Jeff Jacobs Went From Playing College Bars to Rocking The Keys on "We Didn't Start The Fire."
Welcome to Local Music 'Mericans , where we meet some of the people
behind the local music scene -- those who aren't necessarily members of
local bands, but more the people who make the scene move.
Jeff Jacobs, a fairly recent transplant from Chicago, spends much of his time these days concentrating on the behind-the-scenes element of the music scene (he runs his own recording facility and management company). But, back in the day, he played keys on some pretty significant classic rock albums, starting with Billy Joel's Storm Front LP.
That's his playing you hear at the beginning of Joel's "We Didn't Start The Fire," which reached No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart in 1989, helping the the LP become Joel's first No. 1 album since the infamous Glass Houses, re leased almost nine years earlier.
The record was produced by Foreigner's Mick Jones, who came calling for Jacob's services for his own band a few years later. The band toured every corner of the world, recorded a couple of live discs and went through various lineup changes surrounding the band's original guitarist and vocalist, Mick Jones and Lou Gramm. But Jacobs managed to survive in Foreigner for 16 years before finally bowing out in 2007.
Nowadays, he helms Big Dog Bites Music, previously headquartered in Chicago, and now a local music element worth knowing about along Jacobs himself. We'll give you a hand with getting to know both on the next page.
So, you're a Chicago transplant! What brought you to North Texas, and when did you begin to interact with the local music scene here? Who were some of the first artists you got to know?
When I left Foreigner, we saw an opportunity for my wife to join with her brother, "The Diamond Doctor," who has a very succesful wholesale diamond business here in DFW. Naturally, when I got here, I did some looking around and started going to the local clubs both to listen and to play. I met some of the workhorse-type bands like Emerald City and some singer songwriters, like Eric Neff. Also, a couple of players from Austin -- notably a guitarist named Jake Edwards.
I imagine you were quite the enthusiastic musician in your school years. What were your music projects like in those days?
When I was in high school, I was in a band call Stained Glass that played anything that was considered "intellectual rock" or "fusion." We played several original tunes that more resembled math problems in spots than music. We were heavily influenced by bands like Gentle Giant and King Crimson. My earliest keyboard hero was Rick Wakeman. In college, my interests turned to bebop, jazz and funk music. I played in a band called Kilo that ruled the college music scene in Indiana and Kentucky from 1982 to 1986. Other members of Kilo were Crystal Taliefero (Billy Joel, Faith Hill, Bruce Springsteen, John Mellencamp, etc.) Shawn Pelton (drummer on Saturday Night Live for the last 12 years), Everett Bradely (Hall & Oates, Stomp) and the list goes on!
How about before school? Any pivotal musical moments in your youth that stand out in memory?
I had many of these, starting with The Beatles in my parents' car on eight-track tape. When I was 14, I saw Yes in the round -- three nights in a row -- at the International Amphitheatre in Chicago. When I was in college in California at the University of The Pacific, I saw Leon Russell at at small club in San Francisco. That was life changing. Major concerts for me growing up were James Brown and The Dixie Dregs. I saw Keith Jarrett -- that was when I realized that music is free, floating through the universe and [that] certain very lucky individuals have the ability to bring it to the masses. Then I discovered Jimi Hendrix, and I was finished.
And the Billy Joel and Foreigner experiences? How did you land such cool gigs?
All of that came as a result of the vast network of Indiana University musicians and friends that have pulled each other up through both New York and L.A. After moving to New York City in late 1988, I was recommended for a gig with a new artist named Grayson Hugh by Marc Platti, a well-known producer and bass player. Shortly after that, my name was given to Billy Joel through my roommate in NYC, who had worked for John Mellencamp as a tour manager. When Billy Joel needed a keyboard player in 1989 for the Storm Front album, I happened to be right there and got the gig. Mick Jones from Foreigner just happened to be producing the record and liked what I brought to the project so he was happy to offer me a spot in Foreigner when it came up a few years later in 1991. After completing the River of Dreams album with Billy, I remained a member of Foreigner until December of 2007. My best memory was on the first day of recording Storm Front: Billy Joel and Mick Jones took the band out for lunch in Little Italy. We didn't get much done that day. But the entire album only took six weeks to complete, and it was No. 1 in the country on Christmas Day in 1989, and "We Didn't Start The Fire" was the No. 1 song in the world. Not bad for my first real studio album! My next best memory was sitting in with Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden as a member of Foreigner with both Mick Jones and Lou Gramm.
Sounds like a surreal rock experience! What's the craziest thing you ever saw a fan do?
There used to be a Japanese librarian who was in love with Lou Gramm so much that she would save her money all year and take her six-week vacation following Foreigner no matter where we were touring at the time.
Care to share what ended the experience with Foreigner?
Two factors, the first being that I have two young girls that like having daddy around and the second being that Foreigner played the other night at Fair Park opening for Journey, only there where zero original members on the stage. Not for me. I respect the music too much.
Tell me about some artists you've worked with here in town that you were impressed or inspired by.
I've done a bit with local bands like Siren Sea or blues artists like Buddy Weddington, a great guitarist in Fort Worth. A few young rappers as well.
So, you're coming from a specific, niche-type of music background, and one that's not necessarily the hipster-indie or even modern rock scene. From that particualr musical angle, what's your take on on the local talent factor here within your niche'?
I think they have a decent live music thing happening in Grapevine and Fort Worth. Not so much in Dallas! I'd like to contribute to a bit of a change in that regard.
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