IM 001: Playing Guitar for the Love and the Money Followed | Jim Kimo West
September 5th, 2017
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IM 007: An Actor's Spiritual Path to Success and Happiness | Linus Roache
October 3rd, 2017
IM 001: Playing Guitar for the Love and the Money Followed | Jim Kimo West
September 5th, 2017
Andy Wang: [00:00:00] Today on Inspired Money.
Jim Kimo West: [0:00:02.6] You know, it is a real basic rule, I think. If you do what you love, and you really have your heart in it, you just really love doing it, you know, unless it's like robbing banks or something like that. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [0:00:16.5] [laughter] You’ve got to be careful what you love. Hopefully, you love something legal. [laughter]
Jim Kimo West: [0:00:18.9] [laughter] Yes, yes, right. Yeah, right!
Andy Wang: [0:00:23.8] This is Episode 1 with longtime guitarist for Weird Al Yankovic, Jim Kimo West. [background music] Welcome to Inspired Money. My name is Andy Wang, a Managing Partner at Runnymede Capital Management. Each week we bring you an interesting person to help you get inspired, shift your perspectives on money and achieve incredible things. From making it to giving it away, Inspired Money means making a difference, creating something bigger than oneself and maybe, just maybe, making the world a better place. Thank you for joining me.
Andy Wang: [00:01:04] Today, I'm speaking with guitarist Jim Kimo West. Now, I grew up watching “Late Night with David Letterman” in the early 90s. I've always had this understanding that the best musicians were those like “Paul Shaffer & The World's Most Dangerous Band” because they could perform at the highest level with any guest covering all genres. It's in the same light that I have such high regard for Kimo. He's great at what he does and he plays from the heart. If you don't know him, he's played alongside the king of parody Weird Al Yankovic for over 35 years. He can pull off an Eddie Van Halen guitar solo with ease as heard in “Eat It” then followed by a spot on Green Day guitar tone as heard in “Canadian Idiot.” If that weren't enough, he's just as proficient covering the Backstreet Boys, Lady Gaga and Don McLean. I've even seen him rap in the style of Chamillionaire on “The Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” As a guitarist myself, I'm kind of a sucker for listening to creatives talk about their work, partially, because it's so different from my desk job. I also appreciate sitting down with Kimo because of his very unique career path to success. His band is truly like no other. His band has sold more than 12 million albums, recorded more than 150 parody and original songs and they've performed more than 1,000 live shows around the world. Kimo is also a prolific and respected Hawaiian slack key guitarist. If you've seen the Oscar winning film, “The Descendants,” you've experienced this great acoustic guitar tradition. He's a two-time winner of the L.A. Treasures Award. In this interview, we talk about money, music, taking risks and what motivates him to be the best musician he can be. Now, let's get inspired with Jim Kimo West. [background music]
Andy Wang: [00:03:05] Well, Kimo, thank you for being on the show. Let's jump right in. What's your earliest childhood memory of money?
Jim Kimo West: [00:03:14] Well, you know, what I do remember when I was a little kid, whenever my grandmother would come to visit and this would really delight myself and my younger brother, she would collect a lot of change, you know, like, just loose change. Like, saving quarters, nickels and dimes. And she would save it all and she would come and just bring it in a little purse or something. Just dump this big pile of coins out in front of us. We would just go nuts. OMG! We’d count it all out and of course, it was good for learning math. We’d count it all out and divide it, you know. So, it was like the most thrilling thing, you know. Just all of a sudden, oh my God! Look at all that money! [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:03:53] Well, yeah. It was in a tangible form since… it's all credit cards and electronic these days.
Jim Kimo West: [00:03:59] Right, exactly. So, it was quite a thrill. I remember our eyes would just light up and we're, oh my God! We have this big pile of coins to divvy up. And after that I think it was probably when I actually first started earning money which was probably as a kid. I think I was mowing lawns for you know, $3 or something and I was… I think I might have done a little babysitting too, when I was a teenager, but you know, those are my first actual jobs to actually making money.
Andy Wang: [00:04:38] When did you start playing guitar? Is there a story behind that?
Jim Kimo West: [00:04:43] Well, yeah there is more or less. My older brother, I have a brother who's 10 years older than me and he was a big folkie. He wasn't a professional musician, but he loved folk music and I used to see him play guitar. He had a guitar, and he’d play songs, and sing songs, and he was gone for a while. I remember, and he was in school and his guitar was in the closet and I think it had like, two strings on it. I think I was about 12 years old and of course this was a time when there was a lot of rock n’ roll on the radio and everything, and the Beatles, and things like that. And I remember picking that guitar up. It had like, two strings on it. Just really getting interested in this guitar and then when he came home he saw I was interested in the guitar so, he went out and bought a new set of strings and he bought me a little book and a capo. I remember there was a capo. [laughter] He bought a book, and a capo, and a new set of strings and you know, and I was just completely just absorbed by music from that point on. It was just like, I couldn't get enough. And I immediately went to that book and learned everything in the book and started even writing my own songs. I was just… that was it. I was just guitar, guitar all the time. I was locked in my room playing guitar. I'm self-taught so I never took any lessons from anybody, but I would listen to records and of course, any chance I would get to see, of course, this was before YouTube and stuff like that. Since I really didn't know any guitar players, any time there’d be somebody on TV like a great guitar player on TV, I’d just be glued to the TV just trying to see what they were doing. So, that's kind of how I started. And I started off on acoustic and once I had that guitar in my hands, it was pretty much all over. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:06:44] Yeah, that's really cool. It's nice that you had an older brother who fostered that interest.
Jim Kimo West: [00:06:49] Yeah, yeah, exactly.
Andy Wang: [0:06:51.1] He gave you that capo so that you could play in any key. [laughter]
Jim Kimo West: [0:06:55.2] Right. That’s right. That was really sweet. He showed me a few chords and he got me the book and I was off to a good start.
Andy Wang: [00:07:06] Now, was that in Florida?
Jim Kimo West: [00:07:09] Yes. I grew up in Florida. I was born in Canada and my family moved to Florida when I was quite young. I was like, nine years old and I was probably around 12 when I picked the guitar. It’s a common story, too. A lot of people I know started playing music right around that age. By time I was 16, I actually started to play some gigs actually. So, the first time I made money playing music was, I think, I was 16 years old and I was playing at this Strawberry Festival in Plant City, Florida with this band. And we had this band. It was a… I think it was a three-piece band with three singers and we, basically, rehearsed for this one gig and played this show and it was like a little grandstand of people and I think I remember I made $40 and I was like, wow! This is amazing. I can play music, have fun, and make money, too. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:08:09] After playing Strawberry Festival, you must have been in high school then still, did you go onto college?
Jim Kim West: [00:08:17] You know, I did for a short time, but I was in the art world. That was my major, and I was really kind of big into art, and graphics and that kind of thing. So, there was a point where I was going to college, studying art but playing music, too. And at a certain point it's like, you know what? This music thing is way more fun. I can see this being a career whereas the art thing was sort of, something that had been in me for a long time, but I was starting to look at it less and less as the career possibilities. I don't know. What are your choices? Being a famous artist would be a very tough thing to count on. I didn't really want to be a teacher. This music thing just… it just seemed like a no brainer. I was having fun. I really enjoyed music and my heart was in it. I told my parents. I got to follow the music thing and they were supportive.
Andy Wang: [0:09:25.3] I was going to say, what did they say?
Jim Kimo West: [00:09:28] Well, they were initially a little disappointed, you know, but they knew that I really loved music and they supported me. It was all good. I pretty much have done music my entire life — when I was quite young up until my early 20s, I did have some day-jobs, of course.
Andy Wang: [0:09:50.4] In that time when you were ready to embark down that path of embracing music as a profession, did you have the sense of confidence and conviction like, I am going all in and this is the path I'm going to take or was it more, I'm going to give this a go and see what happens?
Jim Kimo West: [00:10:13] You know, luckily for me it was something that I had no qualms about. I completely knew that that's what I was going to do and I know it’s unusual especially at that young an age. I would say from the time I was 18 I was completely convinced that that was going to be my life. And I know a lot of people struggle with that all their lives, with finding the right calling but I was really lucky in that respect. And I really, like I say, from the age 18 on I was completely convinced that that was what I was going to be doing and I didn't have to worry about that anymore. I was like, okay. This is what I'm doing. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:11:01] Yeah. Do you think there was a source for that confidence or was that just something that you had and it was almost like, predestined?
Jim Kimo West: [0:11:10.9] Yeah. You know, I can't even put a finger on it. I mean, I don't know. It almost does seem it was predestined. I didn't really come from a family of musicians. I mean, I think my grandmother played a little piano, but you know, none of them were certainly professional musicians or anything like that so, I didn't really have that in my family background. I was just completely confident about it and that was like, okay. It was it. There was just no question. That was what I was going to do.
Andy Wang: [0:11:41.2] Right. Now, was it at that point in time that you decided to relocate? How did that come about that you ended up on the west coast?
Jim Kimo West: [00:11:50] Oh, yeah. Well, what it was is I played in a number of rock bands and at a certain point, I got a chance to play at this big club in Tampa; that's where I was living. It was called Robiconti’s. It was a big… I guess it started off as a disco club, but it was kind of like, you know, Tampa's version of Studio 54, you know. It started off, I think, as a disco in the disco era then it became just a big club with you know, and they have a live band which was sort of, put together by the club owner, but it was you know, essentially, was the best gig in town. And it was a house gig so you didn't have to park your gear around. You could just leave it there, you know. And I worked there for almost two years and it was the place where all the musical celebrities would come when they'd had a night off and they wanted to go out to a big club, you know. You know, Frank Zappa would come in there. I met Don Henley and Glenn Fry there and I mean, all kinds of people who wrote rock. Rock n’ roll people would come in. It was the you know, the big happening place in town.
Andy Wang: [00:12:49] Sounds like an amazing training ground.
Jim Kimo West: [0:12:52.0] Yeah. And you know, it was a professional system. We had a sound guy and a lighting guy, and you know, it was very professional. And in fact, Frank Zappa told us that we were the… you know, we were doing mostly covers of course, current real contemporary covers but he said, “This is the best cover band I've ever seen.” It's quite a compliment from Frank's Zappa. So, what happened was you know, I was there for two years and actually, Frank Zappa had talked to the bass player and took our phone numbers which was quite a thrill, and he actually did call the bass player, Steve, about auditioning. And Steve came out to L.A. – relocated to L.A.
Andy Wang: [0:13:40.3] So, Steve went first?
Jim Kimo West: [0:13:42.4] Yeah. He went out there and probably, well, you know, he would go audition for Zappa. He didn't get the gig but he ended up relocating. And then he ended up meeting some other guys, another band who was looking for a guitarist and they were working band and he called me and said, “Hey, you know, if you want to come out here these guys are looking for a guitar player and you could probably be working right away.” So I did some back and forth back in those days before the internet. Of course, we were like exchanging cassettes and things like that by the mail, you know. [laughter] It sounds ridiculous now but that's how we did it. So, I ended up relocating basically, because I had work. I could go there and basically, we had like, three days of rehearsals and I was already playing gigs three days after I came to Los Angeles. I had known for a while in my heart that it was, you know, where I was in Tampa, I had the best gig in town and I was partners with some friends in a recording studio and it was kind of like, well. I don't know if we can really take it any farther here, you know. I mean, it was this, kind of like, got the best situation I could ever have there. I've got to go to a big city and it's got to either be New York or L.A. so having a job right away really helps. It was sad to leave it; but I quit my, you know, steady job where I had a guaranteed paycheck and I took a chance, you know. [laughter] But every once and a while, you’ve got to take chances and that's what it was about. You know, I was still pretty young so it’s like, why not? I’ve got give it a shot, you know.
Andy Wang: [00:15:17] Well, you’ve got to be in a special club of people who moved to L.A. and started getting paid for what you moved out there for. You were never waiting tables.
Jim Kimo West: [00:15:28] Yeah, I know. I was very lucky I tell you. You know, I did have one day job when I first came to L.A. and it was about I think, I probably worked there for maybe eight months. It was a post-production place, you know. And I was playing at night in, I think, this was maybe after this other band. The band that I was originally came out to join. They eventually sort of fell apart and so, I got a day job working at this post-production place in Hollywood and just kind of not doing anything really important. I had a day job for a short time. That was the only day job I ever had in California. But then I met – then I went and hooked up playing with Weird Al. Then there was a tour and I was like, okay. Well, I got to quit my day job and then I did and then it was the end of my day job. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:16:26] That was a really quick segue. Was there any bigger story to that since it really launched a career for you.
Jim Kimo West: [00:16:38] Yeah. Well, you know, but Steve who’s onto this day – Steve Jay is the bass player for Weird Al. He's you know, my longtime friend and he had met Al first. He, I think, got called to play bass on Al's very first record, the first record from his record deal. And Al was looking to play some gigs and needed a guitar player and I got recommended for it. I think, I actually auditioned. I think, he was auditioning a few different people, but you know, that time I was playing with a number of different bands. I was playing in a punk band. I was playing, you know, various band. You know, whatever I could do, you know. And so, it was like, what!? Some guy with an accordion? And you know, I said, “Well, he's got gigs, you know, and they're paying gigs.” I’m like, sure! I'll play. Whatever, you know.
Andy Wang: [0:17:27.1] I want to know what you were thinking? What were you thinking when you went to go audition for a guy playing accordion?
Jim Kimo West: [0:17:35.0] Yeah. Well, you know. I met him, and he was like, obviously, a really nice guy. So, I had to learn a bunch of songs and as I'm learning the songs I listened to the lyrics and it's like, you know, these are very well crafted. I immediately gained a lot of respect for them. So anyway, you know, what originally was just a few gigs turned into of course, a much bigger thing because, you know, this whole thing was happening at the beginning of MTV era, and Al started doing videos which got played on MTV a lot and you know, and then one thing led to another. And he had you know, pretty much a hit record there early on and the tours started getting bigger.
Andy Wang: [0:18:14.2] So did that all happen pretty quickly?
Jim Kimo West: [00:18:15] Yeah, it did, you know. It happened within just a few years – a couple of years of meeting him. When I met him, he was finishing up his very first album for Scotti Brothers and that was one just called, “Weird Al Yankovic” and it was… I think, the big song was, to get a couple, “I love Rocky Road.” And then he had one called, “Ricky.” which was basically, a cover parody of “Oh Mickey” which was a Toni Basil. Oh, Mickey you’re so fine… that was it. So, Al did a Rick and Lucy thing and that was the first video that played on MTV. That played quite a bit on MTV, you know. It was a low-budget black and white video, but it was very well done. So, I wasn't really involved on that record per se but the next record was the one that had the Michael Jackson parody of “Beat It.” You know, he did “Eat It” and that record, it went to a whole other level of success and became very, very popular. And then the tours got bigger and we were getting limo rides and got treated treated better. You know, it’s a sort of snowball. You know, a very slow, I wouldn't say snowball but over the years his career has gradually, slowly gotten bigger, and bigger, and bigger and amazingly enough, it’s been so many years.
Andy Wang: [0:19:51.3] It's totally amazing.
Jim Kimo West: [0:19:54.0] Yeah. It's not really your typical arc of a successful band where they usually have this big spurt where they just blow up and then all of a sudden they slow fade out. With Al, it’s like a slow uphill ticking, slow uphill rise over the years. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:20:11] Well, I think that… yeah, definitely. You are in an elite group of bands that have been together for 35 plus years and…
Jim Kimo West: [0:20:19.5] I know. It's crazy. I mean, there's not many of us. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [0:20:22.4] When you talk about arc it's like, your group has stayed on top of pop culture and you guys have changed with the times. While many artists that you parodied have lost the spotlight.
Jim Kimo West: [00:20:36] Yup. Well, I think the beauty of what Al does I mean, not that he’d ever planned it this way, but he's always commenting on what’s new in current music and pop culture. That never goes out of style. That's always a completely regenerating thing. It's always fres, because he's always commenting on what's popular so what he does is always fresh. And the other thing which is an interesting thing demographically is because he's always commenting on what's current he's always regenerating his audience. When we play shows the demographic is like no other show. You've got grandparents out there. You've got 4-year old kids, that are jumping up and down. I love what…
Andy Wang: [0:21:22.5] I think I’ve been to four of your shows and…
Jim Kimo West: [0:21:26.2] Yeah and you've seen [inaudible] [laughter].
Andy Wang: [0:21:28.3] I think Al describes it best. I read somewhere where he called your live performances a rock and comedy multimedia extravaganza and that the audience ranges from toddlers to geriatrics. [laughter]
Jim Kimo West: [0:21:44.0] Yeah, it’s true. [laughter] It's pretty amazing. There really is something for everybody in the show, you know. It's a show you can take your kids to because I mean, there are some edgy humor but there's not anything that's going to really embarrass a parent, you know.
Andy Wang: [0:21:58.7] It is a real experience. You guys sold out Radio City Music Hall and my 9-year old and now 7-year old, they are now counted among the Weird Al Yankovic and band huge fans so we'll be back. I mean, the funny thing is when I tell people that I'm going to a Weird Al show it's either like, I get two reactions. One is Weird Al is a genius or they say Weird Al is still around? I can't believe. I didn't know that Weird Al is still around. So, it's kind of funny because you guys have been together for so long. I feel like I admire you because you're doing your thing. I go to your shows and the audience is decked out in costume. People are singing along word for word lyrics. I mean, it really is an experience. And for those who have not followed Weird Al’s career, your accomplishments are huge. I got this online so I don't know if it's up to date or accurate, but I'll run it by you. 11 Grammy nominations, four Grammy Awards, four Gold Records, six Platinum Records in the United States. You had a Top Ten Billboard album with “Straight Outta Lynwood.” “White and Nerdy” was a number one single and the latest album, “Mandatory Fun” was a number one album during its debut week so…
Jim Kimo West: [0:23:34.7] Yeah that's true. I guess so. Yeah.
Andy Wang: [0:23:36.8] I mean, you guys have and amazing record. Like, when you look back, I mean, the success is there. When you look back like, how much of that is due to goal setting and planning versus adjusting and letting things happen organically?
Jim Kimo West: [00:24:00] Well, you know. I really have to defer. I mean, it's really, you know, Al is really the guy who is the brains behind it all. And you know, as a band we're you know, we support him but he's the one that's really running the show and he's you know, not only creatively the leader but he also comes up with a lot of the marketing ideas.
For this last record, you know, it was his idea to – I mean, he had lots of help, you know. He has a manager and he has, a lot of people working on it but the idea for marketing for this last record, “Mandatory Fun” was that he wanted to create videos of course, and the record company, Sony was… nowadays, it's not like the old days where they were making a lot of money and so they're not going to shell out a few $100,000 per video to make videos, you know. So, basically, they said, “Well, you're on your own.” If you want to make videos, you know, you gotta pay for them. So what Al did was, it was very brilliant. He partnered with various different websites like the Nerdist channel, and College Humor and you know, Wall Street's entertainment page and various entertainment websites. He would partner with them so that if they funded the production of the video then – and some of them were not that expensive, you know. Some of them were quite inexpensive to do. If, you know, if they funded the video then the video would be exclusively on their site for the first, you know, couple of weeks. Then on top of that – so, he was able to get eight videos funded by eight different websites and when it was all said and done then he released the videos one day at a time. Eight videos in eight days. So, the first video comes out then everybody is like, next morning, what’s the next one going to be? And people started anticipating it. What's the next one going to be? So, they would be released in the morning.
Andy Wang: [0:25:53.6] I was there. I loved it.
Jim Kimo West: [0:25:54.7] He'd blast it out on his Twitter. He has a lot, you know, millions of Twitter followers and he blasted out and you know, and he’d show everybody where we're it was – where the link was. And of course, web providers who financed the videos of course, they have their own publicity so they're pumping it out to all their fans. And so, it was just, you know, then it was a massive snowball. So, by the end of the eight days it was just crazy. He was, all of a sudden he was on every national news channel and I think it was like, 6,000 articles written about him.
Andy Wang: [00:26:26] Yeah, I was going to say. It was totally brilliant and I’m sure case studies for business school’s studying marketing, right, in the 21st century.
Jim Kimo West: [0:26:37.9] Absolutely. It was really a brilliant thing and it was mostly him and his manager, but you know, he's really the brains behind it. And you know, as a band, you know, we know we support what we can, you know. I mean, obviously, we're mostly there for the you know, with the musical part of it and that part but yeah, it was quite an amazing marketing campaign.
Andy Wang: [0:27:05.2] Now, you and I spoke once about trends in the industry because the Internet in many ways has not been kind to the music industry. For the past 16 years, revenues have declined I think, 4% a year and that rate of decline – this is talking about album sales, CD sales, but I saw a figure, Mary Meeker at Kleiner Perkins. She does an internet trends study every year and just a couple of weeks ago she had a report. It's like, 335 slides with a lot of information but one of her headlines there was that last year the overall music revenue grew by 11% and that's the highest figure since 2009. So, I just wanted to ask you, yeah, what's going on and what do you see?
Jim Kimo West: [00:27:58] What I see with my own career and my Hawaiian slack key stuff, I've been – my music has been out there and you know, through the you know, when it was just CDs and then it was – it's been out there since the beginning of streaming and all that so, I've watched the trends. So, basically, what's happening is that CDs of course, are declining in sales. It makes sense because you know, it's very easy to stream stuff or have MP3s, you know. Who needs to have things sitting on your shelf taking up space. It's very easy to… it's easy to buy. You don't have to go to a store. You know, it's very easy. It's instant gratification, you know. So, I mean, it makes sense. From a consumer point of view that the new technology especially, streaming, you know, if you can pay a little bit per month and basically, hear anything you want to hear any time I mean, that’s pretty hard to beat.
Andy Wang: [00:28:51] Now, I hear you speaking from a consumer's perspective but how about from the artist's perspective? I've seen you post on social media about your streaming checks that you’ve received. So, how does it make you feel?
Jim Kimo West: [00:29:05] The technology moves so fast that there was an initial shock of the CD going out of popularity. Even MP3s downloads is going, you know, they're sinking, too. Downloads are sinking because streaming is much more popular so, there was a shockwave, basically, have changed and it's taken the music industry a while to adapt, and feel, and figure out how to, you know, how to monetize the new technology which is streaming, you know. Either Pandora style which is like a radio or on-demand like Spotify. So, there was this, you know, I think what we what we saw in the last number of years is this shock, you know. Shockwave where everything was topsy-turvy and that's why the revenues were just in steep decline. And of course, CD revenues are always going to be in steep decline. They're not going to be coming back anytime soon, you know. They're going to keep going down. We just have to embrace the new technology. But as we do, there also are opportunities that have opened up. Typically, streaming revenue is very low but now, if you're lucky enough to… I mean, it's very minute per stream. I mean, I don't know. It’s like, .007 cents per stream or something. I mean, it's very minute. Now, that being said, if you happen to – what I'm starting to see now I think, as of maybe, since a couple of years ago or so I've had some of my stuff on some very big playlists. Now, playlists are sort of, curated programs where people you know, pick a certain – there's a certain mood and people will tune into sort of, let's say you know, a relaxing mood, or acoustic music vibe, or you know, any kind of musical mood or vibe there's a playlist for. So, if you happen to get your music in enough playlists that are very popular worldwide then you actually can you know, make some money and I've seen a steady rise in the last two years. Pretty marked rise actually now because I think all of my music is on a number of very popular playlists. And I guess that's probably because I’ve, you know, have my music out there in the streaming platform since the beginning.
Andy Wang: [00:31:24] Do you have to actively pursue getting your music on those playlists or does it happen more passively because people find your music?
Jim Kimo West: [00:31:33] Yeah. Mine is all but passive. I used CD Baby as my distributor so they basically, put it out there to all the streaming networks including iTunes, and downloads, and everything like that so I never really did anything. It was passive, but I have heard you know, I've been reading articles about how you can supposedly find the people who are curating the playlist, and talk to them, and shoot them emails, and things like that. I haven't done any of that. I'm sure you know, a lot of people are probably trying now.
Andy Wang: [0:32:03.2] You and I met because of a common passion for Hawaiian Slack key guitar. You've recorded a lot of albums. I think you've recorded 11 slack key albums.
Jim Kimo West: [0:32:12.9] Probably. I mean, counting, you know, counting the ones that I've done as commissions I haven't even counted. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:32:18] That's going to be a true passion for you, right? Because even though you say you're making some streaming money, but your Hawaiian slack key doesn't pay as well as your, “day job.”
Jim Kimo West: [00:32:31] Yeah, right. But you know, it is getting better and better. You know, we do you know, you count it. Because you count in your live performances and you know, in live performances people still like to buy CDs because they're just you know, they're a tangible thing and a souvenir. So, you know, I still do pretty well. I still do pretty well with CDs sales at shows you know, and that's a pretty good, you know, that's pretty good income, too. So, but what I was going to say was that my first record was called “Coconut Hat” and I didn't get into… well, slack key was just something I loved when I first heard it. I went to Hawaii first in 1985 to Hana Maui and I heard slack key records, Gabby Pahinui and all these great records. I just really love the sound and I just thought it sounds like, the place is, you know. The place and the music just go together so beautifully. And you know, for many years I just listened to – I just like to listen to slack key. I’d have them in my car, on the [inaudible] or whatever. And then it just gradually crept into my, you know, all of a sudden I started writing some slack key tunes. I didn't really study. I didn't sit down and go, oh. I'm going to learn all these riffs and I'm going to learn you know, all the song writing. I just started kind of writing my own slack key songs. And I wrote this one. It was actually a piece dedicated to a good
friend of mine who – we used to be roommates back in Florida. He was a chef who passed away. It was really kind of, unfortunate. He was a young guy, but I was kind of very emotionally, you know, just a wreck and I just you know, used to paint and sat down and played my guitar to kind of comfort myself. All of a sudden I came up with this slack key song and I called it, “Lay for James.” His name is James. I remember playing it for a few people and they were like, wow! That's really good. You should do some more of those. You know, a couple of friends in Hawaii, Hawaiian people and they were like, you know. That's really nice. And so, I got inspired to start writing more slack key songs and every time I’d write one I would record it just mostly so I wouldn't forget it. And it was strictly you know, just for the love of doing it. I had no thought about making money with it. It was just something I just like to do. And at some point, somebody said, “Jim, you've got 12 or 13 songs. You should put out a CD.” And I hadn't even considered it. It hadn't even crossed my mind. I was like, really? And my friend who's – one of my friends who suggested that was a graphic artist. He said, “Well, yeah. Man, I'll do the packaging. I’ll do the cover and you know, you can get these things I’ll put together and you can have a CD.” I was like, wow! A CD! I could’ve… you know, it just blew my mind. I'll never forget the day he came over with the prototype package and showed me the thing in my hand. I had it in my hands. You know, the prototype, not the manufactured product. It was like, oh my God! I said, “I can't believe it. I'm going to have my own CD.” And so, as soon as I had it manufactured and you know, it was really just for the love. I really wasn't looking to make, you know, have the money. Making money with slack key wasn't something I had even considered. I never played a slack key gig, you know. Just play for myself, you know. And you know, that's how slack key always was. It was never performed, you know. It was something people played around the house for the family and that’s what…
Andy Wang: [0:35:45.8] Right. It was backyard music.
Jim Kimo West: [0:35:48.5] Yeah, and that's what I had been doing. I hadn't been out, performing or trying to make money with it. So, anyway. Finally, I had a CD and I got somebody in Hawaii who was a publicist to help me do some, you know, a couple of record released parties. And you know, I got to meet all the people and got invited to the Slack Key Festival, and I met a bunch of Slack Key players, and all of a sudden I was sort of, in that world, you know. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:36:14] It's funny because you sort of, have – it's almost like you have this dual life where back in the day it's like, you're taking the limo and you’re on MTV and then you've been touring all these years with Weird Al then you’re also a Hawaiian Slack Key where I'm sure, you drive yourself to the gig and you carry your, what is it? You carry your Hendrickson amp in and play like a small club.
Jim Kimo West: [0:36:37.8] Yeah. [laughter] Yes.
Andy Wang: [0:36:39.4] Tell me about some of the dates that you're doing right now with Ken Emerson and the “Slackers in Paradise.”
Jim Kimo West: [00:36:46] Yeah. Well, Ken Emerson, you know, I met Ken years ago, but he's been in Hawaiian music for years. He grew up in Oahu and he played – he used to play with Moe Keale and you know, as you know he is an expert at the old, old Hawaiian steel guitar, playing the acoustic steel guitar playing from way back and he – which nobody even in the 70s it had already been kind of lost and so, a lot of the old timers like Gabby and people like that love to have Ken play because he was bringing back this old, old, old sound that hadn't been around since their fathers or grandfathers around. So, you know, he's kind of a legend in many ways and in fact, there's really nobody else that does that like he does. So anyway, we had met years ago and a few years ago we ended up – by this point he'd moved back to the mainland. It was up near Napa Valley and we decided to start playing some shows together and we made this record “Slackers in Paradise.” So, essentially, it came out last year and we figured we would play you know, last fall and then into this year and maybe a little bit into next year because I'm not touring with Al this year so we're, you know, it's a good chance to promote the record. So, we're doing shows. We started off in Hawaii. We played George Kahumoku’s Masters of Slack Key show two weeks in a row. It was funny. The way we've been doing it lately there and it just happened by chance the first time, but I had a show on I think, was May 17th. We went to the shows every Wednesday. So, the way we worked there was I have a show on May 17th and Ken was my special guest and then Ken had a show a week later on May 24th and I was his special guest. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [0:38:38.8] Very tricky Kimo. Very tricky. [laughter]
Jim Kimo West: [0:38:40.9] Yeah, yeah. Because we were not sure how to do it you know, but that's how we did it and the we use that you know, as an opportunity to play, to promote our record and play songs from the record. And we ended up staying there at the beautiful Napili Kai Resort where the show is. We ended up staying there the whole week and we were looking you know, thinking, we like this work schedule. Like, it’s one day on and six days off. [laughter] Ken is like, Kimo, I think we need to refine this work ethic. This is good. One day on and six days off. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [0:39:17.3] Well, from what I've heard what you guys are doing as a duo is really magical because the Slack key guitar and then the Hawaiian steel complement each other so beautifully and then like, the musicality of what you guys are doing, you know, it's really beautiful music.
Jim Kimo West: [00:39:37] And we have a lot of fun you know, because we were the first – we try and keep some spontaneity in the show, too so we're almost always learning to put something out we've never played before and you know, that adds a little bit of an excitement and different edge as opposed to something that's you know, we keep a lot of the arrangements. We have a lot of open stuff in there where they can change from night and day, you know. We have stuff that's very together and worked out. I mean, we have stuff that's very free and open and I think it goes back to our very first gig. I remember Ken and I never played together and Mitch Chang, who runs the Southern California's Slack Key Festival…
Andy Wang: [0:40:18.0] Yeah, sure. I know Mitch.
Jim Kimo West: [0:40:19.3] Yeah. I did mention to Mitch that you know, well, Ken Emerson is living here on the mainland now. You know, you should really get him down
here to be part of the festival one year because he's you know, he's great and he's played with everybody. Moe Keale, and Gabby, and all these legends. And so, he said, “Well, why don't you two guys do a set?” I said, “Well, we've never played together.” So, I called Ken up and he said, “Yeah! Let's do it. Let's try it.” So, I thought, well. We need to book a show before the festival just so we can you know, have you know, at least have one show under our belt, yeah!
Andy Wang: [0:40:52.8] Have one paid rehearsal. [laughter]
Jim Kimo West: [0:40:54.1] So, I booked a show in Santa Barbara, nice place called Soho and so you know, I said, “Well, sound check is at 6:30.” And so, we both get there at 6:30 and we just sort of, talk about what we could do and didn't even plan anything. We’re just like, well. We could do this song. What key we’d do that in and you know, just sort of, talked about it. And meanwhile you know, people are filing in and eventually there's like, you know, 75 people in there waiting to be entertained and we've never played a note together before. [laughter] But you know what? It ended up being great. We had the greatest time and there was a lot of course, a lot of great spontaneous because we were just on the fly by the seat of our pants, you know. But after the end of the night everybody was like, people loved it. We had you know, a big hana hou encore. And also, with the Hawaiian repertoire. There's a lot of songs that people know. It’s like, oh yeah. I know that song. What key we’d do it in and you sort of, already know a lot of the songs. And so, anyway, by the end and it was like, well, Kimo. I guess we got it. We're okay and sure enough you know, we played the festival. Everything was great, and we had a great time, and it was all… it all worked out fine. And you know, from that point on we've always tried to keep some of that spontaneity in the show, you know.
Andy Wang: [0:42:16.6] Yeah. And the videos that I've seen I can see that you guys are having fun and playing off of each other. That energy is there.
Jim Kimo West: [00:42:22] Yeah, it’s a lot of fun. We have a cracked up. We’re doing crazy stuff sometimes. [laughter] Oh, my God.
Andy Wang: [00:42:29] Kimo, you've had some crazy musical adventures. What do you think the future holds or what future goals do you have for music and career?
Jim Kimo West: [00:42:41] Well, you know. I do love playing with Weird Al. I mean,it’s a musically challenging gig. In a lot of ways, it's fun. You get to play all these different styles so, you know. I don't know how much longer Al is going to want to keep touring but as long as I'm able to, I like doing that, you know. And you know, financially, it's a good thing. Obviously, when I'm touring I get a steady paycheck and that's nice. So, we will be touring next year, and you know. So, I look forward to that but then I also look forward to the times when we're not on tour because it gives me a chance to do my slack key shows. I mean, with slack key, you know like, getting back to the fact that we just do it really for love. I mean, even if it came down the point where I wasn't playing many slack key gigs or you know, it wouldn't bother me because I just love playing, you know. And I would just be sitting around on my couch playing anyway if I wasn't out playing shows, you know. I do it for the enjoyment, you know. And I always mention that to people like, people ask me about you know, musicians. Ask me about advice about you know, getting into the music business and my advice is always like, with music and just probably with any art you know, it's like, you don't get into it for the business. You get into it for the love and then if you make money then it's icing on the cake, you know. I mean, unless you're doing like, engineering, or production, or something where it's a tangible craft that you know, service type of thing. With music, you're creating and playing. It's like, you know, you do it for the love of doing it. You do it because you love it and then if making money becomes part of it then that's just an extra bonus really, you know.
Andy Wang: [0:44:19.8] Well, I think you've hit the lesson for today, right? Inspired Money. You're saying that it's not really the money that you're chasing. You're just doing what you love and then the money is a byproduct.
Jim Kimo West: [0:44:33.2] Will follow. Exactly, yeah. If you do… you know, it is a real basic rule, I think. If you do what you love and you really have your heart in it, you just really love doing it. Unless, it's like, robbing banks or something like that. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [0:44:48.8] [laughter] You got to be careful what you love. Hopefully, you’ll love something legal.
Jim Kimo West: [0:44:51.3] Yes, yes. Right. [laughter] Yeah, right. [laughter]
Andy Wang: [00:44:55] Well, thank you, Kimo. I want to thank you for your friendship and spending time with me today.
Jim Kimo West: [00:45:04] Well, thank you Andy. It was an honor to be invited and it's always fun to chat, you know. No matter what… well, if it's you know, sitting on the tour bus, or if it’s backstage, or over the phone it's always fun.
Andy Wang: [00:45:15] I forgot to ask where people can find you?
Jim Kimo West: [00:45:17] Well, my website is www.jimkimowest.com and that’s generally, the easiest place to find me. Of course, but I'm on Facebook and I'm on Instagram. Look for Jim Kimo West. I'm out there in the social media.
Andy Wang: [0:45:41.7] Right on. Right on. All right Kimo, lots of aloha. Look forward to seeing you soon.
Jim Kimo West: [0:45:47.2] All right. Mahalo, my friend.
Andy Wang: [0:45:48.3] Mahalo nui.
Jim Kimo West: [0:45:49.1] Yeah. Okay, aloha.
Andy Wang: [00:45:53] [background music] Thanks for listening. What were your favorite Inspired Money moments? I'm impressed that Kimo knew with such conviction what he wanted to do at just 18 years old. He took a chance, leaving his steady nightclub job. He felt that he had done all he could there and yearned for something bigger. And then he found it with longtime friend Steve Jay, partnering with Weird Al Yankovic. Thirty-five years later, it's amazing how their success is not the typical arc of the successful band. They just keep gradually moving up. Finally, set like a true artist. You've got to do what you love and then the money will follow. If that's not an Inspired Money, I don't know what is. If you have a chance to check out Kimo’s slack key guitar or catch him on tour with Weird Al, you're in store for a great show. Weird Al shows are funny, energetic and really musical. Not to mention the show features videos, costumes and a true all ages crowd.
Andy Wang: [00:46:54] Coming up next on Inspired Money.
Gret Glyer: [0:46:57.7] I mean, like, every day it's like I could tell you there’s these amazing things happening in Donorsee. We provide clean water for people. Like one, we’re recording this podcast with you. I'm watching donations come into this water project that we have on our site and we have stuff like this all the time.
Andy Wang: [00:47:12] That's 27-year old Gret Glyer, Founder of Donorsee, an app that you can download and help the poorest people in the world. Not only that, but you'll get videos so, you can see the impact of how your donation is making someone's life better. Thanks for tuning in. If you like today's show the best thing you can do is subscribe, rate and review us. Go to inspiredmoney.fm right now where there's a link for you to leave an iTunes review. You'll also find show notes and guest links. Inspired Money is brought to you by my company Runnymede Capital Management, a fiduciary investment adviser to businesses, individuals and families. Educate yourself for free by subscribing to our blog at blog.runnymede.com. All the music on today's show is by Jim Kimo West. Aloha Kimo. Want to be an inspired moneymaker? Do something that scares you. Do something that's going to make you better. Do something to give back in a bigger way to the world. Tweet me what you're up to. Until next time. Find your inspiration and run with it.
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