This is the first in what I hope to be a series of short interviews with famous cigar smokers, CigarCraig’s Celebrity Cigar Chat. Jim Babjak is the lead guitarist and founding member of The Smithereens, a band from New Jersey who enjoyed success in the 80’s and 90’s and continues to wow audiences to this day. From classics like “A Girl Like You”, “Blood and Roses” and “Behind the Wall of Sleep”, to full album covers of the Beatles “Meet the Beatles” (Meet the Smithereens) and their latest, and one of my favorites of late, their treatment of “Tommy”, these guys rock with the best of them. I had the pleasure of seeing them at the iconic “Stone Pony” in Asbury Park, NJ last summer and I think it’s the first time I can remember not standing still for an entire show and singing along with just about every song. Jim and the band still tour as well as enjoy many side projects including Jim’s album “The Music From Jim Babjak’s Buzzed Meg • Part 1”. Jim is one of the nicest guys you’ll ever meet, as well as a fellow cigar smoker. I asked him these questions:
1. How and when did you come to be a cigar smoker?
“In the late 1970′s I belonged to the NY Rangers Hockey fan club. There was a weekend trip I took with a bunch of friends to a game in Montreal against the Rangers in 1977. It cost $50. It included the bus ride, hotel and ticket to the game. I went 3 years in a row. It was a trip sponsored by the fan club and it was a lot of fun. I would bring my guitar and have people on the bus singing songs by the Rolling Stones, Kinks, Beatles, Who, etc.
Someone on the trip said that you can get Cuban cigars in Canada, so I was intrigued by that and picked up a Romeo Y Julieta. I would rarely smoke a cigar back then. It was odd for a 19 year old. I guess I felt like I was more mature than I really was. My wife, who I was dating at the time, bought me my first humidor in 1979 as a Christmas gift. I still use it to this day.
I used to smoke cigarettes and the occasional cigar. I quit the cigarettes over 10 years ago and haven’t had one since. I do not inhale cigars like some ex cigarette smokers do.
When our band would tour Europe in the 80′s I would always pick up some Montecristo # 2′s. They were my favorite at the time.”
2. What is your “goto” (everyday) cigar? What is it you like most about that cigar and how long has it been your favorite?
“My younger brother Bill is also a cigar smoker and he turned me on to the Padron 1964 series years ago.
Pretty much, all I really smoke anymore is the Padron 1964 and 1926 series unless someone gives me a good cigar as a gift. They are expensive, but I would rather smoke less when I can afford it than to smoke more of a lessor quality cigar. It makes me enjoy it and appreciate it more.
My everyday cigar( I don’t smoke everyday, and I generally take a break between November and March, unless I travel to a warmer climate) is the Padron 1926 Principe for about 5 years now. It has a full flavor for a small cigar. It takes about 45 minutes to smoke. It just tastes good to me. I can’t describe it like experts would by saying it has a hint of chocolate, coffee, or whatever. I don’t analyze these things. I just know what I like and what makes me feel good.
Some cigars taste like crap to me and have a foul smell and taste. I will never bother to smoke them.
All the Padrons have a different flavor going on. The draw and pleasure I get from these cigars is very consistent.
When I have the time, it is the 45 Anniversary 1926 Padron. It is my favorite leisure cigar. I like it better than the 40 and 80 Anniversary ones.
I love a full bodied cigar.
I went to the Caribbean recently and I took my travel humidor filled with Padrons. I brought it with me as a backup. I tried the Montecristo # 2 and the Cohibas while I was there, but I prefer my Padrons to the Cubans.
I did have the Cohiba maduro in Spain last year and that was pretty good, but since it’s illegal to bring back I only had one there every day at sound check.”
3. What is your ideal situation for enjoying a cigar?
“Definitely by my pool on weekends in the summer, or at night on my deck.
I’ll usually pour myself a glass of Zaya 12 year old Rum from Trinidad, or 23 year old Ron Zacapa neat with a bottle of Mexican Coca Cola on the side.
I buy the Mexican Coke in bottles from my Sam’s club by the case. It is made with sugar instead of high fructose corn syrup, so it tastes more like the Coke I enjoyed as a kid. I’ll never have soda from a 2 liter plastic bottle or from a can.”
4. Do you have the opportunity to enjoy cigars while touring?
“Absolutely, sometimes before a concert or afterward if the show is outside.”
5. If you could hang out and smoke a cigar with anyone, living or dead, who would that be, why, and what cigar would you smoke?
“Probably JFK smoking pre-Castro Cubans.
Seriously, I meet the most interesting people in my local cigar shop in Jersey City. Great stories and fun conversations are the norm. There are people from all walks of life, profession, age, income level, that have many interesting stories to tell and it’s the cigar that brings us together. It’s an eclectic bunch that under normal circumstances would never be in the same room otherwise. One minute you’ll be talking about Health care and the next minute you’ll be talking about a 3 Stooges episode.”
Many thanks to Jim for taking the time to answer my questions. I really enjoyed reading Jim’s responses. If you happen to be at Rock Con in east Rutherford, NJ this weekend (July 29, 30 and August 1, 2010) stop by and say hello. Give Jim’s “The Music From Jim Babjak’s Buzzed Meg • Part 1” a listen at Amazon.com as well as the a lot of the Smithereen’s music at The Smithereens’ Amazon.com store.
That’s it for now,