Adventures in Black-Rock with Jimi Hazel of 24-7 Spyz: part 3

By Oscar Jordan

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

Jordan: When did you get into the hard stuff?

Hazel: Me and a core group of guys that I grew up with just loved music. Emerson Lake & Palmer, Rush, you name it. As much as we loved The Commodores, Earth Wind & Fire and Rufus, it was prog-rock. We would listen to Farewell to Kings by Rush or anything and everything. The heavy stuff was always there. We also liked heavy stuff in an R&B vein and the best thing that could have happened at that point was Funkadelic.

The real life changer was Maggot Brain. Eddie Hazel…forget it. I always say that when Hendrix died he did something really wonderful that he doesn’t get credit for. When 24-7 Spyz came our right after Living Colour a year later, everybody made such a big deal about black bands rocking out. I remember I told one guy, “You don’t understand what it was like growing up. For me when Hendrix died, Hendrix changed the game. For at least two years he had turned on every white person on the planet.

Some of the brothers who were advanced enough were getting turned on as well. By the time he leaves us every guitar player on the planet has a wah-wah pedal and a fuzz pedal. R&B bands are all hippied out now. What it made was that everybody had to have a decent if not a great guitar player. There were a whole bunch of bands who filled the void. The first band that turned me on after him was Mother Night. Come to find out years later, that was a seventeen year old Eddie Martinez. From there it went to The Isley Brothers. Here we go. Mandrill, New Birth… I’m still checking all the guitar players out because for any band that didn’t have a guitar player who played “Rock,” they had a guitar player that held it down so beautifully. That was New Birth. It wasn’t about distortion. It was about Curtis Mayfield, country and beautiful chords. On the other end Ernie Isley. Ernie Isley became the savior. Then Eddie Hazel. So I kept finding what I like to call replacement fathers.

Jordan: Why are some white people shocked that black people can rock out?

Hazel: I think it’s the same thing where people believe Elvis is the king. It’s like racism. You’re not born a racist. You’re taught racism. If you’re taught, “blacks do this and whites do this,” if you’re surrounded by stupidity, it becomes ingrained in your mental state. When it comes down to us, I always laugh because I get guys that say, “Dude, you got the heaviest sound on the planet!” Naw man, not even close. What I learned a long time ago was that heaviness wasn’t necessisarily relegated to distortion. Heaviness isn’t where you tune your guitar or how much distortion. Heaviness is the feeling you put into what you’re playing, how much conviction. I could tune up to standard E and be as heavy as the guy who has a seven string.

The distortion aspect use to make me laugh. I remember when I was a kid. The first thing I couldn’t wait to get was my first electronic gear. I got a wah-wah pedal, a Big Muff and a Small Stone Face Shifter. I was like, “I’m set! (Laughing) I’m so set!” But even now I laugh because guys say, “Dude, your sound is so big!”

Jordan: Take me back to the early days of 24-7 Spyz.

Hazel: Spyz first started because we didn’t like what we were hearing on the radio. Black music had become a joke. Black music became rooted in Poly 61’s, Korg synthesizers and bad drum machines. The poor guitar players got put through so much processing that he could only play little chicken pickin’ notes but it wasn’t about the guitar at all. It wasn’t even about real instrumentation. This just became accepted. You’d watch all your favorite bands who had twelve people for the first five albums. By album six there’s three guys and ten dancers who don’t sing and don’t play. All of a sudden the music is about, “Boy they use to have a great drummer. Where did he go?” “Oh, he left.” “Oh.” What was being said in the music was just as hollow as the music itself. I got tired of, “Oh mama, oh baby. Oooo.” The 80’s should have been a lot about protest but everybody was into the me, me, me gratification. Whatever makes you feel good. The music reflected it and the music sucked.

Jordan: There were a few shallow tunes back then. (Laughing)

Hazel: I called it cocaine music because you had to be coked up to like that shit. If you were sober, you’d be like, “This is hurting my ears!” Spyz started as a revolt against what was the norm at the time. The best thing that could have happened at that point was The Time and Prince. The whole Minneapolis thing. I didn’t even care so much about the stupid drum machine or the over bearing synth. At least somebody is playing a damn guitar! I was just glad to see that.

Jordan: You guys always had interesting lyrics about society, relationships and stuff that mattered.

Hazel: I always thought about the songs that I liked. Nine times out of ten the stuff that I liked was rooted in reality. An an anal Virgo, I can’t write about dungeons and castles. I can’t write about shit I don’t know about. It’s real cool to read a book and read about slaying dragons but I’m not going to write a song about it because I can’t relate to it. People can always relate to love. Love will never go out of style. There are so many variations on love. You can write a whole album about love and it’ll never be the same song twice lyrically. There’s so many different degrees of love.

Jordan: And different stages…

Hazel: There ya’ go. That’s an opus in itself.

To be continued…

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