the depths of your soul.
“These songs are basically songs that Junior had been playing since he was sixteen years old,” Jaimoe explained. “He had the sweets on this little Jewish girl in high school and that’s who Laurie Ann is (laughs) and he’s 52 now. Four of the songs were written in the studio: “Points Of Friendship”, “Simple Song”, “Laurie Ann Blue” and “Hippology” … But the songs that Junior wrote, we had been playing those songs. We had been playing all those songs except for the four instrumentals I told you about. All the rest of them we had been playing”.
“Then we learned “Drifting and Turning”, we learned that on the gig,” Jaimoe continued. “Junior said, ‘I got this tune and it goes like this’ chung-chung-chung-chung. We played it and we played it like we had been playing it all our lives. It was just one of them kind of songs. You could basically say it was like if you play “Stormy Monday” then you’ve played them all (laughs). It’s just a matter of changing words. Well, it’s a little bit more than that but that’s it basically. That tune is very much like “Dreams” by the Allman Brothers in a slight way”.
One song that surprised Jaimoe at first was the aforementioned “Rainy Night In Georgia.” “My friend Honeyboy Charles Otis told me, and I’ve known this guy from New Orleans since I was about 16; he lives in New York City now. But he called me one day and he said, ‘Junior Mack sings a great version of “Rainy Night In Georgia”. You should record it. He sings it better than Brook Benton’. I said to myself, nobody sings that song better than Brook Benton (laughs) but I’d never heard him sing it. So one day this lady took her cell phone and she recorded it and somebody was telling me, ‘That’s a great song ya’ll are doing on YouTube’. I said, oh yeah? ‘You haven’t heard it?’ I said, Nope, I haven’t heard it. I don’t watch YouTube. So I went to YouTube and I listened to it and he did do a hell of a job on it. So we had to record it”.
Junior Mack is one of those buried treasures that when you finally discover him, you’re surprised that he has been around for as long as he has. Other members of Jaimoe’s band include keyboard player Bruce Katz, who also plays in Gregg Allman’s solo band, bass player Dave Stoltz and a horn section that includes Reggie Pittman, Kris Jensen and Paul Lieberman.
“It’s American music,” Jaimoe stresses about jazz and what his band encompasses. “We’re going to play music and you can call it what you want to call it but it’s going to be good. Because there are only two kinds of music. It’s either good or it’s bad” (laughs).
“We play some Jimi Hendrix “Purple Haze”, “Come Together” by The Beatles, there is a lot of stuff we play,” Jaimoe says about his band’s live repertoire. “Basically, right now we’re just playing what’s on the CD so that we can get used to it and people can become familiar with it, because the other stuff we’re playing you’ve basically heard it and you play it one take and there it goes. We do “Rainy Night In Georgia” and we’re also doing Gregg’s “Melissa”. But the way Junior does it, it’s a bossa nova. And when I heard that, I went, we need to put this on the album basically because it was a bossa nova and it had a little more kind of swing to it. Not that Gregg’s doesn’t, but it tends to be stiff in a sense. So the bossa nova makes it really hip”.
“That used to be a Taj Mahal song,” Jaimoe says about “Leaving Trunk”. “But he’s going to have to find another song now” (laughs). And with “Simple Song”, “when I first heard it, I said to Junior, ‘Why did you do this to me?’ and he said ‘What?’ I said, ‘Man, why did I let you put this song on this CD?’ He thought I was joking. I said, ‘No, I’m not joking’. I was slightly joking and not joking at the same time. And the more I heard it, the more I liked it”.
“You know who John Coltrane was?” Jaimoe asked near the end of the interview. “His drummer Elvin Jones was a real good friend of mine and Elvin told me they said that the music that Coltrane was playing was a little radical. And Elvin told them, ‘Well, you might as well get used to it cause it ain’t going to change’” (laughs).
So when Mack asked about Jaimoe’s reasoning in calling the band Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, “I told Junior, ‘Well, it’s going to be Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band and that’s what it’s going to be’. People need to realize that jazz is American music, that’s basically all the word means, with a flair or something. Music that is improvised is jazz, all over the world. So that is one of the reasons for having that name and then you notice how the name is spelled? Well, let me tell you what I discovered. Ken Burns had a two-week thing on Jazz and on one of these particular nights they had this guy standing there with a bass drum and on the bass drum was Jass and I went, well, I’ll be damned. My wife was saying, ‘Why don’t you go ahead and spell ass, that’s what you want to call it’. I told her to shut up with all that because if I did I would (laughs).Anyway, it was quite interesting to see that and come to find out that was the original way that the word was spelled, Jass. Anyway, compared to what they call it today, it’s kind of like a play on words”.