Jim Pons (Frank Zappa, The Turtles)

Courtesy of Frank Zappa Com Courtesy of Frank Zappa Com

Courtesy of Frank Zappa Com

By Joe Gagliardo

Jim Pons grew up listening to the music of Chuck Berry, Fats Domino and Little Richard.  As much as he loved these rock pioneers and their music, they were borne of the previous generation, and were not his peers.  The Beatles, however, were his peers, and when he saw them on The Ed Sullivan Show, it was an epiphany—if they
could do it, that meant it could be done! Jim’s passion for the Fab Four was deep: he secured a job as an usher at the Hollywood Bowl just to see the band perform live!

Even though he could not play nor even afford an instrument, Jim knew as early as his sophomore year in High School that he wanted to be a musician.

Using insurance money from an auto accident, Jim purchased band equipment and proceeded to recruit fraternity brothers to be part of an ensemble.  Guitarist Bill Rinehart and vocalist / sax player, tambourine, and harmonic man John Beck were added from outside the brotherhood, hence The Rockwells were born.

As the music scene changed and band names consequently evolved, The Rockwells became The Leaves and their big break arrived when they succeeded The Byrds as the house-band at Ciro’s on the Sunset Strip. The band also inked a deal with pop crooner Pat Boone’s production company and Mira Records.

Within two years and a few personnel changes, The Leaves had the # 1 record in California, “Hey Joe,” with Jim’s iconic bass lines and energetic vocals. Soon he was playing at the same Hollywood Bowl where he had seen The Beatles. Fact:  Jim added the middle section of the song based on Larry Williams’ “Boney Moronie.”

The Leaves 1964 The Leaves 1964

The Leaves 1964

As The Leaves were started to lose steam, as many pop groups do, Jim was wondered what he would do next.  That question was answered when The Turtles’ bass player Chip Douglas, left the band to produce records for The Monkees.  Jim joined in 1967 while the band was recording the Happy Together LP.

That success led to a series of tours, sold-out shows, and more hits, including, “She’d Rather Be With Me,” “You Showed Me,” and “Elenore.”  Unfortunately, all good things come to an end, and even the Ray Davies produced album, Turtle Soup, could not save the band.

The Turtles on The Ed Sullivan Show The Turtles on The Ed Sullivan Show

The Turtles on The Ed Sullivan Show

Jim’s next stop was with his Laurel Canyon neighbor Frank Zappa and The Mothers of Invention.  Former Turtles Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman, were already part of the group and recommended Jim to Frank.

This presented a new challenge for Jim as he was a self-taught musician, and Zappa wrote complex “avant garde” music in the style of the great classical composers he loved.  Jim adapted, and Frank even sang “Hey Pons” on “Flower Punk,” the Mothers’ version of “Hey Joe.” Pons played the part of God in “Billy the Mountain.”

Courtesy of Flo and Eddie Com Courtesy of Flo and Eddie Com

Courtesy of Flo and Eddie Com

Jim’s tenure with the Mothers came to an abrupt end when a delusional fan jumped on stage at The Rainbow Theatre in London, and pushed Frank into the orchestra pit, twenty-feet below. Zappa’s serious injuries forced
him off the road and to suspend all activities pending his recuperation.

However Howard Kaylan and Mark Volman remained active, and put together a band with former members of the Mothers, including Jim, which they dubbed  “Flo and Eddie.”  They released two albums, and hit the road with Alice Cooper for a long tour of ninety-two cities in one hundred and two days.

At the conclusion of the tour, Jim decided to move to New York which led to a turning point in his career.  He received a call from former Leaves bandmate John Beck, which led to Jim becoming the Film Director of the New York Jets Football Club, where he worked from 1973-2000.

Among Jim’s influences include Paul McCartney, Bill Wyman and The Byrds’ Chris Hillman whom he used to see every night at Ciro’s.

Jim Pons’ basses:  Jim followed in the footsteps of his bass heroes with Framus akin to Bill Wyman, a Guild similar to Chris Hillman, and Sir Paul’s signature Hofner violin bass, before settling with a classic Fender Precision which he still has.

As to his playing style, Jim has always “resonated with the bass notes.” He pays close attention to where one is, and makes sure the band has a strong bottom at all times. According to Jim, he does very little fiddling around; he loves McCartney’s melodic style but he played more like Hillman.

Fast forward to current times, Jim has written a book, Hard Core Love -Sex, Football and Rock and Roll in the Kingdom of God, which traces his life and career, and journey to find God.  Jim’s memoire was cited with a 2017 Florida Writers’ Association Royal Palm Literary Award for Book of the Year.

Lonesome Ride Lonesome Ride

Lonesome Ride

Jim currently plays bass in a bluegrass band called Lonesome Ride. He loves traditional string band music and it has always been his  dream to play bluegrass.

Jim w stand up_opt.jpg Jim w stand up_opt.jpg

Among Jim’s signature recordings include:

The Leaves “Hey Joe”  https://youtu.be/KWv03Wgz0PQ

Turtles “Happy Together” https://youtu.be/mRCe5L1imxg

Turtles “She’s My Girl”  https://youtu.be/D-6KbRi6mVE

Turtles “Elenore” https://youtu.be/f09itrlXcic

Mothers of Invention – live version of “Call Any Vegetable” https://youtu.be/nkMvvy8Uc5E

Jim w U-bass_opt.jpg Jim w U-bass_opt.jpg