From Failing Music in 6th Grade To Recording & Performing with my musical heroes.
I’m Jimmy Lee Hook. Thanks for stopping by. I grew up in a small town called Toronto (Ohio), where I failed music in the 6th grade and went on to participate in varying degrees of childhood and adolescent foolishness. Yet, today, I’m a songwriter, pianist, and singer who works with his childhood musical heroes, calls them his friends, and whose hometown city council named a day in his honor. I'm so very grateful. The music I write for the band is hard to categorize. Let’s call it “Theatrical Rock Music.” Picture going to an upbeat Broadway show that is definitely rock-based.
But how did I get here? I wasn’t a young prodigy, nor considered particularly talented as a kid. I didn’t get the coveted lead roles in school musicals. My home life wasn't what you'd call peaceful. I got that “F” in music at St. Francis Elementary School. Couldn’t play that damn autoharp. Still can’t.
But you just never know how life will unfold.
My big brother (Bobby) turned me on to the piano heroes of that time. Billy Joel and Elton John were favorites. Billy’s band particularly caught my ear, with Liberty DeVitto so powerfully driving the band in conjunction with Richie Cannata’s sax which alternated between blistering and soulful. I heard these men play in my sleep. I drove my friends crazy with it. I hoped to maybe meet them one day. Maybe get an autograph. Fast forward…
In high school, the choir teacher grabbed me in the hallway and convinced me to audition for her school musical. She needed boys and I needed something to do. That encounter changed my life. I got the requisite bit part in the chorus. No one even knew I was there. But I met Vance. Vance was the cool good looking high school kid who could play and sing like Barry Manilow. He looked a tad like him, too. Some idiots gave Vance grief, but I always looked up to him. Many of us did. He was talented and humble to boot. I learned to sing by trying to imitate him and sound a bit like him to this day. He was patient and put up with me. And, at 17, I started to teach myself to play the piano. I wanted to play and sing like Vance. I’d stay at the school late and pound away on their Yamaha Grand that no one was allowed to touch. I had to sneak. I was awful. And there was no way my parents were going to spring for lessons. I’ve never had any to this day. We didn’t even have a piano in the house. In fact, my dad told me to not waste my time “Plunking that damn piano” until the day he died. I didn’t listen. Good thing.
Later, I went to college and had a rough go of it at first. There was a piano in the dormitory, and it became my best friend. I kept at it. I’d sit down to play and everybody would promptly leave. Still, I stayed with it. I had a calling, a yearning and burning in my soul to learn to play that instrument. And, although no one knew it, I always had music running through my head. Lyrics and melodies would haunt me, begging to be written, just as they do sometimes today. I call it the “Angel On My Shoulder.” She gives me the songs, and then disappears. It’s very surreal. I sometimes forget the process of actually writing a given song, but definitely remember having written it. Odd, huh?
Anyhow, after about 10 years of practice, diligence, and dedication, I was finally off and running - playing live shows and writing songs. I got some radio airplay with a solo release in 1995. I remember the radio DJ calling me “The Piano Boy Wonder” once. What a thrill! I’d come a long way from the days when those pretty girls in the dormitory would roll their eyes and leave when I’d play. Now, people flocked to see my local shows. Validation! My social life improved. It was a fun time.
But my original songs would never turn out the way I heard them in my head when I wrote them. I always heard Liberty DeVitto playing drums, and Richie Cannata playing saxophone. Nobody I ever worked with could make my songs sound the way I heard them in my head when I wrote them. But, in 2009, that changed. A music producer brought me together with a musical savant named Sam Hudnell, who is a genius bass player and acoustic guitarist with absolute pitch. Meeting Sam has been the greatest musical blessing of my entire life. Bar none. Then, through a chain of events too lengthy for this page, I met drummer Liberty DeVitto. Eventually, backstage at a show of his, he introduced me to sax virtuoso Richie Cannata. They believed in the music that I was writing. Richie introduced me to guitarist Julio Fernandez and a host of other top flight New York area musicians. Soon, we were all together at Cove City Sound Studios in Long Island recording the very songs I had written with them in mind. “The Long Island Sound™” was born. And here we are.
There are other things of note. A couple college degrees. A major in mathematics, two years teaching high school math, a bachelor’s degree in mechanical engineering, a stint as an engineer for Shell Oil, and much more. Stories for another time. It all sounds adventurous and exciting, and it has been all that for sure. I’m truly blessed. I know it, and I’m thankful. But none of it came easy. I bear the scars from many failures and am grateful to have had the resilience required to learn from them and move forward. And the fact that you’re even reading this means that it was all worth it.
Thanks again for stopping by. And I hope you enjoy the music as much as we enjoy making it for you.