2005 - Jimmy Ashhurst Interview w. ChopAway.com
A. At the minute life is better for me than it has been in years. I went through a really tough period that quite realistically almost killed me. I was seriously involved in drugs, specifically heroin, and that whole lifestyle and was ready to let it all go for awhile. I had lost the band I loved more than anything due to reasons beyond my control and beyond my comprehension really. I couldn't figure out what Izzy's reasons for bailing out were, and whether or not I could have done anything different to have prevented it. We had had so many conversations about whether or not the Ju Ju Hounds were really a band, as opposed to just a solo project, and he had reassured me time after time that it indeed was, and that we were gonna grow old playing together and putting out records in our own time and at our own pace. For me looking to put together a band is the most painful process in music. It just gets more and more difficult as time passes, and I was so happy to know that I would never have to do that again. There are only a handful of players on the planet who seem to understand this kind of music...I mean really understand it and who can play it...and just about all of 'em are involved in great bands already. What we had was the perfect combination of players and leverage in the business. Izzy already had a reputation and a great dedicated fanbase...its not like we had to start from scratch, y'know? I still have a hard time understanding how he could have just thrown it into the toilet and let his friends down like that. It would have been one thing had he decided to quit music altogether. I mean, I could respect that (almost)...but the fact that he continues to put out records...and continues to just allow 'em to fade away...I have a hard time respecting that, and I can't understand it at all. Seems like kind of a pussy way to do things to me...and very selfish.
So anyway, I ended up in prison for almost two years as a result of multiple drug convictions and an assault on a police officer (of which I was not convicted) which was an amazing experience...it really served to give me a lot of perspective on things. It made me face the fact that I had become rather spoiled in my life, and was used to getting the things I wanted...I guess I had thought myself above the law to a degree....I ended up finding out that the law was definitely above me...and standing there hitting me with a bat. I learned a lot about honor and respect while I was inside...about respect being something you earn...you hear crap like that all your life, but do ya really HEAR it? I mean, I was forced to really re-evaluate a lot of the things I had heard my whole life, but this time really take em to heart and understand the reasons why those things are said over and over.
It took me awhile after the whole prison thing to start feeling like playing again. When I first got out I was a bit of a tiger...had a hard time in rooms full of people and stuff. I definitely didn't like people sneaking up on me..it just wasn't a good idea to do that to me for awhile. I was amazed at how upset people would get by the tiniest insignificant stuff that happens in their lives. Man, people are really amazing...I mean, for me at the time the only type of thing that would have gotten me upset would be something like a sucking chest wound, head trauma, or a knife in the guts...not something like "Ohmigod, I can't find my keys and I'm just gonna freak out!!!"
For about a year I just really enjoyed my freedom...something I had never taken the time to do before. I realized what a beautiful place where I live is...the ocean...palm trees...its just that people, especially here, are so caught up in their own bullshit...man, what a waste.
So anyway now I'm doing two things I absolutely love. One I can't talk about yet, and the other is really something I want to continue to do as long as my schedule permits. I'm playing with a phenomenal songwriter Mike Stinson. The guy's a poet definitely. Lyrics have become more and more important to me as I get older, and this guy is right up there with Bob Dylan in my opinion. He can capture a mood or a sentiment with his beautiful imagery...just takes you right there. Its country music but the kind that to me is just American rock n roll. I've really been interested in American music lately. Music fans in this country seem to have taken it for granted for so long. The English for years seem to appreciate American music so much more...they would imitate it, repackage it, and sell it back to us only cooler. We Americans have a tendency to be shallow people for the most part. That's why a band like the Rolling Stones could blatantly rip off a poor blues artist like Don Covay for years and years...they looked great and Don didn't, so even though his music was in our own backyard all those years, he died sad and broke... one of thousands of stories like that.
Nowadays I almost feel a responsibility to try and educate young (and old) people as best I can, with the tools that I have, about the importance of American music and the legacy we have a responsibility to maintain...young people just seem so unfocused...and so damn visual minded...for them if it don't look cool its not...tragic.
So anyway yeah...what was the question? Oh. I played with Mike the other night opening for Dwight Yoakam at the House of Blues and had a blast. The other band members are simply awesome. Tony Gilkyson who used to be in X and in Lone Justice is simply from another planet. He is one of the best guitar players I've ever seen let alone played with...and I have had the good fortune to play with Rick F#@%king Richards! and the drummer is also of the same caliber...David Kemper ...played with Bob Dylan for ages (same as Charlie) and also with the Jerry Garcia band for like a decade. Don't get me wrong guys, I'm not turning into a hippy or anything, these guys are just phenomenal players and I'm very flattered to be involved, even though I am the weakest link by far. I'm learning a lot from these guys. They've been doing this since I was in short pants, and they continue to do it simply for the sake of playing...its that passion I will always admire.
So the answer I suppose is, "Yes. Life is good for me at the moment."
Q. What's currently stealing the airwaves for you in Cali? Have you picked up any records lately that you would like to recommend?
A. I usually would have a hard time answering that question, but at the moment I am excited by a couple of things...both of my favorites are new and local.
One band is called The Vacation and they have a new CD out right now that's kickin my ass...cool rock n roll band and the founding member guys are twins, and you gotta love twins. The other is a guy called Paul Chesne, a singer songwriter who uses some of the same band members as The Vacation, I think. I know he's also played a few gigs with my friends from Dwight Yoakam's band Mitch Marine and Dave Roe (who is my favorite living bass player...he played for fifteen years with Johnny Cash and is amazing..both as a player and as a guy. Dave has this silly notion that he likes my playing, which to me is baffling coming from a guy like that. Perhaps he finds a certain charm in the fact that I haven't the foggiest notion of what it is I'm doing on the damn thing. I think Dwight's new guitar hero Keith Gattis also made an appearance on Paul's record, which is called "Wet Dog Man" and also kicks my ass.
For the first time in ages there seems to be the makings of a "scene" here in Hollywood. I love it when it gets like this. The last time I can remember anything similar was in the eighties, I guess...its just great when you go out to different clubs and see the same group of musicians all kinda messing around in each other's projects. That's the kind of place where real rock n roll bands come from...that's where they're born. It doesn't happen often enough.
Q. You have been in the music industry for over a decade, do you think it has changed over the years? It seems that these days anyone can be famous...
A. Let's see, the first proper recording contract I signed as a teenager in 1986 with the Broken Homes, I think...so that would make just about twenty years exactly, and my third decade in the business (not counting the time off for my little "vacation"). Everything has changed in that span of time, not just the music business...but yes, it is an entirely different deal today than it was then, and I thought it was fucked up back then!
When my friends and I started to consider playing in bands, it was still a bit of a rebellious thing to do. None of our parents thought it was a good idea, and they all tried their best to convince us to change our minds, or they just lived in denial thinking that it was a "phase" or something. That fact was part of the attraction to us. We knew the job was dangerous...I mean, you'll most likely never have any kind of financial security and the odds are definitely stacked against you from the start. We were ready to accept that challenge knowing full well we would have a tough road ahead. We'd probably never have stable relationships with women since we'd probably never have any kind of stable enough income to provide consistently for a family...there were thousands of reasons why it didn't make any sense at all to try it...so of course we steamed right on ahead! It's really weird...the two guys I was closest with in those days, Marc Ford and Craig Ross both ended up being truly important successful guitarists....the odds of that happening are incredibly low. It wasn't long after meeting those guys that I met Izzy...it seemed like back then there were thousands of bands in Hollywood, and there were (and there still are!) and it was great to see a few of em really taking over the world...but even back then I never really felt a part of that whole Hollywood Hair Band scene. My friends and I were more rock n roll guys...I had a punk rock history too, so that whole thing kinda made me nauseous. Little did I know back then that I would be battling the mainstream for twenty years to come. The mainstream just keeps changing..what I do has stayed pretty much the same all these years.
Back to your original question...now it seems as though music, or entertainment in general, has become like an acceptable career choice! Ha ha! I heard the other day on the radio something that left my jaw hangin. It was an advertisement for some kind of "Grammy Camp" where parents can bring their kids to learn the "ins and outs of the entertainment industry" Man! What the hell?! Its like "Ok Son, you can be a Doctor, a Lawyer, or a Rock Star! What's it gonna be?". Crazy man, crazy. In any case, if I did have kids, which I don't, I certainly would not encourage them to pursue any sort of entertainment career. In all the years I've been doing this I've seen that this industry on the whole seems to attract the worst of the worst vermin-like people you end up having to entrust your life and future to....people who haven't the least sense of pride, grace or honor. It's really a shame, but its the facts.
Q. Over the years you have been involved in a number of projects with a variety of musicians including Mike Stinson, The Lazy Stars, Ian 'Mac' McLagan. How has it varied working with each musician and how did you first get involved with them?
A. Yep, there are lots...blows my mind sometimes. I've been really really fortunate to have been involved with the people I have...Stiv Bators, Rat Scabies (The Damned), Joe Strummer more recently...so many amazing cats...
They're all totally different, and I could go on for hours and hours about each one individually. I believe I'll be writing a book eventually. It just seems like a natural progression for me to write one after a few more years of playing, recording and touring. I mean, this can't last forever (although Keith Richards would disagree). I guess a lot depends on what happens here in the next few years...its all a huge gamble...
I think I covered Mike already pretty well...Lazy Stars? Hmmm...that one was more of a stepping stone kind of thing. I had met Jonny Kaplan years before and he paid me to play on a few of his songs, which I did mostly because I had at the time a debilitating drug habit and not many gigs paid in cash. Jonny caught up with me right after I got out of the joint and I was definitely looking to do something, I just didn't know what. I had waited for so long for the perfect thing to come along...and I finally realized that I had pretty much lost the only perfect thing that was out there for me, and to expect another one to come along wasn't realistic. I just knew I had to do something, even though it might not be what I really wanted, maybe it would lead to something else. Jonny had a cool band at the time, so in perfect form decided he needed to fuck it all up and change members. I remember trying to talk him out of it, but as a result of his move I met Keith Nelson from Buckcherry...so I suppose looking back on it things ended up working out great!! I remember recording a couple of songs of his...I'm just not sure if they came out or what...dunno.
Ian "Mac" McLagan was of course a hero of mine for always. He's one of those guys...he's just perfect. I learned so much from him. I remember Craig Ross and I just showed up at his house one day and told him we were gonna be his band...and we were! I love Mac to death and am so proud to have been mentioned at length in his book "All the Rage". The Faces and the Small Faces were two of the strongest influences on me...probably more than any other bands...Mac is great...
How did I meet him? I remember rehearsing with the Broken Homes at some rehearsal joint and we were in the process of ruining some Chuck Berry tune. Mind you, at the time...the late eighties...there was NOBODY playing Chuck Berry songs. This little man walked into the room and crouched down in the corner. I thought little of it but later when I saw my singer Mike talking with him I walked over and Mike, knowing what a fan I was, told me who it was and introduced us...I remember him saying "I was walkin by and wanted to pop my head in to see what all the ruckus was about!" Mac has played on every album I've been involved with ever since the day I met him...all except this last one I just finished, I guess...but its still early yet!
When Izzy and I started working on the Ju Ju Hounds album I was able to get Mac involved in that one...and prior to that I had met Ronnie Wood through playing with Mac. Ronnie had gotten on stage with us at a few of Mac's gigs here in town, which was amazing. I was over the moon playing all of my favourite songs!!! There was even a little talk of a possible Faces reunion in which I would be included...I just couldn't believe it and as it turns out I was right...it never materialized. I think I remember something about how everyone was on board, even Rod, but that Kenny Jones had sent a postcard of him in front of his castle somewhere in a helicopter saying "I wouldn't leave this for the world..." something like that...what an idiot...go out for a couple of months man, your freakin castle will still be there..its been there forever already...there's nothing more unfathomable to me than a musician who doesn't want to play...(don't get me started on that)...
If I was asked which one individual had the most influence on me, I would have to say Joe Strummer. I met Joe working together on a film Grosse Pointe Blank, with John Cusack in the nineties. My friend Rat Scabies (drummer extraordinaire for seminal punk band The Damned, with whom I lived for a time in London as a kid) had invited me down to the studio to meet Joe because he knew what a Clash fan I was. After hangin out for a little while, Joe asked me to play on one of his songs, which I did, and after that he fired the bass player on the spot and asked me to come back the next day, and the next....and the next. I think I ended up spending the better part of a month with him in that studio. We started to think about putting a band together there, and for the next few years we would discuss it from time to time. It got to the point where we were writing songs together for this imaginary band. During this time Joe was a real inspiration to me in so many ways. He's a true hero to me. I ended up getting clean partly as a result of some of the things he said to me...he had gone through the whole heroin thing before with Topper, and he really had little or no patience for people in my situation...but something about his manner and insight really struck a chord with me. The band we were talking about sort of became a beacon or something to me...something to shoot for. At last I had a future to consider, which for a long time I had been missing. I mean, what's the point of getting your life together if you're just gonna end up sitting around? I know, not a very strong argument, but that's what I was thinking at the time.
So, approaching another disaster...When Joe died I was devastated. It was so sudden...I had just seen him a few weeks prior to his death, and he seemed fine...just a little flu...I don't know...I would never had suspected that was the last time I'd ever see him. Very, very sad...he was a great man.
Q. Do you feel the internet has been for better or worse with regards to the music business?
A. Well, on the one hand I have a hard time imagining life without the internet at this point. Its amazing how quickly something that was unimaginable a few years ago has become such an important part of our everyday lives. The internet has provided so many artists with a tool to reach so many people. Lets face it, the world is a huge place full of people with every possible taste imaginable, so the chance of finding even just a few people who are into whatever you happen to be doing is high, given a little patience. I'm sure there's someone out there who's really into the sound of toilets flushing, or whatever, and that person I'm sure is very happy to have found The Toilet Flushers with a Google search. On the other hand, the internet has placed such a seriously powerful tool into the hands of anyone with a computer, and the software available out there to record music has made it possible for anyone with a lick of computer savvy to publish just about any old crap and make it immediately available to the whole world, for free. As a result, we're being swamped with sub standard products. As great as it is...without any quality control at all, the internet I'm afraid is already full of absolute crap. Intellectual properties of all kinds, all mediums of art and literature, have become almost like running water, and I'm concerned about how a few of us for whom this is our only form of income will be able to survive in the near future. I mean, its hard enough as it is...let alone a few more years down the road. I think it will have serious implications in the future, and I'm not sure that the forecast is all that pleasant for people like me.
Q. It was on the internet a few years ago I heard that yourself, Rick Richards and Charlie Quintana were planning to tour as the Ju Ju Hounds, minus Izzy. Was this just another rumor or can you tell us a little more?
A. I think at the time that we were considering that, Rick and I were just looking for any excuse to get together and play. I remember speaking to some Spanish promoter who was trying to convince me that there were enough fans there to warrant a trip over, and both Rick and I would have loved to get together and play any songs together, especially those ones. I don't think we really thought it through too much at the time. Looking back on it it probably would have been a bit disappointing for Izzy fans...I mean to see us and hear the songs without Izzy probably wouldn't have gone over too well. I'm glad we didn't do it now. If we were ever to reunite as a band I would be the happiest guy on the planet...we're still my favorite band, by far. I just don't know if the issues that Izzy and I have with each other will ever be resolved. In order to make up with someone you have to first be able to speak to them, and to do that you need to first know where the hell they are. Guys like that can be hard to deal with. They just don't need you. He can go on and do whatever it is he's doing just fine without me, and he doesn't seem to realize that sometimes a certain group of individuals, when working together, can create something that's irreplaceable...that can't be done on your own. He's got the money, and obviously doesn't see what so many people who love him do, and there's nobody in his life who will risk their friendship with him by telling him the truth. He's always been surrounded by "yes" people, and whenever someone pops up with a dissenting opinion, he can just disappear and replace that person with someone who's more agreeable. Life must be very easy that way. Sometimes I'm jealous...but most of the time...not.
Q. When you last toured with the Ju Ju Hounds you traveled all around the world, Europe, Japan, Australia etc. Do you have any particular memories you can share with us? Is there anywhere you're looking forward to seeing again?
A. Uhhhh....hmmmm. Well of course I have memories...just so many that its impossible for me to narrow it down to something to print here. I guess this will be a good portion of what's to be included in the book I've been thinking about writing. Its hard for me to keep the timeline accurate...I'm gonna need to start writing this crap down somewhere. Let's see, I'm looking forward very much to getting out traveling again. When you do that with a band unfortunately you never seem to have enough time in the places you like, and the places you hate seem to always surround you when you end up with time off! I try to just keep mental notes of places I'd like to visit again someday when I have more time. That was another cool thing about working with Izzy. We both shared a sort of wanderlust...an appreciation for foreign cultures and a desire to seek out strange places, off the beaten track of tourism. He and I would take off together sometimes with the excuse that we were gonna "write songs" ahha...we actually would do though...sometimes. I truly loved the time we spent working with the band in Trinidad and Tobago. We were there long enough to really get a sense of the place, and both Izzy and I share a passion for the Caribbean. We had a cool studio there booked and were able to ride around on motorbikes and spend a lot of time at the beach...not a real conducive environment for working though! I loved Australia as well. Having grown up in Europe, Naples, Italy to be exact, I had already visited most of that continent as a kid. I started backpacking around Europe at around 14 or 15 years old, so for me it was more familiar. The places that were new to me were the South Pacific and South America, both places I'm very much looking forward to going back to. I think I remember having had to cut our Australian trip short for some reason...I think he had caught some kind of tropical fever, and he refuses to take any kind of prescription medicine so it just got worse and worse until we were forced to cancel a bunch of shows. I remember that sort of being an indication of things to come. When we first started the band I remember talking with him about how shitty it was for GnR to have cancelled so many of their shows, and how hard that must have been on the fans. We discussed how we would never do that if it could be avoided, and so when we started to I sort of started to have some bad feelings, I saw it as sort of a bad omen. I'm really looking forward to getting out there again, and it may be sooner than anyone thinks. I just hope that with the guys I'm working with now it will be as comfortable and effortless as it was with my old bandmates...I'm sure it will after a little "getting used to each other" period.
Q. I read that a number of songs didn't make the final cut of the Ju Ju Hounds LP. For example, 'Memphis' & 'Good Enough' surfaced 6 years after its release. Can you recall any other songs that were dropped?
A. I don't know if there were any other complete songs...I do remember some ideas that were in varied states of completion. It was so long ago...even before the modern digital recording methods at our disposal nowadays. The stuff I left the studio with was all on cassette, and I haven't the foggiest idea of where that little bastard is now...I've moved a few times since then...who knows. I think Izzy ended up using probably the best stuff from those sessions. I remember being really upset when I saw 117 Degrees for the first time. That was the first time I realized that he was going to continue to put out albums without me, and that he had used some of the tracks and never even printed my name anywhere on the album. To add insult to injury, there was even one of our songs, "Gotta Say", that was a collaboration between me and him... just like Shuffle and Somebody and few others...and there's just no credit for me at all. I've taken the position all these years that it was just a mistake, a memory lapse on his part, and not done out of malice. I'd like to think of it that way...its a more pleasant memory than the alternative. I would never have considered legal action, its just not the way I choose to do things. Anyway, I'll have to look around...my parent's garage seems to have become a repository of lost music. When I go there next I'll have to have a look around.
Well there you have it guys...thanks for giving me the opportunity to get some things off my chest. I'm very proud to know there are people out there who appreciate the music we made together all those years ago and who continue to validate it and keep it relevant. I truly believe that album will never fade away completely. There are a few albums in music history that seem to hang around, and its my hope that this one will continue to do so, with your help.
I'm looking forward to hearing what you guys think of the next project, which will become available sometime in the next year, for sure. I'm happy to be alive and happier to be playing again.
Thank you for all of your support.
Jimmy "Two Fingers" Ashhurst