At the dawn of the ‘80s, Jimmy Rip was on the short list of people to call if you needed a guitar player in the New York area.

One particular week in 1980, he had a series of auditions for three different gigs. The first was a chance to work with Kid Creole & the Coconuts. Also on deck was the possibility of a gig with Television’s Tom Verlaine. Finally, he was up for the slot that he really wanted: playing guitar with Peter Frampton.

He didn’t get the Frampton gig but scored the other two jobs. He began working with Verlaine, an association that's endured for four decades and ended up with him replacing original Television guitarist Richard Lloyd in the band in 2007.

The Kid Creole & the Coconuts gig was as adventurous as the band’s name suggests. “It was like running away with the circus,” Rip tells UCR. “But man, was it fun. It was insanity. Low-budget disasters and crazy gossip, because there were 14 people onstage.”

Watch Kid Creole & the Coconuts Perform Live

Watching videos of the group now, Rip admits he has no idea how they pulled it all off.

"[Even with] all of those people onstage, the shows were as tight as any James Brown show ever was,” he remembers. “It was great. We would play for two and a half hours and never stop. Never. Every song was segued, like a James Brown show. It was really something. That was an amazing experience.”

In 1984, Rip signed on for a part in a music video that would change the course of his future as a musician. He agreed to perform as the guitar player in Bette Midler’s band for the video she was filming for her version of “Beast of Burden,” which also included Mick Jagger.

He and the Rolling Stones singer hit it off.

“The first day, just standing in line for lunch at the catering, Mick wound up behind me and I just started talking to him. Everyone was kind of deathly afraid to even speak to him, and I’ve never been afraid to talk to anybody,” he laughs. “I just started talking to him, and we hit it off instantly. I think [the shoot] was two or three days. We wound up back there shooting at the Peppermint Lounge in New York. For the whole time, if there was a break, we wound up sitting in the corner, just laughing and telling jokes.”

Watch Bette Midler's 'Beast of Burden' Video

Rip and Jagger got back together in 1986 when the singer was working on his second solo album, Primitive Cool. After playing on some of the record's later sessions, Rip hit the road with Jagger for tour dates in Japan and Australia.

In the midst of that road work, they began working on songs for what would eventually become Jagger’s 1993 solo LP Wandering Spirit.

His association with Jagger eventually paved the way for Rip to relocate to Buenos Aires, where he’s been now for more than a decade. He raves about the area, noting it's a musical mecca for rock fans.

“Argentina is the most rock 'n' roll country left on the planet," he says. "[Even] if they don’t speak another word of English, they can sing every word to every Ramones song and every Rolling Stones song, every Beatles song. Pronounced perfectly. They might not speak any other English, but they know that. You walk into the grocery store and they’re not playing light music. They’re playing real rock 'n' roll, walking around shopping.

"Every kid still has a guitar over his shoulder. They’re still learning how to play, which is so rare anymore in the world. There’s still real arguments over [Jimmy] Page, [Jeff] Beck or [Jimi] Hendrix. Genuine arguments. It’s a rock 'n' roll heaven. ... If Mick or Keith [Richards] wanted to be president here tomorrow, they would throw the guy they have out and they’d be in.”

Listen to Jimmy Rip & the Trip's 'The Blues Progression'

“The Blues Progression,” taken from Rip's latest album, Muy Crudo, highlights his lifetime rock 'n' roll journey: “I can’t put the damn thing down / I spend my whole damn life / drifting from town to town/ I can’t put the damn thing down / This ol’ sad song / Got me playin’ all night long.” Rip's well- worn vocals reflect the miles he's burned across over decades.

The songs on Muy Crudo were conceived as Rip was working through his feelings as he wrapped up a divorce. “I don’t recommend it as an inspiration source, but it helps,” he laughs. “I make the joke that I wrote the record to get back some of the money that I lost in the divorce.”

Whatever the reason, from the moment he tears into opener “I Come to Rock the Place,” it sounds like Rip is in a good musical space these days. It's technically a blues record that explores the genre's many shades. Some of the album's inspiration came from working on a Jerry Lee Lewis record that was never finished. Rip worked with the legend on 2006’s Last Man Standing and they regrouped for a follow-up.

“It was supposed to be a blues record," he says. "That was the original concept. I started sending him some obscure Muddy Waters things and stuff for him to listen to. ... I sat down with him one night after the first session and I said, 'Jerry, these aren’t really what people would think of as blues songs.' He looked at me and he said, 'Killer, anything I do is in a bluesy fashion.' I had no argument with that. It’s kind of that philosophy that I really took to heart."

Muy Crudo uncovers the blues in all its forms. “There’s country songs that are blues songs," Rip says. "It’s just telling a story - like Son House said, the blues is about a man and a woman and sometimes the money! If you’re telling those stories and you’re telling them in a really honest way that people can relate to, you’re singing and playing the blues.”

 

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