Jimmy McIntosh is a professional guitar player who is based out of Las Vegas. With a lot of hard work, and paying of his dues playing in classic Vegas 2nd rate lounges, Jimmy is now the featured guitarist in one of the best shows in town "Jersey Boys". Throughout his career, he has performed with artists such as: David Cassidy, Jerry Lee Lewis, Billy Preston, Little Anthony and the Imperials, and many more. Jimmy also had a nice run in the production of "Mama Mia"... the story and music of Abba. Having grown up in a suburb of Toledo Ohio, he learned to play the guitar so he could join the high school jazz band. He already had some music experience with playing the French horn in the school band which was given to him by close family friend Duke Ellington. After high school, Jimmy went to Berkley and then the University of Michigan to get his Bachelors degree in Music. Jimmy has met a lot of musicians in his career and had them play on his first two albums. The great Ron Wood from the Rolling Stones has appeared on Jimmy's first two albums and the tracks were recorded in London at Ronnie's house and in a nearby studio. Art, Ivan, and Cyrille Neville also appeared on the first record entitled "New Orleans to London". His latest record "Jimmy McIntosh and..." has Ronnie, Mike Stern, John Scofield, along with classic session players and features a fine collection of songs. I recently chatted with Jimmy.
R.V.B. - This is Rob von Bernewitz calling from Long Island New York. How are you today?
J.M. - Hey Rob, nice to talk to you.
R.V.B. - Same here. We're in the middle of more snow over here... how are you doing over there.
J.M. - Global warming... it's like 75 to 80 degrees. It's about 15 degrees warmer than normal for this time of year. Sorry to hear about the snow.
R.V.B. - It was a relentless winter. There must be a line cut right through the middle of the United States where one side is warm and the other side is cold.
J.M. - It's unbelievable. I think you interviewed a friend of mine Tom Douvan.
R.V.B. - I did, and he was a real nice guy.
J.M. - Yeah, Thom and I met at the summer jazz camp at Interlochen Michigan.
R.V.B. - I figured since you were from Michigan and basically the same age group, and he also went to Berkley.
J.M. - Yeah he did a program there. I went there for two years.
R.V.B. - Let me ask you a pun here. Things are getting out that your new album is good but I thought whatever goes on in Vegas stays in Vegas.
J.M. - (Hahaha) That's only if you're married and you come without your wife. (Hahaha)
J.M. - Partially... I visited here as a little kid a couple of times. My grandfather was kind of a pioneer. He would have been real famous had he been Mormon. He built the place called The Arizona Club that I named my label after. It was the first permanent structure in Vegas, and it was a saloon. This was when Vegas was like a tent city. It was just a train stop. He passed away before I was born but my roots are here and my parents were married here in the 50's. Then they moved to Brazil because my father had a job there which is where I was born. When we moved back to the states we had visited Vegas, and we ended up just outside of Toledo Ohio... right on the Michigan border. Toledo isn't a very exciting musical city, so I thought I could move to where there was some more work.
R.V.B. - Was it calculated? Did you consider any other places like California?
J.M. - My grandmother had bought a cheap little house here and when she passed away, she left it to my mom, my sister, and I. So I moved in there, and it was real inexpensive to maintain... this was in the early 80's. In the back of my mind I thought there would be more gigs here, and that was another reason.
R.V.B. - What sparked you into playing the guitar?
J.M. - When I was a little kid in Brazil, and I saw The Beatles - A Hard Day's Night movie... that was it. It was a similar story for a lot of people that age. I was maybe five years old and the movie came to Sao Paulo Brazil. I went to an English and American school and they took over the world. We were going to school with Beatle wigs and I remember at the lunch period, they let kids play Beatle records. It was just crazy, thinking back now. So that was a spark. I had a little nylon string guitar and took a couple of lessons as a kid but the guitar was too big. I learned a few open string chords when I was in sixth going into seventh grade. I was playing French horn in the school concert band in the ninth grade and I started teaching myself out of the songbooks that had the chord diagrams. I had a David Bowie songbook because I had heard Ziggy Stardust, which I thought was a great album. I was a huge Stones fan from the time I was twelve. I would get two albums per year... one for my birthday and one for Christmas. Then I started taking guitar lessons with this really great guitar teacher in Toledo... John Justus. I wanted to be good enough to play in the school jazz band which was a little goal of mine, and I did.
R.V.B. - Was it kind of weird going the jazz route when the rock and roll thing was hot and heavy?
J.M. - Well I could read music from the French horn and I taught myself some chords out of the Mel Bay book, where they taught you three note chords. I definitely like rock and the Stones was my band, with Keith Richards and Mick Taylor... I liked The Faces and Hendrix of course. I started a little late. I wasn't good enough to play in a high school rock band until I was about fifteen. Some kids started at eleven years old. I was learning to read music and learning rock and roll music by ear. I was copying things off the record by moving the stylus over the grooves to try to cop licks. There was one kid in our school who was a little more advanced and playing in good bands. He was practicing four or five hours a day and was pretty serious, so I hung out with him and watched how hard he worked. I learned how to shed from watching this guy.
J.M. - My mom had gone to Las Vegas for a teachers convention and she met Duke Ellington in the coffee shop. They had talked and he invited her to be his guest at the White House. She didn't go because she didn't have anything to wear so that probably intrigued him that she turned him down. They became really good friends and he became a close friend of the family. In 7th grade the band needed a French horn player and he had bought me from Manny's in New York, and he bought me a Holton single B flat French horn. A couple of years after that he bought me another French horn.
R.V.B. - Did you ever get to meet him?
J.M. - Oh yes, several times. The phone would ring four times a week and me or my sister would answer the phone and it would be Mr. Ellington. He was a close friend and we met him several times when he was performing in the area such as Detroit.
R.V.B. - He's American music royalty.
J.M. - It was almost like a long distance father figure for several years. On my first concert with the band, he called me to give me a little pep talk "You'll be ok and don't be nervous"... he was great. Looking back now, it was amazing that he was that close of a friend. He was a wonderful guy.
R.V.B. - That's a really nice story. So how did you enjoy Berkley?
J.M. - I liked Berkley but it was a little overwhelming. I did fine but at the time I had only been playing for about 2 1/2 years. I went there for two years and then I went to the University of Michigan for two years. I had been a golf caddy at this country club in Toledo and they offered a scholarship to caddy's if the financial need was there and the grades were there. In high school, my grades were pretty mediocre but in Berkley I worked hard and my grades were good, so I applied and received this full ride scholarship to go to Michigan. It was the complete opposite of Berkley. In Berkley, you're about one to eight-
nine hundred guitar players. In the University of Michigan I was the only guitar student in the whole big university. Ann Arbor is a hip town.
J.M. - There was a guy that I had met at Berkley... a guy named Sheldon Sounheim, and he was playing with Lola Falana. She would do showroom gigs and she was kind of famous. She would play on a bill with somebody like Wayne Newton or Frankie Valli. She was not a huge star but she'd be on the tonight show with Johnny Carson. I called him up and he said "What I did is started from one end of the strip and went in every lounge with band and introduced myself... asked if I could sit in?" I had no experience. I played a few gigs in college but not full time or anything, so I didn't really know how to go about it. He gave me that advice, and back then in the early 80's, every little hotel... even the third rate one's had a lounge group playing. A lot of those gigs didn't pay that well but there was a lot of work. I started doing that and I had a part time job in a hospital for while. So I went around to some of the lounges and some guy said "There's this guy named Don Dino who's looking for a guitar player." Don Dino was kind of a Tom Jones type entertainer. I just had my street clothes on and my Fender twin in the trunk... I had a Gibson 345 semi-hollow body, and I met him and he said "Do you just want to play the second show?" I could read chord charts pretty good with my school jazz band experience. Better than the average guitar player. We were playing Tom Jones tunes like Delilah and stuff and I did pretty good and got hired. I think I got paid $200 a week for six weeks, and I thought "Cool, I'm gonna quit the hospital job." (Haha) So that was my start and after it ended I went out on the road with a country band which came back to Vegas. There were a lot of lounges in Vegas but there weren't a lot of super steady gigs. A lounge group would play at one casino for a week or two and then go to Reno or someplace else and play, so for my first couple of years I was bouncing around and played with about eight to ten lounge groups.
R.V.B. - That's paying your dues, so to speak.
J.M. - Yeah, and I was lucky to have this inexpensive house to live in and not have to take a 40 hour a week job. The goal in Vegas was a showroom gig. That was the top of the heap and the better gig. I had a little taste of playing in a showroom. One was a 50's revival with the Coasters, Platters and O.C. Smith. That was kind of fun playing with the 50's Doo Wop groups. It was fun and it was in the main showroom at The Sands. That was where Frank Sinatra and the Rat Pack used to perform. There's a show that's still running called "Legends in Concert", that has all these impersonators and they needed a guitar player. I auditioned for that and I got that gig. Once there was a Hank Williams impersonator and he knew Jerry Lee Lewis and Jerry Lee hopped up on stage and played one song with us. They had a telethon every year that was a nationally televised telethon. It was like the Jerry Lewis telethon and I played in the house band. I got to play with people like Billy Preston, Bobby Vinton and others. It was not a union gig but it lasted for many, many years and I finally left. Just before I left that show, I joined a band that I'm still in and we play once a week, called the Lon Bronson All Star Band. We would play from one o'clock in the morning to about three o'clock in the morning, twice a week. That band got some TV work where we were a house band Comedy Central's Viva Variety, which was a variety show in the late 90's. The actors from Reno 911. That band also became a band for David Cassidy and Sheena Easton, for a show that they were in at the Rio Hotel. That band is kind of based on tower of power. In fact we made a CD a couple of years ago with Doc Kupka... Tower of Power's bari sax player. It's called Doc goes Vegas and it's the Lon Bronson Band plus Dave Garibaldi on drums and Rocco Prestia, the great bass player on bass. So besides doing shows, I would do extra things like that band. There was a jazz/rock band called "Afterburner" I was in for several years. I always try to keep my hands in something creative on the side. I was with David Cassidy and Sheena Easton for a year. We went on the road for a while and went to the United Kingdom three times and to Australia, so that was kind of fun.
J.M. - After Cassidy, I auditioned and I got this gig "Mama Mia", which is a play based on the group Abba. I did that for five years and that was a good gig. After that I auditioned for Jersey Boys, which I am doing now. This is a great show. It's based on a true story of Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons. A movie came out last summer that was directed by Clint Eastwood. Even though it's a Broadway musical... anybody would like it. You don't have to be a Broadway fan. John Scofield was in town a couple of weeks ago with Government Mule and he came to the show and really liked it. The drummer with Mama Mia... is this guy named Pepe Jimenez, who now plays drums with Carlos Santana. He's a great drummer. He and I and a couple of different bass players have had a trio off and on. We we'll play jazz and jazz/rock for fun.
R.V.B. - So getting to your albums... your current one has a nice flow to it. It tends to be a little more jazzy and funky than rock. Do you feel that way?
J.M. - Did you get to hear the first one that I did?
R.V.B. - The New Orleans style one?
J.M. - Yeah.
R.V.B. - I heard a few clips off the web. How did you come up with that title... because it had the funk sound to it?
J.M. - Yeah. There is some rock in it. There was a jam of Third Stone From The Sun on it... the Hendrix tune. This one I did sneak in a little bit of jazz. I wanted to make a bluesy record but not all twelve bar blues. This one does stylistically move around a little bit because Mike Stern is on a couple of tracks. I love jazz/rock. I'm not a huge fusion fan but the tune "Back to Cali" is inspired by Mike Stern. It's kinda Jazz/rock. The tune P.M. Blues is because I put P.M. for Pat Metheny but it could be the time frame of AM/PM.
R.V.B. - That had an acoustic bass on it right?
J.M. - That had an upright bass on it... right. That was an influence after hearing Pat Metheny play this medium tempo blues called "Turn Around", which he recorded back in his 80/81 album. That's kind of a medium swing - straight ahead jazzy blues. I did a short rendition of Sophisticated Lady.
R.V.B. - What kind of guitar did you use for that?
R.V.B. - You had mentioned Hendrix before and Ju Ju had a very beautiful sound on it.
J.M. - Thanks, that's kind of a little bit Hendrixey' and it has a univibe effect going on through it.
R.V.B. - That one caught my ear. I liked that one.
J.M. - Thanks, basically how the record was done was... I liked having a live feel on it. That tune was Toss Panos, John Humphrey and myself playing together live in the studio. There is a little bit of acoustic in the backround and that was overdubbed, but otherwise top to bottom that was done as a live performance. The solo I played live with them. I had to touch up one little part of the solo that I was unhappy with. It was about four bars or something, so I just punched it in but generally the songs were recorded live.
R.V.B. - Let's get to the good stuff, so you went to London to play with Ron Wood. That had to be very exciting for you.
J.M. - It was totally exciting. He played on my first CD, which was kind of a miracle. He's like a major hero of mine. Having been in the studio with him twice, it's pretty amazing... He's a one take guy. He's so naturally talented, it's like wow! Obviously he's not a shredder guitar player but he plays little things and you listen back and It's like a painter taking a paintbrush and doing a little brush stroke here and there, and it makes the whole thing sound better. He's like a really complete artist and I was blown away by him in the studio.
J.M. - That studio was owned by Steve Bush. A guy who engineered and co-produced Ronnie's solo album called "Not For Beginners". It came out around 2002. It was just up the street from where Ronnie was living. On "New Orleans to London" the studio was in Ronnie Wood's house.
R.V.B. - Did he have his paintings hanging around?
J.M. - This time he was in a different house... a really nice four story townhouse in London. It's not far from the famous Hammersmith Odeon. The first time it was this big mansion called "Holmwood". It was the name of the house. The old mansions wouldn't have an address... they would just have a name. In that one he had a room where he worked on his paintings. I saw original paintings he was working on. There was a Snooker room for his snooker table. This time the studio was convenient... it was about a mile and a half from his house. He's the same engineer that worked on the first album, so I knew Steve and it worked out really good.
R.V.B. - When you perform in Vegas now. Do you get to play these songs?
J.M. - Yes and no. Tonight I've got a Jersey Boys show... I play Jersey Boys six nights a week. Right after Jersey Boys I have a ten o'clock downbeat at this other casino with the Lon Bronson All Star Band. We're playing now every Friday at The Sunset Station. We do a two hour set, so I haul ass from one casino and have about a fifteen mile drive to the next place. As far as playing my original music right now, I'm trying to get into a place called The Brooklyn Bowl which is a really cool venue. There's a Brooklyn Bowl in Brooklyn in fact. Have you ever heard of it?
R.V.B. - I have. There are good shows going on there all the time.
J.M. - They opened one in Vegas about a year ago and it's a big place. I'm hoping to be able to get in there, maybe as an opening act. They will occasionally have jam band artists. Government Mule was just there with John Scofield. They've had Ivan Neville and Dumpstafunk... Lettuce has just been there.
J.M. - On "Orleans to London", Art Neville played on one track and Ivan was on seven tracks.
R.V.B. - I mean your music is too good not to be shared live.
J.M. - Yeah, I feel good about it. There are a couple of jazz things on this one but basically its listenable and it has nice grooves.
R.V.B. - I noticed on 30/20 Blues you did a fingerpicking style.
J.M. - I actually really proud of that. That was really impromptu. On that session Keith Hubacher... who I work with in Jersey Boys... I said "Hey do you want to play on something?" John Humphrey played mostly on the album, whom I had known from playing in Scott Henderson's blues trio. Keith Hubacher and I had played with Pepe Jimenez. We went to North Hollywood and it was all tracked at Toss Panos home studio. The tune that we worked on was Lavona's Boogie. We did two takes and that was it... just drums, bass and guitar live in the studio. So we finished and I was trying out a new guitar that I had gotten... it was a 1981 Ibanez AS-200 that I got off ebay, which is the same model that John Scofield uses, and it's got a cool sound. Toss said "That guitar sounds good, let's do something else." We just started grooving on this diddy, and I had messed around a little bit with Robert Johnsons 30/20 blues. It was totally unplanned and we did two takes of that and it just felt great, so I thought "That's going on the record." There's two tunes with Mike Stern. He was in LA at the time when that session happened. He was playing at Catalina's Bar and Grill and those songs were both recorded live in the studio with Mike.
R.V.B. - You do have a lot of ringers on the album.
J.M. - John Scofield and Mike Stern are big hero's of mine. The Stones... that's was my band from the time I was twelve years old. Ronnie Wood is an icon but he's just one of the guys but he's a musician and loves music. He was really encouraging and it was just a blast getting to work with him and all the other guys too.
R.V.B. - The placement of the songs made the album flow very nicely and congratulations with it. It looks like your career is moving ahead and you seem to be staying very busy. How is the music scene in general in Vegas?
J.M. - The music scene is alive and well. I'm lucky to working steadily. There's not a lot of steady work. There are about five or six steady shows that have live music. There's work but there's not as much as there used to be. There are still musicians out here making a living. Vegas is not a creative music town. It's not like New York where there's hip jazz clubs. There's one jazz club that's been going on for about three years but it's more of an entertainment tourist town. It's challenging to make a living playing music anywhere.
R.V.B. - Thank you very much for spending this time with me. The album sounds great. I hope you get to perform it live somewhere and share it with an audience.
J.M. - Thanks for your time and interest, I sure appreciate it
Interview conducted by Robert von Bernewitz
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