It's a long way from a Cherry Street warehouse to the Kremlin's halls of power. Though he hasn't spent a lot of time in Moscow, Nick Jameson, a man who seems to have lived three or four lives, understands the journey.
Jameson plays Russian president Yuri Suvarov on Fox's 24, a straight-shooting world leader who seems a lot less slippery than most of the American pols portrayed on the show.
His crisp, minimalist accent and close-cropped hair camouflage his earlier life so completely that it's hard to imagine that a '60s-shaggy Jameson was part of a Philadelphia rock legend 40 years ago.
Long-ago fans have no idea that the man threatening to set off World War III by attacking a U.S. military base in Asia in tomorrow's 24 finale is a local guitar hero. Along the way, they didn't recognize him as an Australian psychic in Lost, or as mysterious Rambaldi researcher Lazlo Drake in Alias, or hundreds of other cartoon, video-game and TV and movie characters, either.
Jameson was the kid in American Dream, a band that played Be-Ins on Belmont Plateau and places like the 2d Fret on Sansom Street, and the Trauma on Arch.
"That band ruled Philly, totally, 1968-71," says fan Audrey Marsh from Media, who still never misses Bob Dylan and Neil Young when they come to town. She was 12 when she started hanging out on the rock scene.
Jameson, who promises an "awesome" two-hour 24 wrap-up tomorrow, beginning at 8 on Fox29, wasn't much older.
"I was 16, living in a warehouse at Third and Cherry where the American Dream used to rehearse," Jameson says by phone from his home in L.A.'s Topanga Canyon. "At that point, my parents had kind of given up the idea of my following in my father's footsteps." His father, Michael, a classical anthropologist and archaeologist, was dean of the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at the University of Pennsylvania.
Eventually, the Dream - the other members, Don Van Winkle, Don Ferris, Mickey Brook and Nicky Indelicato, all graduated from Lincoln High in 1966 - became regulars at a new joint, the Electric Factory, and, in 1970, they played New York's Filmore East with Santana and It's a Beautiful Day.
"They were working-class guys from the Northeast, which is kind of the origin of most real things," Jameson says, wistfully riffing on the "soulfulness" and "reality" of Philadelphia. "If a Philly girl is going to flirt with you, her way of doing it is to come and stand next to you."
Jameson says, "We had a little more grit than some of the other local bands, and we had our own brand of humor that separated us a little bit."
"You Can't Get to Heaven on the Frankford El" is perhaps their most famous song. "You definitely can't get to heaven on that thing," he says.
The first album Todd Rundgren ever produced, in 1970, was the Dream's sole release. It was on Bearsville Records, based in Woodstock, N.Y. "Todd and I both ended up moving to Woodstock, and the rest is a very convoluted history," Jameson said.
A history that includes widespread wanderings and stops in Atlanta and Australia, a lot of record producing for the likes of Bonnie Raitt and Paul Butterfield, a solo album, improv comedy and a stint as bass man with British blues rockers Foghat. "I produced Fool for the City, their biggest and best album," Jameson said. (Who's quibbling if Foghat Live sold more copies?) The band's biggest hit, "Slow Ride," came with Jameson singing, playing and twirling the knobs at the control board.
His impulse as a producer was more art than thunder, but he restrained himself. "I did my best not to over-sophisticate Foghat."
Jameson was tiring of the music business - "not the music, the business" - when an accident on Livezey Rock in Fairmount Park changed his direction in 1991. Basically, he fell off a cliff.
"I soloed something I shouldn't have and crushed my ankle." Without mobility he couldn't perform, nor withstand the grueling hours of production. Voice work beckoned. He got into video games in their infancy. That eventually led to more conventional acting gigs.
It doesn't take a psychic, like Lost's Richard Malkin, the guy who persuaded Claire to take that slow ride on doomed Flight 815, to figure out that Jameson likes to complicate things.
He starts the interview with a bew-tee-full Philadelphia accent, with its strong O's and drawn-out A's. It's a put-on, as he quickly shifts to standard American, and then in and out of Australian and Russian. It's not a coincidence that Jameson is a video-game voice star. He has played hundreds of characters on scores of them, including Max in Sam & Max Hit the Road and Palpatine and Darth Sidious in the Star Wars games. Little kids know him as Sheriff Lewis on Clifford, the Big Red Dog.
He has also been a dog.
"I played Lassie on The Critic," Jon Lovitz's mid-'90s animated series, Jameson says. "And I was a lot of the rest of the cast, too."
He has guest-starred on what seems like almost every TV show: Beverly Hills 90210, Seinfeld, Mad About You, NewsRadio, The Drew Carey Show, Boston Public, The King of Queens, Alias, Criminal Minds, and many more.
"I've seen Nick Jameson's name lots of times, and it reminded me of the Dream," Marsh says, "but I thought, 'It can't be the same guy. He was like a major guitar player, producer. What would he be doing in this show?' "
Sometimes, Jameson wonders himself.
"On 24 and Lost, it's a whole new way of writing. They're pulling it out of the air, brilliantly. They write stuff, see how it plays, see how the actor plays it, and incorporate it into what happens next.
"I had no idea Greg Itzen 24] was going to be a bad guy. I was the one guy who thought he was an actual president.
"I spent a lot of time on Lost trying to be a real psychic. Then, when they brought me back, all of a sudden I'm a fraud.
"You can die at any moment on these shows, which is like life," Jameson says, declining to reveal who dies tomorrow from the CTU crowd. "There's a sniper poised outside my window, waiting to shoot if I start to speak."
It would be a shame to cut down the singer-guitarist-producer-comedian-traveler-voice jockey-actor just when he finally seems to have found an art form that truly agrees with him.
"The way they do these shows," he says, "you have to reinvent yourself all the time, which is like my life."