Interview: Allman Brothers Drummer Jaimoe and Guitarist Junior Mack Discuss New Album, 'Renaissance Man'
Two thousand eleven was a banner year for solo releases by members of the Allman Brothers Band. Gregg Allman’s Low Country Blues, Warren Haynes’ Man in Motion and Tedeschi Trucks Band’s Revelator were all nominated for the Best Blues Album Grammy Award. But the fourth and final release is the sleeper pick: Renaissance Man by founding Allman Brothers drummer Jaimoe and his Jasssz Band. Released December 17, 2011, by lil'Johnieboy Records to less attention than any of his bandmates’ efforts received, Renaissance Man is a diverse, eclectic and thoroughly listenable album. Jaimoe is the band’s founder and heart, and the group features a septet of swinging, in-the-pocket players, including a great three-man horn section. But what makes it all work is Junior Mack’s revelatory singing and guitar work. A New Jersey native and longtime staple of the New York blues world, Mack reveals wide ranging talent on Renaissance Man, with several memorable originals that span the blues, rock and jazz worlds. Mack also helps the band make the blues classic “Leaving Trunk” their own, turns in a moving version of the soul classic “Rainy Night in Georgia” and re-imagines the Allmans’ “Melissa” as a bossa nova. Mack and Jaimoe bring their Jasssz Band to New York’s Gramercy Theater tonight, January 27. Jaimoe and the Allman Brothers will be back in Manhattan for their annual residency at the Beacon Theater, playing 10 shows starting March 9. We caught up with Mack -- and Jaimoe couldn’t resist jumping on the phone to sing the praises of the man he calls his “secret weapon.” Who came up with the bossa nova arrangement of the Allman Brothers classic “Melissa”? Who arranged that? JUNIOR: That was me, and it was the kind of discovery that’s a happy accident. I was playing a private gig for the CEO of Alcoa with my solo band and I found out he was from Brazil and at the last minute they told me the band should play as much Brazilian music as possible – except I really didn’t know any. I started thinking of songs that could adapt to a bossa nova beat and I thought of “Melissa.” We tried it and I thought it worked beautifully. When I played it for Jaimoe, he loved it and we immediately added it to the set. How big of an influence were the Allman Brothers on you? JUNIOR: Very big. I have always loved their music and so meeting and playing with Jaimoe was a thrill and continues to be so. And, of course, it also helped provide a group of hardcore fans who were ready to listen to us and have been very supportive. The Allman Bros connection has helped tremendously. It’s been a great experience all the way. I grew up listening to Jaimoe and the Allman Bros as a kid, so there’s not too much more I can ask for. All that being the case, was it intimidating for you to start playing with Jaimoe? JUNIOR: It was a little intimidating but it came mostly from the seasoned cats that were also on the bandstand. I’m a self-taught guy. I didn’t go to school for music.. I don’t really know how to write or read music, so the intimidation came from playing with guys who are really stellar musicians like [saxophonists] Kris Jensen and Paul Lieberman and [trumpeter] Reggie Pittman and trying to relay my songs and ideas to them. These guys could communicate a little better than I could on a musical level. JAIMOE: Junior is on everyone else’s level; he just didn’t realize it right away. Junior played a lot of blues for a lot of years and that's how people think of him, but it’s not all they can do. He not only plays all diff styles, but he writes all different ways. I would say he is more of a composer because of the way he writes and the way he plays; it’s never random. JUNIOR: I’m rooted in the blues, so that’s in any music I play, sing or write, but I don’t really break it down. I just play and try to play what’s right for the song.