Wild Horses and other Stuffed Animals: a Tribute to Jimmy Bain
Legendary rock photographer Ross Halfin knew Jimmy Bain when he was the bass player everyone wanted. In November, he shot him one last time.
I first met Jimmy Bain in the mid-70s when I was about fifteen or sixteen. He was in a band called Harlot who played the Marquee every Thursday for free. He used to make a point of coming outside and talking to the fans. My dad was a music publisher in Tin Pan Alley and he knew Jimmy because he was trying to get a deal for his songs. So he and I had this weird connection, going right back to when I was still at school.
After Harlot, I saw Jimmy when he played in Rainbow. After Ritchie Blackmore threw him out of the band for drinking too much, Jimmy found his perfect boozy partner with Brian Robertson, and they formed Wild Horses [in 1978]. I always liked Wild Horses. I had to do a shoot with them for Sounds in Westbourne Grove – and that was the day Jimmy gave me my first line of cocaine. I didn’t know what cocaine was – being a teenager in London all I took was speed. I remember taking it and having a chat and a drink, but thinking, “What’s this supposed to do?” It didn’t seem to have any effect, until I went home. Of course, coke kills your appetite, and I couldn’t eat the dinner my mother had made for me. She was most annoyed.
The next time I saw Jimmy was after he’d joined Dio [in 1983]. This is the thing about Jimmy: he was a great songwriter and a great bass player. That’s why Ronnie Dio and Ritchie Blackmore wanted him in their bands. People forget he was a good musician. I used to see him around LA, and the difference between Jimmy and some other artists I could mention is that he was always personable. He would go out of his way to come over and say hello. He’s Scottish and my mother was Scottish, and he would always ask after her. If you were out with Jimmy for the night, he was with you – he didn’t lose interest if someone more famous came into the room.
When Dio were recording [their 1984 album] The Last In Line I went for the weekend to the Caribou Ranch [studio in the Rocky Mountains, Colorado]. Jimmy was very pleased to see me. Truthfully, he’d scored a huge amount of cocaine, and we went out on a bender – just me and him. He kept playing me the title track of the album over and over again….
I don’t remember going to bed that night, but I do remember waking up in the morning with a fox, a coyote and a bear. There were all these stuffed animals in bed with me. I saw Jimmy at lunchtime, before I left, and he said, “I put you to bed. Did you have a good night’s sleep with your friends?” On the way out, he gave me a cassette of The Last In Line, and said, “Here you go… just don’t tell Ronnie.” I still have the cassette. It’s a much heavier mix of the song than the one that ended up on the album.
I didn’t see Jimmy for years after that. Then Viv Campbell told me they’d started a new band, Last In Line, and that Jimmy had been clean and sober for eighteen months. I went to LA in November, and photographed them for the album cover. It was good to Jimmy again – and also very funny. He walked straight into my hotel room, opened the mini bar and started eating everything. Later on, Viv told me he was broke. I didn’t know at the time. But when he was on his third packet of M&Ms, I finally said, “Do you mind, it’s really expensive…” Jimmy replied, “Sorry, I thought they were free” - knowing full well they weren’t.
I did the shoot and Jimmy was really together. It was only later checking out I realised he’d charged his parking and everything else to my room, as well as stealing all the snacks in the mini bar. I ended up with a huge bill, but – do you know what - I didn’t mind, because I’m glad I saw him that one last time. Jimmy Bain always went out of his way to say hello – and in this business that really does mean a lot.