August 7, 2012
When 20-year-old Jai Johanny Johanson was living in California working as a drummer in singer Ted Taylor’s band, he returned home one day with an armful of records.
“They were all records by sax players, and my friend asked, ‘Where are the drummers?’ and I told him, ‘On these records.’ It was like a surprise to him; he thought I would be listening to just drummers, but I’ve never been like that,” recalls the man now better known as Jaimoe.
Sure he’s an unflappable and slinky rhythm keeper, etching little sonic flourishes into the Allman Brothers Band’s music since its founding in 1969, but Jaimoe is also an outright musical omnivore. He’s the guy who instructs young Allman Brothers Band recruits to study Miles Davis’ “All Blues” if they wanted to understand the ABB’s own composition “Dreams.” And he’s the 68-year-old Rock and Roll Hall of Famer who still feels compelled to lead his own group, Jaimoe’s Jasssz Band, whenever the Allmans are off the road.
This summer, we get a Jaimoe double shot. First, he pulls into the Bank of America Pavilion in Boston for a two-night stand with the Allmans on August 7 and 8. Then Jaimoe returns with the Jasssz Band on August 18 for the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival, a free two-day event at the Willows.
Those who’ve seen Jaimoe at work know that he does much with little. Unlike many rock drummers, he keeps a simple kit and a few percussion instruments. Working with fellow drummer Butch Trucks on the Allmans’ signature duel-drummer sound (and since 1991, triple-drummer sound with the addition of percussion player and salsa vet Marc Quiñones), Jaimoe adds the nuance while Trucks forges the grooves. Jaimoe says he first modeled his role after that of an orchestra’s percussion section.
Four years ago, he branched out with the Jasssz band, which took shape when Jaimoe met blues guitarist Junior Mack. The Jasssz Band was fleshed out with the addition of keys and a horn section, and late last year released its first studio album, Renaissance Man. The disc is a nice blend of seven originals and fresh arrangements of “Rainy Night in Georgia,” “Leaving Trunk” and the Allmans staple “Melissa.”
Jaimoe, who makes his home in Connecticut, says that Boston embraced the Allman Brothers Band ever since the group ventured from its Georgia base in the early 1970s. At the time, the band’s interracial lineup was as radical as its sound, and Northern outposts such as Boston and New York City were important incubators and remain strongholds.
Jaimoe, who began his career on the R&B circuit working with the likes of Otis Redding, says that contrary to popular belief, he did not leave his native Mississippi because of racial strife.
“It had nothing to do with ‘back of the bus stuff.’ I was actually making $500 a week in Mississippi, which was great money back then. But all of my friends were leaving for one reason or other. A lot went to Vietnam. One guy told me I should check out Duane Allman who was working at Muscle Shoals [studio in Alabama].” And that is how he encountered the guitar hero who later died in a 1971 motorcycle crash.
And that initial meeting locked in one piece of the puzzle that became the Allman Brothers Band, which today includes founders Gregg Allman, Trucks, and Jaimoe with guitarists Derek Trucks, Warren Haynes, bassist Oteil Burbridge and percussion player Quiñones.
The ever spry Jaimoe says he and the other old-timers in the group will keep playing as long as they have the drive to do so, and he likes to remind people of how he broke into the business.
“People today say, ‘Oh man, you guys play such great shows and the music is so intense,’ but with all due respect to Warren, Derek and Oteil, we used to do that three times a day,” he says, letting a little chuckle punctuate the reminiscence.
Ticket information for the Allman Brothers Band’s concerts is available online at www.livenation.com. Information on the Salem Jazz and Soul Festival is available at www.salemjazzsoul.com.
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Scott McLennan is a music correspondent for the Boston Globe and former entertainment columnist for the Worcester Telegram & Gazette. His work as taken him from the Newport Folk Festival to the New England Metal and Hardcore Festival and many musical points in between. Scott also writes about skiing for Hawthorn Publications.
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