INTERVIEW AND LIVE PICTURES BY MARKO SYRJÄLÄ
American-born drummer Jimmy DeGrasso is probably best known for his work with Megadeth, but he’s also working with a lot of other exciting bands and projects. In the mid-’80s, after moving from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles, Jimmy first did studio sessions with the “Prince of Darkness” himself, Ozzy Osbourne, before getting his first permanent job from Y&T in 1986. After many successful years with them, Jimmy decided to leave Y&T in 1990. In the subsequent years, he toured with Lita Ford and Alice in Chains before joining the thrash/punk/hardcore crossover group Suicidal Tendencies in 2004. Unfortunately, the band broke up soon later. In 1995 Jimmy joined Alice Cooper’s touring band. He’s been working with Alice on and off since then. In 1998 he became the drummer of Megadeth and stayed with the band until the band (temporarily) disbanded in 2002. Nowadays, Jimmy is a highly sought-after session and touring drummer. He’s a full-time member of the all-star band “HAIL!” featuring former Megadeth bandmate David Ellefson, Sepultura guitarist Andreas Kisser, and former Judas Priest vocalist Tim “Ripper” Owens. Jimmy also has another band, F5, with Ellefson. The band released the album THE RECKONING in 2008. In December (2009) Jimmy came to Finland with Alice Cooper, and then I had a chance to sit down with him and discuss his past, present, and future plans.
WORKING WITH ALICE COOPER
You are now on tour with legendary Alice Cooper, and you have worked many times before with before. When did you first start to work with him?
I have worked on and off with Alice since the early ’90s. I was supposed to do the tour in 1990, but I couldn’t because I was contractually bounded with a record company and this other band, Y&T, so Eric (Singer) did the tour. He finished the tour, and when he went to join Kiss, I did the WAYNE’S WORLD movie, and Alice sort of took three, four years off after that. I was asked to do the LAST TEMPTATION record, but I then was out with Suicidal Tendencies, and then when Suicidal Tendencies broke up at the end of 1995, they (Alice Cooper) called me to do South-America with him. Then I did -96, -97, -98 –tours with him. Then I joined Megadeth, and when we split, I came back in 2001. I did Australia with Alice because Eric was going to do some Kiss dates, and then I took a couple of years off. I just basically retired from the music business for a while. Last year, I was supposed to do Alice in 2006, filling in for Eric again, but then I got a call from David Lee Roth, so I did that instead. So we have always been in touch with Alice, and we have been talking about coming back and doing something when Eric wasn’t available or something like that. I filled in for Eric last year because Eric was busy with Kiss. So, when Alice called me again, it was pretty much an easy decision to make for me. It was a brainer. I have known Alice for so long.
You have played so many years with Alice, but you have never played in albums. As you said, it was very close to happening with the LAST TEMPTATION…
Yes, but it didn’t work out because I was already busy. I did the FISTFUL OF ALICE, but it was a live record.
Do you think that there is a chance that you might play on the next Alice Cooper studio album?
Yeah, if we do one, I don’t know if we will do it this year or after the next tour. We haven’t decided yet. So yeah, we have talked about it. It’s funny because from the times -95 to 98 when I was playing with him, he didn’t want to do any records, and when I left, he started to do records again, so I was like, “so now he wants to do records”(laughter). So I missed all the records because, you know, he had Eric playing and so on.
How familiar have you been with Alice Cooper before you started to play with him? I mean, were you a fan of Alice Cooper when you were younger?
When I was young? I was a big fan. I remember I had a poster in my room when I was a little kid, just like many people, id and I remember seeing him on TV when I was really young. He was on the American Music Awards, I think, and it’s funny that I wound up playing with him years later. It was like all the people I liked when I was a kid. I wanted to play drums with “laughs.” On a personal note, we are good friends, and I have always liked him and had great respect for him; and I always try to help him out if he ever needed me to substitute or fill in or do sessions whenever he needed me. I’ve always tried to maintain a relationship and help him whenever I can, and you know I’ve been friends with this family for a long time, so when he comes to ask me to play this year, I was quite thrilled because it’s kind of like hanging out with the family if you know what I mean? So it was very easy. I have a lot of respect for Alice. He has been in this business for a long time. He has always been relevant, makes good music, and it is a great honor for me to still play with him after all these years. ‘Cos a lot of people, I came up (with), you know, musicians, in my day, they are all long gone, lot of them. This is funny because Eric and I talked about this, for me and him came along about the same time in the ’80s, and we continually still keep working.
So you both are doing something right here? “laughs.”
I knock on wood, “laughs” I just try to go on and do the best I can, and I know Eric does the same. And I think that’s one of the things that keep the phone ringing, if you see what I mean?
F5 and HAIL!
What is the status of band F5?
The F5 is a thing I did with David Ellefson. We did a record a couple of years ago called THE RECKONING. It’s a great record. It’s Dave and me with a bunch of our friends down in Arizona. It’s a great record, and it got a pretty good response. Unfortunately, in America and abroad, it‘s hard to break new acts or new music because the whole media, the way of things, have changed. Record labels are pretty much irrelevant for the most part now. You don’t have that machine. Unfortunately, it takes millions and millions of dollars for promotion when you try to break a new act. Since the labels, a lot of them, are defunct or going out of business, there is not that sort of revenue to take, say this record and dump two, three, four million dollars for press and promo, videos, and so and so forth. So you have the internet outlets, and that’s really about it. And if you know, you can go tour clubs and things like that. So it’s tough. Unfortunately, we really couldn’t do much with it because we had the label which had no money. THE RECKONING is an excellent record, and we also did few gigs, and the response was great. Maybe at some point, we’ll do another record or something? As I said in America, we have talked about it. It’s tough to break anything new right now. We’ll see. You never know what the future will hold.
Well, only the future will show how that thing will go on. How about Hail!? Tell me something about that exciting project as well?
Hail! is a fun thing. That’s the thing we started here again with David and me. It was some of our friends who said, “You should hook up with Andreas and do some gigs.” I’ve always been a Sepultura fan. I like Andreas, I like his playing, and he’s a good guy and a fantastic character. And then we were thinking of someone to sing, and we thought “How about Tim “Ripper” Owens? That guy can sing anything”. Then we started to get offers when someone put it out there, and we got offers to do South America, and we said “yeah, sure,” and soon we off did South America. We met at the airport, had one rehearsal, and started the tour. It was a fun gig. We do some things from all bands we’ve been in, and then we do some songs from the bands that we all like and stuff from other metal genres and have fun with it.
I saw Hail playing in Helsinki some time ago. They had Ray Mayorga (Soulfly, Stonesour) playing drums for them.
Oh yeah, he did the Nordic thing because I was out with Alice in September.
I have to say that it was an entertaining show.
Yeah, it’s a fun gig. That’s all it is. We used to have a lot of fun with that band.
THE MEGADETH YEARS
Speaking of Dave Ellefson, I got to ask something about Megadeth as well. In brief, how was your time with Megadeth?
It was good. It was a good run. We had a perfect time, and we played a lot of good shows and did a couple of good records and some good live recordings as well. It was a good gig.
Before you joined Megadeth, you first played with Dave in his MD.45 project. How did you first and Dave first learned to know each other?
We met first because we knew each other from touring. We first learned to know each other when I was playing with Suicidal Tendencies. We used to open for Megadeth, and that’s how we knew Marty, David, and Dave. A couple of years after that, I was touring with Alice Cooper in South America, and we did some dates with Megadeth, and then I met the guys again. Then Dave said that he would do that solo project record and (MD.45) asked I wanted to play drums on it? I was interested, and that’s how we got started, and we just did it. It took only something like two days to finish the drums, and altogether, it took like one month to finish that record. It was a really fun record to do, and it turned out to be a really good one. There was Lea Ving singing, and this guy Kelly Lemieux played bass. We just went to the studio and bashed out some songs. Dave had a bunch of riffs, and we just put them together. It was sort of like punk rock, really refreshing material, you know?
It was very different compared to Megadeth, at least?
It was different. It didn’t sort of like making any big arrangements there. We just did it kind of like “verse chorus verse chorus” and stuff like that. You know, it was his solo album.
Your first album with Megadeth was RISK. In a way, it’s a strange album that some fans hated, but some others loved. How do you like that album by yourself?
Yeah, it’s a weird record. It’s a good record, but it was a different record. Yeah, you pretty much nailed it. You know, some fans hated it, some fans liked it. The people who liked it in America, I found, were people who didn’t like Megadeth before since that was almost a pop-rock record. Some of the songs, they wanted this whole sort of a melodic thing. They were people who would have never heard Megadeth before, or people who would have never bought any earlier Megadeth albums would have bought this record. They bought the RISK record. But then again, some of the old fans who wanted to hear “Holy Wars” in every record didn’t like it. So, you know, you can’t please everybody. But it was something different. When I joined the band, they wanted to try something completely different. That was their idea, but I personally wanted to do a heavy record. That was the reason why I wanted to join the band, but I wasn’t the one who’s going to tell those three guys, you know, it was really their band at that point. They wanted to try out a different record, and who am I to say anything different.
I think I know what you mean here. What do you think about some old-school fans who still keep on saying that it was partly your “fault” that the band decided to change its direction so radically at that point?
No belief, really it wasn’t me, it definitely was not me. It was a couple of guys in the band. It wasn’t one person, it was management, it was everybody but not me. I wanted to do a full-on metal/thrash record, and everybody knew it. I would say that there are still a couple of heavy songs on the record, but they are just kind of slower. It’s also a dark record, it’s just not like all that fast-speed metal kind of stuff, but some songs are actually quite heavy if you listen to it.
I agree with you. For example, “Prince of Darkness” is a heavy song with really dark lyrics on it…
Yes, exactly. “Prince of Darkness,” “The Doctor is Calling,” and stuff like that. It’s not hard thrash music, but I think it’s a really good record. I thought everybody did a really good job on it, and all the guys in the band played really well.
Marty Friedman decided to leave after that album. In your opinion, how important member Marty was for Megadeth at that point?
Well, you know, Marty’s lead sound was a real signature to the band, without a doubt. Marty is an incredible guitar player, and I would have rather he had not left. I didn’t want him to leave, and I told him I didn’t want him to leave. But he came to a point where he needed to change what he was doing, and I have nothing but respect for him for that. The band is like a marriage, you know? Sometimes it just doesn’t stay together forever, and some people have to be changed, or they just leave or issues within the band, something like that. It’s just the way it is. Marty is great, and I did a tour with him a couple of years ago. As a matter of fact, I trade some e-mails with him because we are trying to get together and record some stuff together. He wanted to meet me in L.A. at the end of last October we were going to record in L. A but then he couldn’t get over from Japan, and I had to leave again to come over to Europe, so at some point, maybe in during next couple of months, we are going to do something. I don’t know exactly when but I’m looking forward to seeing him. I’ve always liked him. He is a really good guy.
After Marty was gone, Al Pitrelli (Savatage, Alice Cooper) stepped in. That happened in the middle of the RISK tour. You then recorded the next Megadeth album. A WORLD NEEDS A HERO. That album was a kind of back to roots album. Do you agree with that?
When we did RISK, we did our pop record, so ok, “Let’s go back and do a harder record.” We literally went to the studio and wrote that record in a couple of weeks, and here again, Al comes into the band, and he did a great job. He was really helpful, and he had a lot of guitar parts and stuff, and he’s influential. Al again is a great guitar player. He is just a different player than Marty. He comes from a more bluesy background than Marty. Marty can play almost everything, but he has got a different approach. It’s tough to explain where he comes from because I’m not sure myself. Al is a different player, but he did a great job. He came in literally in like three, four days and learned the entire live show and came in and started touring. We threw a lot at him fast. He was a great addition, and I think he was probably the only guy who could have pulled that off in that amount of time because we were in the middle of the tour. We didn’t even take a break. He just came out and learned all these songs. I remember he was up all night in the bus, in the back, and just practiced. He didn’t sleep for few days because he was just training all the time “laughs.”
Megadeth then breaks up. Was that in 2002? How that thing came about. Was it something that was coming for a long time, or was it more surprising that it was suddenly over?
We toured till the end of 2001, and we did the live DVD, and then we took off, and Dave went to do whatever Dave does. I think he was having some personal problems, well, I know, but I’m not going to tell you. Anyway, I remember when I was home one day, and I hadn’t talked with him for a few weeks, and then he said he was quitting the band.
That’s, was it?
Yeah, he said he’s quitting the band. He said he wanted to make the music of a different genre. I really don’t want to divulge everything he said here, but I was shocked. You know what, I said, “Ok,” and I just moved on because at the time my wife was having a baby, so I was like: “Whatever, fine, I got to deal with this now.” I was more interested in dealing with my family life because my wife was having a baby any day. So he quit the band, and that was it. That was the last time I have heard of him.
BACK TO THE VERY OLD DAYS…
Back in the early days, you moved from Pennsylvania to Los Angeles around 1984 -85, and one of your very first professional gigs was when you did some session work with Ozzy Osbourne, right?
That’s right. I did session recordings with Ozzy around 1985.
It must have been for the ULTIMATE SIN album?
Yeah. It was.
I don’t know too much about those sessions. Who was included there, and was any of that material used on the final album?
No. It was a different band we had then. That was in March or April in 1985, and it was me, Bob Daisley, and Jake E. Lee who were in the band then. That was the first big thing I have ever done, and it was cool. We wrote many songs and recorded a bunch of demos, and we were using this different producer, a guy named Chris Tsangarides, who did Judas Priest records, Y&T records, and Thin Lizzy records. He’s an excellent producer, and he was supposed to produce the record. Then we stopped working because the band changed. Bob was no longer in the band. It was just Jake and me. Then Ozzy went back with Black Sabbath to do that Live Aid thing, and I went on tour with somebody else, and later on, I didn’t hear of them again. When the album finally came out, it was a whole different band and a different producer. They got Randy Castillo on drums and Phil Soussan playing bass on the album.
YESTERDAY AND TODAY
A couple of years later, you got a job from the Californian band Y&T. How that thing started?
They simply heard about me from somebody. It might have been through the Ozzy camp; I’m not sure? They were looking for a drummer, and then they got my number and called me, and then they flew me out to California. We played, and then they asked me to join the band. It was really simple (laughter). I stayed with them for about four, five years. We did two studio records and a live record. Then I went off and did other things. I did Lita Ford, and then I went and did Suicidal Tendencies for a bunch of years, and then in between, when I had some free time, we were still doing some Y&T gigs every now and then. By the mid 90’s we decided not to play anymore because it was a terrible market at the time in the United States for touring. So I was then out some years with Alice Cooper, and then I wanted to join Megadeth. So we didn’t do anything with Y&T for a long time. I talked with them a couple of years ago about going back and doing some gigs, but then I was out with David Lee Roth, so it didn’t permit me to do anything. But we are still friends and everything.
When you first joined Y&T, you had original guitarist Joey Alves on the band, but he soon disappeared. Do you have any idea what he’s up to these days?
Joey is fine. I saw him a couple of years ago. He lives in Northern California, not too far from me. He doesn’t play that much anymore. He has his own thing; he has his personal life. He jams now and then, but he doesn’t tour or do anything like that anymore. I haven’t seen him for a long, long time, but yes, he’s doing well.
If I remember right, he played some gigs with Y&T some years ago?
I heard about that. I think he sat in for a couple of gigs a few years ago?
How about Stef Burns, who played on your last Y&T albums. Are you still in touch with him?
Oh yeah. We trade e-mails with him. We did a session together with a year or two ago. We haven’t seen each other for a long time, but we did that Jazz thing several years ago. He still lives near me, but he is busy like me. He is constantly touring, he comes over to Italy a lot to play with this guy Vasco Rossi, and he’s always over there to play, and I’m always on the road. Do you know what I mean? Next time we’ll see each other it’s probably going to be in some airport, you know what I mean? We both are always on the move, and he got a couple of kids, and I got a couple of kids, and we are busy with our families, so that’s how it goes, you know?
I was going to ask about album TEN which was then your last Y&T album before your first time you quit with the band. The credits say that you only played on a couple of tracks on that album. What was the reason for that?
The producer was… him and me; we didn’t see eye to eye on a lot of things, and then essentially, I quit the band. Back then, it was a different period when you hired a producer and gave him a bunch of money, and then he would come and start telling what to do, and then we said, “Wait a minute, we hired you. We will tell you what to do”. But this was weird. This was a thing that was done strangely in the ’80s. It was a weird mentality. Basically, you had a band that functioned as a band, and you know, we wrote the songs, we did this; we worked on that for a couple of years. Then you give this person like an enormous amount of money, and then they come in and tell you to change everything. We said, “Wait a minute. No, we’re not going to change this,” and I disagreed with it, so I left for a while. You know, the record came out, and honestly, it’s a so-so record. It got ruined. But you know it is what it is. It was a learning experience, but then after that, as soon as I fulfilled my commitment to them, then I left. There was no animosity; I just wanted to do something else. Because I was getting reasonable offers to do other tours and in the middle of doing the “Ten” -tour, or during the making of the TEN album, I was offered to do the “Thrash” -tour, the Alice Cooper “Thrash -tour, and I was still trying to fix this record. I have Alice calling me to do the “Trash” – tour, and I’m like, “You know it would be so much easier if I would do the “Trash” -tour.” So I missed the “Trash” -tour because I was trying to fix this album so after that it was like “I’m going to do some other things now.” But you know it is what it is. Sometimes it’s the record businessman, and it’s like I said, it’s different. It’s a lot different now than it was then. Now artists say, “We are the artist, and this is what we are doing.” Back then, the record company told the producer what they wanted, and then the producer told the artist the album should sound, etc. It’s like, why even have the artist because everyone else seems to have all these opinions. But that’s ok. It happens sometimes.
Speaking about Y&T, it was in Swedenrock in 2005 when you and Dave Meniketti and Phil Kennemore briefly met there, right?
That’s true, “laughs.”
Did you have any idea that those guys were there then?
No, I had no idea about it. I was playing with Montrose then. I remember hearing something about them going to play there, but I didn’t realize I was going to meet Dave and Phil on the bar there “laughs.”
Our time is running out very soon, but I got to ask you about Suicidal Tendencies as well. Suicidal was something different after playing years with hard rock bands?
It was great. I mean, here again, I was doing sessions in Los Angeles and, I forget whose record I was playing with; I think it was that Fiona’s SQUEEZE record, but anyway, the producer knew someone from Epic Records, and I was cutting tracks for this record. The producer was talking to his friend at the record label, and they go “We need a drummer for Suicidal Tendencies because they have a record coming out and they have no drummer.” He was like, “I got this drummer here who is really good.” Then Robert Trujillo called me, and he goes “Hey, you want to come down and jam with Suicidal Tendencies?” and I said, “Yeah, absolutely, that would be fun.” So he sent me a copy of a new record which was really good. I liked it a lot. It was THE ART OF REBELLION. It was kind of like all the background sort of things I came from. I came from more of a fusion and funk, not so much even metal, just a whole lot of pop, fusion, and funk. I was more like a jazz drummer when I was a kid. Suicidal implemented all that into their music. They were like fusion, metal, punk, and funk meets everything. It was cool because it gets you to play everything. You know, that was my first sort of… playing punk-rock style is sort of reckless. So then I went down and played with them for a couple of hours, and they were like, “Do you want the gig?” and I said, “Sure!”
I remember when I saw Suicidal Tendencies show in Helsinki back then. After the show, I had some old Y&T stuff with me to get signed, and I remember that Mike Muir get hysterical when he saw some old pictures of yours and he said: “Oh My God, is that guy our drummer!!” “laughs”
Oh yeah, I know. I always get shit about that. They would still see the photos, they thought it was so funny, and they used to go to the record shops and look up old Y&T records where I’m having that huge 80’s haircut “laughs.” I do remember that “laughs.”
Well, after this current Alice Cooper tour thing is finished, what are you up to next?
I’ll try to hook up with Marty. I get home next week, and we probably go back on tour. We are not taking too much time off. I think we’re going to go back on tour either in April or around there. So it’s only two or three months off. I’ve got three kids, so I’m staying at home with my kids. You know, I’m going to take my kids to school and do stuff like that. I’m going to be a dad. I’m just going to hang around at the house for a couple of months, but I might do few sessions. If Marty needs something, I’m going to help him out, and maybe if Hail! wants to do few gigs, I will do that. Other than that, I will not do any other projects. I’m just going to stay home for a while. I have to be home at some point. This has been the busiest year I’ve been gone since probably 2001, 2002. This has been a great year and a great tour, but I got to put in some time to be at home now. You know, I’m not 30 years old anymore, I have kids, and I have many responsibilities at home so, that’s about it.
Ok. That was it. Thanks for the time, Jimmy!
FOR MORE INFO GO TO:
ALICE COOPER LIVE PICTURES FROM ESPOO, FINLAND 12/2009