Adventures in Black-Rock with Jimi Hazel of 24-7 Spyz: part 2

By Oscar Jordan

Jimi Hazel lead guitarist of the eclectic rock band 24-7 Spyz

Jordan: Were you playing guitar at that time?

Hazel: No. Shortly after that I started nagging my parents for a guitar. I got a guitar for my seventh birthday. I was like, “Yea! I got a guitar! I’m gonna be Jimi Hendrix or Chuck Berry or Wes Montgomery!” Jimi Hendrx died two weeks later. It messed me up so bad. It really did. Years later I understood it. At seven years old you don’t know what depression is. Your goldfish died or something. I was broken. I felt like I lost a family member. I decided that was it. I needed to play and proceeded to teach myself to play.

Jordan: You’re self-taught?

Hazel: Yeah.

Jordan: No neighborhood guys to show you chords and stuff?

Hazel: No. Nobody showed me anything. There were some great players. Older guys would let me come into rehearsals to let me sit and watch them play, but nobody sat down to show me anything. I would just go home and listen to records and try to figure it out.

I’m so glad that that’s how it all worked out because by the time I got to be thirteen I was cuttin’ heads. Which was just funny. It must have been my calling. I use to play the guitar flat on my lap and really only use to use my thumb and my first finger.

Jordan: You were a blues man.

Hazel: (Laughing) Yeah. I was afraid to use my other three fingers. When I did, I wouldn’t use my pinky. I thought my pinky would break. By the time I was thirteen I was on fire. But then I decided to go and take lessons because the older guys would say, “Wow you’re really good. If you want to do session work you gotta learn how to read music.”

A couple of blocks down there was an old, old, old dude giving lessons. I went there, sat down and he goes, “Show me something.” I’m sure that in his mind he’s expecting me not to be able to do anything. I sat there and proceeded to play what I thought was a stellar piece of work. He goes, “Ok, that’s fine. We’re going to start here.” He pulls out Mel Bay Book One. “This chord is a C chord…” He’s showing me the ultimate, true three note basic everything. I’m doing what he showed me to do. What I wanted to know is, how come I can play this chord over here, invert it, and make it make sense to me. It feels better than up here where you want me to play it. He got mad. He said, “You’re here in my class, in my school. If you want me to teach you guitar then you have to learn it my way!” I said, “I don’t want to learn it your way. I like my way better.” Then I walked out.

Jordan: So you were basically asking him about inversions.

Hazel: I wanted him to tell me what I was doing. (Laughing) I wanted him to put a name to the chords that I was playing. I had picked up all this stuff from Curtis Mayfield, Wes Montgomery and Jimi Hendrix. I knew it all, I just didn’t know what it was called. I had a perfect ear. If I heard something I could play it back in five minutes. If you said, “Is that a F minor 7th with a raised whatever?” I’d say, “My pinky goes here.” (Laughing) Like that.

Jordan: So he was control freaking your guitar playing. (Laughing)

Hazel: He was older than Methuselah! I think he was a little irritated that I knew a plethora of chords and could play a gang of anything. “You do things my way! You want to learn, you learn like I teach you!”

Jordan: Guitar Nazi.

Hazel: Basically yes. “No guitar for you!” I said, “Thank you for your time. I’m gonna keep doing what I been doing because I have the greatest teachers in the world in my records.” I kept learning and that was it.

Jordan: Did that turn you off to teachers completely?

Hazel: Yes. I really became obsessed with the idea of not wanting to read music. I felt that it would actually limit my thoughts. I thought it would be somebody else’s restrictions placed upon what I could do, which wasn’t the case, but that’s what I thought at thirteen. I learned off records and never picked up a book again.

Jordan: Tell me about those early records.

Hazel: The first record that I became enamored with was “The Horse” by Cliff Nobles & Company. The A side was called “Love is Alright” but some disc jockey wound up playing “The Horse” and the next thing you know it took off. That instrumental became the biggest thing on the planet. When I was a kid the rhythm guitar work just took me out. Years later I found out that was Norman Harris who wound up playing guitar on that. The first things that really made me want to play was an old Jerry Butler song called “It’s Too Late.” I’m not sure if it was Curtis Mayfield, but the guitar work on that was just impeccable. This is me hearing music at four and five but all these things made me want to listen to stuff.

Jordan: It’s sad that we don’t hear a lot of that style today unless it’s some abbreviated Red Hot Chili Peppers guitar lick.

Hazel: What’s even sadder is that when you hear it placed back into black music, it’s not even about a guitar player. It’s a sample. It’s almost the karaoke staple of neo-soul music.

Jordan: Exactly. Two bar loops that go around and around.

Hazel: Yeah. You hear these little trills. No progression. Where’s the movement? That guitar style was the basis of everything. That and Wes Montgomery. I’d go spend part of my summers with my grandparents. My grandfather turned me on to Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker and Charlie Parker. I was gonna wind up playin’ something!

Jordan: How does someone all alone with no help figure out something like “Four on Six?’

Hazel: I fought with it. I wrestled with it. The funny thing is, the first Wes Montgomery song I tried to play was “Little Child.” I’d play (singings opening melody)…when it got into the chords I’d sit back and let him play. (Laughing) Yeah, take it Wes! I thought Wes was part of the family at some point. There were certain things that came on the turntable when Friday night hit. You were guaranteed to hear some Wes Montgomery and Jimmy Smith. You always heard something good. I always tried to play anything and everything.

Jordan: There’s an entire lineage of great guitar with Charlie Christian, T-Bone, B.B. King and moving into the modern players. Is that were you lived for a while?

Hazel: Summer time was all about the blues and the rest of the year was all about R&B and jazz. The rock stuff was always there too. Between Jimi Hendrix and Sly & The Family Stone that was all I needed. The next thing that hit me hard was Grand Funk Railroad and The Nazz. As much as all the good black stuff there was, there was so much great white stuff. That was the beautiful thing about what radio stations were like when I was a kid. You turned on your radio and it didn’t matter. You heard anything and everything across the board. I heard good music by everybody. I was a Todd Rundgren freak for years, from The Nazz on. Grand Funk to me was like the white Band of Gypsys. (Laughing)

To be continued…

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