Essentially locked in his Los Angeles studio for six years producing records and only coming out to eat, coming to Buenos Aires to play some shows gave guitarist Jimmy Rip a new lease of life. And by the third visit in 2008, he was adamant that he wouldn’t be making the return again.
New York City transplant Jimmy says: “The first time I was here I was invited by a well-known rockstar, Juanse from Ratones Paranoicos, in 1997. That was because of all the work I had done with Mick Jagger and the other guys from the Rolling Stones, and Juanse, like the rest of Argentina, is a Stones nut.
“I had just finished a solo record with Mick and Juanse knew who I was, so he sent word with another musician inviting me to come down to the presentation of his new record and we played together.
“It was a real blur for a lot of reasons – I don’t remember where the hotel was, there were a lot of rehearsals and some TV shows – and we played at a theatre on Cabildo that’s no longer there. I’ve asked 10 people and they all tell me a different a name and they all remember it a different way! I think Juanse knows but every time I ask him, I forget!”
This initial insertion into BA’s music scene put Jimmy in contact with a lot of local heroes, musicians he admits to having never heard of originally but is thrilled to know now.
He adds: “A lot of Argentine rock ‘n roll legends were at that show, such as Pappo, who played the encore song with us. At the time I didn’t know who he was but of course now I know everything about him, and I’m happy I got to play with Pappo even though I didn’t know it was him at the time! We smiled and had a good time playing together. I wish he was still around. And a lot of other guys were there, such as Charly García, who has since become a friend of mine.
“Things like that have happened a lot to me – I get invited here or there to play on a record, or to do a small tour, plus all the people I’ve toured with over the last – almost – 40 years means I’ve ended up in some pretty strange places! And Buenos Aires was another one of those.”
BACK IN BA
Skip a decade, and Argentina suddenly showed up on Jimmy’s radar again in 2008, but via a different contact.
He says: “A guy started to write me on Facebook, wanting to book artists to play some shows and asked if I was interested. At the time I was living a life in Los Angeles that wasn’t very usual to me. I’d just finished producing a Jerry Lee Lewis record, I owned my home in Beverly Hills, had a car, a few motorcycles and a lot of guitars, but I was kind of bored. So I said ‘sure, let’s take a ride’. I came for about three weeks and really had a lot of fun. I was very impressed with the passion people still have for rock ‘n roll here, and made a lot of friends right away, good friends I still have today.
“Then by coincidence I was home for a week when Slim Jim Phantom from The Stray Cats called me as he had a tour coming up playing rockabilly in Brazil and Argentina. It was the time of swine flu and every theatre and club was shut, so they cancelled the shows. But I came back anyway and stayed for a few more weeks, played some clubs and reconnected with Juanse, who was about to play a big show at Luna Park. And I remember being on the plane, going back to California, thinking ‘why am I even leaving?’ I was having so much fun here, playing live and especially in front of people who knew and appreciated my history. And I said to myself ‘I’m not going to go then come back again.’ So I packed up my house, leased it, I came back and lived in tourist apartments for three months until I found the place you just rang the bell at in Las Cañitas. I’ve been there four and a half years.”
And although he is now married to an Argentine, she wasn’t the motivator for his decision – it was Buenos Aires.
Jimmy says: “Everyone says it must have been a girl but to me at that moment, 100 percent of the motivation was the place that knew who I was and was happy to see me and come to a show – I had really missed that. For the last six years I was in California, I was in the recording studio that was in my house, so I was spending a lot of time alone, pushing buttons. Los Angeles is pretty sleepy anyway and sometimes the only person I’d speak to in a day would be the person at the diner I’d get lunch at. Otherwise I’d be working 10 or 12 hours a day.
“That first year I was here, I was out every night. If there was a stage with an amp and a band, I’d be jumping up and playing as it was so exciting and so much fun! I was having a blast.
“To come here, where everything was so alive and everyone wants to talk about music and every kid has a guitar or a band – I thought, ‘this is how it’s supposed to be.’ Mentally it was easy to flick the switch to come, physically it was tremendously hard to do. And that’s only just become easier as I got married last year so lots of the legal things are now much easier.”
CHANGE OF PACE
While playing shows and producing records still form the core of Jimmy’s professional life, he has managed to make sufficient changes from his LA lifestyle. An average day starts, naturally enough, with him waking up. “That’s always the big hope, that I’ll wake up! And happily all my days are different. I still travel a bit as I play in band called Television and the band has been playing a lot all over the world. And I’m lucky enough to have been producing some great bands here – the studio I use is out in General Rodríguez so I drive out there a lot. I also have a studio at my house so sometimes I’m in there but thankfully not as much as I was in California. I purposely made it not as a good a studio so I had to leave the house to work!
“I also have a band here, Jimmy Rip & The Trip, which is a trio with two women, so we played quite a bit when our record came out two years ago and we’ll do so again when the second record comes out at the start of the summer.
“I live in a great neighbourhood – I love Las Cañitas. I grew up in Greenwich Village and the scale and atmosphere reminds me very much of the West Village. I’m very happy to jump on my bicycle and go to lunch. I do everything myself and the people in the store know me as well as anyone else – ‘oh it’s the guy in the hat and the money sticking out.’ Everybody knows me at this point. Every day is different. Thank God.”
Asked whether he spoke any Spanish before making a permanent move, Jimmy quips: “Sí. That was it! It’s still really bad. It’s something I think about all the time and everyone I know is on my case about it. And I know they’re right! It is 1,000 percent better than it was four years ago. I can’t really having any meaningful conversations, but I can get food, be polite and have okay conversations with taxi cab drivers. And as a former New York City cab driver, if you can do that then you’re doing okay! Everyone is very kind about trying to speak English with me – and I’m very thankful when they do.
“The first year I tried to always have someone with me but now I go to government offices, I got my DNI! I do force myself and sometimes it’s a disaster but it kicks my butt to learn some more.
“Everyone’s sick of hearing me say it but maybe I should go and two months at a fast-track school. My wife speaks great English and she’s getting better every day!”
Buenos Aires Herald, July 19, 2014