A Partial Story of Jimmy Luxury and the Tommy Rome Orchestra
(this one's about six pages long, so sit back, relax and soak up the facts)
"Jimmy how do you say break-dance in Spanish?"
Its tough wearing a suit in the heat of Oaxaca Mexico even
if it is a nice linen one tailored for Jimmy and Tommy.
"Hey guys I love your new songs, its just what we been looking for."
says DJ Billy who spins in Mexico, Chile, Peru and Brasil.
"There ain't nobody doing this shit. This is exactly what we been
looking for, something that plays with the borders. That is so fucking
happy it will ass-whoop you out of your depressions.
A grimy North Beach alley, where clotheslines sag
with tattered clothes, torn shirts and a pair of star-spangled
tights. Spilling down a flight of cement stairs are three homeless
men in once-expensive suits belting "I Love Life." Cue the dancing
twins in silver body suits, wearing garbage pail lids for hats, roll
in Jimmy and this drabby scene seems to come fully alive.
Cut to Dempsey's barber shop in the Mission, where black and
white photos hang on the walls and dusty Playboy magazines
rest on a table. Three barbers in matching jackets attend to a
nattily-dressed young man with the sharp blue-eyed, flat-nosed
features of a second-rate Irish pugilist --. Over a phat,
jubilant groove, the young man raps, "I put my pants on
the same way as you, of course/ my pants are just more expensive
That's the scene of a video shoot for Jimmy Luxury and
the Tommy Rome orchestra, a raucous hip hop band based out
of Philadelphia, PA and sunny San Francisco. Jimmy, real name
James Kelleher, is an amped up twenty-five-year-old transplant from
Brockton, Massachusetts who spent his first four years in San Francisco
getting fired from a string of bar-backing and floor-mopping jobs
in Mission neighborhood bars. Not unlike the opening of his first
video for Abacaxi records, Jimmy's life made a quick cut from rags to
swing-aesthetic-steeped riches this year, when a demo CD that cost
fifty dollars to record became the subject of a bidding war between
major labels Sony, Island, Warner, Priority and Virgin records.
And it wasn't but a few months later when the band blew up big.
With three songs featured in the movie "Me Myself and Irene", a
song featured on the Go movie soundtrack CD, and three more
songs slated for movies later in 2001, My True Love is (Hip Hop),
their upcoming April 2nd release, has left Jimm y in the rare position of having
virtually everyone who ever kicked him off their couch after two
weeks showing up to try and mug in his videos.
The sudden change was a result of Kelleher meeting Tommy Rome --
real name, James D'Angelo. (Regarding the moniker, Tommy says "I
was going to be Tommy Palermo, but that's my uncle's real name and I didn't
wanna ride in on his thang, ya know! But D'Angelo already is using my real
name and there's a bunch of bands and artists using James, so I had to look around.")
Jimmy on stage December 2001 in Italy
A producer and rapper in Philly-based hip-hop band The Goats, D'Angelo
discovered Kelleher pouring beers at his neighborhood haunt, the
Shotwell 59, two years ago. He recognized in Jimmy -- who has
always been more than willing to drop a freestyle -- a raw,
original talent that warranted cultivation in the studio. The
band started with a dozen rappers, but no one compared to Jimmy.
He wrote five of the songs in an afternoon. The raps were better,
funnier and more on target than everyone else had done.
"He's a genius." Says Tommy Rome.
But despite his background in hip-hop, D'Angelo's primary
interest has long been in the fifties and sixties pop-jazz of his parents and the
psycho pulsing latin rhythms that he has found travelling .
"Jimmy's always been a huge hip-hop fan," he says. "I've always been a big
fan of Tito Puente and Mongo Santamaria. I still listen to that stuff all
the time, even the other stuff like Poncho Negra, Billie Holiday and
"She's on [the album]," explains D'Angelo. "Little white girl.
They all had pipes back then. It sort of combines to be
something entirely different, I guess."
The album also highlights two living female Divas. Brett
"Songbird" Abramson from San Francisco and Micaela Saxer from
Perugia Italy. "Most of what people think is Billie Holiday
on the album is actually Brett. And Micaela has been scaring up
the ghosts of Fellini and Nino Rota. We've been told that
both of these women should by right have record
contracts of their own. They're fucking amazing"
Still, the vision
for the album, came about by accident, according to D'Angelo. "I
went to sample some other shit, and I threw in a Tito Puente by
accident, and I was like, what the fuck is this?" It was like
dipping his chocolate into South America's peanut butter; he called
Kelleher right away. "I put a drum beat over it, and that night we
decided to go out and do a photo session. So we did our first
photo session before we did a song."
The photos from that session feature Kelleher and D'Angelo
dressed to the nines and loitering outside the Hungry I in North
Beach. "That's as close as we get to Las Vegas or Tijuana Mexico," says D'Angelo,
laughing. Not-so-bright lights, not-so-big city. But Jimmy was
always the smallest guy in the biggest high school, so we were
used to it.
The subsequent demo CD soon slipped into heavy rotation in a
number of Mission neighborhood bar jukeboxes, as well as into the
hands of record executives nationwide. The timing was impeccable.
"I think it's safe to say we probably wouldn't have done this
album anywhere but San Francisco," says D'Angelo. "I think the
jazz scene the latin culture and the hip hop scene here definitely encouraged us.
For us our mix of sounds is nothing special. Its what we see every day.
Musically, A Night in the Arms of... doesn't play into the
flavor-of-the-month concept. The samples on the album, despite most
of them being over forty years old, sound surprisingly fresh.
Beneath and between the swinging latin grooves, an outrageous array of
layered scratches, found sounds, and hip-hop and funk vocal samples
interweave. The album does more to serve hip-hop heads a lesson
about frontiersmanship than to offer suburbanites a comfortable
entrance into the Luxury world of funk and hip hop.
The album also features some of the toughest players in San
Francisco. Taylor "Juggy" Cutcomb on piano, Todd Grady on horn,
Erik "Smooth Punch" and Phil "the Jeweler" on bass and drums.
Even though it was recorded in a wharehouse on digital equipment,
the feeling is authentic vintage.
Kelleher's own rapping is deep and hilarious in parts, rich with
stories and setting, and always dripping with charm. Sample lyric:
"You finally punch out and take off your apron/ Like a day off in
hell when the devil's on vacation/ Martini shaker shaking like a
rattlesnake's tail/ I got twenty to bet, fifty for a room and
drinks, and a hundred for bail.../ My bookmaker's in Florida and my
thumbreaker's in jail."
For the few samples they have, legalese can render reality
rather strange. D'Angelo recalls the first time he saw his name
credited for the Jimmy Luxury project, for the song "Cha Cha Cha"
on the Go soundtrack. "For the writers of the main groove,
it says James D'Angelo -- my real name -- James Kelleher -- his
real name -- and four people who are dead, who we've never met. And
they probably didn't even write the groove. Back in the day,
writership was [attributed to] the person who wrote the melody.
They didn't even give any credit to grooves."
It's all there: more pinky rings, fedoras, horse tracks, cha cha chas and
perfumed dames than you could inhale watching an A&E movie
marathon. In fact, Kelleher plunged so deep into his International
persona for the project that at times it became difficult for his
friends to distinguish the artist from the product. "Jimmy Luxury
is just in me," he says. "It took a little pushing: you watch a
few movies, you do a little research. [But] it was easy. It was
very natural for me."
As D'Angelo puts it: "Like DeNiro was born to play in Mean
Streets, Jimmy was born to do this."
Tommy Rome in New Jersey 2002
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