Frankie and Jimmy are a good example of what Hamilton’s music scene is like at the best of times: soulful, genuine, and a little rough around the edges. Frankie and Jimmy (Frank and Jim) are a blues cover band with the pizzazz of a punk band. They take their favourite blues songs and add their personality and grit and come up with very captivating covers. These two are not new to the Hamilton music scene, having played in several bands in the past. Jimmy is currently involved in at least one other band. This Saturday at Homegrown marks the release for the “Frankie & Jimmy Scream The Blues” 12” LP. The evening will also feature hot sauce (more on that below) and Mickey Moone and the Boogie Infection.
I had a captivating conversation with Frank and Jim a few weeks ago where we shared some beers and some tall tales.
Q – Can you tell us a bit about how “Frankie & Jimmy” got started?
Jimmy: We were in a band before called “Dirty Sack of Steel”. We played two shows and the other singer quit without telling us. Frank figured out how to transcribe some of our songs on to a slide guitar and I got pretty excited about that. Eventually we were like “fuck it, let’s play the blues”. Playing with Frankie made me better at the harmonica and it made me step up my game.
Q – How does one self-teach the harmonica?
Jimmy : You annoy your friends and family with it all day every day for two years. Actually, I was depressed and I decided I wanted to start playing blues to impress a girl that didn’t like me. I started with harmonica and I liked it, it was therapeutic. It didn’t make the girl like me but it became a coping mechanism in some ways. I started with easy folk riffs and then worked my way up to stuff like Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Sonny Terry. Playing music is cathartic. Frank had a theory a few weeks ago where he said that if you do a really good cover of a deceased musicians song – the ghost will know about it.
Frankie : You said that when we played at Gage Park.
Jimmy: I said that? Frank tunes to A=444 Hz and there are correlations between song vibrations and the metaphysical world.
Frankie: It’s pseudo science but its worth a shot. A=444 Hz is an old European style of tuning.
Jimmy: Its all energy. Ghosts or whatever are drawn to electronic devices.
Frankie: There’s a lot of stuff to google about that.
I bet there is.
Q – Frankie, how did you get into slide guitar?
Frankie: I was in a cover band years ago and we were covering “The Man Who Sold The World” and I wanted to play the part with the slide guitar and that was the first time I tried it. I got into it after that from listening to Derek Trucks play slide guitar. It blew my mind and it captivated my ear because he was blending in some styles I’ve never heard before. After researching his (Derek Trucks) East Indian slide influences, I got into it more and found the whole thing to be very cool. I like the slide because it is less limited by the frets and it allows you to be more expressive with the notes. Plus, it sounds cool. There are different styles like glass, chrome, ceramic, brass, etc. I usually use glass because I like the nice warm tones it produces.
Q – What do you guys like about the blues?
Frankie: I like the way it makes you feel. To hear someone singing their sorrows really resonates and can stay with you sometimes. I like the raw intensity and energy of it all. It’s honest music and people are really putting themselves out there.
Jimmy: I really like the phrase “See what you done done”, and when they sing about jelly rolls, you know? There is a lot of interesting phrasing. Most of the blues classics were written by black Americans who were either first or second generation freed slaves. These people were not classically trained but they were obviously extremely intelligent. It was people making intelligent music in an unconventional way and I like that. I first started listening to the blues on Jazz Fm and I started with Leadbelly and Tom Waits. I liked Tom Waits because he doesn’t sing well in a classical sense but he sounds really diverse and emotive.
Q – What about modern day blues artists?
Jimmy: Wild Billy Childish’s “Crimes against Music” really got me into garage blues. It was less clean and more blown out sounding and it had a punch to it. I like that because a lot of modern blues and jazz can be quite boring to watch. No audience interaction, no show, no bravado… and that stuff isn’t gonna get our generation or younger interested in blues music. We have short fucking attention spans. You have to be entertaining as shit or people will leave.
Frankie: Bob Log is really rad.
Jimmy: He is the coolest guy, I just want to hang out with him all the time. Jon Spencer is really great too. Locally, I like Snowheel Slim, Boogie Infection – they play with gusto and high energy. I like Ginger St. James and the Grinders, Vaudevillain, Alfie Smith, Beard, Catl.
Jimmy: Modern day blues players are all aware that they are standing on the shoulders of giants. I don’t think we are doing anything new. Frankie and I play all covers and we had to pay rights to these songs. I mean, I probably wrote like 40 blues songs at some point but realized that I don’t want to play my half baked ‘child of a middle class family blues’.. I thought it was disingenuous. Why do I write this song when people haven’t heard my favourite blues songs yet? People haven’t heard songs like “Hard Time Killing Floor” “Death Don’t have no Mercy” “Just like a woman” – I didn’t see a point in writing new blues songs when the originators are still obscure.
I don’t want to play my half baked ‘child of a middle class family blues’.. I thought it was disingenuous. Why do I write this song when people haven’t heard my favourite blues songs yet?
Q – Do you think that it will always be like that or will future generations write new blues songs to express new issues and struggles?
Jimmy: It’s different protest music now. It is hip hop and punk doing that for the people. Protest songs aren’t blues songs anymore – that’s an old mans club now. The sound has changed.
Q – Are people surprised to learn that you play all covers?
Jimmy: Yes, sometimes people approach us after shows and say they really liked our songs and they have no idea that they are covers. We rearrange the songs and our delivery is way more aggressive than traditional blues – but essentially they are all covers.
Frankie: The lyrics are all the same, the style is the same, the chord progression is the same.
Jimmy: I’m an angry dude and Frank can’t escape his psychedelic style and that comes out in our music.
Q – From the buttons, to the art, Vinyl cover, etc, there is a lot of DIY involved in your band. Is this something that’s important to you guys?
Jimmy: I like to have creative control but my friend Lisa Ng did these buttons – I have to be honest. She’s a painter from Toronto and she did a way better job than I could have. I drew our logo but someone else did the vector for it. It’s not totally DIY – it is like “do it with a little help from your friends”. People think we are rowdy punks but the DIY ethic isn’t crucial to me, I don’t feel like I have to do everything myself. I like doing whatever the fuck we want – that aspect of it is crucial to us. I’m not Lady Gaga here, I’m not getting a jet out of signing away my opinions. Also.. who I am sticking it to by doing it myself if I really can’t do a good job on my own? You know? I don’t want to do anything in a shitty way, I’d just be sticking it to the band. If we have talented people in our circle who can help and make something better then I think that we need to embrace that.
Q – People are excited about the release party and this hot sauce. Can you tell us more about this?
Frankie: We were at Jim’s cottage and a friend said “hot sauce is a good idea for band merch – with an album download code” and we were like “nobody forget this idea”.
Jimmy: Our friend Claire helped us to make sure everything was sterilized properly and was legit. We made over 70 bottles and we will be making more. Frankie crafted this recipe on his own. I just drew the label.
Frankie: Our band is just a front for our hot sauce empire. That’s the real secret. People love hot sauce nowadays, it is the new ketchup.
Q – How spicy is this hot sauce?
Frankie: I eat it all the time and it is pretty damn spicy and isn’t for amateurs, but I don’t know where we are on the Scoville scale. If I had to make up a number I would go with “666,666 Scovilles”. It’s hotter than Sriracha. You’ll want to go easy at first.
Q – Will you be selling the hot sauce online anywhere?
Jimmy: The hot sauce comes with stickers with a download code for the album and will only be sold at shows. You want hot sauce? You gotta come to the show.
Q – What’s it like to be in a band in Hamilton these days?
Jimmy: We don’t really fit in with any single bill around here so we get booked with different genres. People don’t know where to put us. We play punk bills, the hipsters (whatever the fuck that means) seem to like us, and old people like us, too. We played in Guelph a while ago and these old guys came up after to shake our hands and to tip us. It was sweet.
As for Hamilton, I think that you have to be interesting to capture people’s attention spans here. There are definitely a lot of cool bands in Hamilton and the scene is strong. The bar here is high. You can see good music here almost any night of the week. There is the downside, too, where Hamilton can be into cliques and there are instances of nepotism around. However, as much as I get annoyed by nepotism I have benefited from knowing the right people, too.
Frankie: Hamilton is a big city but the downtown scene can have a bit of a “small town” feel, although we do get a long with everyone for the most part. As far as music goes, Hamilton is a mature city, but still growing stronger than ever.
Jimmy: It definitely has a mature Punk aesthetic, it is well cultivated. People are looking for an experience, a show. They want you to give them an experience. Something to remember.
Frankie: Sometimes playing out of town can be refreshing. Playing to a room of your friends in Hamilton is nice but people will always say “that was amazing”.. and strangers can be more genuine and brutally honest.
Jimmy: There is a lot of great music here and some great venues. I think that it is undeniable that This Ain’t Hollywood is the best club in the city. I also really like Homegrown, and The Doors Pub and Casbah are cool too.
As for Hamilton, I think that you have to be interesting to capture people’s attention spans here. There are definitely a lot of cool bands in Hamilton and the scene is strong. The bar here is high. You can see good music here almost any night of the week.
Q – Who do you like to see live?
Jimmy: The Boogie Infection, Grinders, Wax Mannequin, B.A. Johnston, Kettle Black, TV Freaks, Born Wrong, Noble Savages, Black Baron, Slender Loris, Burn Victim, Dowdy Days, Mystics (RIP). Artificial Dessemination, The Squids.
Frankie: I really like The Dinner Belles
Jimmy: Annie & Sara are cool. Did I already say B.A.? Also, Lee Reed, but who doesn’t like that guy? He’s cool.
Frankie: I like the open jazz nights at the Cat & Fiddle and Brian Griffith on Thursdays. He just lets loose and jams and it is very cool to watch.
Jimmy: I think that we are lucky because the bigger commercially successful bands from Hamilton aren’t total pieces of shit, you know? Like, I can live with these guys succeeding. Bands like Monster Truck and The Dirty Nil aren’t exactly my musical taste but I can respect them and I’m glad that it is them and not some fucking pop star that’s making Hamilton famous. TV Freaks are the best band in Hamilton. Burger is a real sweetheart.
Q – What are you listening to?
Jimmy: I love Catl. They are pure sex on stage.
Frankie: They’re married, actually. There’s something about combining male and female energies that are in love that sounds like no other kind of band.
Jimmy: You can tell that onstage. If you could represent sex musically it would be this band. I told them they should start marketing themselves as a Sex Rock Duo.
Q – What do you have planned for the winter?
Frankie: Sell hot sauce and play more shows, and record more.
Jimmy: Definitely play more and we’re going to record again. I have this fantasy/plan of releasing three 7’’ records like The Dirty 7’’ – The Spooky 7’’ – The Pretty 7’’ . Winter sucks tennis balls and I want to do a lot more recording.
Q – What makes you guys work as a band?
Jimmy: We compliment each other well. I can run hot and Frank is cooler and more laid back. We have complimentary skills and a strong work ethic. I always think that you have to make things happen and you know, “be the flow”.
Q – Can you elaborate on “be the flow”?
Jimmy: Well you can’t just sit around and say we gotta wait for things to happen and just go with the flow. You know? I am the flow – that’s what I think. You are responsible for making things happen and you have to work hard.
Q – Do you do Karaoke?
Frankie: Once years ago I sang some Doors, and that was that. I’ve lost my falsetto voice from yelling at cops and bouncers. (laughs).
Jimmy: It’s not really something I’m into .I once had 10 people on stage singing The Gambler and later that night almost got into a fight with a Karate school. Karaoke is a gateway sport.