Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Way Out West - The District
From the District Weekly - (6/24/09)
Jimmy Vivino recently moved to Los Angeles to become an integral part of the Tonight Show Band along with the rest of the Conan O’Brien crew. For 16 years he was the associate music director of the Max Weinberg 7 while maintaining an active musician’s life in New York, working with legends Levon Helm and Al Kooper. This weekend, he’ll appear backing blues greats Hubert Sumlin and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith. A lifelong Yankees fan, Vivino speaks only hours after meeting Joe Torre in what is just another day at the office.
The District Weekly: How did you end up in the Max Weinberg 7?
Jimmy Vivino: Basic New Jersey mathematics. We had a band together called Killer Joe—a jump blues band. Mark Pender and my brother Jerry were in the band. Mike Merritt played bass. That band split up, and I ended up out west with Clarence Clemons. We rounded it out with La Bamba—another Jersey legend. We pieced together this band for the Conan audition and got the gig. Who would have thought it would last that long?
You had experience playing on several TV shows before Conan, including your brother’s program—The Uncle Floyd Show.
It was pretty wild. We got to play with the Ramones. I didn’t know the Ramones were this big band. I got to know those guys pretty good. Joey Ramone had the best record collection in the world. The Floyd Show—it was punk TV. David Bowie was a fan. Floyd would buy time from the cable station and do what he wanted.
Was it a difficult decision to come out West?
It doesn’t get any better for a musician who wants to work as a musician, not as an artist. This is a working job. There aren’t many, and this is one of the top ones. How could you not do it? Leaving New York was not easy after living there all my life, but so far, so good.
What is the most surprising song you’ve played on Conan?
For me it was probably when Howard Stern wanted a Rob Zombie song. It’s not like everything you listen to is the only thing that’s good. That had to be the one. I was like ‘Why do we have to do that?’ But the guest hardly ever has a say. The situation has been changing with publishing problems. We’ll probably be writing more music.
How do you plan to keep up your activities in Los Angeles?
When I can get there, I get there. I’m up in Woodstock on July 4. Staying busy is the most important thing in this business. I’m putting a lot of faith in the airlines these days. I play every Wednesday at Cozy’s in Ventura. I’m running back and forth to the East Coast.
What is your plan for the Bayou Festival?
Hubert Sumlin called me and asked me to put something together for him. I found out Willie Smith was on it, too. I spent a lot of years backing up Lowell Fulson, Johnnie Johnson, Son Seals. I have a real affection for those guys. [Sumlin] is the guy who created the guitar sound we’re all using today.
What is it like getting to play in bands with idols like Al Kooper, Levon Helm or Hubert Sumlin?
The thing with that is you grow up looking over the fence. You want to get into the game, but the kids are too big. You think you can play, but it’s very rare that you’re ready and then down the road you find you are ready and they throw you in the game. The idea is to just get out there and become a peer instead of a fan. I’m always trying to sit on that fandom part of playing with people that I respect so much. Luck is easily 50 percent of it. As Yogi Berra says, ‘The other 90 percent is talent.’
23RD ANNUAL LONG BEACH BAYOU AND MARDI GRAS FESTIVAL WITH STEVE RILEY AND THE MAMOU PLAYBOYS, NATHAN AND THE ZYDECO CHA-CHAS, BAYOU BROTHERS, LIL’ WAYNE AND SAME OL’ TWO STEP, COREY LEDET, HUBERT SUMLIN AND WILLIE “BIG EYES” SMITH WITH JIMMY VIVINO PLUS MANY MORE RAINBOW LAGOON PARK NORTH SIDE OF SHORELINE DR BETWEEN SHORELINE VILLAGE DR AND LINDEN LONG BEACH 90802 LONGBEACHFESTIVAL.COM SAT-SUN $10-75 PER DAY PARKING $10 VIVINO CLOSES THE FESTIVAL SUNDAY NIGHT
Way Out West @ the District