A Bodacious Interview with Jimbo Ross by Maureen Elizabeth

Posted on 7/09/2010 by Maureen Elizabeth

To say that Jimbo Ross is an eclectic performer is an almost laughable understatement. When your bio includes being a session musician for Peter Townsend, , Bob Dylan, Johnny Mathis, the Moody Blues, Roy Orbison, Elton John and a tour with Led Zeppelin (to name just a few of the many artists listed) it becomes apparent that his knowledge and talent has earned him huge respect and demand in every genre. The electric viola is his instrument of choice and my interview with him revealed a deep respect and love of the blues that he has translated onto an instrument that, for most of us, doesn’t come to mind when thinking of the blues.

Tell me about your musical roots.

I left home at 16 so that I could pursue my music. I was supposed to be an insurance salesman. My dad was from Chicago and he would play piano by ear. He was just a great guy and he knew he needed to support his family. He wanted me to become an insurance salesman just like him.

Did your love of music originate from him?

I have always loved music, it was my world. It was the place I could go to - my escape. I was the youngest in the family and I was begging my folks to let me play the piano. My best friend was going to learn to play the viola so we signed up for lessons together but he quit a week later. With the viola I could go into my room and shut the door and be in my own world. I got my first guitar when I was 9. My whole hook up to music was listening to the Wolfman Jack show, listening to old soul, R&B and blues. The music just floated my boat – it was calling me, you know. XLRB was a radio station out of Tijuana and we could get it in LA. I heard James Brown, Sam and Dave - I was just drawn to the expression of the blues because it was just such honest soul wrenching music. It cast a spell on me.

Your first CD was “Driven by the Blues”…

That CD was done completely live. I did 10 tunes in one day.

Was that the plan?

That’s just the way it happened. I had ten tunes and my players were all great players and we just decided to do it. It was Aug of 1997 and I found out my guitarist was leaving and he was the one I wanted. You know there are unique guitar players that stir you in places that just floor you – he was one of them and I had to have him on my CD. It took the next year and a half to finish the record, adding vocals, producing and when I was done I got what I feel is a state of the art, top class record.

When did you decide that this would be your life?

I always knew music was going to be my life. I played music by ear, I was self taught, I played blues, just a natural blues -funk -rock –R&B- soul guitar. I listened to Lightning Hopkins, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Freddie King and Johnny Winter. Winter was a big influence, his raw expression from his early years. Johnny just listened to blues records ‘cause he couldn’t work in the field -so he stayed inside and played guitar. He was a white guy doing the blues and I was a white guy doing the blues and he just showed me that I could do it. I listened to Eric Clapton when he was in the Blues Breakers, he was a little too clean but he did it well. Never really patterned myself after any violin players. I had listened to so many but I loved swing bands. I listened to swing music, 30’s swing stuff. I had a hot club type band in the 70’s and I would throw in the greasy notes. No matter what I was playing it would always pop out. If you have something to say - you have to say it. That’s what blues has taught me. It’s the expression of the blues. I don’t care how many notes you play, you put together a conversation. Most jazz greats have a love of blues influence. I had a jazz rock fusion band and we played all well crafted instrumental music. I love classical, but as far as self expression, I love the blues. All blues are happy blues. Willie Dixon says you find the silver lining inside the clouds.

Does that ring true for you?

You find the joy inside the sadness, inside all the feelings. Like the expression “tears of joy.” When I am in zone it is where I come from. People want to feel the move, want to feel what you are feeling. I want to see someone connected - I want to feel the connection, if you take someone on the journey with you it spellbinding. That’s the kind of performance I signed up for. I don’t want to go through the motions.

The audience wants to see the person on stage not only connect to the music but to connect to them as well.

And this makes a really great relationship! Ever since I was a kid watching the Ed Sullivan Show, eating ice cream in my pajamas, watching Sam and Dave, Elvis, Wilson Pickett.

And the Beatles?
Oh I was Ringo. I was in elementary school. Paul was all the girls’ favorite but Ringo was cool and goofy and had a cool name. CCR, when they came out I said “all right!” Southern revival, John Fogerty had an honesty about him. The Allman Brothers are my favorite jam band of all time. I wore out Live at the Fillmore.
We got spoon fed English blues. The English ate up everything about the blues and spoon fed it back to the United States. It was the beginning of the British rock invasion and that enabled us to get the blues artists onto the stage. And then Freddie King got to be in Woodstock. The only way I could get my medicine was from Wolfman Jack in my room. I would go to these record stores in LA and I would buy my records. I still have a bunch of them.

As a self taught musician you have been able to live your dream?

Oh yea, it was hard, but there came a time when I quit playing guitar and I would play the viola. The viola is in the middle of the orchestra – it’s like the alto in the choir. We’re playing all the color, the harmony. After all the years of playing the color and the harmonies - that was my teacher. It helped me be able to hear harmony so I could improvise, so when I would hear the chord changes I could hear the harmonies that were supposed to go with them. How to let your backbone slip and do the wild thing on the viola is a whole other thing. I play a 5 string electric viola. I’ve played salsa, fusion, swing, bluegrass and Irish music on it for fun. I was in a Celtic rock band. I’ve been a featured soloist in different movies. You have to have the ability to bring it alive…

I learned about your music through an interview with Lennie Jones, the artist who created the cover painting for your latest CD “Steady Rollin’ Man.”

Lennie and I talked for hours on the phone and I told him there’s got to be a train, gambling and women. He said that’s a little much on a 5x5 CD cover! But he put the paintbrush on the canvas and he said it just came to him, it came together overnight. He captured my vibe and we hadn’t even met. The title “Steady Rollin’ Man” says that I’ve been at it my whole life and I’m still rollin’. You can’t stop me. My first album “Driven by the Blues” - I had to get that out. I was driven. I had been around the world in 180 days being a session player and I’ve been in all kind of bands because I feel the passion. It’s the blues that I identify with. It helps me be a better player no matter what I play. Lennie dug what I was all about. I’m still rollin’ - I take my time, I’m in no hurry, I don’t let the small stuff get me down. Sometimes the music people don’t know how to take me because nobody is doing what I’m doing. We put on a show; one guaranteed rocking’, good time. We are a Bodacious Blues Band. “Bodacious” is a word in some dictionaries but more like a slang word. Harvard College dictionary defines it as “noteworthy and up standing.”

When writing a song, what’s your approach?

I start with the groove. I walk the dog. I take the dog out for a walk then I get the bass line going in my head. I get a groove and a hook and a line. I have to be moved by something out of my own experience and write down ideas, a few words that mean something to me. I’ll come back to it maybe with a musical fragment from something else, even with the lyrics. It’s not all about bad luck and misfortune. I like to be a little optimistic about my blues. It’s about hope. If people feel better it’s going to be okay. I have the blues to help me through it. The violin was Clapton’s first instrument. It was Jimmy Page’s first instrument. That’s why he pulls out the bow when he is in Zep. I played with Page and Plant when they were on tour. I was just doing the string section playing Kashmir and Black Dog. I got to play with some of my mentors; I was able to play with James Brown.

So tell me about the blues and the violin.

I play blues licks on the violin. I chose to move what I was doing on guitar and do it on the violin and it sounds like a slide. It’s a righteous, raw feeling. There are no frets so I can play all in between the notes. It makes people crazy. That is the color, the color of the blues - it’s the stuff between the notes that gets under peoples skin and they go ohhh yeahhh. You can’t do that on the piano. I put some emotion behind it, move the notes around and make it talk. I reach in grab your soul and move your spirit - that’s when you’re doing something right. It’s the zone, it‘s not thinking, not the intellect. It is total feeling, deep emotion, honest, gut wrenching feeling. Sometimes it is very subtle where you back off just a little. You are telling a story the way you color your notes, the way you use words, it becomes who I am. It is off the cuff, it’s being able to improvise. It’s so much more fun, so much more colorful, so much more interesting, a righteous and raw bending of the notes.

In an American Blues News interview with Kim Simmonds it occurred to me how interesting it is to talk with people when they have the ability to look back and reflect, finding that sense of having lived a good piece of their life. And what I am finding, especially with musicians, is that they want to continue and that they are very happy that this is the path that they have chosen, no regrets.

Oh absolutely. We are on a mission. This is what we got to do. The other chapter of my life is unfolding. I am embarking on that which is what I wanted to do in my 20’s but I wasn’t old enough or mature enough, then, to do it. I am not a household name but I'm still doing it old school style- get enough people to hear it – give me a chance to get up there, and do it, give me a stage and I’ll prove it!
Go to and check out Jimbo Ross and his “Steady Rollin’ Man” CD and for those of you in CA watch for his live appearances – he promises he will get the party started!

American Blues News Staff

What makes American Blues News unique is our coverage across America. Here is our lineup:

Mon: Memphis Correspondent - Robert "Nighthawk" Tooms
Nighthawk is our resident globetrotter and man behind the scenes, as he tours with the Reba Russell Band.

Tues: New York Correspondent - J. Blake
Blake is the American Blues News review and interview guru. You may catch him out and about in NY playing the blues.

Wed: National Correspondent - Monica Yasher
Monica is our executive director and artist interview specialist. You can catch Monica singing the blues around Pittsburgh or working on some country music songs in Nashville.

Thurs: Washington, DC Correspondent - Virginiabluesman
Geraldo offers inteviews and reviews. You may have seen him at an Ana Popovic concert or conversed with him on her websites, as he offers administrative support with her music.

Fri: Northeast Photographer - Nelson Onofre
Nelson offers a Friday column of blues photography and pictorial support for the interviews covered by the team.

Jim Stick in Colorado
Jim will be focusing on the Blues Festivals in the beautiful state of Colorado, and the artists that live and visit there.

Maureen Elizabeth, our resident art correspondent, will be focusing on blues art as she explores the creation of CD covers, or speaking with artists who also have a love of creating pictorial art in addition to their music! She may also feature some of her good friends in the Pittsburgh area. In her love of art, you may find Maureen's photography accompanying writer's articles on our pages. Maureen is also our marketing director.

Pittsburgh correspondent and photographer, CR Bennett, will share the Pittsburgh scene with all of you. You may also see CR's pictures accompanying other writer's articles.

We head to the big state of Texas! Abby Owen, our Texas correspondent.

Another big area to cover, the West Coast with Casey Reagan, Casey will feature many artists and events on this ocean's shores.

Lastly, we have our roving blues entertainment writer,
Chef Jimi.

And of course, we will surprise you sometimes!

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