Jimmy McIntosh had this nutty idea that seemed so far out even his wife didn t buy it.
The Temperance, Mich., native who relocated to Las Vegas years ago would get one of his guitar heroes to play on his solo disc. He d just send an e-mail to Ronnie Wood of the Rolling Stones and invite him to play on a track or two.
It was a stretch, for sure. McIntosh and his buddy Roger Stanton had journeyed to Cleveland in 1975 to see Wood on his first Stones tour, two southeast Michigan kids on a Greyhound to see the legends. Now, 30-some years later, he was inviting Wood to play on his CD.
I told my wife, Man, that would be awesome, and she said, You re crazy, you re not going to hear anything from him, he said in a phone interview from his Las Vegas home.
Except it worked, which is a testament mostly to McIntosh s talent as a jazz guitarist, which has connected him with some of the top musicians in the world, and to his willingness to take a chance on having his ego bruised. And not only did the Bedford High School graduate get to visit Wood in his London studio, but another of his heroes, Jeff Beck, showed up and also played on his disc, Orleans to London.
It was really exciting, I ll tell you that. Geez, McIntosh said.
Here s how it happened.
Growing up in Temperance, McIntosh took up the French horn and in what would become a lifelong association with famous people received encouragement from one of the greatest American musicians ever: Duke Ellington.
McIntosh s mother, Ann, met Ellington in a Las Vegas coffee shop in the 1960s and was friends with him from 1968 until he died in 1974. His parents were divorced, and his mom a Bedford High School English teacher met the great band leader while she was at a conference.
Ellington immediately became friends with her and invited her to a reception at the White House, which she rejected because she didn t know him that well, McIntosh said.
She turned him down and I think he was impressed by that, he said, laughing.
Ellington was a frequent presence in the McIntosh family s life. Jimmy, his mom, and his sister would go to Ellington s shows when he played in Ohio or Detroit, and he was a regular caller to their home.
The phone would ring two or three times a week and it would be Mr. Ellington, he said. My sister and I just loved him. We thought he was the greatest thing.
For his first French horn concert, Ellington called and gave him a little pep talk and he would tell Jimmy s mom that the boy was going to grow up to be a musician and one who would want to play his own music sometime in his life, planting the seed that would help spur McIntosh from being a career sideman to making his own CD.
About once a year I would remember that statement, Hmm, Mr. Ellington said that.
As a teen, McIntosh found his way to the guitar and began studying it intensely, honing his chops in the 70s and working with longtime Toledo music teacher and highly respected player John Justus.
He was a good boy from the beginning, said Justus, who is now in his late 70s. He was sort of special to me. He worked hard. He always got his lessons and had a lot of respect for what he was trying to do. He was really sold on being a musician.
McIntosh wasn t afraid of the hard work that it takes to develop the skills to be a top Vegas sideman and session musician who can jam with Beck and Wood.
He seemed to have nothing on his mind but music, hour after hour, Justus said. I would talk to his mother and she said that s all he ever does, he just sits there with his guitar. That was his life.
For his part, the student gives all the credit to the teacher.
If I wouldn t have had him for a teacher I probably wouldn t have become a professional musician, said McIntosh, who still keeps in regular touch with Justus.
After graduating from Bedford High School in 1976, he attended the Berklee College of Music for two years before transferring to the University of Michigan and earning a bachelor s degree in musical arts with a major in guitar performance.
Graduation ended McIntosh s time in Toledo and Bedford Township. He took his experiences working with Justus and playing with renowned jazz guitarist Scott Henderson another Toledo-area native and headed west to Las Vegas.
He moved there in 1981, taking gigs wherever he could find them and carving out a career as a guitar-for-hire. He played with Little Anthony & The Imperials, backed up Buddy Hackett and Ben Vereen, and even toured in David Cassidy s road band.
McIntosh was in the house band for Penn &Teller s Sin City Spectacular on the FX network, striking up a friendship with Penn Jillette that includes jamming with the magician in his home studio (Jillette plays bass), watching movies and writing songs.
Beginning in 1990 he played in the Lon Bronson All-Stars Band, a horn-based R&B band that played a regular after-hours show at the Riviera. The group attracted artists ranging from Drew Carey to guitarist Joe Walsh.
Now he s in the band for the Vegas Mamma Mia production based on the music of Abba. While his passion is his solo work he also plays in a trio that focuses on his own music the gigs with the professional productions pay the bills. And more.
You re playing the same music night after night. They re not into changing the songs up or anything like that. If you re a young musician and you want to play the blues or jazz and you come in with a job like that you might think this might be kind of a drag, McIntosh said.
But when it comes time to make a living and you want to own a house and so on, it s a very good job. There s actually benefits, there s a pension fund, the pay is pretty good. If it wasn t for Mamma Mia, I wouldn t have been able to make this record.
With Ellington s voice ringing in his ears and the recent deaths of his father, Woody, and buddy Roger on his mind, McIntosh decided it was time to make his own music. Over the years he had made friends with Art Neville and his drummer, Mean Willie Greene, and they would form the core of the band he put together to start recording songs.
As the Orleans to London project evolved, McIntosh recruited Cyril Neville and Ivan Neville to round out the players on the jazz/funk disc, which is mostly instrumental except for the Jillette-penned It Was A Virus. The result is a breezy, soulful disc that echoes Beck s mid-70s works, Blow By Blow and Wired.
The Neville connection is what gave McIntosh access to Wood. He had bought some of Wood s art years ago and still had the phone number of one of the guitarist s representatives. So he sent him an e-mail and mentioned that the Nevilles who the Stones have long cited as a significant influence were playing on the new work.
E-mails were exchanged and the next thing McIntosh knew he was jetting to London with his wife to visit Wood, who heard the demo tapes and said he d like to add his guitar work to the disc. They were in Wood s studio when he casually mentioned that a friend might show up.
He said, Gee I told Jeff Beck about your record with the Nevilles and he might drop by and play on it. McIntosh said. I couldn t believe what I heard. I was speechless, literally.
The end result of their work is that Wood is on five songs, including the tribute to Stanton called Rogent, and Beck (credited as Hot Rod because of contractual issues) is on three. Beck, a notoriously difficult character, was a bit stand-offish but nice enough and generous with his time, McIntosh said.
After the session Wood took McIntosh and his wife to a concert by former Stones bassist Bill Wyman in London. He found himself sitting in a Mercedes with his wife, Carol, in the middle and Wood on the other side, chatting and enjoying a night on the town. Thanks to Wood s gregarious nature, it wasn t intimidating just fun.
Even though he s one of the Stones... you re just like, OK these guys are musicians first. And I ve always thought that, even though these guys are larger than life.
McIntosh, who no longer has family in the area, was recently featured in Vintage Guitar magazine and he plans to continue promoting his Orleans to London while holding down sideman jobs.
If I had my choice I d play my own music for a living six nights a week. I wish I could do that, he said. I m happy to make a living just playing the guitar and that s difficult enough, unfortunately.
Orleans to London is available at www.jimmymcintosh.com.
Contact Rod Lockwood at: email@example.com or 419-724-6159.