Jon Taffer

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Jon Taffer is an entrepreneur and nightlife consultant with a knack for turning around failing businesses. His energetic, inspirational personality is on full display as he talks about how artists like Jimi Hendrix and Traffic changed how he saw the world. The 100th episode of Jon Taffer’s series Bar Rescue on Spike airs on March 6.

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Hosted by Aaron Byrd.


  1. Chicago Transit Authority - "Introduction"
  2. Jimi Hendrix Experience - "Castles Made of Sand"
  3. Johnny Winter - "Prodigal Son"
  4. The Beach Boys - "In My Room"
  5. Traffic - "Dear Mr. Fantasy" 

Aaron Byrd: Hey, I’m Aaron Byrd and I’m here with Jon Taffer, host of the series Bar Rescue on Spike. He’s an entrepreneur and nightlife consultant who is known for his knack for turning around failing businesses. His energetic, no-nonsense personality definitely sets him apart and we are looking forward to hearing the music that has influenced him as part of KCRW’s Guest DJ Project. First of all Jon, welcome.

Jon Taffer: Great to be here Aaron, especially talking about my favorite tunes… It gets no better than that!

AB: Well, let’s get right into it. What did you bring in for us today?

JT: I have to start by saying that I took drum lessons for nine years when I was a kid.

AB: Oh wow!

JT: So I learned how to read music, how to write music. When you take drum lessons as a kid, the first two years you don’t even get a drum. You have a rubber pad. And you do rudiments all of the time so it’s not fun the first year or two of taking drum lessons.

So, music inspired me to keep working at it. I respond very much to chops: you know arrangements, musicians, as much as I do words.

AB: You know that makes a lot of sense especially when I look at the first track that you have for us, which is…

JT: “Introduction,” by Chicago Transit Authority.

Now I got to tell you when that album came out, Aaron, it was all about guitar bands. Right, Hendrix, Cream, Mountain! All these guitar bands around and then you hear about this band of Juilliard College-trained musicians, a brass section and immediately ‘Nah, I’m a Hendrix Guy, I’m not gonna go for that!’

Well, the first cut of that record was “Introduction” and it blew me away… at the end of that song I truly cried: I had tears in my eyes. The arrangement, the music, the individual chops of the players. To me it was a life-changing event hearing that tune. It redefined music for me. It showed that my generation could be far more sophisticated and arrange just as well as Mozart did and that song blew me away.

Song: Chicago Transit Authority – “Introduction"

AB: Well, there you have it. That was “Introduction” by Chicago Transit Authority. And moving forward we have something by a legend, right?

JT: Hendrix. I got to see Jimi five times. Got to shake his hand once.

I saw him at Madison Square Garden. I was, I’m guessing, I was 13, 14 years old and he was on a revolving stage and I loved him so much I didn’t want to miss a second. I walked through the isles with that stage as it turned around and didn’t miss a second of Jimi.

If there was one artist who had the greatest impact upon me it was him.

You know he played a right hand guitar left handed. The strings were upside down. I mean, the man taught himself against every obstacle and also sort of redefined music. But, you know, there’s a lot of great Hendrix songs with a lot of loud guitar and heavy guitar riffs and effects but “Castles Made of Sand” was a Hendrix song that had a great message.

You know “Castles made of sand fall in the sea, eventually.” And they do, just as we do. But, you know, it’s a great inspirational message in that song: a crippled boy who saw the sun and stood up from his wheelchair, an Indian chief who achieves great myths… The song inspired me.

AB: Would you say that it pays to be a renegade in business, just as it does in music?

JT: Yes. Because you got to be noticed in my business. You know, we fall into the envelope of normalcy and then eh, we’re just one of many but when we step out of the box, that’s when we get noticed. You bet, that the innovations in music and the innovations in my business both drive success.

AB: Alright, let’s take a listen to Jimi Hendrix.

Song: Jimi Hendrix -- “Castles Made of Sand”

AB: And, of course, that was Jimi Hendrix Experience with “Castles Made of Sand.” Alright let’s take a listen to the next track you have.

JT: Johnny Winter: Great blues guitarist and again, you know I’m a musician’s guy. Johnny was a great guitarist and, you know, this was just a wonderful song. “Prodigal Son,” I fell in love with it, and it’s a great “poppy” kind of Johnny Winter song. But is shows his chops vocally and it shows his chops in guitar.

AB: Is there something in particular about Blues that really resonates with you, would you say?

JT: Emotion. Emotion. Blues is about pain and suffering and love and emotion. Similar to country music, it is very emotional in that sense.

AB: They’re both sourced from the same region when you think about the Mississippi Delta in particular.

JT: You bet and it’s pain from the heart, really. That drives so much of it.

AB: Do you find that there’s a particular, either time of day or maybe you can reference a time in your life where you find that you really want to listen to sad songs?

JT: You know, sadness to me is something that we don’t want to lose touch with. You forget what sadness feels like. And sadness is a real motivator to me. So taking out a sad song, listening to it, tearing up for a minute, thinking of tougher times can be very inspirational. Sometimes it gives you the kick in the butt you need to get out of the place that you’re in.

Song: Johnny Winter – “Prodigal Son”

AB: That was “Prodigal Son,” by Johnny Winter. Up next we have something I think a lot of our Southern California fans will relate to. You have something from the Beach Boys, right?

JT: I do, you know Brian Wilson was a huge inspiration for me when I was young. He had a very difficult childhood. His father was extremely difficult. There was violence in his upbringing and his esteem was impacted.

The song “In My Room” was written by him when he was 16 years old -- under his bed, in his room, being terrified by his father.

And I grew up and my childhood wasn’t the best at times. There were moments of violence in my childhood and I always could relate to Brian as a scared child under his bed writing this song. And, you know, his greatest success came from his music. His personal life never really came together as I would have loved it to for him, because he is a musical genius. But this is one of his first songs and it was so emotional because you can feel how he felt as a little boy laying under his bed when he wrote it. So this is one of those sad songs that inspires me.

AB: Out of all of the songs that you chose today would you say that this is the most representative of your life?

JT: Maybe, in a sense it is, because I grew up in an environment not dissimilar than Brian’s and you know, for me it created strength and I wouldn’t gave it up for anything. i think I’m tough because of it. And I think I’m very self reliant and independent because of it. It went the opposite way with him, and that’s very sad.

AB: Let’s check out “In My Room” by The Beach Boys.

Song: The Beach Boys – “In My Room”

AB: Yes, and that was “In My Room” for the Beach Boys. Alright, now we’re getting to the end and for your very last track, “Dear Mr. Fantasy”, by Traffic, correct?

JT: Oh, absolutely. You know Traffic was, well a great supergroup. It came out of Cream and a number of other groups and Stevie Windwood and just a great team of people. And "Mr. Fantasy" epitomizes that era to me.

Sometimes, when I heard that song in my younger years, I would think ‘maybe there is a Mr. Fantasy’. And, you know, maybe that ‘Mr. Fantasy’ is in my own head and maybe, I am my own Mr. Fantasy. And, I realized, listening to that song in a digestive moment, if you will, that we’re all our own Mr. Fantasies.

AB: I think about your show, and it has to do as much about failure as it does success.

JT: Well, you know I have to transform people. You know if I don’t change what they think, I don’t change what they do. And changing the way you think is challenging. You’re not going to like it ‘cause i’m telling you you’re wrong about something.

But sometimes I appeal to fear. What happens when you fail Aaron? What happens when you lose your house? What happens when you can’t bring something home to your kids?

Sometimes I appeal to your pride. How does it feel to own a business? Doesn’t it feel great to be respected in a community and how’s it going to feel when you lose that?

So I have to work people’s pride, I have to work their fears, and if I can’t motivate you through pride or scare you to change through fear then it’s boot camp time. I’m going to beat the heck out of you until your brain opens a crack and, in that second of self doubt, I will walk in and change the way you think. Cause if I make you own your failure, I can get you to own your success.

Song: Traffic – “Dear Mr. Fantasy”

AB: Well that was Traffic with “Dear Mr. Fantasy.”

John, it’s been an incredible time here with you. Thanks so much for joining us here on

JT: This is fun. I got to tell you, I’ve done 109 Bar Rescues, I’ve had businesses that I’ve run all over the country and picking these five songs Aaron, might have been the most difficult thing I have EVER done!

AB: (laughs)

JT: I’m glad I pulled it off! (laughs)






Aaron Byrd