Local Band To Celebrate Milestone At Rams Head On June 8
To the MTV generation, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack is known as the eccentric band that performed in a barn while feathers rained into the crowd, the band whose lead singer is a white guy with dreads. Frontman James Davies, known as Jimi HaHa, no longer has the dreads, but his act is also attracting fans of a new generation enthralled by the band’s energy onstage.
Now celebrating its 25-year anniversary, the Annapolis band has withstood the volatility of the music industry and several lineup changes.
“At our first band practice, I told all of the guys we were going to get signed,” Davies said. “They laughed at me. I did everything in my power to make that happen. I started our record label, Fowl Records, booked our shows, created a large line of merchandise and pushed in every direction outward. I honestly didn't think I would turn 29, let alone turn 50.”
With its mix of rock, funk, punk and reggae, Jimmie’s Chicken Shack was anything but orthodox or mainstream, but the musicians found their music videos on hundreds of TV screens after their debut “Pushing the Salmanilla Envelope” in 1997 and follow-up “Bring Your Own Stereo” in 1999. Audiences were captivated by songs like “Do Right” and “High.”
Guitarist Dave Dowling was the first replacement member, joining Jimmie’s Chicken Shack in 1997 and subsequently touring for two years before he “got the calling to have kids.”
“It was one of the top five moments of my life,” Dowling said of being in Jimmie’s Chicken Shack. “It was a chance to quit my bartending job and see the world. I auditioned on a Wednesday and was on tour by Saturday.”
Jimmie’s Chicken Shack lost guitarist Jim McDonough and percussionist and founding member Jim Chaney after its debut record. Bassist Che' Lemon, drummer Mike Sipple and Dowling left the band after “Bring Your Own Stereo.” Two albums came years later — “Re.present” in 2004 and “Fail on Cue” in 2008. The current band is Davies, Jerome Maffeo on drums, Island Styles on guitar and Christian Valiente on bass.
Styles took over for his friend, guitarist Matt Jones, in 2010. “I always admired the music and positive vibe the band created,” Styles said. “It's been a blast!”
While fans may consider the “Bring Your Own Stereo” era the pinnacle of the band’s success, Davies feels that it’s all been a highlight.
“Our first band practice when we were playing a song and the dropped ceiling fell in on us because we were so freakin' loud,” he said. “We ended up naming that song ‘When the Roof Caves In.’ Playing our first show. Making a record within the first six months. Selling 25,000 CDs on our own label. Opening for national bands from every genre before we were signed. Getting signed after only being a band for three years. Making every record we have made. Every person I have seen singing lyrics like they wrote them. Every show. Every band member. Every nap on every puke couch in every stank dressing room. They are all highlights.”
Some other memories stand out. One surreal moment was lounging in The Rainbow Room on Sunset Boulevard in Los Angeles and hanging out with R.E.M. lead singer Michael Stipe.
Another memorable encounter was meeting Willie Nelson and having him sign Davies’ mom’s guitar. Davies would ask musicians he respected to sign the acoustic guitar, which was featured in the “Do Right” music video. About a year later, he and Noel White — his friend and a drummer for Davies’ other bands, Jarflys and Mend The Hollow — scored an invitation to board Nelson’s bus, where they played him their “Anonymous” CD.
Lastly, he recalled partying with Guns ‘N’ Roses guitarist Slash in a cabana in Cabo as the two played songs, trading turns on Davies’ mom’s guitar.
Dowling also cited the Slash encounter as a favorite moment, as was HFStival, the annual rock concert held at venues in Virginia, Maryland and Washington, D.C.
“Playing in front of 40,000 and 50,000 people is something I never anticipated in my life,” Dowling said. “Also, I enjoyed going to local radio stations with Jimi. We would talk and play our acoustic guitars. At night we would meet the people who would listen to us on the radio and it was the coolest thing.”
The band members have fond memories from the last 25 years, as do the people who offered them gigs. Kris Stevens, a talent buyer with Rams Head Promotions from 1998 to present, has booked the band many times.
“Rams Head’s love for Jimmie’s Chicken Shack goes all the way back to when we listened to their ‘garage’ tapes in our prep kitchen!” Stevens said. “We’ve always had a soft spot for Jimi and his bandmates from when they were Rams Head employees early on. The fact that their music and lyrics are irresistible and always create good times makes booking them over and over a no-brainer!”
Over the last 25 years, much has changed but the vision has not. Davies still wants every record and every song to sound different than its predecessors.
“Some people work at writing songs. They try to write all the time,” he said. “It's like working in an orchard and constantly picking fruit and then picking the most desirable fruit in hundreds of baskets. I prefer to let songs write themselves.”
As for the future, the band is working on new ideas in the studio, and true to Davies’ nature, there’s no timetable. “We have no idea when we will record any of the ideas or when they will be released, but they will definitely write themselves and we will definitely record them,” he said.
The current lineup of Jimmie’s Chicken Shack will bring its anniversary tour to Rams Head On Stage on June 8. Doors open at 8:00pm and the show starts at 9:00pm. More details are available at www.ramsheadonstage.com.
Find “Jimmie’s Chicken Shack” on Facebook and Davies’ solo project, Mend The Hollow, at www.mendthehollow.bandcamp.com.
“For me, the vision 25 years ago was: Play everywhere, shed skin, bleed, scream and succeed,” Davies said. “Now my vision is: Play and enjoy.