Jamie Kime Charts a Solo Course on 'Alleys'

Superb chops and the ability to adapt to just about any genre that comes his way have given Jamie Kime a resume that includes stints with Jewel and Michelle Branch, a decade-long-and-counting residency as guitarist in the house band at the Baked Potato Jazz Club for its “Monday Night Jamz,” a faculty position at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, and several years in Zappa Plays Zappa—a band of über-talented musicos led by Dweezil Zappa that performs stunning renditions of his father’s notoriously rigorous music.
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Superb chops and the ability to adapt to just about any genre that comes his way have given Jamie Kime a resume that includes stints with Jewel and Michelle Branch, a decade-long-and-counting residency as guitarist in the house band at the Baked Potato Jazz Club for its “Monday Night Jamz,” a faculty position at Musicians Institute in Hollywood, and several years in Zappa Plays Zappa—a band of über-talented musicos led by Dweezil Zappa that performs stunning renditions of his father’s notoriously rigorous music. Kime’s ZPZ work earned him and the rest of the band a Grammy in 2009 for their version of FZ’s “Peaches En Regalia,” and in 2013 he was invited to play with the L.A. Philharmonic for its complete performance of Zappa’s 200 Motels.

Of course, every self-respecting working guitarist who calls Los Angeles home practically has a manifest destiny to develop a solo career, and Kime recently laid the groundwork for that with a CD called Alleys, an album of original instrumental tunes that showcases the breadth of his inspired guitar work. Produced by Mike Keneally, Alleys not only affords Kime ample space to flex his muscles over intense rock, funk, and jazz grooves, but it also spotlights his skills as a composer with a keen sense of creating music that’s more cinematic than simply a vehicle to shred over. Does playing Zappa tunes for so long have anything to do with this? Who knows, but as Kime explains, “It would be tough for that to not have had an impact on me. I was in ZPZ for six and a half years, and just performing the music of Frank Zappa for that long is definitely going to affect your playing in some way—be it your compositional sense, your improvisational sense, your technique, and probably all of the above.”

How would you describe yourself musically?

I live in this weird little no-man’s land of guitar players. You’ve got a lot of the heavy rock guys here in L.A., and I don’t really fit into that group, and then you have the straight-up jazz guys, and I’m not in that group either. I’ve been doing the gig at the Baked Potato for the last ten years—and that’s all about stretching out and improvising—and I’ve also played a lot of pop gigs, been in a lot of cover bands, and have spent a long time living in the Zappa world. I guess you could call what I do ‘fusion,’ though I realize that’s kind of a dirty word.

What guitarists have most inspired you?

Jimmy Page was one of my first influences when I was a kid, and I went through a Steve Howe phase too. Michael Landau was also a big influence on me. I mean it’s hard to be a guitar player living in L.A. and not have gone through a Landau phase. His technique is great, he’s got an excellent sense of rhythm and time, and he has killer tone. Allan Holdsworth was another big influence on me, and there was also an English guitarist from the ’80s named Alan Murphy who played with Go West, Kate Bush, Scritti Politti, and Level 42. He passed away in 1989, and I thought he was a great player. Of course, Pat Metheny too. I don’t sound like him, but I’ve copped more things from him than probably anybody—I just wrap it up in a different package because I play with a heavier tone and use a Les Paul instead of a hollowbody. He’s another guy whose sense of time and phrasing is such that you can’t even begin to fake it. I had the good fortune of studying with Ted Greene for the better part of ten years, and I also studied with a phenomenal jazz player named Peter Sprague when I was about 19. I was nowhere near a level at that point to fully grasp what he was turning me on to, but many of the things he taught me wound up shaping the player I’d eventually become.

How did you approach the songwriting for this album?

Most of these tunes started as little snippets of ideas that I’d compiled for the better part of ten years. When I got together with Mike, we just started going through them and he would suggest how I might combine some of the ideas—maybe by writing something to bridge them together or taking a rhythmic phrase I’d come up with, but maybe doing something different harmonically. He was really good for jogging loose some ideas. Another advantage of having Mike as your producer is he’s got a work ethic like no one I’ve ever met. If you’re not exactly in the mood to work, he’ll get you in the mood.

Had you and Keneally worked together before?

No, but I was born and raised in San Diego, and I remember seeing him play in a band way before he ever played with Frank Zappa. A friend of mine was playing drums in the trio he had back then, so I sort of knew Mike, but it wasn’t until the early 2000s that we started communicating more. My joining Zappa Plays Zappa is actually what kind of bonded us. I remember at a rehearsal we had for that first tour back in 2006, Mike and I had a chance to sit down and talk. From then on we were in contact on a pretty frequent basis.

Did you have complete arrangements by the time you went in to record?

No, the process was somewhat piecemeal with the exception of “Alleys,” which was a complete composition that we cut live. “Shinebox” was another one where the solos and everything went down live. That song was done in an earlier session than the album recordings, and we decided to include it because we liked the performance so much. “Philadelphia” and “Briton West” were also complete songs, but “Esque” and “Pelt” had a lot of sections where I was going, “I don’t know what’s going to happen here—just play it for sixteen bars.” I would do something as a placeholder on guitar, like sixteenth-note power chords, and then I’d go to work on composing something. We didn’t do any slicing of drums or adding sections, however. The arrangements that we cut with the placeholder sections pretty much wound up being what was on the record. That said, if I do another record it’s going to be different. My friend John Ziegler is in a band called Volto, and they recorded their album in two or three sessions. They did everything completely live, and just burned each tune down two to three times and took the best take. I’d like to take that approach next time, but it’s all about having the tunes completely written and finished when you go in. Otherwise, you can sit at a laptop and piece together tunes all day long. But I’m old-school and I like playing with a live rhythm section.

What were your main guitars?

I have a Les Paul that I bought brand new in 2002, and that guitar has gone though some changes with Arcane pickups and a wrap-around tailpiece. It’s been one of my main guitars for the last ten years or so. I’ve got a hybrid Strat that has a ’79 neck and mid-’80s body, a ’64 Strat that’s pretty much stock, and a Tele-style guitar that made by a company called Lush Guitars. At the studio where we did a lot of the overdubs, the owner had a lot of guitars, and I wound up using a real nice ES-335. The solo on “Alleys” was cut on that guitar. There was also a Guild 12-string acoustic that I used on a couple of things. But mainly I used the Les Paul and the ’79 Strat.

Did you record with or without effects?

For the album it was more about straight amp tones, but I do have a pedalboard with a lot of stuff on it. I have some Way Huge pedals, including a Green Rhino overdrive—the new one from Dunlop—and a Blue Hippo chorus. I’ve never been a big chorus guy, but this one sounds so damn good I find myself overusing it. It has a Vibrato switch that kills the dry signal and leaves you with only the modulated signal, which is great for getting that wobbly-pitch seasick thing. The other one I love is the Supa-Puss analog delay. A lot of times players will use an analog delay for shorter slaps, but this one gets incredibly long delay times and is great for volume swells with long feedback tails. For shorter delays I use an old Echoplex EP-3. Other pedals I have are a Maxon SD-9, which is one of those versatile, works-with-any-amp type of pedal. It’s great for fly dates when you’re going to be on rented backline and you never know what you’re going to get. I’ve also been using the Moog Minifooger Trem—the coolest tremolo ever—and a booster pedal called the Apache Boost, which is made by Tommy Aguilar at Apache Amplification.

What amps did you use?

When we initially tracked I was using a Bogner Duende and a Snider California head with a matching 2x12 cabinet. When we got in the studio to do overdubs, there was a Fender Super Reverb that I used on a lot of stuff, and also a Marshall 50-watt that belonged to the studio owner. It was modified to have a lot of extra gain, so I just plugged straight into it. Other amps I’ve used over the years include an EL84 version of the Bogner Shiva, an old Marshall plexi, various blackface- era Fenders, and an original Jim Kelley.

Can you describe what it took to prepare for the performance with the L.A. Philharmonic?

The most stressful part was that it was a lot of prep work in a fairly short amount of time. I had never done a full-on orchestra gig before, and when they put together a big program like that, they rehearse only a couple of times. It isn’t like a rock or pop act that goes into rehearsals for hours and hours a day, weeks on end before a tour. The “rock band” consisted of me, former Zappa Plays Zappa drummer Joe Travers, and FZ alumni Scott Thunes [bass] and Ian Underwood [keys], along with additional keyboardist Randy Kerber, who’s had an amazing career as a cinematic orchestrator. We had an informal rehearsal with conductor Esa Pekka-Solonen on the first day, and that in itself was thrilling and nerve wracking because he’s such a rock star in that world. On day two it was into the concert hall with the entire orchestra. Day three was the concert, and that afternoon there was a dress rehearsal. But we never actually ran the entire program top to bottom in one sitting. Also, the rehearsal days didn’t run concurrently, so I had time to further wrap myself in the score and try to memorize as much as I could, as opposed to trying to read it while following the conductor.

What were some of the challenges of performing with an orchestra?

Well, a fortunate thing in this case was that the rock band didn’t play on every piece—there were huge tacets [intervals of silence]. Of course, the challenge there is to count and keep your place throughout long sections, many of which are not in 4/4, and not miss an entrance when it’s time to come back in. Esa Pekka had really put in the time studying every inch of that score. He was also great at working with a bunch of rock musicians who weren’t necessarily used to a classical ictus or following a conductor. Where I come from, when the hand goes down that’s the downbeat. That’s not necessarily the case with an orchestra, and that took a little getting used to! It was an incredible experience, though. Hearing that music come to life for the first time in Disney Hall with the entire L.A. Philharmonic Orchestra and Master Chorale the way Frank Zappa had intended it was nothing short of euphoric. I felt incredibly lucky to be a part of that. I hope I have more opportunities in the future to work with an orchestra—I can see how that would become addicting.