Jimmy Bain Applied A Heavy Right Hand To Metal’s Classics.
Jimmy Bain passed away unexpectedly on January 24th, 2016. Bass Player’s Freddy Villano had interviewed Bain several years ago, regarding the 30th anniversary of Dio’s Holy Diver album, but for various reasons, the article was never published. The following is an updated version of that interview.
Jimmy Bain will most likely be remembered for his prolific, on-and-off musical collaborations with vocalist Ronnie James Dio, but he was also a versatile singer, songwriter and keyboard player who played with a diverse array of artists throughout his career, including Wild Horses, Kate Bush, John Cale, Phil Lynott and the Scorpions to name but a few. His work with Dio, however, was by far the most high profile and helped lay the groundwork for several genre defining albums, including Rainbow’s Rising and (live) Onstage and Dio’s Holy Diver and The Last in Line, the latter two being quite possibly the first pure ‘power’ metal records of all time. He had recently started working with original Dio band mates Vivian Campbell (guitar) and Vinny Appice (drums) in the band Last In Line, whose debut, Heavy Crown, is set for release on February 20th.
Born in Newtonmore, Highland in Scotland, on December 19, 1947, Jimmy Bain started playing guitar as a kid and was performing live with Nick and the Sinners by the time he was fourteen. After a stint in Street Noise, Bain swapped his guitar for a bass and joined the band Harlot, where he soon came to the attention of Rainbow guitarist Ritchie Blackmore. The ex-Deep Purple guitarist offered Bain a job despite seeing a less-than-stellar Harlot performance at London’s Marquee. “I thought my band completely blew it,” Bain recalled. “The drummer drank five or six pints of Guinness and threw up all over his kit during the second song.” Blackmore, however, saw past such follies and Bain was soon on his way to L.A. His first assignment in Rainbow was auditioning drummers with the legendary guitarist, a process that culminated with the hiring of the late, great Cozy Powell. “Ritchie’s idea of auditioning drummers was to play the fastest riff he could possibly play for 35 or 40 minutes. Most of the guys either slowed down or couldn’t keep the beat. Ritchie didn’t even have to say anything. But Cozy came over straight from the airport, put on these boxing boots and after about 35 minutes of jamming, he went into this incredibly fast double bass drum groove. He blew everybody away. He pulled a Ritchie on Ritchie.”
This version of Rainbow, which also featured Dio on vocals and Tony Carey on keyboards, recorded the landmark Rising album, once voted the greatest heavy metal album of all time in a Kerrang! magazine readers’ poll and arguably the impetus for the neo-classical genre of metal guitar playing. This line-up managed to squeeze out the equally brilliant On Stage record before Blackmore maintained true to his policy of recasting Rainbow for every record. As a result, Bain found himself looking for a gig.
In 1978 he formed Wild Horses with former Thin Lizzy guitarist and fellow Scotsman Brian Robertson. In addition to playing bass, Bain handled lead vocals. Unfortunately, Wild Horses never really took off and after two albums and tepid public response, the band folded. In the ensuing years, Bain found himself regularly employed as a session player, working under the tutelage of Roy Harper and John Cale. It was during this period that he was hired by Kate Bush to play on The Dreaming record. Harper recommended him for the session partly because of his expertise with Taurus pedals. “She always wanted me to play them backwards,” recalled Bain about his brief tenure with the songstress. “She definitely pushed everybody to their limits.”
Other sessions during this time included Gary Moore’s Dirty Fingers, which Bain managed to track while simultaneously mixing Stand Your Ground, the second Wild Horses record. “Gary was doing his album in London, at Morgan Studios, and the bass player wasn’t working out. Chris Tsangarides was the producer and Tommy Aldridge was playing drums. He was one of my favorite drummers at the time—we clicked right away.” Bain already knew Moore from Thin Lizzy, a band with whom he had a close personal relationship. “I started working with Gary at noon and went to about six or seven o’clock and then I took a break and went down and worked on the Wild Horses mixes starting at about 11 o’clock, and worked through the night. I lost a lot of sleep for a few weeks, but I really enjoyed working with Gary.” In 1983, he was also recruited to play bass on the Scorpions’ Love at First Sting album. Though he remains uncredited, they reportedly wanted him to join the band, but he was already committed to Dio by that point.
Upon Dio’s departure from Black Sabbath in 1982, he took then-Sabs drummer Vinny Appice with him to London where he contacted Bain, who was playing keyboards and writing with former Thin Lizzy main-man Phil Lynott. Bain co-wrote the Lynott single “Old Town” (The Philip Lynott Album, Warner Bros., 1982), which was later covered by The Corrs in 1999 for their appearance on MTV’s Unplugged series. “I was doing a European tour with Phil when Ronnie called looking for guitar and bass players. So I said, ‘What about me?’” Bain set about contacting guitarist Vivian Campbell, whom he’d seen perform with New Wave of British Heavy Metal band Sweet Savage. “We all got together and played for about ten or fifteen minutes. It was pretty magical. There was no looking for any guitar or bass players after that.”
From the first opening riffs of the anthemic “Stand Up and Shout,” Holy Diver unabashedly delivers prototypical power metal themes: comradeship and hope, personal struggle, and fantasy and mythology. And while the lyrical content has since become the template for a genre, the music itself is equally inspiring. Songs like “Holy Diver,” “Don’t Talk to Strangers,” and the single, “Rainbow in the Dark” are ferocious bits of song-craftsmanship with soaring vocals, blistering guitar solos, and explosive drumming. Yet, despite such virtuosic performances, the most infectious ingredient on Holy Diver is quite possibly the driving, root-note heavy, muscular playing of Bain, whose blue collar bass adds some serious groove to an otherwise frenetic record. His relentless onslaught of eighth-notes—churned out through a meat-and-potatoes rig consisting of no more than an Ampeg SVT through and 8x10 cabinet, with a Yamaha BB2000 bass—is propelled by his self-professed “heavy duty right hand.” In an era that was ultimately defined by fret-blazing bassists, Bain’s supportive role on Holy Diver is a nod to a much less glorified, but no less dignified style of rock bass playing.
According to Bain, the Dio band started out with great potential but never fulfilled its promise. “It gradually got watered down. Instead of going from strength to strength it went from weakness to weakness. Last in Line was a good album, but it wasn’t as good as Holy Diver. And Sacred Heart wasn’t as good as the first two. By the time we got three or four albums in, everyone was scratching their heads wondering what went wrong.” Line-up changes ensued and the bassist officially left the band in 1989.
Over the years Bain resurfaced on albums by WW III and 3 Legged Dog, and continually worked on material for his own band, The Key. He could often be seen performing around Los Angeles with the all-star cover band Hollywood Allstarz (featuring members of Quiet Riot, Giuffria, and others). He reunited with Dio in 2000 for the albums Magica and Killing the Dragon, both of which were heralded as Dio’s best efforts in years. Unfortunately the alliance didn’t last and Bain and Dio soon parted ways again. In 2012, two years after Dio’s untimely death, he reunited with Campbell and Appice, to form Last In Line. They had just performed on Def Leppard’s Hysteria On The High Seas cruise when he passed. Bain, 68, was also reportedly working on a book called, I Fell Into Metal.
"Devil in Me” by Last In Line:
“Victims” by Jimmy Bain/The Key:
“Old Town” as performed by The Corrs:
With Last In Line: Heavy Crown (Frontiers, 2016)
With Dio: Killing the Dragon (Spitfire, 2002); Magica (Spitfire, 2000); Sacred Heart (Warner Bros., 1985); The Last in Line (Warner Bros., 1984); Holy Diver (Warner Bros., 1983)
With Rainbow: On Stage (Polydor, 1977); Rising (Polydor, 1976)
With Wild Horses: Stand Your Ground (EMI, 1981); Wild Horses (EMI, 1980)
With Gary Moore: Dirty Fingers (Jet, 1981)
With Kate Bush: The Dreaming (EMI America, 1982)
With Scorpions (uncredited): Love at First Sting (Mercury, 1984)