Here’s the Real Story Behind Van Halen’s ‘Top Jimmy’
Any deep-listening fan of Van Halen's 1984 had to wonder if "Top Jimmy" was a real person, and just what inspired David Lee Roth to compose its rags-to-riches story.
James Koneck, who earned his nickname working at the Top Taco stand outside of A&M Records in Hollywood, was also regular performer with the band Top Jimmy and the Rhythm Pigs. Roth even joined Koneck onstage, singing a string of bluesy cover songs, around the turn of the '80s. They met when Koneck was bartending at an after-hours Hollywood punk dive and occasional art gallery called the Zero Zero Club – a hip place that, despite its ratty look, soon began crawling with famous folks.
“Roth showed up at the Zero one night very early on and just loved it," Zero Zero partner John Pochna says in a new interview with writer Greg Renoff. "He showed up the first time in a limo, and he had two chicks with him and Eddie Anderson, his personal security guy. The chicks thought they were going to some fancy place. … They completely freaked out when they saw the look of the place and this raw, totally f---ed-up downscale crowd.”
Roth eventually became an anonymous financial backer for the bar, which Pochna ran with Wayzata de Camerone. Before making his way out among the general revelry, Roth would typically start out by partying in the Zero Zero's tucked-away VIP space.
“There was a construction ladder kept behind the bar, you’d go up the ladder through a trap door," recalls Wayzata. "In the loft, the ceiling was so low that you had to stoop and crawl over to a couch that I’d put up there. That’s where David Lee would want to hang. He’d show up and say, ‘Wayzata, I’ve got some blow.’ We’d go up the ladder, do our blow, then we’d go down and enjoy the party.”
Roth would return to these heady days a few years later when, very late in the making of 1984, he added lyrics about his old pal Top Jimmy to an existing instrumental then titled "Ripley," after Steve Ripley, the designer of the unique stereo guitar Eddie Van Halen uses on the tune.
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