Updated September 28, 2021 - 7:36 am
Drumming great Pepe Jimenez is famous around Las Vegas for keeping a super-steady beat. But even he has been knocked off rhythm over the past week, because of a heart scare he learned of while playing at Allegiant Stadium.
Jimenez powers David Perrico’s Las Vegas Raiders House Band. The drummer’s call to the stadium stage has been delayed, however, until Sunday’s tilt against the Miami Dolphins. Jimenez is behind the skins for his first NFL game, ever, after undergoing triple bypass surgery Aug. 11.
“I am back playing,” Jimenez said Saturday afternoon. “I’m ready. I cannot be home anymore.”
A universally respected musician, Jimenez spent two years with Carlos Santana, and many more with Santa Fe & The Fat City Horns, over nearly two decades in town. He’s pounded the beats for “Storm,” “Mamma Mia!” and “The Lion King” at Mandalay Bay, Criss Angel’s “Believe” at Luxor, Frankie Moreno at The Strat (then Stratosphere), “Baz” at Palazzo Theatre and The Hot Club of Las Vegas.
Jimenez joined Perrico’s Pop Strings in 2017 and was its primary drummer for most of its residency at Cleopatra’s Barge at Caesars Palace. Jimenez was onstage when the band played its first “empty nest” performance at Allegiant Stadium in June. The band returned for more work in the vacant stadium Aug. 7.
That’s when it got interesting, medically, for Jimenez. He’d undergone heart tests that morning, then headed directly to the stadium. As Jimenez was jamming with Perrico and what would be the Raiders’ house band, his phone started flashing.
“Same number, over and over,” Jimenez said. “I didn’t recognize it. I kept looking down and thinking, ‘This person is persistent!’”
It was the cardiologist who had just conducted Jimenez’s heart exam, feverishly attempting to reach the musician.
“She said, ‘Whatever you are doing, stop doing it, and get to the emergency room,’” Jimenez said. “You have two fully clogged arteries.”
Jimenez was shocked.
“I felt a little tired,” he said, “but the way I play makes me tired. I thought it was normal. But they told me I was in immediate danger of having a heart attack.”
At hearing the jarring news of his condition, Jimenez did what any proficient, passionate musician would do.
He finished the gig.
“I said, ‘You don’t understand. We are in a stadium. Too many people are depending on me to play right now,’” Jimenez said. “I promise I will come to the emergency room when we are finished.”
Jimenez did that, but he didn’t stay. He played again the next day, Aug. 8, which would be the band’s formal audition at Allegiant Stadium. Only then did he check himself back into the hospital to be prepped for open heart surgery.
Doctors had discovered a third blocked artery, so this was a major operation.
“They opened me up like a turkey on Thanksgiving,” Jimenez said. “It was pretty intense.”
Jimenez’s surgeon, Dr. Thomas d’Amato, is also a musician. A cellist, specifically.
“We talked a lot about my condition but a lot about music, too,” Jimenez said.
The surgery lasted about four hours. Jimenez was walking short distances within two days. He was back home in five. Given six weeks to return to playing, he started practicing on pads in two weeks. He recorded himself playing a solo and showed it to his cellist-doctor on his next visit.
“He watched it and said, ‘Wow, you’re good!’” Jimenez said.
While Jimenez was away, his son, Miguel, filled in on drums for the Raiders band.
“That’s actually good for me,” the elder Jimenez said, “because I get a piece of his payment.”
Perrico said he learned Aug. 7 of Jimenez’s health.
“It’s just like the NFL, you go with the next man up,” Perrico said. “Every player has a sub. We have a line of subs, they have the music ahead of time. I immediately sent him all the music, all the links, and nailed it, with no rehearsal. He was in the hot seat.”
Pepe Jimenez was back, full scale, for its Friday performance at the stadium honoring Tom Flores’ induction into the Pro Football Hall of Fame. Other than being told he can’t lift objects heavier than 30 pounds (which is a directive with which he’s happy to comply), Jimenez says he’s fit and ready to rock.
“I wasn’t in bad shape; I didn’t eat badly or anything like that,” the drummer said. “It’s genetics. Some of have that gift from our relatives, from our mom and dad. That’s what happened with me.”
At age 55, Jimenez says he is eager to use his story as a reminder to be diligent about your health.
“Get checked, that’s why I am talking about this,” he said. “If I hadn’t gone in for a deep exam, a CAT scan and all of the testing, it would be a different story.”
Cool Hang Alert
Sarah Hester Ross is working a regular routine at Bar at Times Square at New York-New York, paired with Adam Brown at 8, 9:15, 10:30 and 11:45 p.m. on Sunday and Tuesday. She also works with Scott Ellis in the good-time venue. And Ross’ one-woman, music-comedy show at Notoriety Live at Neonopolis at 9 p.m. Thursdays is heading for an extension. Watch for that, too.
The Review-Journal is owned by the family of Dr. Miriam Adelson, the majority shareholder of Las Vegas Sands Corp., which operates Palazzo.
John Katsilometes’ column runs daily in the A section. His “PodKats!” podcast can be found at reviewjournal.com/podcasts. Contact him at email@example.com. Follow @johnnykats on Twitter, @JohnnyKats1 on Instagram.