Jonny Kaplan: Count your ‘Lazy Stars’

It was a full-moon-illuminated night in September, and several hundred 30- and 40-somethings circulated through Fonogenic Studios, the Van Nuys recording facility co-owned by Rami Jaffee, a keyboardist who was a founding member of the Wallflowers and has played extensively with Foo Fighters. 

On stage, a tall, lean fellow, sans shoes and with long sandy-brown hair, blazed through one of his blues-marinated originals, “Annalee Meets the Scorpion,” with bassist Brad Smith (a founding member of Blind Melon) and Jaffee on piano. After Foo Fighters guitarist Chris Shiflett’s scorching set with his sideband, the Dead Peasants, attendees were on overdrive, rocking out to the barefoot guy in the headband, whose vocals soared like a murder of crows released above the crowd.

The singer on stage was Jonny Kaplan, and this private party’s raison d’etre was the release of “Sparkle and Shine” by Jonny Kaplan and the Lazy Stars, recorded at Fonogenic. The country-tinged rockers play again Oct. 29 at 10:30 p.m. at Piano Bar in Hollywood.

The band’s fourth album features Jaffee, along with actress-girlfriend Daryl Hannah, who sings on two tracks, and former Pearl Jam drummer Dave Krusen. Indeed, the list of contributors to the Lazy Stars’ newest album reads like an alternative super-group, including Jessy Greene (strings), who has performed with Wilco, Foo Fighters and Pink; keyboardist Adam MacDougall, who joined the Black Crowes in 2007; and others. 

“Luckily for me, these folks are my friends, and they like and respect my music,” Kaplan said.

While not a household name, Kaplan, who can handle guitar, harmonica and vocals, has a storied career anyone would envy. He’s jammed with Keith Richards, Lucinda Williams, Wilco, the Wallflowers and Kings of Leon.

“Jonny is my favorite kind of musician,” Krusen said. “He has a lot of experience playing in different situations, yet is a very humble and supportive person.” 

Since 1997’s “California Heart” album — which was named “Americana Album of the Month” by British music magazine MOJO — Kaplan has cultivated a following abroad. 

“That really got the ball rolling for me in Europe,” he said.

That’s when the fun started for Jaffee.

“Jonny began playing shows in Spain and Italy,” Jaffee told the Journal. “His following began to grow almost immediately over there. That’s why I became a Lazy Star. He asked me to play with him on a mini-tour in Spain, and it was the most fun I’d had in a long time.”

As with Jaffee, Kaplan’s Jewishness has always kept him company. Originally from Philadelphia, Kaplan explains he “grew up around all of these … Eastern European immigrants who all had numbers tattooed on their arms. I have heard all of the horror stories firsthand from my grandparents.

“My mother’s side of the family are all Holocaust survivors,” Kaplan said. “In fact, my mother was born in Auschwitz, and she [was hidden] from the Nazis as an infant, so I am lucky to be here at all.

“I am very proud of my people and my heritage,” the Marina del Rey resident said, “although I and my family are not very religious. I actually visited Auschwitz while on tour a few years ago. Seeing that place in living color, knowing my mother was born there, was a very heavy thing. There is an incredible feeling of sadness there that is hard to shake.”

For Kaplan, “Sparkle” represents an unprecedented maturity and ferocity. 

“There is a level of sophistication on this one that I haven’t reached before in terms of songwriting and diversity,” Kaplan said. 

“As with everything else, evolution and maturity comes from experience … life experience. I was involved in a very bad motorcycle accident a few years ago, which left me in pain and healing for four months. It was then that I started writing the songs for ‘Sparkle and Shine,’ ” he said.

Jaffee’s gold- and platinum-record signature Hammond organ sounds are showcased on such cuts as “Garage Cleaner,” on which Kaplan and Dan Wistrom provide slide guitars. Echoes of the Gram Parsons-led Byrds can be heard on “I’ll Be Around” and “The Child Is Gone.” The catchy title track combines the upbeat bar-band ethos of early Wilco albums and Bruce Springsteen, circa 1980’s “The River,” with ’80s pop-rock touches of Rick Springfield or Billy Squier. Kaplan closes with the acoustic-dominated “Pretty Little Nose.” 

Despite comparisons to alt-country rock pioneer Parsons, a big influence on Kaplan, it’s his own compositions with which he hopes to sparkle and shine — this time in the United States.

“I want a proper career — writing, recording and touring here at home,” he said. “ ‘Sparkle and Shine’ is now up for Grammy consideration for Best Americana Album. I would most certainly like to win!”

Wallflowers ‘Glad All Over’ to Be Back in L.A.

“Unless I’m crazy, we played this song the last time we were here,” singer/songwriter Jakob Dylan told a packed audience mid-show at the Henry Fonda Theatre.

With that, Dylan’s freshly reunited band, the Wallflowers, plunged into the band’s biggest hit to date, the haunting, galloping, Grammy-winner “One Headlight.”

In support of “Glad All Over,” their just-released first album in seven years, the Wallflowers enthusiastically ripped through a Fonda Theatre concert on Oct. 9 with the ferocity of a band still hungry to succeed.

For the Wallflowers, whose current lineup is comprised of founding members Dylan, bassist Greg Richling and keyboardist Rami Jaffee, along with guitarist Stuart Mathis and new member Jack Irons (drums), previously of Pearl Jam, playing at the Hollywood Boulevard theater was very much a homecoming show following a lengthy hiatus.

As Richling later told the Journal, the band nearly played the entire new album that night, from “It’s a Dream” and “The Devil’s Waltz” to energetic “Glad” lead single “Reboot the Mission” (minus the chorus supplied on the recorded version by Mick Jones of the Clash fame).

Naturally, the Wallflowers served up a healthy heaping of comfort-food tracks from their biggest album, the 1996 multi-platinum release, “Bringing Down the Horse,” bringing down the house with “Sixth Avenue Heartache” and crooning through the bittersweet “Three Marlenas.”

At one point, Dylan directed the audience to “the Godfather of Fairfax Village,” as the wiry, limber Jaffee, a few killed Corona bottles atop his organ set-up, genuflected wildly, kicking the air behind him while delving into a lush solo jam, which included a brief run of the accordion.

Dylan also asked the energetic crowd to embrace “one of your hometown heroes, it’s Jack Irons!”
Indeed, the drummer, a Fairfax High School alumnus older than Jaffee, has long been connected to the L.A. scene as a founding member of Red Hot Chili Peppers, back in the ’80s when the “Fax City Four” was just a raunchy alternative band with a cult following.

There was a hamisch element to the Wallflowers’ show, as Jaffee interacted with his own little cheering section of friends filling the left side of the stage he occupied while Dylan tipped his fedora to a woman named Ivy in the crowd who, back in the day, had donated her garage, “somewhere above the Sunset Strip,” for the Americana band to practice in. The Wallflowers culminated their Tuesday night set with a confident, pounding rendition of another “Horse” rocker, “The Difference.”

Post-concert, at a private rooftop gathering at the Fonda, about 40 people socialized over cigarettes and Red Bull cocktails. With a giant neon red “W” on the hotel down the block looming over the Wallflowers’ party, members Jaffee and Richling mingled with friends, including “Kill Bill” actress Daryl Hannah (who has been romantically linked to Jaffee).

In good spirits, Jaffee expressed his satisfaction with the night’s concert and looked forward to upcoming performances in Mexico City and on the talk show “Ellen.”

Richling explained he was the reason Irons joined Wallflowers. After meeting via a mutual friend, the pair, with singer John Green, played the Viper Room and recorded an as-of-yet-unreleased album (due following the Wallflowers tour cycle) under the name Arthur Channel in 2011. When scheduling conflicts prevented their drummer from returning, the band inducted Irons into its roots rock fold.

“This is my favorite line-up we’ve had,” Richling told the Journal. The bassist and Dylan have been close friends since their days attending Windward High School in Mar Vista. Richley, who belonged to Temple Isaiah and Wilshire Boulevard Temple growing up, mused about how the bass line he had recorded on his iPhone at his Westwood dining room table, inspired by the Clash’s “Magnificent Seven” off their genre-exploring opus, “Sandinista,” had morphed into “Glad All Over’s” lead single, complete with Jones’ vocals. The Wallflowers had sent the former Clash front man two tracks, “Reboot the Mission” and “Misfits & Lovers,” “so that he’d have his choice of songs to play on.” To the band’s delight, Jones decided to grace both cuts with his vocals and guitar.

Which begged the question: With the Wallflowers soon to tour European stages, will Jones jam with the group on the pair of “Glad” tunes when they perform in England?

“We’re going to invite him and if he’s up for it,” Richling said, smiling.

To paraphrase a David Bowie song the Wallflowers famously covered, the vibe at the Fonda last Tuesday may have gone something like “We could be hometown heroes.”

“It’s been a long time since we played here,” Dylan said during the concert, half-joking, “We just took a seven-year encore and we’re back.”

Rami Jaffee: The Perks of Being a Wallflower

In 1986, it wasn’t unusual to find 17-year-old Rami Jaffee, a lanky, scruffy-looking longhair in a Grateful Dead tie-dye T-shirt, improvising on the grand piano in Fairfax High School’s auditorium during recess.

Cut to Sept. 6, 2012, on stage in Charlotte, N.C. Jaffee, 43, his long locks shorn, jammed with Dave Grohl and the rest of the Foo Fighters at the Democratic National Convention. 

An associate member of Foo Fighters, keyboardist Jaffee was in Wallflowers mode this week as the American roots band he co-founded with singer/songwriter Jakob Dylan returned Oct. 9 with their first album in seven years, “Glad All Over,” and a date at the Fonda Theatre in Hollywood.

For Jaffee, September was a blur of bicoastal flights and performances with his two internationally known, Grammy-winning groups. 

Last week, over a plate of spaghetti at Andre’s in the Town & Country food court at Fairfax and Third, Jaffee spent the few scant hours of downtime with the Journal before heading East for a Wallflowers “Good Morning America” appearance.

Jaffee grew up in the Fairfax District. Sephardi on his mother’s side and Ashkenazi on his dad’s, he attended Temple Beth Am and at 16 worked as a JCC camp counselor.

Fairfax Avenue has always been central to Jaffee’s life, from receiving his education at Hancock Park Elementary and Fairfax High to fueling his musical education at Canter’s Deli’s Kibitz Room. 

After spending 1982 to 1987 playing in bands, most notably the David Bowie-esque group Daisy Chamber, Jaffee cultivated the Kibitz Room into a weekly Tuesday night magnet for local musicians. He became transfixed with roots rock, indulging in lush Hammond organ sounds. 

Jaffee and Dylan, who met at Canter’s, formed the Wallflowers (originally the Apples) in 1989. But when the band released its self-titled album in August 1992, the grunge scene, ushered in by Grohl’s former group, Nirvana, was firmly established and rock fans were in no mood for the Wallflowers’ Americana. 

The band also didn’t help their own cause with their label, Virgin.

“We were not willing to talk about Jakob Dylan’s lineage,” Jaffee said. “We were under contract for eight records. And we’re the biggest nightmare for promotion. We were known as this difficult band who spent their money and didn’t want to admit Jakob was Bob Dylan’s son.”

From 1991 to 1994, the Wallflowers toured nationwide, opening for Spin Doctors and 10,000 Maniacs. In 1994, Virgin dropped the group, which had rung up a million-dollar debt while failing to connect with their first album. 

Jaffee dealt with this blow by staying active in L.A.’s music scene, continuing to play the Kibitz Room, Viper Room, the Mint and the now-defunct Pico-Robertson venue Jack’s Sugar Shack. He also crossed the street from Canter’s to deliver pizzas for Damiano’s.

“It was soul-crushing, but I’m a worker,” Jaffee said. “You do what you have to do to make a living. I was developing the biggest music scene. We had Peter Tork of the Monkees, Lenny Kravitz on drums, Melissa Etheridge on bass. Rick Rubin was walking into the Kibitz Room, saying there should be a Kibitz Room anthology album.” 

Jaffee chalks up the “lightning-in-a-bottle” energy to the Fairfax area’s magical “Gilmore Island” history.

“Anyone could play the Kibitz Room,” he said. “A bum would walk in and grab the mic.”

One such ostensibly odd person was avant-garde producer Jon Brion (Kanye West, Fiona Apple).

“He came in with a weird look, a bow tie,” Jaffee recalled. “They were like, ‘Please don’t let this guy in the place; he looks like a transient.’ ”

Meanwhile, the Wallflowers persevered. “We created our own scene. One label head got wind of our live performances; Jakob’s lineage, everything helped. Jakob was gorgeous,” Jaffee said.

A bidding war broke out and Universal Music Group’s Interscope signed the band. Produced by T-Bone Burnett, 1996’s “Bringing Down the House” sturdily posited the Wallflowers on the map. Pillared by hit songs “6th Avenue Heartache,” “The Difference” and their biggest single, “One Headlight,” the quadruple-platinum album and two Grammy awards propelled the Wallflowers forward for four years.

“We toured relentlessly,” Jaffee said.

A hit cover of Bowie’s “Heroes” from the “Godzilla” soundtrack in 1998 “acted as a fifth single,” he said. “Let’s just say that’s when we bought our second houses.”

“All the 12-year-olds thought we wrote it,” Jaffee continued, laughing as he recalled a DJ asking him on the air, “ ‘This next song is brand-new. Where did you learn to write this stuff?’ ”