SOME KEYBOARDISTS JUST PLAY THE PARTS. Others pull up their music by the roots. For Jimmie “Bones” Trombly, whoís backed Kid Rock on piano, organ, harmonica, and vocals for the past 15 years, roots music is more than an influenceóitís a force of gravity that anchors his entire musical identity.
As a longtime member of Kid Rockís backing band, Twisted Brown Trucker, Bones shares a deep love of primal music with his boss. “The music we have in common is just the earliest, rawest form of whatever genre, whether it be blues or soul or Rock & Roll,” he says. “Same thing with country music: the whole outlaw circle, Waylon Jennings and Merle Haggard, Hank Williams Sr. and Jr. Thatís what we both definitely gravitate toward, and thatís been the glue that matched us up.”
Jimmie has a long history in the Detroit music scene, including a stint with cult favorites Robert Bradleyís Blackwater Surprise before joining Kid Rock. As a young player, Jimmie wasnít so much trained in keyboards as steeped in them. “I never really had proper piano lessons,” he admits. “I learned from guys that played Hammond B3 and kick bass pedals in gospel churches, or with organ trios in clubs. My first teacher really trained my ear. He wouldnít even put sheet music in front of meóheíd bring in a cassette tape and say, ‘Okay, try and emulate this the best you can.’”
Bones still uses the same immersive approach to learning, most recently before recording the latest Kid Rock album, Rebel Soul. “I did a lot of shedding with Ray Charles and dug deep into the records he did in the ’50s. I didnít learn the songs just to play themóI basically tried to get into them almost like a method actor. Itís kind of like learning a language: You either speak with an accent, or you speak fluently.”
Onstage with Kid Rock, Jimmie is a dynamic player. “I canít stop moving,” he laughs. “Iím kind of anchored between the Hammond B3 and a big old upright piano, so Iím not running around, but Iím pretty busy with the multi-keyboards. And thereís some stuff where Iím playing piano or organ at the same time, and doing backup vocals or harmonica simultaneously. So I guess itís pretty visual, like watching one of those little wind-up monkeys with a cymbal on its back!”
And that piano? “Itís the shell of my old 1917 upright grand with a Yamaha CP33 inside it,” Jimmie confides. “Iíve also used a CP5 on some back-line showsóitís a really cool piano. I really like the CP because of how the samples sound, and the keyboard feels very much like a piano. I donít like a real light action, and I love how it fights back.”
The motif is my own little stable of musicians. Itís an essential songwriterís tool as well as a performance tool.
He uses a Motif XF8 onstage as well. “I play it on songs where Iíve got to build layers, and I might split the keyboard in different areas to have a string patch going here and a horn up in this octave, and maybe a sample off one of the records,” he explains. “And when Iím not on the road, I use it for demoing and building tracks. The Motif is my own little stable of musiciansóIíll play all the bass parts, do drum loops and whatnot. Itís an essential songwriterís tool as well as a performance tool.”
Some of the most memorable gigs Jimmie has played with Kid Rock have been for U.S. troops in Iraq, Afghanistan, and other war zones. “Itís not that different as far as the show goes, or even the appreciation,” he reflects. “Itís just the thought that when youíre performing for the troops, youíre bringing home to them. You have to perform during the day, because at night the lighting is a target for anybody that wants to bomb you. It feels pretty profound to go over there and perform for these men and women that are risking their lives so we can have a country where you can just leisurely go to a concert and enjoy yourself.”
Wherever heís playing, Jimmie knows how fortunate he is to make music for a living. “I get paid to do what most people only dream of, and I can support my family doing it,” he says. “Though thereís a funny story about that. My parents were very concerned about my career path, because no parent wants their kid to grow up in obscurity and struggle and do something where itís a crapshoot if you make it. So not long ago my folks and I are having dinner and I'm like “Well the real estate marketís just horrible right now, and thereís so many people out of work and losing their jobs, and itís getting worse every day.’ And it gets kind of quiet, and then I say, ‘Good thing I play in a rock-and-roll band, isnít it?’”
(Photography Credit: Rob Shanahan)