With a reunion with original Wallflowers bandmates on the horizon, “rebooting the mission” has become a priority for Paradise Cove resident Rami Jaffee.
By Michael Aushenker / Special to The Malibu Times
So here’s the kind of month musician Rami Jaffee has been having.
As a founding member of the Wallflowers, singer/songwriter Jakob Dylan’s roots rock band, and a recording/touring member of Foo Fighters, Dave Grohl’s hard rock outfit (on Tuesday, the Foo Fighters announced they were going on indefinite hiatus), the pianist spent September ping-ponging back and forth cross-country between L.A., the East Coast, and all over the South playing concerts with both groups. This week, a gauntlet of Wallflowers appearances (“GMA,” “Letterman,” “Leno,” “Ellen”) ensue. All to support “Glad All Over,” the first Wallflowers album in seven years. A worldwide tour includes a Henry Fonda Theatre concert on Oct. 9, “Glad”’s release date.
The most prestigious performance happened Sept. 6, 7:30 p.m. East Coast time, when Foo Fighters delivered “My Hero” and “Walk” at the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte just hours before President Obama accepted his party’s nomination.
Jaffee, who continues to be an in-demand session musician, has never been busier.
“The day I let go is the day I became successful,” Jaffee told The Malibu Times.
A graduate of Fairfax High School, where Malibuites Herb Alpert and members of the Red Hot Chili Peppers attended before him, Jaffee, never a studious student, followed his musical muse throughout his teens, often hanging with drama students in the auditorium, where he noodled on the grand piano. One of the popular things to do at Fairfax was to hop the fence and head to Canter’s, where Jaffee cultivated the Kibitz Room, a weekly musicians’ jam session at the delicatessan’s bar. But it was in line at the famed restaurant where Jaffee met Dylan.
Since their 1992 self-titled debut, Wallflowers has carried a blessing-and-curse burden most groups never encounter: Dylan is not only the son of an iconic rock star but his father happens to be the most revered and scrutinized lyricist in music history. While the Bob Dylan connection has opened doors, the musicians also had to prove themselves to get inside and stay there, or else risk going the Julian Lennon route. Safe to say, 20 years later, Dylan and his Wallflowers are sticking around.
After Virgin dropped Wallflowers in 1994, the group struggled for a spell before reaching their zenith in 1996 at Interscope with the T-Bone Burnett-produced “Bringing Down the Horse,” a four times-platinum release spawning four hits, including their biggest song to date, “One Headlight,” which scored Wallflowers one of two Grammys. They also released what Jaffee said “acted as our fifth single” –the appropriately “monster” hit cover of David Bowie’s “Heroes” (from 1998’s “Godzilla” soundtrack).
Tough travails returned as their subsequent three albums failed to connect. Following Universal Music Group’s acquisition of PolyGram in 1998, when Geffen Records and A&M Records were folded into Interscope, Wallflowers became an increasingly diminished priority.
Contrary to some Internet fallacies, Jaffee, in 1997, did not experience a serious meltdown and permanently quit the group. True, Jaffee stormed off a Wallflowers tour in Chicago, three dates shy of wrapping up the “Rebel Sweetheart” tour, over a disagreement regarding the band’s direction. Wallflowers did post on its website Jaffee had walked. But these were mere creative differences. Jaffee calls fellow founding members Dylan and bassist Greg Richling, his “Jewish brothers from another mother.”
The three remained friends, if distantly, during a three-year break. “We’d run into each other at shows in different countries,” Jaffee said.
Jaffee describes that hiatus as “the best thing that ever happened to us.” The downtime allowed him to establish a Van Nuys studio with producer Ran Pink when his millions of dollars of recording equipment threatened to squeeze him out of the relatively modest Paradise Cove home.
After producer Butch Walker (Avril Lavigne, Weezer) was displaced when the house he rented from the Chili Peppers’ Flea burned down in the Malibu fires, Jaffee offered to lend Walker his equipment. Walker passed on Jaffee’s offer, so he and Pink formed Fonogenic Studios, where Jaffee produced up-and-coming artists Minibar and Alicia Murphy.
As a session musician, Jaffee collaborated with totemic country legend Johnny Cash on the Rick Rubin-produced Cat Stevens cover “Father and Son,” three weeks before the Man in Black died. Jaffee also worked with producer Don Was on Kris Kristofferson’s “Closer to the Bone,” and on albums by Lucinda Williams, Macy Gray, Rickie Lee Jones, Peter Yorn, Coheed and Cambria, Everclear and El Vez. Jaffee also spent time with his 15-year-old daughter, Tovy, a product of his 11-year marriage, which ended in 2002. (Jaffee will not talk about his current paramour, with whom he has been “deeply in love” for the past three years. But he has reportedly been linked to “Splash” and “Kill Bill” actress Daryl Hannah.)
In 2005, Jaffee went from “Heroes” to “My Hero,” adding on Foo Fighters. However, since the Wallflowers rallied again, Jaffee has had to juggle to fulfill obligations to both acts.
“Don’t ask! Both bands are pissed off at me right now,” he said jokingly, several weeks before Tuesday’s announcement that Foo Fighters were going on hiatus.
In fact, the big Wallflowers reunion took place after Dylan assembled Jaffee and Richling for dinner at Savory in Point Dume. In summer 2011, the three met at Paul Shoemaker’s newly opened eatery (replacing Jaffee’s favorite dive Chinese joint) to strategize a game plan. Jaffee, at the time a full-fledged Foo Fighter, was interested in rekindling Wallflowers as long as he could honor other professional commitments. The trio decided on pursuing a new album, recording “Glad All Over” for new label Columbia in February.
“Glad” lead single “Reboot the Mission” represents a band reinventing itself sonically, via new members, including founding Chili Pepper/former Pearl Jam drummer Jack Irons (like Jaffee, a Fairfax High alum and Malibuite). Mick Jones, of pioneer punk band the Clash, added his vocals and signature guitar riffs while Dylan’s lyrics feature a nod to Jones’ late collaborator, Joe Strummer (whom Irons drummed for). A diehard Clash fan, Dylan pursued Jones for “Reboot” and another “Glad” track, “Misfits & Lovers.”
Supporting “Glad,” the boys will tour worldwide into 2013. If there’s much riding on Wallflowers 2.0 in this rapidly morphing and crumbling music industry, Jaffee, cool as his bowl of edamame at Bui last Friday, does not feel pressure. ’Tis the season for reinvention, as noted in the trailer for the upcoming “Skyfall,” in which Javier Bardem’s villain inquires if Daniel Craig’s thought-for-dead James Bond has a hobby. Bond responds, coolly, “Resurrection.”
As for this “reboot mission” the reconstituted Wallflowers are embarking on? Bring it.