Believe it or not, this is the edited version of my April 64-minute talk with Rob Trujillo. I loved his Jaco movie so much (which I saw at South by Southwest 2015) that I wanted to speak to him about the man who blew us both away. For more info on the movie, visit the film’s official page.
I’ve always wanted to see a movie about Jaco Pastorius, and you’ve been involved with this project for about five years now. How did the project evolve?
Basically, I’ve been involved as the main financier, executive producer, for over five years. but it all sort of started long before five years. It goes back to about 19 years ago when I became friends with Johnny Pastorius, Jaco’s eldest son. We had a mutual friend in Florida, in Fort Lauderdale, who was a bartender, and Johnny Pastorius came in with a credit card to buy some drinks and my friend, who is a surfer in the East coast (I live in Los Angeles), said, “Hey, that name’s familiar, this name Pastorius…! Is that name related to a bass player?” And Jaco’s son said, “Yeah, Jaco.” “Right, Jaco!” And he was like, “My friend Robert Trujillo, he has a photograph of your father at his house in Venice Beach!” And then right there the connection was made. Soon afterwards I came through town with Ozzy [Osbourne], this is in 1996, and I met Johnny and one of the first things I said was, “You know, some day you gotta make a film about your father,” not thinking that I would be involved in the film. I was like, “You should share the story because it’s important. There’s a lot of people, not just jazz musicians, fans, rock fans, punk rockers, funksters, who are fans, and you have to share that story with the world.” That’s when it all started. Over the years he checked with me, “Hey, Robert, we’re going to work on this documentary film, we want to interview you.” And then two years later the same thing. Every couple of years I’d get a phone call or we would see each other, and I didn’t see progress, and this part is really important: Johnny and another guy called Bob Bobbing came to the concert in Fort Lauderdale and it was Metallica. Now all of a sudden, five years ago, Metallica is playing in Ft. Lauderdale and Bob was sort of navigating the project at that time, and he saw and was impressed by Metallica. He didn’t know anything about Metallica, and he wondered, “This band is so big, and this bass player loves Jaco.” That night I spoke to Bob and said, “You know, look, for this movie you really have to check in with Flea from the Chili Peppers, Geddy Lee [Rush], so many other rock musicians, because you have to bring excitement, some fire to the party, because Jaco was not just one-dimensional, he’s not just a jazz guy, but he’s also a funk guy, the attitude of a punk rocker, he’s rock ‘n’ roll, he’s really well-rounded.” I said, “Even young people are going to love Jaco.” He got very excited and then they asked me to be a part of the team. So I did join, and basically kind of adopted the film. I realized there’s no way this film is going to be finished and completed unless somebody puts the money and makes it a reality. Documentary films take time. They’re passion-driven, but they also take money. If you can’t fly to Florida, New York, California or wherever, what are you going to do? It has been a very expensive journey for me.
Can I ask you what the budget has been so far?
Over $800,000. Insane!
Is that a combination of your money and money from other sources?
All my money. We had to raise money at the end because I ran out of money. We had to raise money for post-production so we could mix the sound and obtain clearances.
Oh, clearances… I’ve been working on a doc for 10 years, and the clearances are killing me!
Oh, that’s very complicated stuff. Clearances for film… I learned a lot in the last two months. I learned so much. Five years ago I didn’t know anything, and that’s why I was just, “Yeah, let’s make this film, yeah, I’ll pay for this!” and all that. But the reality is that most people don’t finance their own movies. Most people who make films have investors, and there is a reason for that. Films are very expensive.
Did you have to hire somebody to deal exclusively with clearances? For me it has been a nightmare.
I’m glad you can understand what I’m going through. I needed to hire a professional, and the only reason I got a professional that was wonderful, is that, luckily for me… Where do you live, by the way?
San Antonio. But I was in L.A. for 19 years. Including five in Culver City, where you grew up…
Right, right… Luckily, because I live in Los Angeles and know a lot of people in the film industry, I was able to get help. One of my friends work for Oliver Stone, he writes music for Oliver’s movies, and he knew I needed help. So he connected me to a music supervisor he knew, someone who does great work with documentary music. She really loved the film and she cared, and she represented me as the music supervisor. So it was her job to reach out to Joni Mitchell’s people, to Sony Music, Warner Brothers… That’s what she does for a living, and it costs money. What she does is work out the deals with each of the publishing companies and the musicians, so it’s a very long process and a lot of it has to do with making deals. The important thing to understand is, when you’re making a documentary film, the people that are allowing you to make the music need to understand that this is not a blockbuster, Transformers or an Angelina Jolie movie. This is a passion piece, this is art. This is charitable in a lot of ways, because if you’re sharing someone’s story with the world, and you’re bringing it to light on the screen and you’re trying to celebrate somebody, you’re doing something charitable. And you’re spending the money and you and your team are investing the time to bring something to life for the world. All of a sudden you have to pay for these songs and they want top dollars. Some of these people want crazy money. “I want $40,000 a song,” “My artist deserves $50,000” or whatever… A lot of it is deals, you know? There has to be deals worked out because if you don’t have somebody working for you to get you a good deal, a lot of times you can’t use the song. That’s the reality. The same thing goes for footage. When you see Jaco playing live at Montreaux Jazz Festival or in any other rare footage, my film producer has to track those down, to find out who owns the rights to the high res photographs that are taken. All these things I didn’t know about, and all of a sudden it’s like, “Oh my God, it’s so much money!”
OK, but one thing is myself going through hell trying to obtain these rights. But you’re Rob Fucking Trujillo, bassist for Metallica! Even you have to suffer?
Yeah, but I have two kids, and my wife, and I got payments, you know… I lead a normal life as far as… I have to pay bills, I have to feed my family… I recorded one album with Metallica in 12 years, really… I didn’t write songs on the “Black Album,” you know? I think people have the wrong perception of me. They think, “Oh, you’re rich!” It’s like, you know… I have to make ends meet too, you know what I mean? It’s like… Anyway, so for me to take on a project like this I have to be very passionate about this. And this was how the project came to be. It has been difficult to get it together. We did a PledgeMusic campaign to help raise money for clearances and other expenses.
But did you raise the money once you knew how much these clearances would cost?
No, no, no… I had to figure out roughly an idea of how much I would need and then I had to put a budget together.
But how can you figure that out if each rights owner makes a different deal?
Well, I have a team. Professionals know how to figure that out. That’s why I’ve been so fortunate to be surrounded by people that care and who are professionals. And it’s never dead-on, you know? Sometimes it’s not enough. I think when you’re doing something like this you have to do the best you can. If you come up short, you need to figure out a way to complete the journey. And that’s just reality. When you’re making art, or music, or anything, usually, at least in my universe every time I’ve done anything creative… And I’m not talking about Metallica, I’m talking about Infectious Grooves or any project I’ve done outside Metallica, these opportunities to be creative are great, but they also cost money, especially film. Too many people think, “Oh, why does he need money to finish the movie?” Well, somebody’s got to pay for the movies people want to see, you know? I wanted to see a movie about Jaco, for a long time. I was looking around on the internet, hoping that someone was going to make a documentary about Jaco, because I care, until I realized “it’s not going to happen unless I do something about it.” And hopefully this is the first step for more to happen in the future. His music and story should be heard and he should be recognized as an important composer. The bass is one thing, but there’s also the composition and the story.
When I read Charlotte Chandler’s I, Fellini, a first-person account of Federico Fellini’s life, I was amazed to see how difficult it was even for a genius like him to obtain financing for his movies. Jaco, who was a recognized genius in his own right, went through something similar towards the end of his life: he couldn’t get gigs. How was that possible? Did that happen because of the drugs or he couldn’t work even before he deteriorated?
I know you know the story. At certain times in his career, Jaco had a lot of things he was dealing with. Jaco, as you know, was bipolar, had a very serious mental condition. It started to cause problems for him later on in his career. So here’s this talent, this incredible musician, but at the same time he was dealing with other things in his life. The mental condition fueled by whether it was alcohol consumption or anything, drugs, alcohol, makes existing very difficult for people with a bipolar condition. And you’re also talking about a time when a lot of people didn’t understand what [bipolar disorder] is, how to deal with it, how to, you know, medication or whatever. If it had happened today it would probably be different because there are ways to maintain a healthy existence with this condition, but back at the time when Jaco was doing what he did there weren’t these options. It was difficult for him to get a gig because he had problems.
I’m from Uruguay, but I saw Weather Report in Buenos Aires in 1980, I think, and Jaco blew us away. I was 16, and we were digging all the great jazz-rock bands, Return to Forever, Mahavishnu Orchestra, etc., and for a long time we had considered Stanley Clarke to be the man on bass. Then this guy Jaco comes out of the blue and pulverized everybody. Do you have a similar recollection, that Stanley Clarke (or anybody) was the man and all of a sudden Jaco changed everything for everybody?
I had a similar experience. I’m 50.
There you go. I’m 51.
I saw Jaco play in 1979 for the first time and then I saw him I think in 1980, at the Playboy Jazz Festival, I saw him with the Word of Mouth big band, and I also saw him with the smaller version of the big band. So I saw him on four different times and I even had an encounter with him in 1985. When I first started hearing about him, I didn’t even know what he looked like. They didn’t have the internet, so you always heard these rumours, “Oh, there’s this bass player, he’s incredible!” I was a fan of bass because I loved Sly & The Family Stone, a lot of the funk bands from the 70s, you know? And when I started listening to jazz-rock and fusion, like Return to Forever and Stanley Clarke, I was really excited to the point I didn’t even really cared to hear vocals that much for a while. It was short-lived, but there was a time when all I wanted to hear was ripping bass solos. When I saw Jaco for the first time it changed my world the same way it had the effect on you guys in Buenos Aires. There was this performer who was like a rock star, shirt off, long hair, a crazy, unique sound. A really dynamic style, his tone, his presence, his energy. And also I was impressed with the crowd. It was very mixed, diverse, there were rock musicians, heavy metal musicians, jazz people, skateboarders, surfers, wow! The truth of the matter was, most people there went to see Jaco. I have nothing but respect for the other members of Weather Report, but a lot of these people were there to see Jaco. And that’s when I realized, “Hey, this guy’s really, really cool.”
Was it you in the movie who said Jaco was “the coolest cat who ever lived,” or something like that?
No, that was [the Red Hot Chili Peppers’] Flea. This experience you and I talk about was shared by a lot of people. Then you take the influence he had as a writer and as a player in terms of his feel for funk, or the way he could create with harmonics, you know… I started to try to do that with my writing, and that’s how Infectious Grooves came to be. It was a band that I created music for that was really inspired by Jaco, and also by Cameo, and Black Sabbath, but Jaco was the main influence of my writing in the late 80s and early 90s. That’s why I wanted to make the movie. I had young people come up to me and say, “Hey, because of you I really like Weather Report.” “I bought Heavy Weather on vinyl!” ‘Cause a lot of young people are listening to vinyl again, you know? The same with [Joni Mitchell’s] Hejira, you know? My goal is just to bring awareness to his story and his music, but also to all that music! I hope everybody embraces music from that time period, like Return to Forever and all those bands.
What was the reception at South by Southwest? Were you able to make any deals?
We’re real grassroots. For me, the most important thing about SXSW is that we were accepted. With all the films out there, for them to honor and care about Jaco and the movie was huge. I don’t have a marketing team, I don’t have publicist, I don’t have all the forces that you need to go into a high-powered festival. I can count on one hand the people that I have. It’s a very small family and we do the best we can. The screenings went well, everybody loved the film, and it continues, you know?
But you do want to have a theatrical release, right?
Yes, yes… If there is a demand to show it in theaters and a demand to do everything you need to do, I want it to have a chance like any other movie. I want it to be seen. I didn’t make a movie not to be seen. Right now we’re talking to various companies and we’re going to do the festivals this year. We’ll do Buenos Aires, Asbury Park [already happened] on April 10, and also Chicago [it happened on April 18 for Record Store Day], and Washington DC also around those days. Also there will be a Jaco celebration at Hollywood Bowl on August 11, I think, on a Wednesday [that’d be August 13]. And also Monterey Jazz Festival is doing something for Jaco. It’s working, there is awareness, there is excitement.
I liked the way the movie handled everything related to his death. You didn’t even name the name of the murderer (I call it the murderer because that’s what he is) and concentrated on Jaco’s legacy. What was your original approach? Did you at any point try to talk to the guy who beat Jaco to death?
As you know as a filmmaker, it’s very difficult to find a balance. Jaco’s story is very intense. You have dark times, there are times of huge success and beauty and glory, there were times of fun, funny, Jaco had a sense of humor, was a funny guy who always had a positive spirit even when things were bad. You know, like in the scene you talk about, he laughs and he says to Jerry Jemmott, “Give me a gig!” Jaco’s life was balanced between his passion for music and his love for his family. Family was important to him. But there was also the illness, and the way he was killed… It was a very dramatic arc. What’s important in making a film like this is, how do you balance it? How do you balance the bad with the good, and the beautiful with the not-so-beautiful? It’s a very delicate balance, and that’s been the hardest thing. In the last five years, every year we thought we were finished, and all of a sudden we realized we were not finished because the balance wasn’t right, or a treasure came in, like in the last year Joni Mitchell came on board. And that was really huge and important for the film. A lot of miracles have happened. How did that happen? I mean, for four years she was unreachable and, all of a sudden, I ran into her at a party, and we’re friends now. But for four years she was like an enigma. And also Jerry Jemmott himself, Jaco’s favorite electric bass player. He’s a legend. Jerry Jemmott was living in Alabama two years ago, you know what I mean? Nobody really knew where he was. He was sort of low-profile, and now Jerry moved to Los Angeles. I met him through mutual friends and he’s an important part of this film. But two years ago he wasn’t even in the movie. We got a lot of treasures, and each time we had to re-edit the whole film. Editing is a long process. It takes time and energy. And time is money, but it was important to be done. Photos that Sony had in the vault, concert footage from Havana, all stuff that we were able to use.
One thing that left me a little confused: when Jaco was in Argentina, he had a reputation as a health nut, and he would drink these mixes of pure lemon juice and pure garlic. But according to the film, reality wasn’t so… wholesome. I mean, I was surprised when I first heard about Jaco’s problems with drugs.
This is a touchy subject. Very, very touchy. There were influences in Weather Report that started to cause him to party. And that’s when things started to change, when he joined Weather Report. There was a good chance that, around the time you saw him [in Argentina] that he started to drink more. And in those situations there was also a lot of pressure because not only are you getting the pressure to drink, which was the common thing to do with musicians around you, but this was the 80s, and there was also cocaine. This was all part of being a musician at that time. You’re onstage in front of thousands of people praising you, “You’re the greatest bassist who ever lived!” The pressure of always having to be The Greatest and having a personality that, in a lot of ways, allowed you to be the life of the party… The alpha male. Joe Zawinul and Jaco were the alpha males, the brothers that were fighting and had that creative tension with each other. But there was also mutual respect and love for each other. But there was a lot of pressure on Jaco to be great, and a lot of that happened during the Weather Report years. The years you’re talking about were the years when things started to change.
Have you seen his son Felix play?
Oh, yes. I know Felix very well. I’ve known the family for a long time and know them very well.
I mean, seeing him with a bass on his back is such an amazing image.
And he’s an amazing player. Honestly, he’s the closest thing to… Even the way his hands are on the bass… It’s like, the bloodline, you know? [laughs]
He plays a fretless too?
He plays everything. I think he mostly plays a six-string Fodera. He’s not really a fretless player, but he can play a fretless as good as anybody.
Talk about carrying a weight, being a bassist with that last name…
Yeah. I would imagine, because you want to be your own musician and wear your own hat, and have the pressure of having a dad who was one of the greatest bass players who ever lived. People probably expects him to always play his dad’s music, “Hey! Play ‘Teen Town‘!” “Play ‘Continuum‘!” I’m sure it must be difficult to always have that demand around him. But he’s an amazing player and a really, really good person.
Jaco, as you show in the movie, grew up listening to Cuban music on a transistor radio from an early age, which explains lots about his love an understanding of Latin music. I always felt that Anglo musicians had better technique, but that Latin, say, guitarists, are musically richer because we listen to all kinds of stuff besides rock, lots of local, regional influences. But Adrian Belew, who had produced a superb album by Mexico’s Caifanes, once told me that he disagreed. I’m paraphrasing: “Latin guitarists are technically better, because they can play anything from rock, to blues, to flamenco, to rancheras, you name it,” he told me in the 90s at the then-called Universal Amphitheatre. Anyway, what I really want to ask you is, in what way did Jaco’s Latin side influenced you as a player?
He was from Florida and I’m from Los Angeles, and we were both influenced by Hispanic contingency, lots of mexicanos. I can go outside right now, I’m at the studio, and I can walk outside and I can guarantee you in the next couple of hours there’s going to be ranchera music coming out of a truck. But I also was exposed to the Beatles, Beach Boys, Santana and Beethoven and flamenco. My father played flamenco guitar. The first music I heard as a kid was flamenco music, flamenco guitar. That was the first time I saw a guitar being played with fingers, not a pick. And that’s why, when I started playing bass, I started playing with my fingers right away. The beauty of the Latinos is that, I believe, there’s a special ingredient in a Latino musician. Take Dave Lombardo, from Slayer, the drummer. The ingredient in Slayer is special because classic, early Slayer has a spice to it, and the spice is coming from the rhythm, and the rhythm is coming from the swing, and the swing of the drums, as heavy as it is because we’re talking metal here, is an invisible feeling coming from the groove of the drumming. That Cuban thing is very rhythmic and very funky, and that’s what’s so special about Slayer’s music. And that comes from our Cuban friend Dave Lombardo. The first album I bought as a kid was Santana’s Abraxas, and that’s because I was moved by bass lines, and the percussion, the energy of it all. That’s why I was excited about the bass, because I loved the feel of the rhythm section. That said, I was talking to Geezer Butler, from Black Sabbath, a few months ago, and he told me he’s more excited about rhythm & blues bass, you know? And he’s known to be one of the greatest rock, metal bassists. But what makes him happy is funky bass. The Latinos have a lot of funk, man. If you take that funk and apply it to heavy metal music or dance music or whatever, well… I think that’s something Latin musicians have. There’s a bass player called Armand Sabal-Lecco. He played with Stanley Clarke a lot, he’s with Al Di Meola right now. He’s from Cameroon and played with Paul Simon. Armand is a phenomenal musician, but why is he phenomenal? He understands rock music, he understands punk music. Jaco felt Armand was incredible. And Armand also understands pygmy music, and music from Cameroon where he was born.
Yeah! That brings me to something I overheard Santana saying in one of the first Latin Grammy Awards. He was talking to somebody during rehearsals, and he was saying, “We should invite Nelson Mandela. All we [Latinos] do is African music.” There’s no way around it: you always go back to Africa.
Exactly! It’s important to understand that, and it’s important to recognize and appreciate all styles of music. I believe music is much more exciting when it is grooving and funky. And funky doesn’t always mean it is disco, or dance or whatever. I strongly believe the reason Metallica is so special is that James Hetfield is funky! James was a drummer first, and his ability as a drummer has transitioned into his ability as a rhythm guitar player and singer. And the fact that he can play really heavy, funky, metal riffs and he can sing rhythmically on top of that, to me that’s funky. And that comes from indigenous… [laughs] you know, rhythms! It comes from the earth, it’s what makes our heads move! And Jaco had that.
Speaking of which, what’s up with Metallica? Are they all there at the studio now?
Kirk [Hammett] just left. We’re writing, working on new songs.
Yeah, your assistant had told me you were “rocking it out” in the studio, but you have so many projects I didn’t know what project you were in at the studio.
No, right now I have the movie and this, and Metallica. Like you said, making a movie is a very involved thing, distribution deals…
Yeah! After this film, making an album is a piece of cake!
[laughs] Totally! You know what I’m talking about, man! That’s why this is a good interview, because you understand what it means to be a musician, to make music, and you also understand what it means to make a film, a documentary film specifically. So many people looove documentary films, docs are popular right now, but people don’t understand they’re passion-driven, they cost money and time, and someone’s gotta pay for it.
Well, it was well worth the effort. As a longtime fan, I loved it. And I think those who didn’t know about Jaco will be blown away.
I agree. This creative, passionate journey doesn’t have to do with a style of music. This is for everyone. Jaco says it in the movie when asked about what advice he could give people out there: “Hey, listen to everything. I’ll play in a country band and I’ll love it, as long as it is good.” That’s the bottom line here. Some people say, “Hey, what’s a heavy metal bassist doing a film about Jaco?” And it’s like, number one, they don’t know anything about me; number two, as I said already, with Infectious Grooves I did three albums completely influenced by Jaco. Take what Jaco delivered and create with it. Be creative, be open-minded. When you hear a Jaco album you’re not hearing… “Come on, come over” is a great song, super funky, R&B at its best. He could’ve made a whole album of it, like a Tower of Power record or something. Which is really cool, but he didn’t do that. He gave you that, he gave you some classical, some jazz, some World music, he really made a very diverse recordings, and that’s how he shared his music.