An Interview with Legendary Rock Producer Chris Kimsey (part 1)
by PHYLLIS POLLACK
On Working with the Stones, Ronnie Wood, Jimmy Cliff, Peter Tosh and the Hot New Band Saint Jude
An Interview with Legendary Rock Producer Chris Kimsey
It is safe to say there is no one reading this article who has never heard an album in which Chris Kimsey was involved, either as a producer, an engineer, a mixer or co-producer. Kimsey’s contributions can be found on albums by The Rolling Stones, B.B. King, The Cult, Peter Tosh, The Clash, Jimmy Cliff, Bill Wyman, Joan Jett & The Blackhearts, New Model Army, Tom Jones, Mott The Hoople, Buddy Guy, Emerson Lake and Palmer’s Brain Salad Surgery, and several Peter Frampton albums, including Frampton Comes Alive! His extensive credits are far too voluminous to list here, and the number of his works continues to grow.
Among his venerable projects is the upcoming debut album Diary of a Soul Fiend from the band Saint Jude, whose as yet unreleased debut single, Garden Of Eden, features Rolling Stones guitarist Ron Wood. The album will be released by JDC Music Group, a record label spearheaded by David Hadland, Joe Costa and Chris Kimsey. The album was recorded at St. Claire Recordings.
Saint Jude has already achieved a respectable following in London due to their live performances. Peter Doherty liked the group so much that he personally requested them to open up shows for his group Babyshambles. Saint Jude have also shared the stage with The Waterboys. Led Zeppelin’s guitarist Jimmy Page is also among those who have come to check the band out, and was impressed by their performance. Onlookers were shocked last October when Ron Wood, who was in the audience at one of the band’s gigs, jumped onstage to play the song “Flying” with Saintf Jude.
Here, Kimsey talks about his involvement with Saint Jude, and a bit of his other work.
You have your own recording studio in London, Sphere Studios. The band is from London. Yet you recorded the upcoming Saint Jude album in The States, specifically in Kentucky. Why was that?
Two of them are from Kentucky, the bass player Colin Palmer, and the second guitar player, Artie Bratton, are from Lexington. But that wasn’t the reason. The band has had many sort of versions. I met them maybe five years ago, and did some cuts with them. Then they changed drummers, changed the bass player, and they kept sort of changing, I suppose maybe three times since I’ve known them. Then when David Hadland came over from JDC Music Group to talk to me about the band Very Emergency, and started JDC, he said, “Well, what have you got going on over here?” So I played him Saint Jude, and he just went nuts about it. So we went to see them, and signed them up. Then the bass player at that stage, it was a female bass player actually, she decided she didn’t want to play any more. She decided she wanted to be a gardener, so she quit. David said, “Well, I know some great bass players in Lexington, in Kentucky,” and the idea is to break them over there (The States), and get them there anyway. We flew the band over to Lexington, well, let’s say Lynne and Adam, the principals, and they did some writing in Nashville with some people, and they were over there for I think about two months. Then they met Colin and Artie, and then the drummer (Lee Cook, from Twickenham) and keyboard player (Elliot Mortimer) came over (from England) and they started rehearsing and getting ready for the album. So a bit from both sides of the water.
That explains a lot, because I was wondering how a band from London would have that type of feel, somewhat like the Black Crowes, where you feel that Southern vibe, mixed in with a bit of The Faces.
Well, they’re huge fans of the Black Crowes, as well, and Adam, the guitar player, is, I mean, he plays just like Keith (Richards) and Ronnie (Wood). I mean, he’s really grown up with all that.
I had heard that Jimmy Page had come to see the band play live.
I don’t know. Adam is very much the man about town. People have come like Grace Jones, and all. So they’re quite popular in London, quite a groovy band for people to go see. And Ronnie Wood’s been around to see them a few times.
Who writes the songs and who writes the lyrics?
It’s really Adam and Lynne. There’s another guy called John Robertson, who was in the band. He was a second guitar player in the first kind of version that I met. He left the band, and he co-wrote some of the songs. It’s very Lynne and Adam, and someone else, but Lynne and Adam are the crux, and the lyrics are just kind of shared with everybody.
Ron Wood contributed to the album, specifically on which track?
“Garden Of Eden.”
Woody joined the band on stage a while back at one of their gigs. Were you there?
No, I was in the States, so unfortunately, I missed that. I think Adam has played with Ronnie on a couple of gigs that Ronnie’s done over the last couple of years. Ronnie and Woody met in A.A. (Alcoholics Anonymous). I mean that’s how they met, and became really good mates. Yeah, I mean, Ronnie’s played on a few things Adam has done apart from Saint Jude, and they’ve sort of written a bit together.
There has been a comparison of Saint Jude to The Faces. Do you think it’s partially because of tracks like “Garden Of Eden,” or even more so in “Down The Road,” where you can almost, somewhere in the distance, see or hear Woody and Ian MacLagan, far away in the mist?
I think for sure. I think that’s where their roots come from, as well. Definitely for Adam and Lynne. So yeah, that makes a lot of sense to me. And also, just the format of the band with the keyboard, and the way it’s kind of set up. Yeah, the songs kind of fall into that arrangement. That’s what they grew up on, so that’s filtered through. Yeah.
You have worked with a lot of prog rock, progressive rock, groups like Yes, and Emerson, Lake And Palmer. Yet Saint Jude is blatantly much more traditional, straight-ahead rock and roll, like The Faces or The Black Crowes. Was that intentional? In other words, was Saint Jude’s sound, for you, a rebellion of sorts on your part, against the over glut of syrupy pop music that is predominantly being promoted by major labels today? At least, that is the case here in The States.
Well, it’s the case here, as well. I don’t really listen to the radio. I mean I listen to radio, but not sort of the top radio stations, because it’s all just pop crap.
Yeah. Most of the major labels that are left, they’re just churning that out, and (British American Idol seminal television shows) X Factor and Pop Idol are very a huge impact on music that way, I feel. So I mean, yeah, out of all the sort of music I’ve been involved with, that’s kind of my heart and soul, that area of music. And also great singers. I just like to work with extraordinarily talented singers, and when I heard Lynne sing, boy, she just blew me away. I don’t really do the pop thing at all.
It seemed that when Slash’s band Velvet Revolver debuted at Number One, that some of the major labels might have gotten a hint that people are starving for real rock and roll.
Yeah, that’s true. I mean people want it. Absolutely. I just kind of rediscovered Audioslave. I don’t listen to that a lot. That’s a little heavier than what I would normally listen to, but I’ve been getting into that. And then, kind of, my roots also come from the Allman Brothers and that whole Southern thing, as well, I was really into. There are some great bands and good music out there, but it’s tough to get that signed to any major label, because they don’t know what to do with it any more. There’s a big huge hole in the market, and people want to hear it. Even my kids want to hear it. They’re playing old records, because they find it hard to find any of this new stuff that they like.
Yeah, people are starved for it, which I think that is part of the reason why people will not let go of the Rolling Stones.
You know, that sound. My next question relates with that. Comments have been made about Saint Jude’s vintage sound, which I think is one of its best, if not strongest aspects. Did you intentionally make a commitment to make the album not sound over-produced? To what do you attribute the vintage sound that gives this album so much of its appeal?
Well, it’s pretty much with any band that I work with, engineer or produce. I won’t work with anyone unless they all sit down and play live as a band, and the songs are worked out, and people know what they’re playing, so you’re capturing a performance. I really grew up, doing eight albums with the Stones, I definitely learned that’s what it was all about, and I’ve just carried that onto who ever I worked with after that.
Well, that’s interesting you say that for many reasons, including the reason that The Stones if anything, are a live band.
Yeah. Well, all the records I made with them were recorded live, as well. There were hardly any overdubs. You know, it was…
So you were basically nurtured in the studio with that type of…
Yeah. Well, not just then. Also, I worked an awful lot with Glyn Johns, and Glyn was like my mentor. Glyn was expert at capturing that, working with The Who, Joe Cocker and the Eagles. All those records were all cut live. They weren’t started with a drum machine or a click (track). It was a group of people performing in the studio together, which is…Now, that’s another thing that I think people really miss, you know, in recordings. There’s not enough of that. Well, there is, but you’ve got to look for it.