Interview With Jimi Bell
(Autograph, House of Lords, Maxx Explosion, Beyond Purple)
Rockin’ Interviews~ Can you tell me about what made you want to play guitar and your initial introduction to the instrument?
Jimi Bell~ “As a kid, my parents bought me a toy guitar and I was about 5 years old and I actually held it left-handed. I would play it on the concrete step by the fireplace and pretend I was performing for people. But then I did a lot of different things, I played a lot of instruments growing up. I fell in love with drums from age 9-13. I was in junior high playing drums and these high school guys came over to my house to jam because you always went to the drummers house. One day the guitar player left his guitar out after we finished playing. I decided to pick it up and turn the amp on along with the fuzzbox. I then hit a few notes and I flipped out. I said, ‘Oh my god, I love this, this is what I want to do’. At the time I had a scholarship to the Hartford Conservatory for drums and within one month, I dropped the scholarship and started playing guitar nonstop. So I was around 13, probably 14 years old when I started.”
R.I.~How has music positively affected your life from that point forward?
Jimi Bell~ “As much happiness as I get out of it, I also get frustrated. The music business can be extremely frustrating and difficult at times. I’ve had some close breaks to other big projects in my past, the door would open a little bit and then it would shut. But because of that, it kept me going. When the door closed for the first time, I didn’t just say, ‘Oh to hell with it’ and then give up. I just kept going, it made me want to keep going. Eventually everything worked out great. I’ve had a lot of amazing opportunities playing guitar and a lot has happened. I’m very fortunate to have been able to do it for as long as I have and continue to do it. It’s been very positive for me, if I’m sad or having a bad day, I’ll play my guitar differently than if I’m having a great day. I go into phases with guitar playing. Some days when I know it’s time to write a record, like the upcoming House of Lords record, I’ll go into songwriting mode and will write song ideas daily. Other days I’ll just be practicing solo techniques. To answer your question, guitar has done so much for me, it keeps me sane… well as sane as I could be.”
R.I.~ Do you feel that coming up through the music scene in CT made it more difficult to break into the rock scene?
Jimi Bell~ “Connecticut has a very difficult music scene. When I was younger though, there were so many clubs to play in Connecticut, everything has changed. I grew up in a very fortunate time when clubs were having bands all of the time and there were thousands of places to play. I was in a road band when I was younger, I lived out of a suitcase playing in Vermont, New Hampshire, Canada, New York, Maine, that entire circuit, we would travel all of the time. We would go to a place and play there for an entire week: Tuesday through Sunday. Things have definitely changed. You would think because Connecticut is sandwiched between New York and Boston that we would have a good music scene, but we do not, It’s been really tough.”
R.I.~ What was that initial audition for Ozzy like back in 1987?
Jimi Bell~ “It was incredible. I was with Kramer guitars, they were sponsoring me. I didn’t have a record deal, but I was signed with them because they really liked the way I played guitar. I got a phone call from Kramer Guitars and they said, ‘You have to be on a plane this afternoon, you’re gonna audition for Ozzy’. They had a promo pack of mine and they sent it out and Sharon Osbourne loved it. Now of course they had already decided on Zakk (Wylde) for the gig but then they saw my promo pack and wanted to have me come out. So I flew out to L.A. and played with the drummer Randy Castillo and Phil Soussan first because Ozzy wasn’t about to sit through all the guitar players auditioning. When I auditioned, Sharon Osbourne was there to watch. The next day I played on this big soundstage with Ozzy and it went phenomenal, Ozzy really loved it and when I got done playing, they sat me down and said it was between me and Zakk. They took me out to dinner at a very fancy restaurant. Then after, Randy took me out to The Troubadour. After deciding to stay with Zakk, Sharon gave my promo pack to bassist Geezer Butler of Black Sabbath. At that point, I was flown to England to work with him.”
R.I.~ What is something you like about playing in tribute bands?
Jimi Bell~ “Well I have to love the band in order to play in it. I grew up and Deep Purple was one of my favorite bands. Ritchie Blackmore was one of my main influences on guitar. I have three main influences on guitar: Johnny Winter, a blues guitarist, Ritchie Blackmore, and Al Di Meola was a jazz guitarist but he was a speed picker guy. That’s how I developed my guitar style, those three guys. So I took that and made something cool out of it. The whole thing with tribute bands is that I wanted to do something I enjoy, like I love AC/DC, they’re my favorite band in the world. So if I had enough guts to put on a pair of shorts and do the whole thing, I would. I did actually fill in for an AC/DC tribute when they were between guitar players, so I’ve done it before. I love Deep Purple and, of course, I’m a huge fan of Whitesnake. I had this idea to do Deep Purple, Whitesnake, and Rainbow as the Deep Purple family tree because so many great bands spawned off of Deep Purple. It’s amazing. Dio, Graham Bonnet, Joe Lynn Turner, David Coverdale, the list goes on. Plus my buddy Michele Luppi plays keyboard in Whitesnake. Joel (Hoekstra) is also a good friend of mine and Reb (Beach) is so nice, we had a great chat the last time they were in town.”
R.I.~ You and drummer BJ Zampa are in a couple of bands together. Can you tell me a little bit about how you guys met and how you ended up in these bands together?
Jimi Bell~ “It’s real easy, him and I have known each other for a long time. BJ was playing in this German based band in Connecticut, the singer was from Connecticut but he was known in Germany, they were called Thunderhead and they were doing a record in 1999 at BJ’s house in New Haven. They needed a guitar player and they called me. Thunderhead went on tour with Metal Church and the original singer from Metal Church, David Wayne saw me play and asked me to play on his solo record. So I said I’d like to bring BJ because we work well together and that’s how it all started. Then House of Lords came up and I got James Christian to take BJ because when you find a good chemistry with the people you work with, you want to continue that chemistry. It’s a real honor to work onstage with him, he’s a monster drummer.”
R.I.~ How involved are you with the next House Of Lords album?
Jimi Bell~ “I write practically everything except lyrics. I write almost a complete song and BJ will either like it the way it is or say move this part or take out this part, he’s a good arranger. Then we record it as if it’s going on the album. We don’t waste time doing a demo and then re-recording it. We take the chance that James will like the song and if he doesn't, no big deal. So we did that. I did all my parts for the CD, it’s all done. James is singing now and that’s what’s going on. That will be the eighth CD I’ve done with House Of Lords on Frontier Records.”
R.I.~ How did you become a member of Autograph?
Jimi Bell~ “I am good friends with Steve Lynch. We became friends through mutual respect as guitar players and we kept in touch through that. I played one show at the Cannery in Southbridge, MA with Maxx Explosion, which is BJ Zampa, Chris McCarvill (of Dokken), and myself, opened for Autograph. That's where I met the rest of the guys. I went to see Autograph at Mohegan Sun afterwards and that’s how we became friends. When I saw that Steve made his official announcement that he left the band, I contacted Randy (Rand) and said, ‘I’m sure you’re getting bombarded with messages of people who want to play guitar for you, but I’m very interested in doing a gig’. He was all about it. What was supposed to be three songs they gave me, turned into 8 songs I learned on my own and that turned into alright well you can just do these next three gigs. Then I went to L.A. and had the whole set learned for rehearsals and after we played the first song, they knew I was going to be their guitar player. The next day they made the announcement. I love playing with them. I gotta be honest, I love the guys so much. I’m very very comfortable working with them onstage, it’s like I’ve been in the band for a very long time. I was very comfortable with those guys. The first show I played with Autograph in Virginia was incredible.”
R.I.~ What song in the Autograph set has been your favorite song to play so far?
Jimi Bell~ “Wow, you’re good. I really like playing “All I’m Gonna Take”, I love that song. There are so many of them I like because they’re all real rock songs, so I haven’t found which one I like. I love playing “Turn Up The Radio” because it’s such a cool hit song, but I don’t want to say that’s my favorite just because it’s their biggest hit. They have so many other great tunes I get to play. I also love playing the songs from the ‘Get Off Your Ass’ record. I especially love playing ‘You Are Us, We Are You’.”
R.I.~ Is there any talk for a new Autograph album?
Jimi Bell~ “Oh yeah, I’ve already written ideas for them that would fit Autograph. I showed them a few things I’ve been working on when I was in L.A. and they loved them. I can’t wait to record with them. I can’t wait to collaborate with Simon and Randy and Marc. I’m really looking forward to sitting down and writing with Simon because I like his style of singing and his voice and the way he projects, he’s wicked good. He’s an amazing singer.”
R.I.~ The Autograph fans have, from what I’ve seen, welcomed you with open arms. How does that make you feel?
Jimi Bell~ “Very blessed. I’m extremely happy. Listen, Steve was an original member, he’s an icon guitarist. It’s amazing how it worked. I’m really grateful for this amazing opportunity to be a member of this band. It’s really awesome.”
R.I.~ Do you see rock becoming as popular as it was in the 70's and 80’s again anytime soon?
Jimi Bell~ “I don’t know. It’s weird because rock is but people like certain things. In Europe, the same people that like 80’s rock also like really heavy metal and death metal. Here, if you’re into 80’s music, you probably won’t like death metal. But will it ever be like it was in the 80’s, I don’t know, I hope so, I really do.”
R.I.~ Outside of music, what do you enjoy?
Jimi Bell~ “Honestly music is my number one passion and it always has been. I’m a very simple person and I enjoy simple things. I enjoy spending time with my fiancé at home or an occasional movie and dinner.”
R.I.~ Are you a fan of horror movies? If so, which is your favorite?
Jimi Bell~ “I am petrified of horror movies, I don’t like them at all. I’ve seen a few of them and I love The Shining. The Shining is great. Jack Nicholson is killer in that, I just watched it the other day. I like movies like Silence Of The Lambs, I like movies like that. I’ve watched that a thousand times. I’m also a huge fan of comedy movies, I like to laugh.”
R.I.~ What is something you want people to know about you but you haven’t had the opportunity to tell?
Jimi Bell~ “I’m extremely handsome, haha. I’m a survivor. I’ve had a few difficulties in life, I’ve had prostate cancer, I’ve had some other issues, but I won't give up. Music keeps me going, it keeps me young. I’m older and music has kept me young at heart.”