October 10, 2012
Rami Jaffee: The Perks of Being a Wallflower
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Things did not go as smoothly with the next three Wallflowers records, “(Breach)” (2000), “Red Letter Days” (2002) and “Rebel, Sweetheart” (2005). “Interscope just got inundated,” said Jaffee, referring to Universal Music Group merging A&M, PolyGram and Geffen with Interscope.
Suddenly, Interscope had multiples of every genre, “Counting Crows, Sheryl Crow, the Black Crows ...” Jaffee mused, adding that the Wallflowers became less of a priority for the label.
As things grew shaky with the band, Jaffee picked up referrals from Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers pianist Benmont Tench. He kept busy with session work and played on a Johnny Cash cover of Cat Stevens’ “Father & Son” just three weeks before the Man in Black died in 2003.
Jaffee first ran into the country legend at the Viper Room inside co-owner Sal Jenco’s office.
“I barged in there, and there was Johnny Cash,” Jaffee recalled. “He said, ‘Hey, son!’ I was going to stay there long enough to smoke a cigarette. I smoked a cigarette that seemed to last nine years.”
Jaffee still appears agog recounting how “Father & Son” was recorded “in Rick Rubin’s living room. Sitting at the piano, in the foyer, and Johnny Cash singing. He told me, ‘I want to see what you got, kid.’ ”
In 2005, Jaffee was introduced to the Foo Fighters’ Grohl through a mutual friend.
“Dave wanted me to record with them on the acoustic-ish second disc of ‘In Your Honor,’ ” Jaffee said. “Then Dave asked me to play acoustic sets all over the world.
“I’ve been asked many times to tour with other bands and artists I’ve played with on records, but it had never felt right since the Wallflowers was ‘my’ band, but we were on a mini-hiatus and the Foos seemed like good times. And good times they were. Already four records in with them and, I hope, more to follow.”
Meanwhile, things were not so sanguine in Wallflowers Land.
“We had just toured relentlessly,” Jaffee said. “I was very comfortable and happy with that, but after 17 years, I was like, ‘Let’s try different things. Let’s stop relying on the record companies.’ ”
Three dates shy of the “Rebel, Sweetheart” tour’s end, Jaffee walked off stage in Chicago. One music magazine characterized it as a “meltdown” in which Jaffee had permanently abandoned Dylan’s group.
According to Jaffee, the band members knew the rift was temporary.
“They know me so well,” Jaffee said. “We are the Siamese Jewish triplets from hell. After a week, we had made up, of course.”
Jaffee insists he was merely frustrated with the Wallflowers stagnation as Interscope continued neglecting the group.
At the time, Dylan suggested the band take a break. After 17 years as an outfit, Dylan’s time-out proved the right decision.
“A break felt really good,” Jaffee said.
The three founding members went their separate ways, playing with other musicians, following their respective muses. Jaffee and bassist Greg Richling began producing other artists while Dylan recorded solo material. In addition to Jaffee’s touring duties with the Foo Fighters, the pianist befriended Fran Drescher and briefly served as bandleader on her short-lived talk show.
With the release of the Wallflowers’ greatest-hits collection, “Collected: 1996–2005,” Dylan with Bill Appleberry on keyboard and Stuart Mathis on lead guitar toured nationwide during summer 2009.
Then in 2011, Dylan reached out to Jaffee.
“The best part,” Jaffee said, “was Jakob broke down and called me and said, ‘Hey, are we going to make a record?’ ”
Jaffee’s attitude: “Let’s just enjoy.”
In the summer of 2011, Dylan, Jaffee and Richling ended their Wallflowers hiatus. Now boasting a lineup that includes Mathis and Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons (a Fairfax High alumnus and a founding member of the Red Hot Chili Peppers), Jaffee says the Wallflowers feels re-energized and ready, like a brand-new band.
It’s unwittingly symbolic that Mick Jones, former member of the seminal punk band the Clash, lends his vocals and guitar to two tracks on “Glad All Over,” including the aptly titled lead single, “Reboot the Mission.”
“Reboot” is all about a recharged, reinvigorated Wallflowers’ quest to reinvent itself after the long hiatus. In 1983, Jones was fired from the Clash following his last appearance with the group at the US Festival. Years later, the Clash’s Joe Strummer and Jones attributed the group’s disintegration to a relentless record-and-tour schedule their manager had pressured them to maintain for seven years. Ultimately, all the Clash needed was a break.
After 15 years, Jaffee says he is looking forward to touring in support of a new Wallflowers album, which will take the band across country through year’s end and then to Europe, Israel, Asia and Australia in 2013. Underscoring the band’s renewed resolve to make uncompromising music on its own terms against the backdrop of today’s erratic musical and iTunes-fueled digital format trends, Jaffee and his fellow Wallflowers appear refreshed, revived and ready to forge ahead through uncertain times. With no hard feelings or grudges between band members, all they needed ultimately was a break.
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