Jimmy Ashhurst was once held at gunpoint alongside his friend Stiv Bators. He’s also jammed with Johnny Thunders, Mick Ronson, Ronnie Wood and Smack. Yeah, he’s already cooler than you.
Add his cult-classic album with Izzy Stradlin plus worldwide fame with Buckcherry, and it’s safe to say Jimmy’s earned some serious cred while cruising on the wild side (except, of course, those years he was strung out … and, um, in prison). As if things were starting to get boring, Jimmy was recently fired from Buckcherry right in the middle of this interview. Damn! How’s that for a wrench in the nuts?
Actually, the news had little bearing on my original interview request. Given his colorful career, the idea all along was to focus on Jimmy the well-traveled, rock-n-roll lifer rather than Jimmy the bass player for Buckcherry. Obviously, there’s some overlap, but not enough to derail our interview.
With his humor still sharply intact, Jimmy continued powering through our email exchange despite his future uncertainty. His career highlight up to this point? Playing Madison Square Garden with Buckcherry as the opening act for KISS (which was due to be knocked down to #2 this year when Buckcherry landed him on stage in his native Italy for the first time in 20 years … Ouch!). His must-have traveling items? Great headphones and a sharp knife. The one song that defines him? Rod Stewart’s “Every Picture Tells a Story.”
I’ll miss finding Jimmy during his smoke breaks outside Buckcherry’s tour bus, but as a fan of his and his now-former band (whose “Confessions” album earlier this year rivals their very best), I wish both parties nothing but continued success and look forward to future hellos.
What album changed your life as a kid and who was your musical hero back then?
When I discovered the first wave of British punk bands, I pretty much got sucked in. I lived in Italy and we didn’t get a whole lot of television. We had two channels, so 99 percent of my entertainment came from reading books. I read a book a day from the age of 9 to about 17 … anything I could get my hands on. Some in English, others in Italian … adventure, sci-fi, fantasy, non fiction … everything. The only music I heard was via the radio. We’d get Armed Forces Network radio and every Saturday there was the American Top 40. It was a pretty abysmal time for popular music in the U.S. I mean, somebody called the Captain and Tennille singing about muscrats, or horses without names … uh, nope! One day I read a news item in the Stars and Stripes newspaper about something exciting happening in London. I’d discovered The Clash, The Damned, Stiff Little Fingers and the rest of the phenomenon that was being called punk rock.
What about punk rock appealed to you?
These guys were writing songs that fed my imagination in the same way reading books did. Their music and lyrics took me away on little journeys of the mind. I could envision what they were singing about and it resonated within me somehow. I later discovered that Joe Strummer was from a similar background as I had. His dad was a diplomat and he was born in Turkey. My dad was an Army Colonel and I was born in Italy, so I kinda related to the guy. The way Joe wrote lyrics, his songs would take you places — all of those bands’ songs would — even if I didn’t know where Hammersmith was or anything about Ulster. These songs were like listening to a World Atlas or watching a great documentary or news story. Foreign intrigue and kick-ass bass parts. I was sold. It’s gotta get my mind going. Tell me a story about a faraway place. Imagination is a powerful thing.
Describe the California music scene when you arrived from Italy
My family moved to the suburbs in the early ’80s. In those days there was the Hollywood scene, but there was also a cool thing happening in Orange County and Long Beach that people don’t talk about as much. Bands like T.S.O.L, The Vandals, Social Distortion, Adolescents, D.O.A, Agent Orange, etc. These bands were playing house parties whenever someone’s parents went on vacation. House parties! They’d play until the cops came and started beating everyone about the head and face … usually about 20 minutes into the show. That’s why their songs were so short and fast. They were trying to play as many songs as they could before everyone got their skulls cracked open. 🙂
Was the social scene pretty divided between the punk-rock kids and the stoner-metal dudes as was typical at that time?
There were underground punk rock kids and there were ‘regular’ stoner looking long hair dudes who had Led Zeppelin belt buckles and roach clips with feathers on ‘em and KLOS stickers on their mini trucks or VW bugs that said “Journey” or “Van Halen.” There were way more of them than there were of us, and those guys kept wanting to chase us around alla time or yell dumb shit outta their cars at us because we looked different than they did. There was also a place called The Cuckoo’s Nest in Costa Mesa that shared a parking lot with this country bar. Dunno who put that together, but it was a recipe for disaster. I saw plenty of bad fights there, and even watched a kid get killed one night when they beat him down and snapped his neck on the curb outside the place.
It’s pretty well-documented that the punk scene could get pretty violent within its own ranks
I was never into the violence that took over the punk scene when it hit Southern California. The hardcore stuff like Black Flag, Circle Jerks … it kept getting harder and faster and never really resonated with me. The punk rock music I’d fallen in love with was, to me, just well-written songs with hooks, grooves and melodies … just like any other rock-n-roll song I’ve liked then or ever since.
Guitarist Craig Ross, who’d been working with a singer from Pittsburgh named Michael Doman, asked me to join up. At the time I think I was in 4 or 5 bands at the same time, and playing as much as I possibly could. These guys told me they had a manager and a gig at the Roxy on a Friday night. I’d wanted to play the legendary Roxy super bad for a long time, so I jumped at the chance. We played on a Friday night and the following Monday morning we were in the offices of MCA Records signing a recording contract. Of all the bands we knew or would go see play in LA at the time, ZERO of them had a major label record deal. No local band since Van Halen had been signed to a major. This was before the post-Guns N’ Roses signing frenzy and was pretty much unheard of in 1984.
And then came the hard lessons of the music biz?
We were kids. I had no idea about the business side of anything, let alone a band, but they told me they’d be giving us a bunch of money to make a record and then we’d be going on tour!! Hooray! Nobody said anything about the fact that we’d eventually be paying them back, but we wouldn’t have cared anyway. We had no overheads and as long as we had cash for drinks, gas and tacos… Plus. back then, all of us scuzzbag musician types lived off of strippers anyway, so we were stoked. We made three albums, went on tour with Stevie Ray Vaughan, Joan Jett & the Blackhearts, INXS, Jerry Lee Lewis, The Georgia Satellites, Jason and the Scorchers, The Replacements and tons more. And then? Guns N’ Roses happened. We immediately went from being the Great Hope to being the Great Nope overnight.
We played a ton of local shows together, even a couple of house parties. It started out with them opening up for us, but that very quickly reversed. It was one of those events in history that none of us realized was as important as it turned out to be. I remember those guys grabbing me at a club because they knew I had a good stereo in my car and they wanted to listen to their first record they’d just come outta the studio with. I had no idea that I’d be hearing those fucking songs for the entirety of my life. I just thought about that today as the hotel lobby band was butchering “Sweet Child O’ Mine” while I was on my way to my room. Christ! Here we are 30 fucking years later and it’s that Same. Fucking. Song.
And then came the copycat signing frenzy?
The labels in Los Angeles discovered the formula of the moment and it was GN’R. They started signing anybody and everybody with a Jack Daniels bottle in their band photo. But GN’R had the right roots and were the real deal from the start. I knew some of the guys came from a punk-rock background and even the heavier, metal stuff they liked were the COOL metal bands that I liked, too, like Rose Tattoo and Mötorhead, with a lot of old Aerosmith thrown in.
Plus, they were into a band called Hanoi Rocks. Hanoi had the perfect mix of everything we loved, plus the style and fashion. They could look and dress like chicks, but without being girlie in any way. This is harder than it sounds. You didn’t know whether you wanted to fight the singer or fuck him. BUT, just like anything else…the imitators missed the ball completely and the Sunset Strip turned into five miles of poodle haircuts, spandex, tiny pointy shoes, and songs about cherry pies. We had a lot of fun making fun of those guys, but it would’ve been a lot funnier if it hadn’t meant the end of our careers.
So, effectively, the explosive success of GN’R signaled the end of Broken Homes
We had short hair and wore creepers and played in open G tunings. Nobody wanted to talk to us anymore. After three albums with MCA they’d figured out that nobody wanted to hear 1-4-5 songs influenced by Chuck Berry, The Clash and Little Richard, and we’d figured out we’d have had to sell something like 10 million records to just break even. Never gonna happen. The very last thing I remember was one night we were playing at a club called Scream and I looked down to see Lenny Kravitz standing right at the front in the crowd. I thought ‘Coooool! Lenny Kravitz came to check us out!’ As it turned out, Lenny Kravitz showed up to steal our guitar player! Craig has been with him ever since.
How did you hook up with Izzy Stradlin after he left Guns N’Roses?
I was watching MTV in my living room when Kurt Loder came through with an MTV News Update announcing “Izzy Stradlin has quit Guns N’ Roses!” I’m thinking, “Wow, ballsy move, but I wonder what he’s gonna do next?” Then my phone rings and it’s Izzy calling from his home in Lafayette. He asks me what I’m doing musically and then tells me he’s gonna be at my house in two days. He showed up with a road tan from his goggles and bugs in his teeth having ridden his bike from Lafayette to my place in Hollywood. We started the band that would become the JuJu Hounds after we got Rick and Chalo on board.
Izzy is so mysterious, yet loved by so many for his songwriting and sense of “cool.” Tell us something about his personality. Is he funny? Any interesting hobbies? Strange eating habits? Anything?
I haven’t seen him or spoken with him in almost 20 years. Yes, he is a very funny, funny man.
He was always just one of those guys, even before he was in GN’R. You know, they come along every once in a while. They have an innate sort of charisma, whether they want it or not.
OK, going back to the funny …. share a funny Izzy story
On gig day somewhere in Australia we were being escorted across a parking lot by local security when this fan, who’d magically been every place we’d been throughout the trip, starts screaming for the thousandth time “IZZY!! IZZY!! PUNCH ME IN THE FACE!!!” Izzy finally turns to the nearest security dude and goes “Could you please punch that kid in the face he’s been asking for it all week.” 🙂
Did he do it?
Nah, we were all laughing too hard
I once read somewhere that you were a little bitter about the breakup of the Ju Ju Hounds.
For me, the years after realizing that the band was over were the hardest of my life. But the only person responsible for that is me by having allowed addiction to take me over completely. It was his band and he had every right to do or not do whatever he wanted with it. I just wish that whatever it was could’ve been worked out by talking to his friends and band members about it, and I wish that, if nothing else, we could’ve remained great friends.
So what ultimately caused the break-up?
There was a ton of pressure on the guy at the time, and even though the crowds in Europe, Japan, Mexico, Australia really seemed to appreciate what we were doing, the crowds and press in the US couldn’t seem to shake the G N’ R comparisons. I felt that must’ve weared on him quite a bit, ya know? The little bit we toured here was pretty brutal and attendance was never enough to be breaking even, let alone for it to be lucrative. He was spending a ton of his own money to make it happen. That gets expensive, and when it starts to feel under appreciated or appreciated for the wrong reasons, it starts to not make a whole lotta sense. Im glad to see that he still enjoys making and recording new music -just without all the drama and hustle-bustle of the whole deal … and right now, boy can I can relate! Anyway, the JuJu Hounds ended because Izzy didn’t wanna do it anymore. I’ll never know what he was feeling that would’ve led him to that decision because i’m not him. Any regrettable behavior on my part happened as a result of the end of that band, not while I was in it.
It was my favorite band and still is, and I was crushed that it was over. It took a long time to for me to even come to terms with it being finished. As a result, I made a series of terrible decisions regarding drugs/crowd in the years that followed that culminated in me being sent to prison.
Share as much as you’d like about your prison stint and heroin addiction. Were there any life-changing lessons or words of wisdom?
You don’t wanna go there. Surprisingly though, I did discover that there’s a certain sense of honor amongst thieves. It’s such a dangerous, loud and crowded environment that the convict laws that have been in place for decades make a whole lot of sense. You don’t steal and you don’t disrespect people. If you do, they kill you. Pretty clear and pretty serious. The free world could use a little more of that in my opinion. It changes you. I’m not the same person who went in and I’ll never be that person again. Losing one’s freedom is something more people should experience once in their lives. Maybe they’d appreciate it a bit more.
How did you go about joining the revamped version of Buckcherry?
I was still on parole and living in Cerritos taking care of my Mom when I finally picked up a bass again after about a seven-year “break.” I’d been playing in some country bars with my pal Mike Stinson and really enjoying just playing bass on Mike’s fantastic songs. One night, he’d invited me to some country shin-dig in the Valley, and it happened that Rick Richards was coming to town and I was meant to pick him up at the airport. We both showed up at the bar when (Buckcherry guitarist) Keith Nelson came in and started talking with Rick, who then introduced us. We kept in close touch afterwards and Keith would ask me to come up and play on a lot of stuff he was working on at this little rehearsal studio over the coming year or so. We became pals and he was real close with me through my Mom’s passing and he helped me and my Dad out a lot. Eventually, I guess, he started talking with (singer) Josh again after a time and one day he called and asked if I’d be interested in being in the band. We all met at a coffee shop, and basically it was, “If you wanna be in the band, show up tomorrow at 1:30 with $100 for rehearsal rental.” It was hard to scrape that hundred bucks together, I can tell ya that!
I personally think the rhythm section on “Confessions” makes the whole album “swing.” How did you approach the songs? Anything new or different or was it all a happy accident?
Cool thanks! As bass player my job is to play stuff where everyone else doesn’t. Once we get a song written and arranged right, my part in the recording is pretty straightforward rock-n roll-bass stuff. Y’know … little bit behind the beat at times, stand up straight in the choruses … Having a great drummer to work with helps a lot. Sometimes these days you have to watch out for over zealous engineers who wanna snap every note you play to a grid and make it in perfect time. If you want it in perfect time, get a machine to do it. Human beings respond subconsciously to certain rhythms. That’s why you can’t sit still when a Motown song comes on. That’s a secret none of these computer music kids have figured out yet ;).
Ok, this is completely off subject, but humor me anyway … How do you and Stevie fight off the nic fits while traveling on what I would imagine is a smoke-free Buckcherry tour bus?
We smoke on the bus. There’s a spot up front where the smoke gets sucked right outta the window. It’s the planes that are trickier, but now we have electronic smokes and vaporizers. It makes for a much friendlier Jimmy after the 23 hours to Tokyo.
Tell us a funny story about Rick Richards, Ian McClagan or anyone else you’ve hung out with
Oh, man, C’mon! Ok, it was Mick Ronson. We were doing a crossword puzzle and the clue was a three-letter word for a type of sheep. Mick said “lam” and it was fucking hilarious. Cracks me up to this day.
Gimme something on Johnny Thunders
I never played with Johnny in any official situation, I just filled in here and there during the period when he had some Rastas as his band (forgive me for not knowing their names). They weren’t too pleased with his payment schedule so the bass player would refuse to show up. I was in the support band for most of his SoCal dates and knew him a bit through Stiv and my old friend Timo, so at a soundcheck he said “Ya know my sawwngs? It don’t matta dis one’s starts in…” and off it went. Coincidentally, just a couple of months ago, I played the same place, The Coachouse in San Juan Capistrano, and it was exactly the same once I got inside. Hadn’t changed at all. It still has all the 8x10s on the walls of all the people who’ve played there, and still has the shelf around the top where the toy car that Johnny jumped into and sang from for most of the show was. As I was playing there with Buckcherry some 25+ years later I kept looking up at that same little car and trying to figure out how the hell Johnny ever got up there, let alone down! Hahaa … and it occurred to me that I never got paid either
Of all the bands you’ve toured with over the years, who partied the hardest?
Well, at which time period? Back then everybody partied and now nobody does. You can’t. Since nobody buys records anymore, bands need to stay on the road constantly and YOU WILL DIE if you party non-stop. No joke. There was a time when it was pretty nuts. The Replacements stand out … Jerry Lee Lewis throwing knives into the wall while drunk on champagne DEFINITELY stands out … On the road with Stevie Ray Vaughan when he was wheeled off to the hospital with bleeding ulcers from drinking cocaine … Ohh wait, you wanna know who “parties”? 😉
I heard you were once held at gunpoint while hanging out with Dead Boys singer Stiv Bators
Stiv and I had been hanging out for a while in LA and in London over a period of several months at this point. Lots of pre-crystal meth (when it was just called ‘speed’) had been invading our systems for the time, and it wasn’t unusual to have gone days and days without sleep. One night in Hollywood, my band The Broken Homes had a super important show booked at the Roxy with The Georgia Satellites and Stiv had wanted to come along, which meant I was to drive since he did not. I went to what was then the Holiday Inn on Franklin to grab him thinking, mistakenly, that this would be a quick in-and-out affair. When Stiv started rifling through absolutely everything in the room over and over, I realized it would take a while. An hour later I was officially seriously late, so I was finally able to coax Stiv out of the room and we were on our way. Not 50 feet down the hall we passed two cholo-dressed, white prison-lookin dudes when we heard a loud thump and turned to see Stiv’s girlfriend,Caroline, on her knees with one of these guys holding a huge chrome pistol to her head. They told us to empty our pockets, relieved us of our cash (I had $3) and then forced us to open the room and marched us back inside. One guy held Stiv and I face down on the floor with a knee in each back and nervously switching from Stiv’s head back to mine with the gun tight against our skulls while they argued about what to do with us as his partner rifled the room for about 400 French Francs they had never seen before. The guy on top of us wanted to shoot us real bad, while the other one started talking about stealing my car keys. I remember all I could think about was how there was a club full of people, some of them in my band, who were gonna hate me if I didn’t make the gig. And if these assholes did take my car, there’d be no way to make it in time. I’m not sure how long we were stuck in this position, but at one point the guy got off us while the other announced, “Don’t fuckin’ move or breathe for 10 minutes! We got a guy at the end of the hall watching you and if you try anything, we’ll come back and shoot ya.” Yeah, right, ok. One minute passed … two minutes … dead silence. Stiv and I are side-by-side, face-down on carpet … three minutes … I say, “Stiv, I think they’ve gone.” Nothing. “Stiv! Stiv!! Stiv!!!” Zzzz … snore … zzz … Stiv had fallen asleep. 🙂
People/bands Jimmy has worked with: The Damned – B-side of Would You single: Phantasmagoria MCA The Broken Homes – 3 albums for MCA Burning Tree – live Mick Ronson/Ian Hunter Stiv Bators – LA LA – Bomp Records Fill in shows with Smack (Finland) Fill in shows with Johnny Thunders (USA) Ian McLagan’s Bump Band Izzy Stradlin & the JuJu Hounds Ronnie Wood Joe Cocker sessions Black Crowes (mandolin on Amorica) Big Toe (jam band with Chris Robinson) Foamfoot (jam band with Chris Robinson) Joe Strummer (film sessions) Buckcherry
To read Jimmy’s official/unofficial Buckcherry departure notice, go here. To see and hear Jimmy “Shuffle It All” with Izzy Stradlin, Rick Richards and Charlie Quintana, click below
Awesome interview bro, maybe your best! Will be tracking those broken homes albums down pronto! Never knew he jammed with Smack, great forgotten junky band!
Thanks, man. I actually have Smack on vinyl. Appreciate you reading and posting. Jimmy was great (obviously)
Great interview. Quite the history lesson.
Me? I never travel very far without “shuffle it all”. That song changed my life. No lie.
Yep. Great song. Thanks for reading and posting
Met a ton of cats that jam Globally..
Jimmy I would say tied with Dave Grohl as the most unpretentious down to Earth guy’s period
I used to live at the Sunset Doheny Motor Hotel 8979 Sunset Blvd. directly across the street from the Rainbow and just up from Gazarri’s and The Roxy. A pretty gal named Caroline (a model from NY) was my roommate, as was Amy B who claimed to be Johnny’s Thunders daughter. If I recall correctly Caroline dated Jimmy Ashhurst for awhile and then she dated Timo Kaltio- a musician from Finland. There was also an odd fellow named Gaza who was always around and didn’t have a job. It’s nice to see some of these guys are still at it and being productive creatively.