Toshi told me "Luke has been a hero of mine since I was 13 or 14 years old. It's because of Luke and Eddie Van Halen that I play guitar today. I have a quick Luke/Baked Potato story to share with you. I was playing here with Cecilia Noel and the Wild Clams years and years ago. Luke was sitting right in front of me about three feet away! I was so nervous! I looked in front of me and there was a full drink of Grand Marnier sitting right there. I didn't know where it came from. But I noticed it was the same thing Luke was drinking. Then Luke nodded to me and told me to drink away. Every time I turned around there was another full drink sitting there in front of me! I got so drunk. Luke is the greatest! He told me that night that if I ever needed anything or anyone to talk to, to call him! Then he called ME the next morning to check up on me!!"
The Shogun set was fun from start to finish which was highlighted by an amazing version of Queens' "Dragon Attack". As with most L.A. area shows there were some cool musicians in the crowd. Jon Button (Sheyrl Crow) and Mario Calire (Ozomatli/Wallflowers) were among lucky ones last night. I talked to Mario and he had this to say about the Shogun set: "They're all great musicians. It's not your usual shredfest. It's real groove oriented. They're right in the pocket" And as with most musicians they have a Luke connection. Mario told me his conection. "I played with Luke on some Steven Segal shows. I was the odd man out! They hired a bunch of ace musicians including Luke and me!" Now it was Jeffs' turn. Jeff was kind enough to spend much of his precious time filling me in on all things past present and future.
1. You're very well known in music circles having played with James Taylor, Luke, Simon Phillips & Larry Carlton among others. But you are probably most famous for your work on the Jimmy Kimmel Show. That seems like a pretty cool gig. Could you please tell us about that.
Jeff: "Hey thanks, first of all. It's pretty cool to be well known for doing something you always dreamed of doing. And working with all the people I never even would have dreamed I'd have the chance to work with! You have to understand -- all of the names you listed were heroes of mine growing up. These were people I learned from, transcribed, and aspired to be, as well as inspiring me and driving me to become a professional musician.
The Kimmel thing has been absolutely amazing. First of all, a steady job, PERIOD -- in this economy, is a blessing. And then to have a steady job in the music industry, with all that's happened to it, is incomprehensible. When I started doing TV in 1999, guys would come up to me and say, "Do you really dig going to the same place every day? Doesn't it drive you crazy?" I always loved it -- saying hello to the sweet, familiar security guard, hanging with the crew, playing with the same great band everyday... it was like a "road family" but you get to stay home! Now, virtually NO guys ask, "How can you stand to be in the same place everyday." In this current financial climate of the music industry, they're all saying, "Uh, let me know if a sub opportunity ever comes up! That's the best gig ever!"
And I have to stress that Jimmy Kimmel, the host of our show, is the most loyal, stand up, hard working guy you could have at the helm of your job. He's a great guy, that would bend over backwards to help and support his team, so that's really a special feeling. And I'm proud of the show we put on every night. Not to mention, the band is made up of very close friends. We've been playing together and hanging together for years. Great experience."
2. You get to see some pretty cool musical acts almost every night on the show up close. What's that like?
Jeff: "It's educational. There are bands I never would have heard of. Some good, some dreadful. A lot of the hip hop acts bring these church based musicians that are ridiculous! These drummers with these super-chops, can be awe inspiring. Also other musicians, the keyboard player for Adele I heard just warming up a few months ago, and I had to run downstairs and see who it was -- I'd seen him a couple weeks prior on SNL and was blown away by him there, but whatever he was playing warming up just about fried my chicken! He was bad!!
Then there are the emo bands, many of which on record sound fine, but live are almost comically bad. And some of the teenybopper types, who prove to be all ProTools. They don't even seem to want to dance around! And then you have surprises, like the Jonas Brothers, who don't offend me somehow. They're doing their best, entertaining, and at least they play instruments and commit!
I've seen some acts that sound so good though. Of course the Foo Fighters, Sting, The Pretenders... all the ones you'd expect. But bands like Mute Math and Wolfmother... some of these bands sound incredible live! And singer/songwriters I never would have known. So it's an educational experience, for sure."
3. What projects are you working on now?
"Thanks for asking. I'm co-producing a project that will benefit the building of water wells in Africa. Luke actually played and sang on a track. This is the first I've spoken of it publicly. But we've had an amazing cast of contributors so far -- Queen Latifah sang a couple weeks ago, George Duke played on a couple, the great Raul Midon sang and played guitar, Arnold McCuller - who sings with James Taylor, Kenya Hathaway, Sheila E. and her entire family, Kirk Whalum, Larry Carlton... and then the guys who tracked were unbelievable: Greg Phillinganes, Gregg Bissonette, Nathan East, Abe Laboriel Jr. and Sr., Greg Mathieson, Luis Conte, Will Kennedy, the list is endless... and EVERYONE donated their time and music to the project in order to support the cause. I believe it will be called "The Generosity Water Project."
Also I still have my jam band -- for over 7 years now, Shogun Warrior, who plays the first Sunday of every month here at the Baked Potato in Universal City. We're all old friends, many of us since high school days, and we make a bunch of noise and go for it. It's super fun. We recorded last year and hope to mix and put it out soon. Other than that, working on odds and ends here and there, and preparing and writing for an upcoming solo album, but that process is slow."
4. You've been involved in some great projects with some of the best drummers in the world. Could you tell us about Mondo Trio w/ VinnieColaiuta, Vantage Point with Simon Phillips & Broject w/ Toss Panos?
Jeff: "I couldn't agree with you more! I've always felt really connected to drummers somehow. I always liked listening to great drummers. And vibing with them. "Mondo Trio" is a result of having met Jeff Coffin at a master's recital in Idaho, and having been familiar with his work with Bela Fleck, but after hearing him in person, just being blown away by his sound, approach, and creativity. Also, Vinnie, of course. We'd played a bit with Robben Ford and done some sessions together and always ended up jamming on Tony Williams tunes. So I had a wild idea to put the three of us in a room and see what happened. Of course Jeff and Vinnie had never met, but everyone just connected and what you hear on the record is everything that was played in 2 days. Everyone, including Niko Bolas, the engineer, had their creative caps on, and I'm proud of the result!
I'd been digging on Simon's playing with Jeff Beck and Pete Townshend for years, and a friend had just turned me on to this video he'd recently done with Roger Daltrey, and literally the next day, the phone rings, and it's Simon, telling me Mitchel Forman had recommended me to do his tour! That was a big moment for me. That was in 1996, and we've been playing together ever since. He wanted to do a jazz project, "straight ahead." He'd been flirting with the Tony Williams thing on his song "Another Lifetime," and I always dug how he played that. So we did it -- recorded in his house with a little Steinway, and like an old jazz record, we cut it in a day. We did end up touring Europe behind that record, a tour I'm very proud of. There actually is a live recording from that tour that outdoes the energy of the studio record; perhaps it'll come out someday. It does document the great Dave Carpenter, who so sadly passed away last year, and played incredible bass on both the record and the tour.
"Broject" is a strange one. Those recordings spanned 8 years of old ADAT's and things on various disk drives -- mostly grand projects I came up with and aborted! Finally there was so much material, I thought there was enough to make one record out of it. So I saw what fit together, and recorded a couple new things, and put it out. There were late night jams, produced and arranged studio sessions, overdubs from people's homes, whatever else went on there! But I think it ultimately works. And the "glue" was Toss on drums. What an incredible force. I'm proud to call Toss one of my best friends, and also one of the most creative, scary drummers on Earth! I have the opportunity to play with great drummers all the time, and never take that gift lightly!"
5. How did you first get involved with Luke?
Jeff: "Through Simon. Of course I was a Toto fan since I was a kid, because they represented everything I aspired to be as a budding musician growing up in Southern California. Then I discovered his Lobotomys gigs and the Baked Potato stuff, and between how funny and crass he was, and his monstrous playing, I was hooked as a fan. Simon and I did a NAMM thing, a double bill with Luke and Kenny Aronoff, which is when I first met Luke. (David) Paich asked me to sub for him on the first Toto tour he ever missed, in 2000, and that's when Luke and I first really started working together. Then we formed the little "supergroup" Doves Of Fire, playing old fusion tunes, with myself, Simon, Luke and Melvin Davis. That was in '01, and lasted on-and-off for a year or so."
6. Tell us a little about the Doves of Fire.
Jeff: "It was a project I think born out of the fact that Luke and Simon shared an affinity for Mahavishnu, and Simon brought me in, and I am absolutely borderline OBSESSED with Jan Hammer! It was a nice way to blow off steam and have fun playing this crazy music we'd been listening to for years. That was really fun, and I miss it."
7. You were heavily involved the the Christmas release "Santamental" & there were some really cool people involved in that CD. What was that project like?
Jeff: "One of my favorite recording experiences of all time, as well as a record I'm very proud of. I was having coffee and Luke called my cell saying, "You're never going to believe this, but they asked me to do a Christmas record. And I want you to be a big part of it." I was in!
We went to Baxter Northup music to buy some Christmas sheet music, and began choosing tunes that would or wouldn't work. Luke had some ideas of songs he wanted to do and to tweak, so we demoed those. Then I had some ideas; driving around Sherman Oaks I remember hearing the idea for the displaced 12/8 melody on "Greensleeves," and while on the road in Ottawa, Canada, I had the idea for "Angels We Have Heard On High." I heard it more of like a loopy, Peter Gabriel thing, but in the studio it turned into more of an Earth, Wind & Fire thing, which was so much hipper. That became one of my favorite tunes on the record. Also, Luke's playing on "Silent Night." I "reharmed" that at home, meaning building new chords to the melody, and then reharmed the last verse about 2 minutes before we cut it. Luke plays so beautifully on that tune. We really copped that Jeff Beck vibe! I didn't get to be a part of ALL of the "special guest" overdubs, as I was on and off the road during that period. But I did see Steve Vai, Edgar Winter, and some others. I'm so psyched to even be ON a track with Eddie Van Halen! And one funny anecdote: my father shares background vocals with skater Scott Hamilton on the Sammy Davis "Jingle Bells." What are the odds?"
8. What was it like playing with Toto? You had some big shoes to fill & sometimes fans aren't eager to see a new guy replacing a longtime member. I read an interview where Luke stood up for you when some jackass fan was giving you the evil eye all night.
Jeff: "Big shoes indeed. Scary, scary, scary. Mind-blowing. I remember one night, before we went on stage in Oslo, Norway, in an open concert to the whole damn city, John Jessel whispered to me, "You're never going to forget this." He was right.
I'd been transcribing Toto songs and Paich's parts since 1982. When Paich called me to sub for him, I was thrilled, while simultaneously trying to convince him, "No, don't sub out! The fans want YOU!" He coached me through the songs personally, which was a lesson that I wish every rock, R&B or session keyboardist had the opportunity to have, including the infamous lick on "White Sister," which I don't believe I ever played correctly. This is probably what upset those hecklers you speak of! That "jackass" fan you mention was at a brewery concert in East Germany, and he literally stood directly in front of me with his arms folded, complaining to his friend that I wasn't Paich after every 16 bars. I kept mouthing to him, "He's not coming, so get used to it!" Finally Luke bitched him out. Hilarious. The Toto experience is one I'll cherish forever. What an honor."
9. You have all top notch cats in James Taylor's band including some Baked Potato regulars Michael Landau, Jimmy Johnson & yourself. How is that gig?
Jeff: "Ooh... you're really including "myself" in that list? I feel like a student constantly on that gig! I mean, with Steve Gadd on drums? Yikes! I'm constantly trying to be in his pocket, and I've often said that my goal on that gig is to NOT distract anybody! It's a daunting task subbing for Larry Goldings, who is one of my heroes and the regular keyboardist on the gig. He is such a mature and sensitive player, with a ridiculous groove! Have you ever heard him on Maceo Parker's "Life On Planet Groove?" Insane.
But yeah, those are the session musician luminaries for sure. It's such company to be in. When we made the "Covers" record last year, it was literally like every time the band played together, even in off-the-cuff outtakes, it sounded like listening to a world class, perfect record. So I really have to mind my P's and Q's on that gig. No jazzy outbursts! Play all the right stuff, in the right place. It's a very exposed gig, and a serious one. And James is the coolest."
10. I was lucky enough to do the hang for a couple of days for the "Ever Changing Times" sessions, one of the days you were there laying down some keyborad tracks. I know it's work but with Luke & you guys being such pros' & good guys it seems like it's not really work & EVERYONE had a great, fun time!
Jeff: "That's the objective, yeah! Good -- I'm glad you got that vibe. While we are very serious about our work, and about achieving something of quality, we have such a good time doing it. I mean -- how do you not laugh your ass off when working with Luke anyway? But I've always tried to bring a positive, fun vibe to the workplace. It's so much more pleasant to work under those conditions. I love that I have a "job" where I get to laugh my butt off everyday."
11. One of the things I noticed in the studio is how everyone is on the same page. When something works right you guys all know it. And when something doesn't work you all know it. Where does that come from?
Jeff: "I don't know, innate sense? Enough times doing sessions and knowing what feels or doesn't feel good? A sense of "forced" feeling -- trying to shove a square groove in a circle hole? There are a number of factors, I suppose. But when the band is hitting, it's a feeling for sure. And that was a serious feeling on those dates -- with Sklar and Abe Jr. holding down the fort!"
12. Luke came out & jammed with the band on the Kimmel Show how was that? I saw that show on TV & it looked like EVERYONE was having a great time.
Jeff: "Weird thing about that, actually. He was SCHEDULED to come on the show in, I believe, March of '03, but Bush announced that he wanted to go to war with Iraq that day, so the show was cancelled. Whatever happened with that war anyway? Ha. Anyway, we'd already rehearsed, so when Luke came back to do the show, it was easy. And of course, the whole band had the best time playing with him. Toshi Yanagi, our guitarist, grew up in Japan practically idolizing Luke, so I'm sure sharing the stage with him was a distinct honor. Everyone loves playing with Luke."
13. Tell us about your involvement with a very talented,underated singer/songwriter, former lead singer of Men at Work, Colin Hay.
Jeff: "Isn't Colin wonderful? He has this tune "Don't Wait Up" that kills me. Of course Goldings played on that one... hahaha. But he's such a fun storyteller and special songwriter. We did many gigs together and I'm thankful he had me on many of his records. Something about his song delivery is so intimate and direct -- even the sound of his voice -- there's something vulnerable yet so wise about it. I really enjoyed gigging with Colin. We had some fun times!"
14. Is there anything else you wanted to talk about, promote or add?
Jeff: "Ummm... to keep paying for downloaded music or buying legal music, I guess? I just found out that the Virgin Megastore across from Kimmel in Hollywood is closing before the summer. Our outlets for purchasing music are becoming more limited. But I'm like everybody else; I buy from iTunes and have a subscription to Emusic, and buy CD's from Amazon, too. But we want to keep musicians alive. We have to make a living! Keep a lookout for the "Generosity Water Project." Also I'm pretty good about updating my website, jeffbabko.com, and my Myspace page. And watch Kimmel every night on ABC!"
15. Where is the best place to for people to find out about you & purchase your CD's?
Jeff: "jeffbabko.com takes you everywhere you would need to and gives you the info you might need for that. Thanks, Reggie"
stevelukather.com, April 6th 2009