The Amazing Jimmi Mayes: Sideman to the Stars
Jimmi Mayes with V.C. Speek (University Press of Mississippi 2014) 175 pages, illustrated and indexed
Just suppose that you had the opportunity to spend a dozen hours with one of the great Blues sidemen, a drummer with fifty years experience in the business who has played with virtually everyone in the business. Would that be something you would enjoy, hearing the stories about Muddy Waters, Jimi Hendrix, James Brown, Little Willie John, Martha Reeves, Leonard Chess and pretty much every other classic name you can think of? If the answer is yes (and it would be hard to imagine a No), then this is a must have book for your musical shelf.
Clearly compiled from interviews compiled by the Mayes' co-author V.C. Speek, Mayes takes readers on a journey that begins when he is a teenage drummer in the early 1960s right through to the present day. Mayes became a drummer because the high school in Jackson, Mississippi only had two choices of available instruments: drums or the trombone. As Mayes says, 'Mama didn't want me to play the trombone, because she was afraid it would mess up my lips. So I said, “I'll try the drums.”'
From there, Mayes became a frequent player with a series of bands on both the chitlin' circuit and later the major clubs in America's Northeast. For a time he was billed as Jimmy Hunt, the supposed 'younger brother' of guitarist Tommy Hunt. It was through his time with Joey Dee and the Starliters, one of the first truly integrated bands, that he met Jimi Hendrix, then known as Maurice James.
Although there are many great anecdotes in The Amazing Jimmi Mayes, including a sweet romance with Patti LaBelle and living with Martha Reeves' family in Detroit, it is the section on Hendrix that is the strongest part of the book. There is Hendrix suggesting going on stage in drag for a joke; Hendrix the womanizer bedding two or three at a time; yet also Hendrix the ultra-dedicated professional who tolerated no nonsense when he was down to the business of recording.
This is as true and gritty a recounting of the life of a Bluesman as one will find anywhere. The story of a sideman is the best perspective on an industry. Marvin Gaye was Marvin Gaye, and Buddy Guy is Buddy Guy – yet a sideman sees them all. If there is any complaint, it is only a mild one as occasionally Mayes forgets a last name of a peripheral figure. Perhaps some research digging would have filled in those blanks, yet that is really only a pedant's request. This is a grand tale of music and one hopes that there will be a documentary that will come out of it as well.
Be seeing you.