GIMMIX Retrospective – Philip Hamm, Bass, Keyboards
I’ve been playing the bass guitar since I was about 9. I grew up 6th in a family of 8 kids and everybody played piano and/or guitar. A big part of why the bass appealed to me was that it was something different that nobody else in my family did. I played bass through high school, and my band the Celler Dwellers was a staple at graduation parties, school events, talent shows, and block parties. After high school I kept playing, but the band broke up when most of us went off to college.
Part 1: Formation
A year or so later I was visiting my good friend Ken Dudek, and for whatever reason we were going to visit Jeff Juliano a few houses up the street. I knew that Jeff played guitar but he was only an acquaintance; he was a year or two behind me in high school, and had recently graduated. We started talking and Jeff said “yeah I’m putting a band together, we need a singer and a bass player” he stopped and pointed at me – “Hey Phil you play bass, don’t you?!”. I enthusiastically replied “why, yes I do, and I’d love to get in a band!”. That was it.
We were all kind of killing time before getting serious in life, attending the local community college in preparation for going away to university or starting a career. It was that awkward year or two after high school when those of us suburbanites who don’t go straight off to college kick around and try to figure it out. Lots of people plan for this these days and call it a “gap year”.
First practice I got to meet Taylor Lee, Jeff’s drummer friend. We instantly clicked as a rhythm section as they taught me an original composition “Holding My Heart”. It was a cool instrumental composition that flowed very nicely. Nobody could ever put a good melody or lead vocal on top of the song and we didn’t think it was strong enough to stand alone as an instrumental composition. (In hindsight, we were completely wrong. The song kicked ass; it absolutely was strong enough to stand on its own, and it should have been the 11th song on the album we eventually recorded.)
We kicked around in the basement and became fast friends, hanging out with Jeff’s other companions playing Nintendo (“Double Dragon” and “Super Mario Brothers” were constantly in rotation). We looked for a singer, but not aggressively – we never really reached out or put want ads out or anything like that. I didn’t know anyone who could sing because I had mostly been the singer in my high school band, and I knew my voice was not suitable for the kind of music we were making. Taylor and Jeff put the word out in their circles of friends. We started writing – Taylor had a great creative spark and wrote most of “Lost Innocence” in those weeks. We tightened up “Holding My Heart”, and started working on learning covers. We had a keyboard player Pat who liked to play the opening riff to “Runaway”. He was a great kid and full of enthusiasm, but not musically competent at the time.
One day I received a very exited phone call from Jeff Juliano – “Hey man – xxxx just broke up – Jeff Wiersema may be interested in hearing us!”. I replied “Sounds like that’s a good thing?” - “Wiersema is a FUCKING AWESOME singer, dude!!!! This is the best thing that could ever happen!” Jeff Wiersema was in a fairly established band (xxxx is not because I don’t want to mention them, I simply forgot the name!), and Jeff Juliano was extremely psyched to have him come out and play with us. Jeff W came out and listened to what we had going on, sang some covers with us, got a good feel for what the band was going to be capable of. He knew Jeff Juliano so he knew what he was getting on guitar, but needed to know the rhythm section was going to be up to the musical level of Juliano, as well as the established band that he was leaving. One of those very first practices with Jeff is captured in the “Lost Innocence (demo)” track on this CD. That was one of the first times that Jeff Wiersema ever sung with us, he had just learned the song, and was probably the last before we let our enthusiastic but inadequate keyboard player go.
We took about 4-5 months putting together a setlist of popular / favorite covers and started working on compositions. Finally the day came that one of Juliano’s friends was playing at a local rock bar the “Rabbit’s Foot”, and they asked us to open for them. Even to this day the first gig with a new band is a weird and unique experience every time. When you play live music (or perform live theater, etc.) it’s like you’re going into battle with these people. You have to completely trust that the band members aren’t going to play too many clams, they’ll remember the arrangements, sing the backing vocal parts - on key (a huge challenge for me even now when I know my voice so much better than I did back then), won’t suffer stage fright, won’t have a technical gear failure, will present an appropriate appearance, will engage with the audience instead of staring at the neck of their instrument. It’s a big ask and no matter how much you practice you just don’t know how someone’s going to perform until that first real gig together. We did fine. We didn’t knock anyone’s socks off, but we did just fine. I think Wiersema was happy he had joined.
The first song we really wrote in a collaborative fashion was “One On One”. My friend George Richman from the Celler Dwellers came out with a 4-track cassette system and we spent a day or two cranking out the demo included here. We loved the song. It felt like we just wrote our first hit single. Between our ever increasing cover repertoire and our newfound composition capability we were ready to take on the DC and Baltimore bar scene.
Part 2: Bar / College band years.
After the Rabbit’s foot, we spent a few months playing about once a month at a little bar in Washington, DC called the “Safari Club”. It was a total dive, but our friends loved coming out, and they let us play without having to deal with professional booking and management. We honed our live show there. After playing there a few months, writing more material, and learning more covers, we started hooking up with other local bands to have big double bills. One of the bands we played with a lot was “Sinister Grin”. We would open for them on Friday at “Palamino” in Stanton, VA, then on Saturday they would open for us. We scrounged up some money to produce a 4 song demo at a basement 8 track studio in Falls Church. Ben DePaw recorded the band, and we produced a low budget 4 song demo tape “Just A Few” which we were all fairly happy with.
There was a local club Jaxx that did all-day all-ages pay-to-play shows on weekends. We hooked up with other friends’ bands such as “Fraidy Cat” and did our part – sold tickets to our friends – and played some good stuff. We played the legendary “Bayou” in Georgetown, DC. Baltimore crowds were particularly enthusiastic about our original material, we played “The Rage” on regular rotation.
We never hooked up with a manager who was as capable and enthusiastic at promotion as the band was at making music. We kept on writing and rehearsing, and played our fair share of gigs over the next couple years, while we continued our studies and (mostly) full time jobs. We made pizza, worked retail, repossessed cars, studied, and rocked out. One day a generous benefactor Jack Shupe saw the band and was impressed enough to offer funding to record a demo cassette for us to use for promotion and sales. We somehow made the time to attend sessions at Cue Recording Studios “Studio A” in Falls Church, with Jim Ebert as our recording engineer. 9 of the 10 songs were staples that we had worked to death both in rehearsal and live, and we banged them out in no time. One song, “Too Much” was written during the recording process. The backing vocals in “Too Much” were one of the absolute last things we recorded. We recorded the song with the lead vocals, and I took it home and worked out the harmonies for the next day’s recording. The recording process was absolutely a blast – we loved every second of it. The team at Cue (which is still there – and still recommended if you’re recording in the Washington DC area) made us feel like rock stars recording onto 2” tape on a 24 track Studer machine in the big studio “A” room. Somewhere there is a VHS tape of the sessions that I would love to find. During these sessions Jeff Juliano was completely transfixed by the engineering and recording process. He fell in love with that part of the business right then and there.
Jack hired Liz Wolf, a friend of his who was a professional artist, to paint a cover for us. We met with her and described exactly what we had in mind for the cover. She thought it was funny and proceeded to knock our socks off with a fantastic cover painting. The painting, the tape, and the credits template went off and in a few weeks we had some boxes of Cassettes.
The ultimate culmination of this era was a gig at a bar that I can’t remember the name of in College Park, MD. The full band photo you see here was taken during this gig. We were set to open for a band called “Mirror Mirror” that had been kind of in hiatus for some time. They were one of the more established bands in the area and had a following, and this was their big “return” from whatever break they were on. I don’t remember how we got the gig; we weren’t specifically friends of theirs, though as with all cities the band scene is such that so many people know so many others. At this time we were at the absolute height of our powers. We had 10 solid originals to perform, and since we were only performing a 40 minute opening set we decided to make it a showcase and perform only original material, no covers. (We may have thrown in “Suffragette City”, which was Jeff Wiersema’s only break; the only song he didn’t sing in a long night of work). We absolutely killed it; it was probably the best performance we ever gave. From what I understand Mirror Mirror was not very happy that we may have kind of upstaged them. We just packed our gear and left after we played. Even now, if I’m playing with a group of bands at a local brewery or venue I like to sit and listen to at least some of the songs the previous or next band is playing out of common courtesy.
Part 3: Dilution and Dissolution
The first to leave the band and go to really start his life was Taylor. His enthusiasm for the band had been visibly waning for a while and he had been talking a lot about going to Carolina to college. The rest of us handled asking him to leave poorly. It’s a very difficult thing to do firing a band member. One of the toughest things about being in a band. This is somebody you’ve gone to battle with, related on the deepest level making music together, partied with until 3AM, been a trusted partner with; and you’ve gotten to the point when you won’t make music with them any more. I’ve never been divorced, but I think it must be like that. We let Taylor go and soldiered on with drummer Scott Spelbring who had been managing us learning the material for future gigs. Scott was a fine player, learned the material from the cassette competently, and we continued to write songs – which started being more riff based at this point. Scott would throw out a beat and I would start playing a bass riff and Juliano would turn around and say “What is that!! That is cool as hell!”. I would just say “that’s nothing we just came up with that just now out of thin air” – we would try to remember it, play it again, and turn it into a song. I don’t remember any of those songs; I only recall one title “Bad Influence” which was about a fling. I wish we would have recorded them, even just demos would be nice to have today.
We soldiered on for another year or so, continuing to play, doing some oddball fund raisers, a few events at the local community college, and a few more pay-to-play day-long all ages parties. A friend Darren Redick played keys on stage with us for a few gigs. I had played the keyboard in the studio on the recording, but we never had keyboards on stage – we always played like Van Halen and The Who with just guitar bass drums live. I personally love that arrangement. So much air between the instruments. Darren is a very talented player and probably took less than an afternoon to learn my super simple keyboard lines.
GIMMIX never recorded again. Eventually the band just dissolved. I don’t even remember how it ended. Jeff Juliano set up his first 8 track studio in what had been our practice space, and he was fully set into the recording / engineering phase of his musical career. I went back to my career path in IT. Jeff Wiersema rebranded and continued in the local area for some time; I played with him as a hired gun a few times before a motorcycle accident derailed my playing for a few months and my IT career moved me out of the area. Taylor went off to school and started his career. I re-connected with everyone briefly when I ripped the DAT and burned CDs for nostalgia at around the turn of the Millenium. I’ve kept kicking around in bar bands ever since, with occasional wedding band work. As of this writing in Feb. 2023 I’m playing bass and singing in two active gigging bands with no plans to stop.
I am incredibly proud of the music we made in GIMMIX and consider it one of the most treasured musical experiences of my life. I am thrilled to be able to share it with a wider audience, even if only 12 people ever listen.
The Rise of Gimmix, as remembered by drummer Taylor Lee
Gimmix had its beginnings on the Annandale campus of Northern Virginia Community College (NOVA), in the Autumn of 1988. I had graduated from high school, but my grades weren't good enough to get into any 4-year university, and as a result I was living at home in Falls Church and started at NOVA in August of 1988. It was a difficult time for me, watching all my friends leave home to go to college while I stayed behind living with my parents.
I had played drums in a few bands in high school, but the advent of graduation broke apart those musical alliances. I still wanted to play drums, but didn't know any musicians with whom I could jam. As I started going to NOVA, my focus was on my studies with the hope I might meet some musicians on campus, but I had no game plan on where to go or what to do to meet musicians.
I had been attending classes for a few weeks, largely keeping to myself, when I ran into a friend from high school. She asked me if I was playing in a band, and I told her that I hadn't met any other musicians yet. She informed me that she had met some musicians in one of her classes, and would mention my name and drumming abilities to them and get back to me. She mentioned that they had discussed forming a band and were looking for a drummer and lead singer. I was encouraged, but didn't want to get my hopes up.
A few days later, that same friend found me between classes and said her musician classmates were intrigued about meeting me. She was heading to that class with them in a few minutes, and would make introductions with them if I was around after her class. I eagerly agreed to wait and meet her and these guys.
It was that day that I met Jeff Juliano, a very tall and lanky guitarist whom I would get to know a great deal. There was one other guy who'd be playing bass, but I can't remember his name. There was also a keyboardist named Pat. We discussed our musical experiences, what we liked to play, and what we might like to do in a band. I distinctly remember Jeff saying he wanted to do original music, and perhaps a smattering of cover tunes. These guys, but especially Jeff, seemed very cool, humorous, and affable. As a result of our conversations, I offered to have them come over to my house to see my drum set and hear me play something for them - a sort of "audition", so to speak. They agreed and followed me home from NOVA a few days later.
When we got to my house, I took them to my room which was coated in Led Zeppelin, Rush and Pink Floyd posters. They sat on my bed behind me, and I got on my throne to play my set which I had facing the wall. I had been listening to Guns-N-Roses of late, and offered to play drums along with the song "Sweet Child O' Mine" on my headphones. They wouldn't hear the actual song playing, but said they knew the drum part and would easily follow along. So I put on my headphones, hit play on the CD player, and played along with that entire song flawlessly. I couldn't see their reactions as they were behind me.
When I was done, I turned around to look at them and get a gage on their impressions and saw faces beaming with smiles and excitement. Jeff immediately said that I played that song perfectly and convincingly; he was thrilled that I played so LOUD and in perfect time. All three told me that I was definitely what they were looking for. So we exchanged numbers, shared our class schedules so we could meet on campus, and called it a day.
That was the beginning of Gimmix, but only Jeff and I would continue that adventure. In the coming weeks, the bass player disappeared to join his own band. As for Pat, he looked the part of a rocker - but subsequently it became obvious that he had a keyboard but simply could not play it. He was not allowed to join our band as a result, but Pat still hung out for quite some time regardless. We simply couldn't use a keyboardist with no musical ability, but we did enjoy his company.
So now we needed a bass player and a singer. I can't remember how it happened, but Jeff got hold of a bass player named Phil, who was a few years older than us but was intrigued with being in a band that intended to make original music. We met Phil, jammed with him at Jeff's house, and the chemistry was readily apparent. We now had a rhythm section and a guitarist, but now the all-important frontman had to be found.
Something must be said about the musicianship of Jeff and Phil. During those first jam sessions, I realized just how damned good a guitarist Jeff was. Being so tall, with especially long fingers, he could spread his fingers and hit frets practically half the length of his guitar neck. He made his guitar scream, and when he threw any kind of tapping into his mix it sounded awesome. I knew how lucky I was to find such a talented guitarist. As for Phil, he was one of a kind. Phil was the first bassist I jammed with that played a 5-string, and his chops were definitively on cue and righteous. He wrote music and lyrics, and did that very well as would be proven down the road. Jeff and I Immediately began referring to Phil as the "Mad Scientist": he wore glasses and had a shock of black hair that he tossed around like, well, a Mad Scientist when he played. Phil thoroughly enjoyed jamming and made it obvious when he did so.
During our search for a lead singer, we initially didn't have any luck for a while. There was one singer we tried out that bears mention.
While I can't remember his name now, I do remember that he wanted his band identity to be known as "Rainy Knight". He seemed like a good front man in his looks. However, while he wiggled like Mick Jagger, he sure as hell couldn't sing worth a hoot. Additionally, after practicing a few times, he started showing up wearing a spiky blonde wig to practices. We initially thought it was a joke and immediately began laughing amongst ourselves about it, but Rainy Knight was dreadfully serious. We questioned the wisdom of wearing such a cheesy wig, but he didn't budge. Ultimately, with no singing ability and wearing a lame-ass wig all the time, we told him we had to move on. So long, Rainy Knight.
At some point before the end of 1988 and going into 1989, someone we knew provided an introduction to a potential singer. Jeff Wiersema was his name, and he had been singing in bands for some time. He came over to Jeff Juliano's house to meet us, that home being the anchor of our practices by then. He had long blond hair, looked the part of a frontman, and had a voice that blew us away. He hit high notes like they were nothing, and he had a definite presence on stage. After practicing and meeting all of us, we had the main lineup of Gimmix established.
After getting the band together, we started to work on originals. We all played our own part in composing songs and lyrics, but we definitely did everything as a team. Phil brought songs that were completely written and recorded on demos, and allowed us to make his songs our own. I was no songwriter but contributed to arrangements and lyrics on some things. I also had a decent idea every now and then for Jeff's guitar solos. If you listen to the song "Lost In You", the end of his guitar solo is capped by Jeff tapping his way up his guitar neck - I was the one who had that idea and literally said "tap on that section of the solo and move up the fretboard making a sound like THIS"; and he did! I had that idea, but Jeff was skilled enough to make it work in his own way.
Those beginnings were great days. As we composed and practiced at Jeff's house, we also spent a lot of time having parties there and generally hanging out. Jeff and his brother Greg had lots of friends, and our practices and get-togethers were ribald and at times insanely fun affairs. It was like living in the late 1980's equivalent of "Animal House". As we played out and made a reputation for ourselves, the number of people coming to hang out with the band at Jeff's house increased.
We got along and became great friends very quickly. As time progressed, we spent all our spare time at Jeff's and had some great times there.
The first real gig we played was around my 19th birthday in February of 1989. We decided to play at my house and invite anyone who wanted to come and see this nascent band spread their wings. We had a keg in my bathtub and all the band equipment in my basement. My house was packed for that party, and for only being together a few months we played our originals well. Only a few more tunes and we'd have enough to start lining up gigs.
Along with all the practice, writing and hanging out, we still hadn't addressed the elephant in the room: what were we going to call ourselves? Names were bandied about, but I remember someone saying out loud, "What's our gimmick going to be?" Somehow, the band name "Gimmix" got decided on. The turn of a phrase had given us our name.
After learning enough songs, we knew we needed a demo to send to potential places where we wanted to play. We also needed a decent band photo to promote ourselves. We got a photo done and some of those are still around. For a demo, we found a guy who did recording in a basement of a house he rented in Arlington, and we paid to have him record 4 songs for us. That initial demo was called "Just a Few", and is still one of my favorites to listen to in fond remembrance.
Over time, we kept adding songs and started landing gigs with our demo. We grew a decent following and bands around the area took notice of us. What made us different, as I saw it, was that we played well but were intent on entertaining our audience. Jeff was an active guitar player, moving all over the stage. Phil would thrash that Mad Scientist hair like a true metalhead. I was making exaggerated movements and was flipping and spinning my sticks. Jeff Wiersema walked confidently on stage, whipped those long locks of his, and engaged us on stage by putting his arms around Jeff or Phil while singing, and hitting my cymbals occasionally with his microphone. We were nothing if not active on stage.
We continued to play out and increase our song repertoire. I only remember doing 2 cover tunes if we did any at all: David Bowie's "Suffragette City", and ZZ Top's "La Grange". Everything else we did was our own original music. Our motivation was simple: if there's any chance of making a living doing this in earnest, we had to write and perform our own songs. We were definitely thinking about the longer term prospects of becoming professional musicians.
Time moved on and we continued to perform and write songs. Ultimately, we decided that if we wanted to be taken seriously, we needed to record the equivalent of an album in a professional studio. Jeff Juliano's uncle graciously decided to back us on the venture. In the summer of 1990, we recorded that album. It was an absolute blast putting all our original music on tapes and CD's. We were on top of the world.
As we approached 1991, changes were coming. Personally, I wanted to put everything into our band and contemplate touring. However, I was also almost done with community college and was considering what university I wanted to transfer to. Should I stay in the area and go to George Mason University, or go out of state? Were we going to put it all on the line and make a run for getting signed? After visiting a friend at East Carolina University in Greenville, North Carolina, I had decided that if the band effort fizzled that I needed to make a change and get a college degree, and ECU was my choice.
Ultimately, I did something that made it obvious I was contemplating my future and to the band was a drastic signal: I cut off all my hair in order to get a job. That one thing changed things. They knew I was likely going to leave for college.
I'll leave out my exodus from the band at that time. It was a shock to me, especially since I had made the band and everyone around it my friends and had spent all my free time with them. I left unceremoniously.
Over time, things settled and we all got over my exodus. The guys said that continuing without me just didn't work out as expected. We have kept in touch off and on ever since, and I still love all those guys as much now as I did then. Being in a band is like being married to a few people, and our demise just happened for lots of reasons. However, we don't focus on that - we have too many funny stories and memories to share.
Those days were some of the happiest of my life, and that was because I was playing with stellar musicians and friends who respected and cared for each other. I'll carry those memories with me to the end. I hope that the re-issue of all this material brings back lots of good memories for our fans from so long ago. We're all thrilled that someone cares and thinks of it well enough to make it publicly available again. Many of my friends will be eager to hear it, as will I. Enjoy, y'all!