Interviewed by Brian Rademacher
Date: January 9th, 2006
What age did you first start playing guitar?
I kind of started late. I had a toy guitar when I was five and I went back and forth with a lot of different instruments, then I ended up playing drums for a few years. I actually started playing guitar at age fourteen.
What was the name of the guitar you learned on?
I had an Ovation acoustic guitar. My uncle worked for the factory but the biggest problem was that I play left handed and it was hard to get guitars. I had an acoustic that my father switched over to left handed for me. Then I wanted to go electric and we got a Soundhold pick-up, put it in there, and that was my electric for a while until I got the real thing.
What kind of family support did you get?
I always had great family support. They also wanted me to do other things but they had seen how dedicated I was to playing guitar. No one had ever told me to pick up the guitar and practice. I had the guitar in my hand ever since I started to play it seriously. I had it in my hands for hours and hours and still to this point I play all day long.
What kind of kid were you in high school?
Not one of the hip ones. I wasn’t a jock by any means. Like in the school cafeteria -- you know one side is where all the jocks sat, and on another side were all the burn outs, and all the intelligent kids were on the other side. I was kind of in the middle. Never on the jock side - that wasn’t my thing, I never played a sport in my life. If you asked me who is in the Super Bowl, I could never tell you who is playing. The only sport I am into is wrestling because I do some work for the WWE.
What was the first band you were ever in?
The name was so strange, it was called Tree Beard. I never understood what the name was, but apparently it was in a book and he was the king of the ants. I was sixteen at the time. I was still in school and playing bars at night. My first gig was at a strip bar with strippers all over. I was under age but they still let me play there.
What was the first album you bought?
I would say it was “Grand Funk Live”. I really enjoyed Grand Funk with Mark Farner. I enjoyed Grand Funk’s music, they were such a cool three piece band. The “Live” album was totally awesome. My second album was “Led Zeppelin II”. I returned the album three times because in the song “Whole Lotta Love,” when it goes into that weird part in the center, I thought there was something wrong with the record. (laughing)
What was the first concert you attended?
It was my favorite band - Deep Purple. I saw them before Ian Gillan left the band originally and Ritchie Blackmore was one of my main influences on guitar. Even to this day if anyone asks me, Ritchie Blackmore will always be one my influences.
What was the first song you wrote?
Here’s the deal. I just write the music and then I give it to the singers. I couldn’t tell you what was my first because I don’t write the lyrics or title. Still to this day: I write the music, I give it to a singer, and they do what they want to at that point.
Do you remember your first gig and the feeling you had?
It was the greatest thing in my life and I knew that just from the applause after the first song. It was the greatest feeling.
Was that at that strip bar?
Yeah it was. When you’re at that age and playing cover tunes and the people clap really loud at the end of the song, I say it’s awesome. I still get it to this day if it’s a good crowd and they’re going nuts. I still love that feeling.
Do you remember the name of that club?
Yeah, it was called The Night Gallery Café. It was in Hartford, Connecticut on a street called Park Street. It’s a street I wouldn’t even drive down now because it’s so bad (laughing).
What was the first record that you played on?
I know I did a lot of independent things. There were so many things I demoed with Geezer Butler; A lot of that is on cassette. I remember one of the first things I did. I had a band called Joined Forces in the eighties. Joined Forces did the movie with Joan Jett and Michael J. Fox called Light of Day. We also did an EP, kind of a pop-rock-type thing like Van Halen when Roth was in the band. Not heavy metal but it had some cool beats and good riffs to the thing. The EP was called “Show & Tell.” I am also on the Light of Day soundtrack.
How did you get that movie?
We were in Joined Forces and we hooked up with this guy Joe Lennane. Joe worked for Blackheart Management which was part of Libra and Krebs out of New York. Libra and Krebs handled Joan Jett and Blackheart Management worked out of the same office. Kenny Laguna and Merle Laguna managed Joan Jett personally. Joe hooked us up and he hooked up with this guy who owned a fleet of tour buses. There was an opportunity for Joined Forces to go out on tour with Joan Jett and we did. We toured the East Coast and we played a sold out show at the Beacon Theatre with Joan. The cool thing was that we were not making any money but we had a tour bus. Ha-ha. They gave us enough money to eat everyday, but we had a beautiful tour bus. Even Joan’s band hung on our tour bus.
What was your impression of Joan Jett?
I absolutely love her. I was the only person in the band they let get close to Joan. I got to hang out with her. They used to protect her a lot back then. Joan and I always got along great; I was like a male version of her. I have a photo of us together back then with the jet black hair and both wearing make-up. It looks like we are brother and sister. She always treated me great and the opportunity came up to do the movie with Michael J. Fox. They needed a rock band for the movie and with Joan’s pull we got the movie.
How did you hook up with Rob Rock?
Rob and I go back a long time. We were both on the same club circuit when Joined Forces were around. He was in a band called Vice. We played around and I influenced half of the guitar players we hung around with, from Chris Impellitteri to Tony McAlpine, all these guys are from around here. Tony played that style of guitar and he played piano too. Chris didn’t play that type of guitar at all until he saw me play. He was a more Randy Rhoads style; always a really good player. Once he saw me play, he wanted to become a monster shredder. Ha-ha. I play totally different from playing live to recording because I have producers holding me back all the time on records. On the House of Lords record, they let me loose but on most of the records I’ve played on they’ve held me back. Even the on Metal Church record the producers kept saying you can’t do that.
What is it like when a person like Jon Donais of Shadows Fall asks for lessons?
It’s funny because Jon comes to my gigs and it’s a total honor. We get together every Wednesday and hang out. Here’s this guy who is an indescribable guitar player and Shadows Fall is up for a Grammy. Vice and Rob Rock was doing a reunion show here in Connecticut and Jon Wysocki, the drummer from Staind, brought Jon from Shadows Fall with him. I’ve known Jon Wysocki for awhile now and he brought Jon and Matt from Shadows fall over to meet me; we have been best of friend since. I have a certain deal worked out with Jon where he takes care of me with endorsement things and trade things back and forth, that’s how we work things out. He is a great guitarist and great guy.
Who was most helpful to you in your young career?
I would say the people from Kramer Guitars back in the eighties. When they had people like Eddie Van Halen and stuff and were the top guitar company in the world. I had done a clinic showcase. I played for Floyd Rose, the guy who invented the Floyd Rose Tremolo. I was working at music store; I had a lefty Kramer with a Floyd on it. They had me come down and demo the Floyd and Floyd Rose was watching me go nuts on his tremolo. He came up to me and said I should have an endorsement with Kramer and “I’m going to tell the president about you.” So next thing the president of Kramer came down and said “I heard I am supposed to give you an endorsement” and that’s how this whole thing started. The guys at Kramer are the people who hooked me up with the Ozzy audition. There are a lot of people have done things for me, but that sticks in my mind.
How did you hook up with the WWE?
A buddy of mine Mikell did camera work for the WWE. He was a bouncer as a second job at a gig I was playing. He was watching me play and asked if I had a promo pack. He said I can take it down to my job and maybe hook you up with some stuff. He did some camera work for the WWE. Two days later Jim Johnston, the music director, had his assistant Darryl Harvey call me and liked the way I play. They brought me down I did two tracks and I have been with them ever since.
Do you have a favorite wrestler?
I am partial to The Undertaker, not to mention all the beautiful girls that are there. They are better than Penthouse models. Triple H is awesome. Hogan has the power of an Icon that is unstoppable. It’s great.
Tell me about Shredneck? What exactly is it?
Shredneck is something I invented in 1997. I busted my hand; I punched a wall stupidly. I am not a violent person at all, but I was very upset about something and popped the wall. I wasn’t expecting to hit it at the stud. I fractured a knuckle and had my hand in a cast. I had two fingers exposed from the cast and I still practiced with those two finger exposed. I came up with some cool licks with those two fingers - it’s pretty amazing. When I got the cast off, I was always looking to find something for finger exercise. I wanted to come up with a device that had a small neck with real strings on it. You practice and do pull-offs like you were playing a guitar. The good thing about it is it keeps all the calluses on your fingers really strong. I use it in my car; it sits on your knee. The tuning gears keep the tension on it to anything you want. We’re ready to go to market with them.
You were one of the finalists to be the next guitarist for Ozzy Osbourne? But Zakk Wylde got the gig. Do you think Zakk got it because of him looking more like Randy Rhoads?
I think that had a major effect on it. Zakk and I are great friends and we see each other when he’s in town. I got to play five songs with Ozzy and when I got done auditioning, Sharon (Osbourne) sat me down in front of Ozzy and said it’s between you and Zakk. They took me out to dinner right after that. We went to this really expensive restaurant with them. I went back to Ozzy’s place after that and then we went out to the Troubadour night club. I don’t know exact what happened but Zakk already auditioned and they decided to stay with Zakk.
How did they tell you Zakk got the gig?
They never told me anything. Ozzy’s personal mate, who has been there forever, gave me a call and said I was going home. I actually never got an explanation why I was going home or why that decision was made. But they must have had a good interest in me that they tuned my stuff over to Geezer Butler. It wasn’t like I was gone and forgotten which was really cool.
What was your impression of Ozzy?
I think he's a totally insane person in a good way. Ozzy is a father too. When I went to Ozzy’s bungalow, Amy was there. The daughter that wasn’t in the TV show and Amy was young at the time. We were sitting in the living room watching MTV and the Black Sabbath “Paranoid” video came on. Ozzy is bouncing Amy on his knee saying “look Amy, there’s daddy.” It was funny. He is an awesome dude; his portrayal of being a madman is great. He is in the entertainment business. He is eccentric though. I remember this happening right after he shaved his head and we were going out to dinner: The scene… Alone, walking into this expensive restaurant, where you get this rolled up pasta thing with caviar across the top of it (which I don’t eat any of that stuff). But just imagine walking in the place with all these business people and Ozzy walking in and everybody just looking over at him -- that’s Ozzy. He has more money than any of those people in the restaurant. I asked him if he wanted the little cherry tomatoes in my salad which I don’t eat. He said no. The next thing I knew he had his hand digging in my salad (laughing)! I was kind of laughing, saying to myself that this is great - Ozzy having his hand in my food. (laughing).
You recorded with so many artists. What artist’s music was the most technical?
None of it was really hard, but the Thunderhead music was different. It’s not that it was hard, but because it’s when you have to record another person’s music that you didn’t do yourself. I would say that’s a weird part, it doesn’t feel right to me. It is something you would never write.
Do you tell them that?
Oh no, you don’t tell them that. Thunderhead was a big band over in Germany on SPV records.
What artist who you recorded with in the past you would like to record again with?
I would have loved to record with David Wayne. God rest his soul. It was tragic that he died last year. I would love to something with Geezer Butler again.
Is there a Jimi Bell model guitar out there right now?
There might be one coming up with Washburn and I do have a Hamer guitar that they custom for me. There is a new guitar company that has a signature model Jimi Bell amp head. It is still in the demo stages but I have tried it out already and it’s really good.
When you are going to get a new guitar, what do you look for?
One of the first things, I need a guitar that is flat on the top. I can’t have a guitar that has an arch to it like a Les Paul did. I was playing Les Pauls for awhile. I don’t know why but it almost ruined my playing career. The way that I pick, I started to develop this thing called golfer’s elbow. It was because the arch on the Les Paul. Flying V’s work out best for me because I rest my arm on that top V part; the only thing is that they are a pain to carry around because the case is so big. Ha-ha. I like a longer scale neck… I like a neck that got some beef on it.
What recommendation would you give a young kid learning guitar?
If you’re going to do it, you have to practice and practice a lot. People to this day don’t know how much I have to sacrifice. I have a beautiful ten year old daughter and when I am gigging, I have to spend time with prepping. I feel terrible because I am not spending enough time with her. But I am an extremist… I practice because I am mental about it. If I do a show and I know I did not play well when I went home, I will practice until like four in the morning. There are some things you can do in a song and some things you can’t. I am not doing an instrumental thing like Rusty Cooley does or like Yngwie. I like AC/DC and they’re one of the best bands in the world. If I can do songs like AC/DC with ripping guitar in it, that would be the greatest thing ever. I love the beat of every AC/DC song; you can’t help not to tap your feet to their songs. And I love Ronnie James Dio.
Do you have any projects in the works?
Yes, I am collaborating with James Christian and lyrist Jeff Kent on some new material which will be announced soon. James is one of the greatest singers I have ever worked with. I am also working on a project with a guy from Canada named Black Paul. He is this big ripped dude with a shaved head. His vocals sound like Danzig.
How is your daughter Angela getting along playing guitar?
She’s incredible if she would only practice. Ha-ha. She’s ten and plays violin and sings and she wrote one of her own songs. She has the talent. She has the natural ability to play. I am one of those parents that will not force her to play guitar. If she wants to play, that’s fine with me. My parents never forced me to do anything. I didn’t have to practice yet I practiced for twelve hours a couple days.
The way I got in touch with you is from my good friend Rusty Cooley. He has a new CD coming out in his band Outworld. Has Rusty sent you an advance and what were your thoughts on the material from Outworld?
Yeah, Rusty. I heard one track from the new CD - it’s fantastic! Rusty is just a great guitar player. He contacted me through a website called shredaholic. Rusty had been a fan of mine I guess since when I did a clinic up here. Rusty and I talk all the time on the phone. He is just sick on guitar, that guy is out there. I heard all the shredders out there and I like Paul Gilbert, but Rusty, I don’t know how to describe it. Rusty is just mental. Rusty’s Legato is unbelievable. He plays guitar with eight, nine strings on them. He’s very cool great guy just another example of a great person.
Rusty turned us on to you. Do you have anybody you can recommend to us?
How about Jon from Shadows Fall. I will have him call you.
Jimi, it has be great talking to you. Would you like to say anything to our readers and your fans?
I just want to thank you for the opportunity to talk to you and the fans of Rockeyez.
Special thanks to Rusty Cooley