“…when you do something from your heart, when you come forward, people respond to it. Because all of my technique and everything I’ve developed over the years and all my years studying Jazz and Harmony, to me that is completely meaningless if I’m not able to communicate with people, if I’m not able to touch people.”Mimi Fox
Mimi Fox is an internationally recognized Jazz Guitarist based out of San Francisco who shares with us her current projects, the reason behind her all acoustic This Bird Still Flies, and the story behind her Heritage Mimi Fox Signature model guitar. A great read that is both informative and entertaining. Enjoy!
Ed. note: I originally interviewed Mimi Fox back in 2006 so if you haven’t read that interview, please do so as Mimi shares her musical background, her association with Jazz Guitarist Bruce Forman and what has worked for her personally and professionally in becoming the player she knew she could become. A very inspiring read.
JGL: Hi Mimi and welcome back to Jazz Guitar Life.
MF: Thank you Lyle.
JGL: Before we begin Mimi, how are you doing during this time of COVID and lockdowns?
MF: Emotionally it’s been very, very challenging because – and I’ve talked to a lot of my Jazz friends and Classical friends about this – many of us, and there’s sort of the stereotype that we are fanatically the type of musicians that you can put us all on a desert island with our respective instruments and we’d be fine. But guess what? That’s NOT the case. The Pandemic has taught me how much I need people – and it’s funny – it’s not about self aggrandizement, it’s not about ego, it’s about the fact that as an artist, this is what I feel that I am here to do, without sounding too grandiose. This is what I do! This is what I’ve spent my whole life doing so sharing my music with people is a way I give to humanity, a way I give to people. And with that put on hold…I mean, I’ve done live streaming and I see the little hearts flying by and that’s very nice, and I get great comments, but it is not the same as right in the moment instantaneous reciprocity, that important give and take. You know, with a good audience, and if you’re having a good night, there’s a symbiotic relationship that develops between the artist and the audience and boy do I really miss it. I really miss it! I have had to get very adept at my online teaching because I had stopped teaching privately years ago and so I went back and picked up a few conservatory students just because I was afraid I was going to lose my mind. All I was doing was watching Star Trek and practising every now and then and I could go for bike rides and get out a bit because that was something I could do.
So it has been very hard mentally and emotionally and even though they have started coming out with vaccines, there are now different strains and is thing ever going to end!? I mean for me, and I think also for a lot of fellow artists, and in particular those fellow artists who were expected to be touring in 2020 and now 2021 isn’t looking tremendously better either so it’s been very taxing. I don’t know anybody who, at some level, couldn’t be described at some level as clinically depressed. And everybody manages. I am a high-energy person. I get out of bed every day and I got things to do like biking and I do things, but there’s still a low grade depression that I think, especially with all the musicians I know, who are all suffering from this.
JGL: I can relate. When the music stops – so to speak – what happens to us identifiable artists!?
MF: Well it’s that, what’s the French term, “raison d’être”, our reason for being! I was practising up a storm, I was composing, I was taking out my old Classical Guitar studies and was loving it. I have a bass player friend of mine, he would record some stuff, I would record some stuff and we’d send files back and forth which is generally hard in Jazz. You can do that in Pop music but for Jazz, well anyway, we were trying and we would rehearse on ZOOM and do things and we’d get very excited about something and then it would sort of fizzle out and that’s what I experience with everybody. Because of the indeterminableness of it, I mean we’d get excited about something and then it would slip though our fingers. It feels like you can’t hold on to anything and it sort of feels like “why bother?” What is the meaning of our existence!? You know?
JGL: I do indeed! If we can make a little detour though, and I was going to open with this: It’s been 15 years since we last spoke…so…what have you been up to? LOL…
MF: Well Lyle, I have been recording and working and playing and touring and you know, just living my life as an artist and trying to keep growing.
JGL: Speaking of developing as an artist, I’d like to jump into your most recent recording This Bird Still Flies. I was very surprised to read that the title came about as a result of your battle with cancer, which I was not aware of but thankfully you are now cancer free?
MF: Yes I am! Here’s the thing. I’m one of those people who is a complete health nut. My dad, who I was very close to, did everything wrong. He drank, he smoked, he never exercised and so me, my brother and my sister, went in the opposite extreme! I was a marathon runner and a vegan! I didn’t drink, I didn’t smoke. I didn’t do anything! I don’t drink coffee, I don’t do sugar, yet I STILL got cancer and I freaked out! I thought I was impervious. I thought if I took good care of myself, as I did, that nothing was ever going to happen to me, right? I would just die in my sleep of 100% natural causes.
So I got that cancer diagnosis and you know, it changes you! It humbled me in some ways. But anyway Lyle, to make a long story short, they caught it very early on and I had a very fast recovery and I’ve been cancer free for ten years this coming May.
JGL: Mazel tov Mimi, that’s wonderful.
MF: Thank you.
JGL: So your health scare and recovery became the momentum for This Bird Still Flies?
MF: Yeah, exactly. You know, on every one of my albums I have one or two acoustic pieces and I wanted to do a whole acoustic project as it is another part of my musicality that I wanted to share. The title cut “This Bird Still Flies” I wrote from an experience I had during my cancer treatment with birds, literally with birds in a parking lot, so I wrote that piece and then I just decided to do an all acoustic project.
JGL: It’s a wonderful tune Mimi! Andy Timmons guests with you on that one cut and I’ve seen YouTube videos where you are both doing a duo thing, but – and I’m embarrassed to say – I don’t know who Andy is!
MF: Andy is an artist on the Favored Nations label who I did three projects for. So Andy was on that label and I think the biggest thing he’s done was in a rock band called Danger Danger. I think he was with them for a long time and he was also the musical director for Olivia Newton John for many years. He’s kind of like a Jack-of-all-trades. Oh, and he was also with Steve Vai and Joe Satriani, you know, that G3 project? So he’s done a lot of great things and we’ve gotten to know each other and I’m a big fan. We’ve become close friends and he’s like a brother to me. Unlike a lot of people that can play a lot of different styles, every style that he plays, he plays really well! So when I got ready to do this project I thought it would be fun to do a piece together. I love Andy! I can’t say enough good things about him.
JGL: Well I’m definitely going to check him out because he sounds great on your tune and I now want to hear of him!
MF: Yeah, please do.
JGL: So when you were developing the album, what was the process and how did one tune flow into the other? I mean, I hear so many styles on this album like Larry Coryell and his kind of acoustic stuff. But I also hear Jethro Tull! Oh…and there‘s a recurring melodic phrase that keeps popping up on your tune “Twilight in the Mangroves”…
MF: Oh yeah! That was a piece I wrote for a friend of mine…well, let me get back to your first question and then I’ll talk more about “Mangroves”.
Basically putting the project together I wanted to use some of my different guitars that I had so I used mostly my six string, but I also have a Baritone guitar which I play on “Day Tripper” which was really fun and I wanted to do something different there. But yeah…I kind of wanted to have fun and let everything rip, to have all of the different influences I had in my life come to bare. I feel that I’ve done so much straight-ahead Jazz stuff and I’m very proud of all that but I kind of wanted to do something different and show a different side of my musicality.
So, with “Twilight in the Mangroves”, that piece was evocative of an experience that I had. A friend of mine, Brad Wendkos, who started TrueFire, you know, the educational site that I do all those courses for. Well, it’s very grueling recording those courses over a period of three days, so when we finished, Brad had been working very hard and I had been touring a lot and we were both pretty fried from recording and video-taping and everything so Brad said “You know what ‘Meem’, I would like to take you out on my sailboat” and I replied “You don’t have to twist my arm!” LOL!
He lives in Florida, St. Petersburg area and it’s beautiful with the fauna and the flora and everything. So we went out on his sailboat and we stopped at this beautiful little estuary and there were egrets and all these beautiful sea-grasses and we sat there and had sandwiches and potato chips and hung out.
When we were talking, I thanked Brad because I feel he’s been very generous with me and with the other TrueFire artists. It’s like a model company to me. If I were to have a company, I’d want to run it the way Brad has run it, he’s really been very generous and fair! So I said to him, “you know, you’ve been so great to me and I would like to do something to reciprocate your generosity, what can I do?” And he thought for a moment and he said “You know ‘Meem’, what I would love, and if it comes to you, write a song for me.” And so, I got the title when I woke up one morning, ‘cause it was exactly twilight and we were in the Mangroves and the tune just started coming to me and I finished it literally, well it was the last thing I recorded, and finished it in the nick of time sort of because I had a deadline to get the project to the mastering guy to mix and master and then it was going on to the record company. So I had deadlines I had to meet and I kept working on the tune. Sometimes songs for me as a composer flow out and other times it’s more of a laborious process.
This was more laborious because I kept hearing different sections and trying to…you know, as a composer you’re concerned with the overall quality and you want to have it be cohesive. So I kept working on it and just finished it in the nick of time. I partially wanted to get it finished for Brad so I could send it to him but also it felt like it wanted to be on this acoustic album. I could arrange it differently and have a sax player or a bassoon player play the head and do it differently but this is what I conceived initially.
JGL: Well however it gets played, it’s a beautiful tune. That whole album actually is wonderful, but that tune particularly just struck a chord in me…and there’s a line in there that reminds me of the YES tune “And You And I.”
MF: I loved YES as a kid and did I accidentally quote it? Are you talking about during my solo or in the melody?
JGL: The melody. There’s a recurring line throughout the tune and it just reminds me so much of Steve Howe and that tune…lol.
MF: Well you know Lyle there are just so many notes…lol…that’s very, very funny. When I was a teenager I sort of missed the hard rock thing but I did like YES and I liked Emerson Lake and Palmer and I liked Jethro Tull. Then I got into Stevie Wonder and started getting into funk and Parliament (Funkadelic) and that stuff but my early roots were Crosby, Stills and Nash, Joni Mitchell. I was much more folky, and of course I loved The Beatles, but I loved them as songwriters you know. I didn’t like the Stones when I was a little girl and my brother and sister had big “fights” ‘cause my brother was a Beatles fan and my sister liked the Stones and I went with my brother on that. But as I look back at the Stones I like “As Tears Go By” and “Wild Horses” which is a beautiful tune. You know, my job as a musician and an artist is not to judge but to find what I can love and appreciate in other people’s music because there are plenty of people that can judge, and that’s fine for them, but I don’t want to be one of them. I want to take the best of what other artists are putting out and try to absorb it.
JGL: Wonderfully stated Mimi! So with all those influences, it seems like this acoustic project is Mimi Fox coming full circle?
MF: Kind of yeah. You know Lyle, it’s funny, when I first decided to do this project I wanted a new acoustic guitar, so I had a lot of different meetings and talked with people and I ended up signing on with Taylor because I met their artist relations guy and he was great and they had Andy Powers – one of their builders – making this builders edition which was so gorgeous so I ended up coming on board with Taylor and I got that, and I got a Baritone and I have a new twelve string they just sent me which is beautiful! So when I did an interview for their magazine Wood and Steel the interviewer said that there’s something so natural sounding with me playing acoustic and I said “yeah, it’s my roots, it’s what I started on!”
I’m proud of everything I’ve done that’s more straight-ahead and certainly on this album I got some straight-ahead stuff being played on a flat top, like “There’s No Greater Love”, “You Don’t Know What Love Is” and “Blue Bossa” so there’s some straight-ahead, but you know, and it’s quite astute of you for hearing it Lyle, it does feel like a full circle. I also feel, as an artist, I don’t want to be making the same project over and over again. I mean it seems like Jazz artists are like “yeah ok…I got this…I got a ballad…I got a waltz…I got a burner…I have a Latin piece…I wanna do this…I wanna do that…” And after awhile – even across the Jazz landscape – it becomes formulaic.
To be honest with you, I was very nervous about what the response would be from the Jazz Press but everyone loved it! And it sort of proves a point because I WAS nervous when the record company started sending it out to media but then I was getting 4 stars in Downbeat and finding out that Jazz Times loved it, and I say this not to gloat, but more to say, when you do something from your heart, when you come forward, people respond to it. Because all of my technique and everything I’ve developed over the years and all my years studying Jazz and Harmony, to me that is completely meaningless if I’m not able to communicate with people, if I’m not able to touch people. It’s like I mentioned earlier Lyle, what I miss about doing shows and concerts is like what you and I are doing right now, having a conversation, communicating with an audience, reaching people. That’s so touching for me because like all musicians, before I was playing big festivals and concert halls, I played a lot of smoky dives and ratty clubs in my life doing four sets a night and inhaling smoke and everything else so I paid my dues.
JGL: So you know that the press loves you, do you think you might have lost some fans that dig you only for your straight-ahead playing?
MF: Thus far no. Sales for the CD have been brisk and actually I have no more left. I called the record company and told them we are going to have to print some more up. So again, I was very nervous but I also felt like part of the experience of having had cancer you say to yourself “If I’m not going to take chances”, I mean in some ways, being a Jazz artist is taking chances every time you step on stage because you’re improvising! But now I was thrusting myself into a whole different arena, and you’re right, and the fans and the Jazz critics, what were they going to think? But I just threw caution to the wind because once you have cancer it’s like if not now, if not now that I’m going to live my life to the fullest then when am I going to do it!
JGL: YES! I definitely agree and it’s not like you are attempting to re-invent yourself, you’re just doing what you feel you need to do at this given moment in time, so the success you are experiencing on this project is really well deserved!
MF: Thank you Lyle…thank you!
JGL: My pleasure. Ok…let’s shift a little. On the track “Against The Grain” there are two guitars happening and I am assuming that you overdubbed a rhythm track to play against?
MF: Yes, there’s two Mimi’s, lol!
JGL: When you’re doing something like that, how do you keep the flow of “two Mimi’s” sounding natural and intentional? Are you listening to a “ghost track” in your head when you’re laying down the rhythm track?
MF: That cut was/is actually a historical marker because I recorded that when I was 27…
JGL: Oh my gosh!
MF: Yeah…that’s on my first album, so you’re asking me to think back in time to remember how I did it and I don’t know, but it does sound like the two guitars are kind of meshed…
JGL: So that tune is actually 27 years old!?
MF: Yes and actually…hold on a second (Mimi reaches for something off camera). You see this? (She holds up a vinyl LP) This is actually my first album and that’s what I looked like back then…lol…can you see the tunes? ”Against the Grain” is the first one and recorded when I was 27 and so I don’t remember what my process was then, but I wanted to do it first off because it’s a fun tune, it’s in 5/4 and then goes into a 4/4 section and I just think it’s a fun composition. I wanted to also have it as a marker of my acoustic side of my playing. I listen to that now and I can’t believe that I did that at the time because the two guitars don’t sound so disparate, they actually sound like they’re in a zone.
JGL: Exactly. And it’s funny ‘cause at some points I wasn’t sure if you were playing to another track or if maybe you were doing some Tuck Andress, Martin Taylor or Lenny Breau type of solo playing! I mean these cats can play to the point where there are layers of melody, harmony and rhythm coming from just two hands. Much like yourself on the second CD of your Perpetually Hip CD where you do some awe-inspiring solo guitar playing!
MF: Thank you Lyle. Actually, I toured with Martin. We did about eight shows together. He’s a very nice guy and we had a lot of fun. I’ll tell you the truth Lyle, I don’t really listen to other guitar players. Other than Wes, who I’m always transcribing stuff from because I enjoy that, in fact this is who I listen to these days (shows a book on Coltrane). I know Tuck because he’s also from the Bay area so there was a time we played the same clubs early in our careers, and other than Joe Pass who I listen to for solo guitar stuff, I don’t really listen to other guitar players. I’m more interested in horn players because I feel that their lines are more interesting.
JGL: Good point.
MF: I also listen to vocalists because I’m interested in having the guitar be more lyrical. I love the phrasing from everybody like Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennet, who people don’t think of as true Jazz singers, but I do, to someone like Betty Carter. That’s the kind of stuff that I listen to.
JGL: Yes! I love Betty Carter! Talk about someone who uses her voice as a physical instrument…
MF: Oh yeah! Oh…and you know who else is great and who I had the pleasure of playing with him a little bit at a festival in Australia years ago is Kurt Elling!
JGL: I’ve heard of Kurt of course, but really haven’t checked him out much…
MF: You should check him out on YouTube! He does an amazing scat version of “Impressions”…incredible!
JGL: So this brings me to what I think is a logical entry point to the question…and that is…are you ever going to start singing along with your playing? The reason I ask this is because you do a lot of Beatles tunes and have done so throughout your career, instrumentally anyway, and it makes me wonder if you’d maybe consider adding your voice to the mix.
MF: No, I don’t think so and I’ll tell you why. It’s because I’ve worked with so many extraordinary vocalists in my life, I know what the human voice can do and I know what it takes to do that and I don’t have that! When I first got a guitar it felt natural but for me singing does not feel natural. I was the person in the band that really struggled to sing my little lines of harmony. I really had to focus and it just didn’t come naturally to me. I would really have to work at it and at this point in my life I just don’t see it. I do however write a lot of songs with lyrics but I have the vocalists I work with sing my songs.
JGL: Wow…I guess you’re not THAT brave…lol…I’m just joking of course…
MF:LOL…no I’m not that brave at all. Actually Lyle I have a funny story to tell. Years ago one of the record companies I was with, they had a change of ownership and the new guy they had was really trying to get some cross-over air-play. Well we had meetings and contract discussions and all that and one morning after a breakfast meeting, as he was picking up the tab, he asked “Mimi, do you sing?”…lol. It’s something that a lot of people ask but you know, look at Nat King Cole who was a marvellous pianist, or look at George Benson or Diana Krall who are great instrumentalists but once they start singing the general listening public hears them mostly as singers. And that’s if one CAN sing. For me, I’m a perfectionist Lyle and if I can’t do it well… look…if I was going to do anything it would be as a drummer and percussionist. That is something I’ve studied and can hold my own so that would be about it.
JGL: Cool, but with George, Nat and Diana, ironically it was the addition of their vocals that brought them more into the mainstream…
MF: Well that’s why that record company guy was asking me of course. You may not be a fan of vocals but for a lot of people, who don’t get instrumental Jazz, if they hear Ella Fitzgerald or Billie Holiday sing a song, it makes it easier for them to follow, more accessible. But singing is hard, at least for me it is. I can sit down with practically any stringed instrument, guitar, banjo, oud and make sense of it, but singing does not come naturally to me.
JGL: Understood. You know, I always find it interesting how one’s life is shaped by the choices we make like the above mentioned artists and this brings me to this question: For the most part, has your career been a series of planned trajectories on your part or have things just happened and you went along with the flow so to speak. Especially with this all acoustic project, which seems like a new phase, a new sound and direction for Mimi Fox? It seems like it’s a natural progression for you and will you continue in this direction?
MF: I wouldn’t say it’s a new sound Lyle, it’s just a project I did. Here’s the thing that’s kind of funny. Over the years I have played a lot of guitar events, guitar related festivals and great guitar nights where they will have like four different guitarists playing different genres. They’ll have a finger-style guitarist, they’ll have a Classical guitarist, a Flamenco player and then me playing Jazz where we all play solo and then come together at the end to do some barn-burners. So I’ve always done both of these things where I play acoustic guitar but I’ve also got my straight-ahead playing as well so I’m going to continue doing both. My next project I wanna do is going to be a B3 Organ Trio!
MF: Yeah…I did something similar on a project I did back in 1999 for this one record company and it had Joey DeFrancesco on it. But I have my own group here in the Bay Area with some great guys so I’m probably going to do that and I’ll “freak” people out again because they’ll think “Oh, you did this acoustic thing and this is where you’re going” and I’ll be like “No, now I’m going to do something completely different!”
One of the things I did a few years ago was with a string trio with two extraordinary musicians, The San Francisco String Trio and we did whole Jazz reimagining of Sgt. Pepper along with a bunch of shows.
JGL: Nice! So how did The San Francisco String Trio come about?
MF: It’s kind of funny how that all came together. The violinist Mads Tolling, who has played with Stanley Clark and has a couple of Grammys from his work with the Turtle Island String Quartet, is a world class violinist, just an extraordinary musician, composer and arranger. So he and the bassist Jeff Denson, who has played with Lee Konitz for many years, is an extraordinary bassist and also has a beautiful tenor singing voice, well they were actually going to form a more traditional string trio with a cello, or maybe a quartet by possibly adding a viola.
Well anyway, Mads had hired me for some shows he was doing and so we got to know each other, and Jeff and I had met previously as well. Mads and Jeff also went to school at Berklee in Boston so we all had these individual connections kind of like six degrees of separation. So Jeff called Mads one day and asked “why do we have to have cello or viola in the string trio, why can’t we have Mimi as the other stringed instrument?” Mads thought that was a great idea so we got together and had the best time playing together and we hit it off immediately. We then started talking about what we could do for a project and along the way we happen to find out that we were all Beatles fans and loved their songs.
As it happened, it was coming up (2017) to the 50th anniversary release of Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band and I was the only one in the group who had the original recording as I was around ten years old when that album came out.
So we started talking about “what if we rearranged Sgt. Pepper and did Jazz versions of these tunes and redid the whole album?, which proved to be challenging because we wanted to come up with fresh ideas but wanted it to be Jazz, we wanted to blow and to really play. I mean you know, we weren’t a Beatles Tribute band, we were three Jazz musicians coming together to see what we could come up with. So that’s how the project came about.
JGL: Cool! So is that the only recording the group has at the moment? Will there be another project?
MF: Yeah, we actually had plans but then the pandemic hit, so now we’re just talking about what we’ll do for another project when we can get back together because we love playing together! We’ve done a lot of touring together and get along really well, both personally and professionally, so something will happen, I’m just not sure how or when.
JGL: Definitely something to look forward to! I have yet to hear it and wondering if you played all acoustic throughout that project?
MF: No no, I play mostly electric. I do play acoustic twelve string on one number and then acoustic six string on a few, and the rest on my Heritage hollow-body, so it’s a mixture.
JGL: Nice! Oh…that is something that has happened since we last spoke 15 years ago…you got a Heritage Signature Mimi Fox guitar! Can you talk a little about that?
MF: Yeah sure…actually, I’ll show you (Mimi goes off camera for a second and then comes back holding her beautiful Heritage Signature model).
JGL: Wow! Very nice and there’s your signature! Cool!
MF: Yeah…I joke with my students that the only reason I started to play guitar when I was ten was so I could have my name on a guitar…LOL!
JGL: Well it’s beautiful. Do you know the materials used on that particular model?
MF: Yeah, it’s a spruce top with an ebony neck. It plays great and it’s light and I couldn’t be happier. Oh…one thing that drives my student’s “crazy”, especially when on ZOOM…is that the guitar doesn’t have any position markers on the neck…lol.
JGL: Not even on the sides of the neck?
MF: Yes, they added them on there. I asked them not to put them on but I guess they couldn’t stop themselves…lol. More and more when I’m playing live I close my eyes because I feel I play differently when they are closed and I don’t need to see any markings, but like I said, they added them anyway.
JGL: I guess for those who are not Mimi Fox, they may need to see the dots for reference. Tell me, how does one get their own signature model?
MF: Well, there are different ways of going about it, but this of course is another aspect of the music, which is the music business. One needs to make a delineation between the artistry and the business because they are completely separate! I never went to school to learn about that side of things but I did have managers I used to work with and mentors who guided me and tried to help me out in the past. Steve Vai (Favored Nations Entertainment) has been very helpful in offering me guidance and making suggestions towards the business side of things. But mostly I’ve had to rely on my wits and go through the school of hard knocks as I figured things out.
At the time of the signature model, I had been with Heritage since 1991, so many years and it was a process of establishing my reputation professionally. I first came to Heritage’s attention through my teaching in LA at the National Guitar Workshop and Jim Ferguson – who wrote for many years for Guitar Player magazine – was there and he wanted to interview me, so he pitched a story to Guitar Player magazine about me and that was my first article (Mimi points to a frame on her wall showcasing the article). There I am Lyle, at 34 years old…with that hair…lol!!
JGL: Nice! I think I still have that issue! Very cool…
MF: Yeah! So that was the first article they did of me. At that point I had just bought a Heritage having just sold my Gibson ES-175. I liked the Heritage, it had a smaller body and was more comfortable for me because at that time I was playing a lot of festivals where I had to stand most of the time, and the strap gets to you and everything. Now I have different work-arounds for all of that, but at the time I wanted a lighter guitar and also I really fell in love with this 575 Heritage which I found at this small music store.
So Jim was interviewing me for this article and he asked me why I had switched to the Heritage which made its way into the article. Well, within two days of the article coming out, I get this call from Bill Page who passed unfortunately recently, but he was one of the Heritage guys (original co-founder) and I could literally hear the saws and the building of guitars in the background…lol!
JGL: Wow…how cool!
MF: Yeah! So I get this call and I hear this voice “Hello? Is this Mimi!?” “Yeah, who’s this?” “Hey it’s Bill Page from Heritage Guitars and we want to thank you for your kind comments and is there anything else we can interest you in? We’d like to send you some catalogues!”
So basically they started making me guitars and all I did was play them and talk about them and it was a good relationship for many years. So when they started getting ready for the 30th anniversary which was around 2015 I believe, one of their main reps who was a fan of mine and very supportive said “Hey, you know, in honor of the 30th Anniversary, why don’t we make a signature model for Mimi! She’s been with the company for a long time.”
JGL: Sweet! Speaking of signature models and endorsing guitars, what’s up with Taylor Guitars?
MF: Well Taylor has been great to me and, one second Lyle…(Mimi once again goes off camera and I hear a guitar case being opened. She comes into frame holding a most beautiful acoustic Taylor guitar). This is the K14 CE Builders Edition (she begins to play some wonderful chordal arrangement)
JGL: Wow. That sounds beautiful…
MF: Thank you (plays something up the neck) and it’s nice that it has a cut-away. It has a spruce top but the back of it is a beautiful Koa. It’s really a warm sound and I like the company because they use very sustainable harvesting, so everything they get from the forest they plant and renew and they treat their employees well. In fact the artist relations guy is a really great player himself who has played with a lot of folks and he now wants to settle down in San Diego where the company is.
So I have this guitar and then I have this Baritone Taylor that I use for Day Tripper on the album (The Bird Still Flies) and they also sent me this twelve string which is really beautiful.
JGL: Wow! Gorgeous! So did you have a Taylor previously before you became an endorsee?
MF: No. Actually I have an old 70’s Guild acoustic which I used on all my albums prior to the new one and I love it. But as I mentioned earlier, I wanted something new for the acoustic project as it was also something new in my life, so I started looking around. Basically my manager tracked down, through various friends and contacts he had, the person who was in charge of artist relations and then he sent them my bio and all of my work and they said “Great, we’d like to meet Mimi!”
So my manager set up a meet with the head of artists relations Tim Godwin and he invited me down to see the factory in San Diego which is not a long flight for me at all, so Tim met me at the airport and gave me a tour of the factory. Then he sat me down and like a kid in a candy store I was surrounded by like 8,000 guitars…lol…and he kept handing me guitars to try and I was in heaven. It was really fun. And the cool thing was that I was in his office and he had the door open and all the Taylor employees that could hear what was going on started showing up outside his office and of course they’re not expecting a woman to be playing what I was playing so that was fun.
Anyway, I decided on the Builders Edition and Tim said “Great!”and then he just gave me the guitar. Then with the Baritone, that was actually given to me by a Taylor dealer in the area who is a friend of mine. And then when I was looking for a twelve string for the acoustic project I told Tim that I’d like to get a twelve string and he said, because he knows my playing, “Great! I have the guitar just for you.” And within a week a UPS guy comes to my door and I’ve got a brand new twelve string guitar.
JGL: Understood and I guess that then begs the question: What IS your responsibility or artist obligation to a company that has you as an endorsee such as Taylor?
MF: Well because Taylor is such a successful company already I just do what I can as a courtesy which they expect. On my albums it’s gonna say “Mimi Plays Taylor K14 CE” or when I do shows I’m going to thank Taylor Guitars or when my webmaster does an email blast for a tour it’s going to say “Mimi would like to thank so and so and Taylor guitars” and whoever else.
Now, are you familiar with the NAMM shows?
JGL: Yes I am.
MF: Well Taylor has a huge booth there at NAMM and they have their artists play on their different stages and basically I don’t have time for a lot of other stuff when at NAMM because I’m doing a lot for them. Interviews, videos, blogs so there is a lot of stuff to do and that’s ok because for me it’s a very good relationship. Maybe at some point I would like to have someone design a signature model acoustic guitar but right now I have so many great guitars so it would just be gravy! I don’t need it but it would just be nice.
JGL: True. I see we are running up against the clock as it were so let’s jump ahead to TrueFire. I assume that the Mimi Fox of back in the day would give private lessons at home or go to someone’s house to give lessons…
MF: That’s really, really early days Lyle because back in 1997 I stared teaching for the Jazz School and pretty much stopped my private lessons. Actually in the early to mid-90’s I stopped giving lessons because I was giving classes and touring and I had other things going on. But yes, there was a time when I did that.
JGL: I hear ya. So then, how did your association with TrueFire come about?
MF: Well, I met Brad at NAMM and we were introduced by a mutual friend. I have this friend back in New Jersey who stated a music program called Little Kids Rock who gets guitars in schools that are in under-served communities where there is no music program because they don’t have the budget. So I volunteered – when I would be back in the New York area doing shows – to go into some of these schools and spend time with the kids and talk to them about careers in music, play a little and listen to what they were doing and they would play me some of their music. You know, these were kids aged between 11 and 15 and really nice kids.
So Dave Wish from Little Kids Rock came by to say hi, get a hug and schmooze while I was at the Heritage Booth. He knew Brad somehow – maybe through a sponsorship program between TrueFire and Little Kids Rock – because Brad has very good ethics, very good values, a really good guy.
Anyway Dave says to me “I have a friend who really wants to meet you and talk about a project!” So Dave introduced us and Brad is really funny and a sweet guy so we ended up grabbing lunch and talking. At that point the company – TrueFire – was only a few years old, and I think I did my first project with them in 2005. I was one of their first Jazz artists which served me because the first course I did for them was called Jazz Anatomy and there were no other Jazz courses. I remember talking to Brad and he said “we’ll probably sell a few hundred and this is how we pay the artists, this is our share and this is your share” and I thought it was very reasonable and so did my lawyer. She thought it was a very good deal so I signed on. Jazz Anatomy became one of their best selling courses, and still to this day, because it covers a lot of bases. Basically with TrueFire you get a student who likes your teaching method and they just don’t buy one course but all your courses!
This is what I teach all my students that it is important to diversify because through my TrueFire courses I’ve gotten gigs, some great festivals because the people who buy my courses may be amateur players but they see me playing near them and think “oh. Maybe she would like to come to our city!” so they contact a venue manager or festival organizer and one hand sort of feeds the other.
So that’s how my association with TrueFire came to be. In fact, after that I got so busy and hadn’t put out any new courses but they were still selling. But Brad sent me an email one day and said “Hey Mimi, we gotta get some more inventory or you. I know you’ve been busy but can we find the time?” And so I’ve come back recently and done three or four new courses for them and I’m scheduled to go back in April so we’ll see if that comes together.
JGL: Cool! Hopefully things are better globally. I’m just curious, the backing tracks that you play over when recording a TrueFire course, do they offer a house band or is it just you?
MF: No no. I record them. I have guys here that I work with and so I go into the studio here, prepare the backing tracks, and then my engineer will send them to TrueFire’s engineer via Dropbox or a similar delivery platform.
JGL: Nice! Are you given free rein when coming up with courses or do you and Brad sit down and brainstorm ideas for material?
MF: Usually Brad and I, and another guy named Jeff who is a professional player in Blues and Rock, will have a three way conversation and we’ll sort of map out what I would like to do and then all three of us will tweak it together. Ultimately the decisions of what I want to teach are mine but they help sort of map it out and then I will write out a syllabus for each of the different sections.
JGL: So will they tell you that – for example – they want a course on chord-melody and ask you to put something together?
MF: Sometimes they have done that, but mostly, and Brad knows that – like I mentioned to you earlier – I’m a really good team player, but best when I’m captain…or at least, co-captain…lol. So Brad will make suggestions, but then he’ll take a lot of my input and we just end up working it out. It’s a collaborative process!
JGL: Well that sounds like a winning collaboration! And speaking of winning…thank you so much for taking the time to participate on Jazz Guitar Life again. It truly was wonderful catching up with you and hopefully it is not another 15 years before we speak again!
MF: Thank you so much Lyle and it was great talking with you again and let’s do this more often.
JGL: Agreed Mimi. Take care and continued success in all areas of your life.
MF: Thank you Lyle.
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