'Weird Al' guitarist Jim West sets aside parody for peacefulness on Grammy album - InfoNews

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'Weird Al' guitarist Jim West sets aside parody for peacefulness on Grammy album

Jim (Kimo) West is a Grammy nominee this year for best new age album. He was born in Canada and is Weird Al’s longtime guitarist. West is seen here in an undated handout photo. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-James West, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
January 30, 2019 - 12:35 PM

TORONTO - Watching his pal "Weird Al" Yankovic pocket four Grammy Awards never bothered Jim "Kimo" West, but the Toronto-born guitarist says there's something validating about possibly walking away with his own golden trophy this year.

Nearly four decades after he joined Yankovic's band, West recently landed his first Grammy nomination as a solo artist. He knows many listeners will be shocked to learn it's in the new age album category.

"Moku Maluhia: Peaceful Island" is worlds away from the usual pop-culture parodies and polka jams the musician brings to life as part of Yankovic's team. Instead, these songs gently drift through moments inspired by his visits to Hawaii and people he met along the way.

West's musical dichotomy comes partly from necessity, he explains by phone from his Los Angeles home.

"If I was very focused on just one thing my choices of work would be much less," the 65-year-old musician says.

"With 'Weird Al' I'm playing electric (guitar), shredding and jumping around. It's a rock 'n' roll gig mostly."

West is accustomed to those drastic shifts in his life, both personally and creatively.

His childhood was spent mostly in Toronto and Ottawa where his father was a member of the Canadian Armed Forces. But around his ninth birthday, his parents decided to relocate to Florida with some of their snowbird friends.

While he retained his Canadian citizenship, West was tossed into an entirely new country and climate. As a teenager, he became more interested in music, picking up his brother's acoustic guitar and eventually starting to compose music without formal lessons.

In his late-twenties, West relocated to the L.A. music scene. He found a spot in Yankovic's band in 1982, shortly before hits like "My Bologna" and "Ricky" made the goofball a breakout star on MTV.

As touring became a priority, so did West's goal to balance his road life with tranquility.

In 1985, a crew member on the tour invited him to tag along on a brief trip to Maui, and the experience left a permanent impression. He discovered a cultural heritage that resonated with his personality and developed a particular fondness for a little corner of the island called Hana.

"I really fell in love," West remembers.

"They had all these records of Hawaiian slack-key guitar... and the music sounded the way the place looked. Hana is very lush and tropical, a lot of waterfalls. A very beautiful, peaceful place. This music feels like it's coming out of the earth."

West says the experience lingered after he returned to L.A. He adopted the traditional slack-key guitar, which loosens or "slackens" the strings to create a soothing sound, as his instrument of choice.

It wasn't long before he started splitting his time between Hawaii and songwriting in his L.A. home studio, but it took nearly 15 years before West released a solo album.

His 1999 debut "Coconut Hat" caught the attention of a vibrant community of Hawaiian musicians, and suddenly West found his skills were in demand from corners of the industry he couldn't have imagined. Record labels enlisted him to produce slack-key guitar tribute albums to Sublime and the Eagles, and other artists suggested playing duets.

Yankovic even snuck onto West's albums in the most discreet of ways. Sometimes when they toured together, "Weird Al" would slip into one of West's recording sessions just for fun. Most recently, he was an uncredited accordion player on the jovial "Slack Key Polka" from "Slackers in Paradise," West's punchy 2016 duets project with fellow guitarist Ken Emerson.

But his Grammy-nominated 2018 album "Moku Maluhia" exhales much of that energy in a quest of serenity.

West's project is partly a tribute to Hawaiian composer Kapo Ku, a frequent collaborator who died in 2017, while songs like "Bamboo Forest" and "Hanalei River" aim to capture the energy of the Hawaiian islands.

"There's this 'Spirit of Aloha,' as we say in Hawaii," he says. "It's basically unconditional love, treating everybody as your brother."

West plans to attend the Grammy Awards pre-telecast ceremony in Los Angeles on Feb. 10 where the award for new age album will be handed out.

After that, he'll be back in Yankovic mode to prepare for this summer's ambitious Strings Attached Tour, which invites a full symphony orchestra to participate in the zany costumed antics of the band. The concert rolls into Toronto on July 8 before heading to Western Canada for a number of dates in August.

"You get into music because it's fun," West says. "It gives me a lot of joy, and if it makes money too, it's even better."

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News from © The Canadian Press, 2019
The Canadian Press

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