JIMMY CRESPO: ROCK JOURNEYMAN

 

The career of Jimmy Crespo has spanned three decades, from his stellar 5 year stint with Aerosmith to his recent work with Rod Stewart on his last world tour. In addition, Jimmy has gigged and/or recorded with Bernie Taupin, Stevie Nicks, Julian Lennon, Bon Jovi, Billy Squire, and a host of others. Steven Tyler has called Crespo "One of the best guitarists I've ever known," and his guitar work is a textbook study in classic hard rock.

Over the past year, Jimmy joined forces with former Quiet Riot vocalist Paul Shortino. Calling themselves "Rough Cutt," the group is on the verge of releasing an excellent new cd of melodic hard rock entitled "Sneak Preview."

I recently caught up with Jimmy as he was preparing for shows to promote the new cd. In discussing his career - past, present and future, Jimmy shared his insights on playing with of some of rock's biggest names, as well as his recipes for great tone. As a veteran of the many ups and downs that the music business often presents, Jimmy still comes across with a youthful enthusiasm. Originally from Brooklyn NY, Jimmy has lived on the "left coast" for the past 15 years...

Tom Guerra: Great to talk to you again Jimmy, and congratulations on the new cd with Rough Cutt. How did you hook up with Paul Shortino?

Jimmy Crespo: I was invited to host a Monday night jam series at the Zodiac Club outside of L.A., and on the second Monday, Paul came up to sing, and we just hit it off. He's got such a bluesy, soulful, yet totally rock and roll voice, and he knows just about every song in the world. Soon after that we started playing gigs as the Rhythm Junkies.

After the RJ gigs, we started jamming on heavier tunes, so Paul came up with the idea of reforming his old band Rough Cutt, which actually started in the mid-80's, and asked me to join. We started putting some songs together, and then went into the studio to record a 7 song EP which we're calling "Sneak Preview"...

TG: And what kind of stuff can we expect to hear on "Sneak Preview" and where can people get it?

JC: It's a good rock and roll record, with solid songs and a bit on the heavier side with lots of guitars. We're having a lot of fun playing these songs, and we'll be selling the cd through the Rough Cutt website, at www.musicworks1.com. The internet is a great venue when it comes to music, especially since the major labels aren't really doing much these days as far as promoting guitar-based rock.

TG: Let's start from the beginning: How did you get into the guitar originally?

JC: My father was a guitar player and singer, we're Puerto Rican, so we always had a Spanish nylon or gut string guitar around, and my grandfather was a violinist. So, I was suppos0ed to become a violinist, but I couldn't stand the way you had to hold it. But it wasn't until The Beatles and Rolling Stones came through that I said 'I'm going to play'."

TG: Do you remember what your first good setup was and who really inspired you to play?

JC: When I heard Eric Clapton on the Fresh Cream record, I was just enthralled by his sound. It was like a violin, and I never heard a guitar sound like that. That was the coolest sound, and I knew I wanted to go for that... So, I bought a '68 Black Beauty (Les Paul Custom), and 100 watt Marshall...I was about 16 years old. That sound just sucked me in, then I went back and researched his work with the Bluesbreakers, and that did it for me. Then of course I heard Jimi Hendrix and he just blew me away. That first album ("Are You Experienced") just looked so... out of this world - it was like looking at 3 Frankensteins on the cover with their crazy clothes and afros, and the guitar sounds were also out of this world. It was like nothing that came before it, including Clapton's stuff. And then there was Jeff Beck...just amazing. Between them, I learned there was more to guitar than just twangy chords and that made the guitar a viable instrument to me. So, I'd say that Clapton, Hendrix and Beck, in that order, really inspired me to play.

TG: You first came into the public eye in the 1970's with a group called "Flame." What can you tell us about that group and what was happening musically at the time?

JC: Yeah, about 6 months before the Flame thing happened, I had just given up on playing the New York clubs, because I was sick of the club scene, bands breaking up, guys not showing to gigs, so I said "I'm going to get into recording" like an ignorant fool! Just like that, like its that easy! (Laughs). But I was fortunate enough that Jimmy Iovine, assistant engineer for Bruce Springsteen at the time (now President of Interscope Records), was putting together a group around singer Marge Raymond, and I auditioned for Jimy. He liked the way I played, and I got the gig. We had a two record deal with RCA, and we played what was happening at the time, a fusion of R&B and Rock, New York style. So, it was my first record deal, and I thought "This is cool, I can do this!"

TG: And from there you joined Aerosmith in '79 when Joe Perry left at the end of the "Night in the Ruts" sessions?

JC: It looked that way, but actually Flame fell apart as groups do when there's no money coming in, so Jimmy Iovine turned me onto doing studio work in New York. I did a lot of that, with Meatloaf, Stevie Nicks, and a ton of other stuff. It was a great period for me, I was self-employed and collecting checks. I was very fortunate, in that it seemed like every decision I made eventually worked out. But you have to make those decisions with a good heart and because you mean it, so you're going to try your best. And its worked.

I was also playing with whoever I could at the time, for example, if people were auditioning for record companies, I'd do it, regardless of getting paid, because I was digging it. And that's how David Krebs (Aerosmith's manager at the time) saw me playing. Joe Perry was in the process of leaving, and David came up to me and said "How would you feel about being the lead guitar player for Aerosmith?" And I said "Well, that's a loaded question, but that would be great." This was around the time that they were finishing up recording of "Night In The Ruts" (1979).

TG: If I recall, you were pretty much playing a late 50's Strat exclusively at the time, right? What other guitars did you play in the studio and on stage?

JC: Right, my main guitar was a '57 Strat that I had bought for $300 in 1970, and I also had a '57 triple pickup Les Paul Custom. That was it, and then later I started buying and playing tons of great guitars, just about everything from BC Rich's to what is now considered extremely rare and vintage. My favorite was a 1958 Les Paul Custom two-pickup that was absolutely mint. It was one of those guitars that was somebody's grandfather's and he kept it under the bed! We were finding all these great guitars at the time, in fact, I found Brad Whitford the best, most absolutely mint 1954 Stratocaster in Red Bank, New Jersey. The cleanest I'd ever seen. And it seemed expensive at the time - $3,000!!! But who knew it would have been impossible to get these today?

TG: How did you relate to Brad Whitford as a guitarist?

JC: I really liked Brad as a player, I thought he was cool and very strong player. And when I went to audition at S.I.R. Studios in New York, it was everything I thought it would be, really solid.

TG: What were you using for amplification then? (studio and stage)

JC: In the studio, for Night In the Ruts, I was using a '69 metal front 100 watt Marshall, that a guy named Frank Levy of S.I.R had worked on to warm up the preamp a bit. I used this amp from '70 till '79. But, when I pulled it out to use for the live shows with Aerosmith, Steven (Tyler) just couldn't dig that it didn't have enough gain. He wanted the 'chunka, chunka' grind, so I plugged into the Aerosmith Music Man amps, the 130 watters. These weren't my favorite amps, they had no subtleties, just blatant 130 watts of arena rock grind. Just one nasty sound, but Steven just loved to hear that crunch, it just moved him.

TG: As a kid who grew up on Aerosmith, I remember how incredibly disappointed I was when I saw them the day "Draw The Line" was released in '77, because they could barely stand up. I felt ripped off and I thought it was all over for them at that point, but when you joined I thought that it actually breathed life back into the group, at least for a little while. The live shows seemed to improve...

JC: Oh, thanks a lot, I appreciate that! I was sooo excited about doing this and I really felt like I had something to offer the music, and I could say a lot, because I came from the whole Led Zeppelin period, and it was really up my alley. I felt I could really put something into this, both acoustic and electric. So when I joined, I was full on! But, after I worked with the group for awhile, it just took the fire out of me. The craziness was already there and has since been well documented.

TG: From all accounts, it seems like the band was going through an awful lot of turmoil at that time. What was it like being at ground zero?

JC: It was wonderful and horrific at the same time. It was wonderful knowing that you could do something and get response - they had die-hard fans and they were just dying for something great, and I could see it. On the other hand, it was horrific because the group wasn't delivering because of all the internal problems. Its unfortunate because I was so willing to work, but the spirit wasn't there. Steven missed Joe.

TG: You wrote some great stuff on "Rock In a Hard Place" with Steven Tyler, especially "Jailbait" and "Joanie's Butterfly"... What was it like to work with him and producer Jack Douglas?

JC: Yeah, that was a lot of fun. It was great working with them. Actually, Tony Bongiovi (Jon Bon Jovi's uncle) was the original producer, but he was too structured for Steven's free-form style, so we were going to get Felix Pappalardi to produce it, but then he died. So, because the group had so much success working with Jack Douglas, they decided to bring him back. Everyone thought Jack was the greatest. I played about 99% percent of the guitar on that album, since Brad had just left. Even though I got to play so much on the album, I was really looking forward to playing with Brad, and to work off each other. It would have been a great match, we had a mutual respect.

TG: So you left Aerosmith when Perry and Whitford rejoined in for the "Back In The Saddle" tour in '84, right? I saw that tour and knew they meant it this time, but was sad to see you go. What did you do from there?

JC: Its a really sad story, Columbia Records decided that they weren't going to give Aerosmith any more money until they heard some new demos. At that point, Steven had had it with everything, and missed Joe not being in the band. It was like "we made platinum records for you, and this is how you treat us?" That combined with everything else, and because of the other problems was really the end. I mean, we had no money! So, I started selling all of the guitars I had, great vintage stuff, figuring that things would improve and I could buy them back. But they didn't improve, and it was awful the way it ended. And music was changing, and they weren't yet ready to change. But man, I was so happy to see them come back!

So from there, I joined up with Adam Brenner from Seattle, and I really liked the music we made. We got together with some guys that were in Billy Idol's old band, and called it Adam Bomb. We came out to California to find a deal, but it didn't succeed. From there I kinda scattered, doing sessions mostly, and playing with Billy Squier. This was around 1990. I did some stuff with Bonnie Bramlett, she was great. I filled in the gaps, but it was a difficult, very difficult time. It's hard to come up to the level of the Aerosmith thing.

I've also recently worked with a few female artists, and just co-wrote and played on a folky type of thing with singer Mary Dolan called "Long Way From Home." Well, I think the original plan was to make it folky, but I was playing the Les Paul, so it turned out more rock (laughs). The cd just came out on Cargo records, and is available through Mary's website (www.marydolan.com).

As far as high profile gigs, my most recent was playing on Rod Stewart's last two-year world tour in '96. That was one of the highlights of my life!

TG: What did you enjoy most about that tour, and what were you using for equipment with the Rod Stewart band?

JC: It was great working with one of my idols. When we were in England, I got a chance to do "I Ain't Superstitious", which was one of my favorites from the Jeff Beck Group days. Mike Fuller (Fulltone Effects) had lent me his VOX vintage wah, and for that one tour, I got a chance to use it on that one song, and I'll never forget it. I felt like it was a dream come true, playing something that I listened to as a kid. That call and response - he would sing, and I'd play the Jeff Beck lick. I was SO into it. In England, I'd stretch out more, because for some reason, he did the material I liked most. Here it was more hits. I really had fun playing in England, it was a brilliant tour. So I really fulfilled a dream. Guitarwise, I used some Gibsons, including a great '59 honeyburst re-issue that's a very good guitar. I still wish I had some of the vintage stuff I got rid of, but let's not go there (Laughs). For Fenders, I used a couple of Fender Custom Shop Strats that they put together for me. Fender did such a nice job on them. For amps I was using some of Rod's white Marshall 100 watt Super Lead stacks, 2 of them, loaded with Celestion Vintage 30's. They are great.

For pedals during the Stewart tour, I used an array of Fulltone pedals, the '69, Soulbender, Fulldrive 2, DejaVibe, and Octafuzz. Bar none these are the best sounding pedals I've ever played. They sustained a 2 year tour with no problems, and they are so quiet.

TG: Do you still have any of the vintage gear you acquired over the years?

JC: No, I kept a few pieces but had to sell most of it. I kept the '69 Les Paul Custom and a few Strats, including a great '61 refin which I love, and a few others. It was a different thing back then, you see, the only ones who had these great old instruments were players. Now as you know, these old guitars are collectors' pieces.

TG: What are you playing these days?

JC: With Rough Cutt, I'm pretty much back to playing Les Pauls exclusively, especially my old '69 Custom which I've just had refretted. I know collectors might wince at this, but I'm a player and I feel that guitars are meant to be played, and this is just a great guitar.

For Strats, besides the '61, I have an early edition '62 reissue that is the only one where I've got the trem floating. Some Strats are so high maintenance, they're just like old maids (laughs). I've also got a few ESP Vintage model strats, which have a very good sound.

For amps, I have been playing Soldanos recently, specifically, an SLO 100 through either a 2x12 bottom with Celestion Vintage 30's for clubs, or one of my old Marshall 4x12 bottoms. The Vintage 30's are great speakers. I also have a '63 Super Reverb and a couple of Plexi 100 watt Marshalls that are great amps, too.

TG: Who are you listening to these days?

JC: I'm actually starting to like more of the stuff on the radio these days, because the guitar seems to be more featured. It seems that rock guitar is experiencing a renaissance. For a long while, maybe a 10 year period, people were just playing chords and no one was playing any guitar solos. This is starting to change, with people like Kenny Wayne Shepard and Johnny Lang. I also like Korn, Orgy, Papa Roach, and some of the stuff coming out of the Southeast is pretty cool.

Its really good to see people like Metallica and Megadeth doing well. As far as other things I'm listening to, I love Stevie Ray's stuff, the Stones' stuff, Eric Johnson. I guess quite simply, I love what I love, and that's the guitar rock thing (laughs). I also listen to blues stations, jazz stations, 'cause that music has soul.

TG: Any message you want to send to the readers of "Vintage Guitar?"

JC: I wish I could say something brilliant about Vintage Guitars, but I'd say, whoever has vintage guitars today, just keep them and be good to them (Laughs). Feel free to check out the Rough Cutt website, or my own at www.geocities.com/SunsetStrip/Backstage/5548/.

TG: Jimmy, thank you very much for talking to us. Good luck with "Rough Cutt."

JC: Thank you!

About the author: Tom Guerra is an East Coast guitarist who has written for Vintage Guitar magazine for the past four years. He is currently promoting his latest cd with Rick Derringer entitled Mambo Sons, available on The Orchard label.



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