Windsor musician Jimmy Graham has worn many hats as a professional entertainer over the years and just recently he decided to produce a blues tribute album honouring the music that inspired him as a young guitar player growing up during the classic rock years of the seventies. With a little help from his friends, he’s getting ready to release the album featuring an array of Windsor area musicians under the Rose City Rockers band name.
You have a long history in music and entertainment.
I’ve been in the live entertainment business my entire life. It started off in touring bands back in the eighties and I toured all over Canada and into the Midwest in a band called Destiny and it’s just a long story, thirty years of being in the business. Music’s my passion, I’ve always played in bands, but if you want to make a living in the entertainment business, you have to have multiple streams of income. I went from playing in bands to becoming a karaoke host to starting my own DJ company, Party Mix Entertainment which I ran for ten or fifteen years to becoming a professional stage hypnotist which I toured all over North America for the last ten years. My last show was March 2nd of 2020 because the virus wiped me out.
You’re getting ready to release an album of blues rock covers. Is this a first album for you?
Well technically yeah, it’s a first album. I had a recording studio back in the nineties in which I produced a lot of bands, did a lot of albums that were not mine but I produced a lot of other people’s albums. With the record label, I released around five compilations that featured Windsor artists and each CD had twelve to fourteen songs on it so that’s thirteen or fourteen bands a year that I helped promote. Later on, I did an album by My October, I signed them to the label and they went on to open for Theory of a Deadman and Marianas Trench.
When did you start thinking about doing this blues album?
It’s kind of funny how it started. When I started being a corporate entertainer I was on the road for ten years. I still have a full studio in my house but my whole music career got mothballed due to the fact that the corporate thing was so successful and my trajectory went in a different way. Once everything got shut down with live entertainment in that respect and sitting around for six or seven months thinking now what do I do, I picked up my guitar and started playing. I have a subscription to Stingray Music and was listening to the Blues Channel and just picked up my guitar and started rocking out to these blues songs and I’ve always loved the blues, what guitar player doesn’t? I’m watching Netflix one night and see a documentary about ZZ Top, one of my all time favourite bands. In the closing credits they started playing Blue Jean Blues. Blue Jean Blues was the first blues song I had ever heard of when I first picked up a guitar and started playing as a teenager so I thought. I want to do a version of it. So it’s midnight and I run down to the studio and fire everything up and I’m looking at all this stuff thinking how does this stuff all work because it had been so long since I even used it. So I started fiddling around and got a drum beat and grabbed my bass and put a bass line in and then started riffing away on my guitar. By around three or four o’clock in the morning, I started thinking to myself, I think you’re on to something because I didn’t play the song as a strict cover of the original. Their version of the song is three or four minutes long and my version ended up being almost nine minutes because I kept coming up with these ideas. I finished it off and listened back to it but didn’t take it too seriously but then I grabbed another song. I think it might have been Miss You by the Rolling Stones which I used to play in a band called Picture This, but we always played it like The Stones. I always heard it as a swampy blues song so I started goofing around with that one and listened back and thought this is a cool idea too. For me it was just therapeutic but I played it for a few friends who really liked what I was doing.
Tell me about your band The Rose City Rockers.
Mike Hereford called me up just before St Patrick’s Day in 2016 and said he had a gig and asked if I wanted to play. I said sure but we needed a band name so he and I came up with Rose City Rockers. I started thinking that it would be cool to have a band to go out and play maybe once a month but just rotate members, different drummers, different bass players, singers, etc. I had already started to put together a blues/rock band with Toni Rose and Alex Pagani under that name and then came the lock down. So I decided to bring various musicians in to record and create a virtual version of the band and eight songs later I have an album.
Why blues covers and what else can we expect on this album?
I was weaned on blues rock from the get go. The first music I bought were from bands like Steppenwolf, Leslie West, Humble Pie “Rocking the Fillmore”, all of those bands I loved because there was such raw energy and passion and who cares if there were little mistakes. So the album started with Blue Jean Blues which is opposite of what I just said but then it morphed into Miss You by The Stones, Crossroads by Robert Johnson/Eric Clapton, Roxy Roller by Sweeny Todd, Brown Sugar, Fool For Your Stockings, Bridge of Sighs, and I did a Montrose song, Good Rocking Tonight. I thought Good Rocking Tonight would sound cool with a big band twist to it so I recorded it and did a video and when I looked it up to do the song writing credits I discovered that it was originally written in the late fifties as a big band song. Van Halen, their first few albums were predicated on cover songs, right? Even though they had great originals their big hits were covers. I saw Buddy Guy on a bill with Jeff Beck a few years ago and here’s this eighty year old guy having the time of his life and I thought, that’s what I want to be. So that’s why this first album is nothing but cover songs, yet also putting my own spin on it. Bridge of Sighs is almost unrecognizable until about a minute and a half into the song.
Kris Marentette is one of the local musicians who recorded with you and there’s a story behind that, right?
Yeah, I have four or five featured keyboard players on the album and the story with Kris who is a fabulous guy, fabulous musician, he was in version two of The Rose City Rockers. We did a benefit and Fool for Your Stockings was in the set list. The song before my guitar went out of tune and so while I was tuning my guitar, instead of just standing there, Kris started playing the opening riff on his keyboard and I thought, that sounds great, keep doing that! So I told the band don’t play, just let Kris play and I sang over it and once it got to the second verse the rest of the band kicked in. Both Kris and I looked at each other and thought, what a cool version. When I told Kris I wanted to do that version on the album he was happy to come in and record it. Other keys players on the album are Mike Jubenville on Miss You, Cliff McPherson of Greatest Hits Live plays on Bridge of Sighs, and Joe Trocchi who’s a stellar keyboard player, I thought he’s the guy for this album. I brought him in on Blue Jean Blues and Good Rocking Tonight which I can’t wait for everyone to hear, he just makes that song. Most of these songs didn’t have keyboard or piano on the original versions.
When can we look forward to the album coming out?
I’m hoping for it to be ready for release mid March.
For more information and to hear their latest release check out their website: TheRoseCityRockers.com