A Conversation with Jimi Bell By Allyson Kingsley
A Conversation with Jimi Bell > March 16, 2019
Performance with Beyond Purple at The Vault in New Bedford, Massachusetts
By Allyson Kingsley, Music Journalist Boston Rock Radio
For well over a year I had attempted to schedule this interview multiple times and somehow due to uncontrollable circumstances it was difficult. Today was finally the opportunity and I was truly honoured.
Jimi Bell is an American guitarist who calls Connecticut his home. He is known not only for his lead guitarist role in the band House of Lords but also his other bands, Maxx Explosion and Beyond Purple. He is also the creator of Shredneck. Check it out here: Shredneck
BRR: Good to see you. Finally. Trying for this interview for awhile. So, what have you been doing recently?
Jimi: Recently, it's been Beyond Purple.
BRR: Performing tonight at the Vault at Greasy Luck in New Bedford.
BRR: So is this going to be in the next year or two, new records from Maxx Explosion and House of Lords?
Jimi: Yeah definitely. I've already started in on House of Lords stuff because I do it all year long. I mean all the time. I am constantly writing songs and I try to keep ahead as opposed to, “Oh hey it's time to do a record...” and I'm not caught off guard.
BRR: What inspires you to write?
Jimi: It's not really an inspiration thing. I go into modes playing wise. Sometimes, like with my soloing I'll go into a lot of cool things and sometimes I get a slump in my technique but I'll be writing. Songs come to me at the weirdest times. I don't write lyrics. I simply write riffs. I try to write complete songs to work off of. I'll come out with what I think is complete and then give it to BJ and he tells me if he likes it or if we should take it apart or get rid of it or let's just keep it the way it is and record it. When we record a song, we do it as if we are doing it for the record. I never record like a demo because I don't want to have to redo it again. When I do a recording it's done and that's the way it's going to be.
BRR: You created Shredneck. Tell me a little about it.
Jimi: I broke my hand one time. I stupidly punched a wall and I hit a stud as opposed to going through the sheet rock. I don't know why I punched it, I was in a stupid mood. I was younger. When my hand healed, I wanted an exerciser but with real strings. The other things that were out there had these springs and all these elastics and I tried them and everything they did made my hand feel very stiff and I said, “Well that's not how my hand feels when I'm practicing. My fingers are nice and loose.” So I came up with something with half of a neck, up to the 7th fret or 5th fret with a head stock and eventually made the Shredneck with its 7 frets and a head stock, a little bit smaller, and with real strings and real tuning gear. If I hold it like you would a guitar (demonstrates), its top heavy, it was hard to hold and it kept tipping over so I changed the design. I reversed it to where say this was the body that sat on my lap. Shredneck is simply an exercise tool. Its comfortable in your hands. You can't tune it even though it is real strings. The great thing about it is you can do all kinds of finger exercises on it and you can adjust the tension of the strings, so if you want them looser or tighter for certain situations, you can do whatever you want because they are real strings and real tuners.
BRR: Do you teach guitar?
Jimi: I used to. I'm not into teaching. I can't stand it and I'll tell you why. I'm pretty much self taught. I did take some lessons but mostly everything I've done I've learned on my own. People come to me wanting to learn my picking technique but really it just came to me from hours and hours of practicing. And I still practice for hours and hours. There's no getting around practicing and I don't have a magic wand and I honestly don't know how to teach a beginner. I don't know music theory. I learned to play guitar just by playing and learned everything just by trial and error. That's how I did it. But it's worked out okay.
BRR: It was mentioned about the Agora Ballroom. Can you tell me about that?
Jimi: We used to play there back in the day in Connecticut. It was a great room. They actually had nationals on the side stage.They also had the nationals in the other room. The big room held about 5000 people and the small room about 1000 to 1200. At any given night particularly in the 80s, the place was mobbed. We used to play every weekend for 400 to 600 people all the time.
BRR: Is it still in existence?
Jimi: Oh no. It's been gone for ages, just like a lot of the incredible rooms. The club situation has changed. I am so grateful for rooms like this. This is a great rock room they have. To have national acts here at The Vault, it's a great room. They have cover bands, tribute bands, they have everything here. So it is a real pleasure to play something like this.
BRR: When you started out as a guitarist, was it hard for you as a left handed guitarist?
Jimi: It wasn't hard for me to learn because that is how my hand is naturally but it was hard to get guitars. One of my first guitars was an acoustic that my father had to turn strings around on. And even throughout my lifetime, getting left handed guitars was a nightmare. Let's put it this way, I'll never be one of those guys that collect. There's a lot of these guys that collect vintage guitars like 60s strats, 50s, old 60s Les Paul's, stuff like that. I could never have a guitar like that. First of all, the price range on a left handed instrument like that because they are so rare would be astronomical. Plus, I would never want an instrument like that because I alter everything I play.
BRR: So you customize your own?
Jimi: Yes I do.
BRR: Tell me about the Ozzy story if you don't mind.
Jimi: So here it is. I was endorsed by a company called Kramer Guitars back in the 80s. They were the biggest guitar company in the world back then. Once Eddie Van Halen became their main artist, the company just exploded. I was their only unsigned guitar player. The president of the company back then, Dennis Berardi, saw me play, loved it and gave me a full endorsement with the company. I got tons of guitars for free from them. They wanted to do something with my career. So, Jake E. Lee leaves Ozzy. They had already played with Zakk; they had already jammed with him quite a bit. They sent a videotape of me playing and Sharon Osbourne saw it. She loved it. The next day I was on that plane going to LA.
BRR: How old were you at the time?
Jimi: 26. I couldn't tell anybody so I went and they put me up in a beautiful hotel as money is no object for Ozzy. I actually met Zakk there and he came and we hung out. He got me a soda, not a beer, came in my hotel room with 2 Coca Colas. He was this young clean cut guy back then. We jammed and he loved the way I played. It was a mutual respect. So I had to play with just the band. Sharon sat in when I did the audition. She didn't do that with everyone else. The next day they brought me to another rehearsal room that had a big PA and a big sound stage and everything and that's where Ozzy came in and I got to play with him. Quick story, before I went on a guy from Sweden had got on to audition too. I don't remember who he was. So he goes up there to do “Flying High Again” and when he gets to the taping part on Randy's classic solo, this guy, he's from Sweden and Yngwie was getting real big and this guy throws some sweep arpeggios in there and Ozzy was kind of behind him and made like he was stabbing him with a knife and put his hands out like he was choking him to death and the kid looked back and Ozzy would give him the thumbs up. It went on like this. It was really funny. I'm watching that going on and had a good time. So anyways, I went up and first we did “I Don't Know” and I started in and had a really good groove going and everything and Ozzy was down in front of the amp and he had his microphone and doing a thing where he rocks back and forth and he really got into it. When I got into the solo, he got down in front of the amp. So I did about 4 songs with him and did my own guitar solo. After the audition, Sharon and Ozzy sat down with me and said “It's between you and Zakk”. So that was a big deal. So obviously they ended up going with Zakk. He looked like Randy and he played the Les Paul. I didn't play a Les Paul then. But Sharon liked me enough to where she sent my stuff over to Geezer Butler from Black Sabbath so I played with Geezer which went well.
BRR: How was that? Tell me about that.
Jimi: Oh, Incredible! Geezer is honestly an incredible musician, an incredible bass player and really wild to watch. I wrote a song with him called “Master of Insanity.” We get home and we supposedly signed to a record deal but there was bad news. The guy that signed us to MCA got caught embezzling money, or did something with the company that was bad, and they fired him and stuff. So a few months go by and I get a phone call that said, “Jimi, I have great news. We're going to put “Master of Insanity” on the Dehumanizer record.” I was so thrilled, this was incredible. She says, “Bad news is I can't give you songwriting credit because Tony Iommi won't let a song from another guitar player on there so Geezer has to take full credit for it.” I wrote the whole song. I even wrote the title of it, I didn't write the lyrics, but I wrote all of the music for it. So that's the way the business is. My one fabulous thing is I have a song that I wrote that Ronnie James Dio sang. But that is probably the greatest thing that ever happened in my life, musically.
BRR: After your work with Geezer Butler, is that when you started with House of Lords?
Jimi: Later, yes. But before that, BJ and I did a tour with a band called Thunderhead and the band Metal Church. The original lead singer of Metal Church, David Wayne, had seen me play guitar and says, “Hey, I'm doing a solo album as soon as this tour is over and I want you to be my guitar player.” That was 1999 when BJ and I started our working relationship. We did that and then we did a record with Mike Vescera. He was the singer of Loudness and Yngwie Malmsteen and he was in the band Obsession years ago. We did a record with him and did some things. Then I got a call from James Christian in 2005 and he says, “I'm putting House of Lords back together. Would you like to become a member?” And I said, “Absolutely but I have a drummer I want.” I said that I write with him, I work with him. And that was it.
BRR: Do you have a crazy tour story?
Jimi: They were all great.
BRR: Anything hair raising?
Jimi: I have to say when we played Tokyo, Japan and the Loud Park Festival was probably the wildest thing I ever did in my life. We were on at 1:30 in the afternoon and it was huge. There were 20,000 people. At 1:30 in the afternoon! It was insane and shows in Japan are run strict. You can't do anything off. You can't just walk on stage. Very disciplined. That's why their kids are so brilliant. It was great, the greatest thing.
BRR: I hear from a lot of musicians that they prefer to tour overseas.
Jimi: Europe is so different than the US. The US is great if you're a huge fan. A band like House of Lords, a band from the 80s that kind of got lost in the shuffle especially when Nirvana came in and all that Seattle stuff, well, that type of music, like ours, still does very well in Europe. A band like us can go to Europe and still make records and still do well and that's the way it is.
BRR: Have you toured in South America? Or Australia?
Jimi: Oh yeah. Brazil. Very beautiful. I've been everywhere except Australia. I loved Spain. Spain was one of my favorites. I loved playing Austria, Switzerland.
BRR: When you go on tour, do you guys get a chance to go off and see the sights?
Jimi: The other guys do. I'm like a mental case when I know I have a show. I stay in my room and practice guitar the whole time. The one time we did all go, we went off in Rome. We went to the castle and then the Vatican and that was the only time I went sightseeing on tour.
BRR: What do you do in your spare time besides playing guitar?
Jimi: There's nothing else I do. I spend time with my fiance Mandy.
BRR: She's cool.
Jimi: She's awesome and an incredible woman. I've never met anyone like her. Mandy is so understanding and she encourages me with the music. She's not a jealous person, whatsoever. She encourages me to take pictures with fans, female fans included. She has no problems with it. She is like a breath of fresh air because I had been through some hell. Also, I am a grandfather and I love to see my little Abby. She's amazing.
BRR: What do you think of the New England metal scene, today verses several years back?
Jimi: I have to be honest. I don't go out much. I only go out when we play. I'm just happy there's still any kind of music scene going on. I'm all about it. As long as there are people who come out and see bands. I'm so happy that people took a liking to Beyond Purple. It was my idea and I wasn't sure if it would work.
BRR: Thank you so much for your time.
Jimi: You are more than welcome.
Jimi Bell (guitarist)
Mark Zito ( Keyboards)
Jan Dudek ( Bass )
Mike Gill (vocals)
Bj Zampa ( drums)