An Interview With Jimmi Bleacher, Formerly Of Salty Dog

 

Feature Photo courtesy of Jimmi Bleacher

An Interview with Jimmi Bleacher, formerly of Salty Dog

By Andrew Daly

A particular aesthetic comes to mind when we look back on the glam and hair metal era. Usually, it’s a whole lot of Aqua Net, big-haired frontmen, and hot-rod-wielding virtuosos.

Of course, there were exceptions, with one notable example being Salty Dog. Led by Jimmi Bleacher, who was backed by Pete Reeven (guitars), Khurt Maier (drums), and Michael Hannon (bass), Salty Dog presented an alternative to the exoticism populating the charts in the late-80s and early ’90s.

In retrospect, Salty’s debut record, Every Dog Has Its Day, reads as a tour de force of raw and raucous music recorded by a brazen group of thoroughbreds. But alas, the record didn’t hit. Be it label indifference, shifting commercial tides, drug abuse, or general dysfunction, Every Dog Has Its Day floundered, finding itself relegated to the sands of time.

Not long after Every Dog Has Its Day was released, with the shadow of grunge looming over them, Salty Dog folded its tent. As for Bleacher, he became wayward, embarking on a drug-fueled odyssey, somehow coming out the other side clean and wiser.

In a rare moment of reflection, Jimmi Bleacher dialed in with Classic Rock History to recount the formation of Salty Dog, his memories of the Strip, the recording of Every Dog Has Its Day, and the trials he faced thereafter,

How did you end up joining Salty Dog?

Bleacher: I came to Salty Dog through a mutual friend of Michael Hannon named Mark Chatfield, who played with GODZ and Bob Seger. Mark and I were at the Alrosa Villa in Columbus, OH, having a real good time, and all of a sudden, he made a phone call from the payphone to Michael in L.A. and said, “Hey Michael, I got your singer right here, but you can’t talk to him ’cause he’s too drunk.” On his recommendation, I went to L.A. soon after and auditioned. It was in a tiny garage near Watts where I first heard Khurt, Scott Lane, and Michael’s thunderous sound. I started singing overtop of it, and we were all in.

Can you recount Salty Dog’s first gig?

Bleacher: Our first gig was at Gazarris, and then we played the Troubadour and the Whiskey. These clubs were small and not very intimidating to a guy from the Midwest who played clubs like the Alrosa, the Agora, and Hammerjacks. It wasn’t until we played the Roxy that I thought the Strip was pretty cool. Our first gigs in Orange County reminded me of the clubs back East, but I quickly became accustomed to the ways of the Strip and fell off everything else.

What were some of the first demos Salty recorded?

Bleacher: When I showed up, Salty Dog had six instrumental songs. The first song I wrote lyrics for was “Ring My Bell.” It was the only one of the six that made it through the test of time. And with “Cat’s Got Nine,” the lyrics came first, and Scott Lane played that 1-4-5 blues riff while I sang it. As for “Keep Me Down,” I had brought that to them, and we worked out an arrangement.

Another we had was “Come Along,” a spontaneous jam before rehearsal started. I had a tape deck and hit record when Michael started that bass line, Khurt came in with that beat, and I started singing the words off the top of my head. Later, I took it home and had the words and arrangement figured out. After “Come Along,” we did our first demos at Amigo in the Valley. The first of many. I think that was all we did with Scott Lane.

What prompted Pete Reeven to join as a replacement for Scott Lane?

Bleacher: Because Vicky Hamilton managed us, we got labels to come to showcases before we started playing out. Our first showcase was for Rick Rubin, and he hated Scott, and subsequently, every label said the same thing, “We hate Scott.” They hated his hair more than anything [Laughs]. I was thrilled to get Pete in the band. He added the new sophistication we desperately needed in the mix.

For the same reasons we had showcases before we played out, we had no problem getting good guitar players to audition. Some, like Rusty Anderson, were too good for the band. When we told him we were a half step down, he said, “That’s okay,” and transposed everything, no problem. I dug playing with a guy of that caliber, but what makes a rock band rock isn’t just technical skills. We got signed to Geffen after our first show with Pete. So, he was a difference-maker, I think.

You mentioned Vicky Hamilton; how did she become involved?

Bleacher: Vicky came into play very early on. Shortly after I joined the band, she came down to our rehearsal space near Watts. We had put together a short set with eight songs, and we would perform them for her in our little airtight rehearsal space in the hood. We shut the door and let it rip. By the end of the set, we opened the doors for some air, and she said she would manage us. We understood she was working on getting us signed to a label from the beginning. Without her, we would have had no other choice.

How did Salty Dog secure its deal with Geffen?

Bleacher: Geffen was the label we were hoping for. We had been shopped around with Scott in the band for a couple of years, and Polydor and Elektra said to Vicky, “We’d only be interested in signing Salty Dog without Scott.” Our first gig with Pete was at the Whiskey, and many labels were there. Polydor and Elektra bid on us, as they said, but we went with Geffen. While we were at Geffen, Elektra called Vicky to make another offer, so she got us a pretty good deal. I’d say the most memorable thing about the whole event was the free dinners at Spagos.

How important was Tom Zutaut to Salty early on?

Bleacher: The best thing about signing with Geffen was that Tom Zutaut knew we needed time to write more material. At the same time, he was having us record demos with different producers and engineers. We were finding the right combination as we came up with new songs. By the time we got to Wales, we were ready.

Most of our peers that got signed went into the studio immediately with what they had. Tom Zutaut gave us time and experience without pressuring us for our publishing, and I want to acknowledge him for that. Being able to work in the best studios with renowned producers and engineers sucking up knowledge was a fantastic experience for me. I learned a lot.

Which songs from Every Dog Has Its Day came together first?

Bleacher: Writing new songs took place largely with Pete and me after Pete got into the band. We lived across the street from each other, so we collaborated separately and brought it together for rehearsal. We rehearsed every night of the week at Cole for the year between when we got signed and left for England.

I remember that “Nothing but a Dream” was written while we were recording the album, and I didn’t do the vocals until we were back in L.A. mixing the album. We mixed Every Dog Has Its Day at Conway with Geoff Workman. The whole album took about three months from start to finish.

Do you remember recording “Come Along?”

Bleacher: “Come Along” came about from a spontaneous jam at the Kerry Doll Garage near Watts. Like I said before, Micheal started playing that riff at the beginning of the rehearsal, and Khurt jumped in. I had a 4-track recorder set up and pushed the record button. Most of the words were off the top of my head, and when I listened to it later, I put the arrangement together from the words.

You can tell it’s a spontaneous jam because it speeds up into oblivion at the end. How else would you end it? We were always adamant with every engineer and producer we worked with that we wanted a wide-open sound, which is not the gated and compressed sound of every Hollywood band at the time.

Did you expect “Come Along” to do as well as it initially did?

Bleacher: I dug “Come Along,” but I didn’t think the radio would play it. But that sassy rock groove proved to be a good sound. That song broke request records everywhere it was played, mainly by Z-Rock. KNAC was the first time I heard it was being primarily requested, and they played it in rotation for a while. It stood out as something different from everything else on the playlist.

Then why did Every Dog Has Its Day suffer from lackluster sales?

Bleacher: Every new band’s fate depended on the success of their first single then. “Come Along” was the single which was doing well on the AOR stations that picked it up. So, Geffen agreed to a video budget, and we shot it at the naval base in San Pedro. The main light blew out early on the set, filling it with shadows and looking bad. We finished it and submitted it to MTV, but they were not into bands like us then, and we were not expecting to be played.

The video department head told me at Geffen and our management that MTV agreed to put it in rotation at their Monday morning meeting, mainly because they thought it looked different. I realize there is a whole lot I don’t remember, but that meeting I do. A couple of days later, I met with Tom Zutaut and our management, and they said they didn’t want our first impression to be that video. Tom said he asked David Geffen to call them and pull it out of rotation. That meeting I remember as well. You would have to ask David Geffen whether it’s true.

Did Geffen fumble the ball?

Bleacher: I’d say so. Tom Zutaut went through the trouble of saying that he didn’t do that – pulling the video from rotation – on the inner sleeve of the second reissue of Every Dog Has Its Day. They keep selling the rights to labels to reissue Every Dog Has Its Day because they put it out of print while it was still selling. We had just returned from touring, and Geffen picked up our option for two more albums, but they put us out of print. Even today, an original copy of the initial Geffen release goes for $60 to $80 bucks. We sold around 400,000 copies originally, and if they didn’t put it out of print and pull the video… who knows?

What might have changed things?

Bleacher: The “Come Along” video was never played, but you can see it on YouTube. And we made another video for “Lonesome Fool,” but it was only played on Headbangers Ball several times. We were their best-selling new rock band of that year despite having no radio promotion or tour support. Geffen realized they had made a mistake and said they would give us “Top promotional billing for a month on our next record” when they picked up the option. We knew that meant success, but it was too late, and that’s when everything fell apart.

What prompted your departure from Salty Dog in 1992?

Bleacher: When Geffen guarantees top promotional billing for a month on your next record, it’s a bad idea to become a speedball junkie. I was the leader of the band and the primary songwriter. We were trying to write an album, and I was completely out of my mind. This went on for about a year, but I have very little recollection. The band rehearsed without me most of the time, and I became more isolated.

I was writing on my own, and so were they. The first time they handed me some hokey lyrics to sing, I knew it was over. We could have stayed relevant during the Seattle explosion but not without the right content. If the lyrics don’t move you, the music won’t either. I saw what Salty Dog was doing as “looking to get dropped.”

Our management was also the management for Genesis. They would hold on and see if I would go on and put together another band or die, and Geffen had the same feeling. If I pulled it together, they were going to hold on. Unfortunately, I continued to go downhill and left L.A. in a hurry.

What became of the dozen songs you demoed before leaving?

Bleacher: I remember some of the songs we worked on. I was in the vocal booth shooting speedballs while recording them at Frankie Avalon Jr’s house in the valley… needless to say, I can’t recall much. I sounded terrible, so I never listened to them after that. I never really listened to that demo they put out. I know I wrote the music to one of those songs, and Michael wrote it to another, but it says Pete wrote it to everything.

How did you ride out the decade, and how difficult was it to finally get clean?

Bleacher: After Salty Dog, I couldn’t stay clean very long. I moved to the U.K. in Manchester, where the music scene was popping, and declared myself a junkie. The U.K. gave me free Methadone, and I put together a band. Some of the songs we played were one’s I had written for Salty Dog, and I brought them to Manchester. The final version of the band was Gus Hart, the drummer from King of Kings, and me. We were doing only what we could at the time: a two-piece band. Once again, I was in the right place at the right time, but only briefly.

We couldn’t stay in England, so we set out on a stolen Yamaha 250 that I paid 60 quid for across the continent of Europe with a destination for the Island of Rhodes, where Gus had a house. We stopped by Rockfield Studios and saw the Salty Dog masters baking in the sun through the windows of the storage barn. Kingsley Ward looked at our bike, gave us 50 quid, and said, “This is the craziest shit I’ve ever seen.”

We stayed a while in Paris and Munich. When we got to Rhodes, I was out of Methadone and had to kick hard for two weeks. I rolled on the floor many times, but not like this, and that’s where I ended up getting clean. I wrote a lot of songs there after I kicked. Around Christmas time, I returned to Youngstown and ended up staying there. I had spoken to the members of Salty Dog here and there, but just as friends, and I finished up the decade happy and healthy.

Did any notable bands approach you regarding joining?

Bleacher: I did Jam with Ratt a few times, but only as a favor to someone. I would have never joined them then, but I got along with Robbin [Crosby]. When I walked in the door, he asked me, “Hey, man, do you have a job?” I said, “No,” and Robbin said, “Good man,” and we were fast friends. I guess it was hush-hush that the whole thing happened, and Steven Percy must have found out because he was standing in front of me at the reunion show.

Where do things stand with Salty Dog now? Are there prospects for the future?

Bleacher: Salty Dog was offered many independent record deals to get back together over the years. I had greatly hoped we could have at one time, but I guess we will have to be satisfied with leaving them wanting more. Michael just got over a serious bought with cancer. He’s in remission and doing okay, but I don’t believe he would be interested in playing. That ship has sailed.

An Interview With Jimmi Bleacher, Formerly Of Salty Dog

Feature Photo Licensed from Shutterstock/ Text Design by Brian Kachejian

Licensed from Shutterstock/ Text Design by Brian Kachejian

An Interview With Jimmi Bleacher, Formerly Of Salty Dog article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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  1. Avatar Jim Gould August 27, 2023

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