Sass Jordan

Posted March, 2010

 

SassJordanSass Jordan.  Have you heard of her?  If you’re Canadian, you more than likely have.  In 2003, she served as a judge on Canadian Idol.  In July of the same year,  at the Rolling Stones SARS Relief Concert in Toronto, Sass shared the stage with the Stones, The Flaming Lips, The Isley Brothers, AC/DC, Rush, and a few other of her “closest and dearest friends”.

She’s sold over a million albums world-wide and has worked with and/or toured with some of the biggest names in music including Alice Cooper, Van Halen, Joe Cocker (on the soundtrack from the hit movie, The Bodyguard, Cheap Trick and Aerosmith.  State-side, she’s starred in the lead role of the Broadway production of Love, Janis.  She’s also a winner of Billboard’s Best Female Rock Vocalist award.

In what little spare time that she has, she loves spending with the love of her life (Who also happens to be her husband. That usually helps.), Derek Sharp, lead singer for The Guess Who.

I view Ms. Jordan as one of North America’s best kept secrets that’s long overdue to be widely known.  Having released seven albums since 1988, the state side release of her latest effort, From Dusk Til Dawn, will take place on March 16th.

Having had the privilege of getting to listen to this disc in advance, it was to my immense pleasure that Sass and I chatted by phone to discuss the project.

The conversation was literally less than 10 seconds old and I knew that I was really going to enjoy the conversation.  She is a bubbly, engaging person to talk to.  Her enthusiasm draws the listener in to anything that she wishes to talk about.

We started out talking about the nuances and vagaries of technologies such as Caller ID, airport security and the like. After several minutes of discussion, we concluded that Caller ID is both a blessing and a curse and that Airport Security is klugy, at best.

If we didn’t have an album to talk about, we would have, in all likelihood, solved world hunger.  Perhaps on another day

Before we pursued the subject of From Dusk Til Dawn, I wanted to pass along a message from someone special: Sam Andrew from Big Brother and the Holding Company and music director for the play, Love, Janis, that Jordan starred in.

I had mentioned to Sam that I was going to be interviewing Sass.  His comments echo many of those who have heard or worked with her:  “Goodness!  What a singer!  This woman is home-fried, strong, comfortable . . . Hey!  If she ever wanted to ever sing with Big Brother, well, that would be a lot of fun!  All of the Love, Janis band – my band – the one I put together for the New York show at the Village Theater on Bleecker Street  - they all wrote me that they all love working with Sass.”

Sass’s response was an awed and humbled, “Wow!  It’s so wonderful to hear stuff like that!”

The reason this quote about Jordan is sincere is that her earnest, weathered, bluesy rasp has been compared none other than Joplin as well as to Melissa Ethridge and even The Black Crowes’ Chris Robinson.  I can’t disagree with those comparisons but I’d add Bonnie Bramlett and Bette Midler (in “Janis” mode) to the list. 

But here’s the thing:  I believe when one listens to Sass sing, and you try to pigeon-hole her voice, you’ll quickly find that it’s darn near impossible.  Why? Listening to her is like listening to a vocal hologram.  Listening to her, I realized that I was saying to myself, “Wow!  She sounds like Melissa! No, she just sounded like Janis!  Wait, no! She just sounded like Bonnie Bramlett!”

Listen to her sing and tell me I’m lyin’! 

When I shared this perception with Sass, she said, “Ironic!  Because Bonnie Bramlett’s daughter (and former Fleetwood Mac vocalist), Bekka Bramlett, used to know each other years ago.  Bonnie loved me, according to Bekka.  She said, ‘My mom thinks you’re the greatest!’, which is amazing to me!

“There’s another ‘Bonnie’ who I absolutely adore.  She’s one of my all-time favorites ever.  If I was to ever say that I had modeled myself after anybody – a white female singer – which I DIDN’T, by the way! – I was all about the white MALE singers from ENGLAND! – and the female singers I adored, I didn’t have a hope in hell of ever sounding like because they were all black!  But, anyway, the white one that I love, and to this day adore, is Bonnie Raitt. 

“I think Bonnie Raitt – even though she’s done INCREDIBLY  well – I STILL think she’s under rated!  Isn’t that a stupid thing to say?  She’s had many accolades and people do adore her.  But, my god!  She should be bigger than she is.  She should definitely, definitely be ‘up there’!

“Then there’s another one that you might be aware of, much younger, of course.  Her name is Susan Tedeschi.  She’s really, really good, too!  She’s married to Derek Trucks, the fabulous slide guitar player.  They do stuff together.  If you get a chance, definitely go check those two out!”

When Sass mentioned Raitt, I shared that I thought one of the songs off of From Dusk Til Dawn put me in mind of Bonnie’s I Can’t Make You Love Me, but from a different part of the “hologram”, so to speak.

She pipes in and shares some insight into the song. “It was actually an Eric Clapton song that made me want to write that song.  But that’s what I do.  You figured it out.  I will go and listen to songs that I adored, and still adore, from the past, that put me in a frame of mind and into a ‘vibration’ and then go write my songs. “

When I injected that it’s that song coming through her, influencing her, mixing with her thought and musical “DNA”, and producing a song that is “her”, totally and completely, she adds with her infectious laugh, “That’s right.  I could NEVER ‘knock off’ anybody.  I can’t.  I’d love to be able to say, ‘Hey! If I could do THAT, I MIGHT be wealthier!’  I never managed to do that but you’re so EXACTLY right.  I have no problem whatsoever with people – People are like, ‘Wow! What about the competition? Don’t you feel that they’re going to outshine you?’

“I say, ‘No, I don’t! There is not another that is me!’  Just like there’s not another that is THEM.  It doesn’t matter. It’s always going to have your unique footprint, fingerprint, whatever on it, because you’re a being all unto yourself.  I mean, I know we’re all part of the same being but we’re different bits of it. 

“It never expresses itself the same way twice, no matter what anyone says.  You just feel it energetically.  You relate to the resonance of that frequency or you don’t!  I’m sorry if I’m sounding to ‘New Agey” there.”

Speaking of her song writing process (or, “pro sess”, as they pronounce it in Canada), with the exception of Tom Wait’s Ol’ 55, Jordan wrote all the songs on Dusk.  Masterfully crafted lyrics and beautiful arrangements, she’s outdone herself on this one, folks.

With Dusk being Sass’s eighth solo project, I asked her what the similarities and differences were on this project as compared to the other seven.

“Well, it always has a different flavor and a different energy because of who you worked with on it – played with you on it, that kind of thing.  That makes a big difference.  On this one, From Dusk Til Dawn, that was done with a whole bunch of people I know up here in Toronto.  REALLY great players – WONDERFUl players!

“We recorded all of the basic tracks in something like three days.  It was one of those ‘get in and just focus, head down, plow, go!’ Overdubs and stuff like that were done over the next month after that.  We mixed it in California with an old friend of mine.

“I can tell you more of what’s the same rather than what’s different.  It’s a different time and a different set of songs so it’s going to have a slightly different flavor.  One before it, one that I also really love, which is called “Get What You Give”, I made in Nashville with these incredible players as well but a whole DIFFERENT vibration.  Much more ‘southern’, just that FLAVOR, that down home grit.

“The guy that played on the Motown stuff played bass on some of it.  There were some incredible drummers and incredible guitar players.  It was an AMAZING experience, too!  But, it has a much more ‘we made it in a barn’ type of feeling to it.  I love Nashville!  It’s such a great music town, needless to say!”

I told Sass that I had four favorite songs on Dusk – two tied for first place and then two behind those.  The top two are Awake and Love and Affection.  The second set of two are Ol’ 55 and Stronger. I’m telling you, folks, if the album had been in vinyl, I would have worn the grooves off of these two songs. 

Sass shares some of the stories behind those gems.                                     

“When I went in to make this record, I wanted to make something that had a flavor of what I started out singing back in the 70’s.  When I first started singing, we would sing in the park, me and a couple of friends who played acoustic guitars.  Me and my girlfriend, Vickie, we’d sit in the park, smoke pot – actually, it was hash because we lived in Montreal!  We were fourteen years old – I know, it was pathetic  but it’s the truth – and we would play the songs of the day that we loved and we would learn to sing in harmony  with each other.  That’s how I started out. 

“Eventually, we got good enough that people would say, ‘Hey, could you come play here, play there?”  Then they started to pay us!  That’s how the whole thing sort of started organically for me.  The songs that were big back in those days – the Eagles; Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young; Bonnie Raitt; Jackson Browne; Linda Ronstadt;  - all of that kind of stuff that has that Southern California flavor.  I wanted to tap in to that energetically, even if I couldn’t pull it off sound wise, although Awake, to me, is EXACTLY that.  It sounds like Timothy B. Schmit (Eagles bass player) singing harmony on it. That’s really where I wanted to go.

“But there were also a couple of other things that I wanted to look in to on that record besides that Southern California thing.  I wanted the overall flavor and then I wanted to add a little touch of that British Soul that I love so much. 

“Somebody who is current, who’s out now, who’s a FANTASTIC soul singer in that British style, is James Morrison.  I LOVE that kid!  The song, Stronger, came from that line of reference.  Awake came from ‘Southern California’.  Ol’ 55 is obviously directly related to that.

“With Love and Affection, it goes back to 461 Ocean Boulevard by Eric Clapton. So, there, you have the British sitting in the heart of Southern California! All that stuff from the seventies. Those were the paint boxes that I was using on my canvas.  That’s really where they came from.”

Continuing to describe From Dusk Til Dawn, Sass says, “I say the say the same thing every time (about every record).  This record is really me going to back to how I started.  Exploring the vibe, the feeling of where I was when I was starting.”

Earlier in the conversation, I described to her the philosophy behind Boomerocity wherein we don’t live in the past but wish to draw from the lessons learned during, and the positive vibe from, those times.  She reaches back to that part of the conversation to further describe her work.

“It’s ironic because we were just talking about his earlier about your website, bringing what was good about the past into the present, but not living in the past, right?  That’s really what it (the feeling of the album) is.

“I get my inspiration for what I do from so many different places; from the life that I’m actually physically living; from books and films; from talking to other people; from the way the moon looked when you’re looking at the stars the other night.  Inspiration comes from everywhere - the feeling on the planet right now.  Of course, it’s going through my filters, talking about how I feel about it. 

“Things on the planet have sped up to such a frenzied place, not the least because of our technology – our extreme use of technology in everyday life.  I think humans are trying to keep up with their own technology.  I sound like a Sci-Fi nut!  Ha! Ha!  But it’s SO true! I’m of the group that believes that we’re waking up.  There’s a huge awakening going on. “

I asked if there was any one or two songs that drew more reaction from the listeners than others.

“No, not really.  I’m lucky enough to have really enthusiastic audiences. The difference is always if I’m doing an acoustic set or if I’m doing a full-on rock band set.  If it’s a full-on rock band set, usually the stuff that will get the biggest reaction is the stuff that people know.  That’s usually the way it is.

“I haven’t been playing a lot recently.  It’s been a long time.  I’m just getting back into it.  Basically, that’s what I want to do this year.  I just want to tour.  That’s really where I’m at.”

So, folks, stay tuned.  While Sass Jordan is lining up dates in the U.S., you can catch her acoustic set if you happen to be planning on attending SXSW in Austin, Texas, (March 12th thru March 21st).  She’s scheduled for 1am, March 20th.  Check out www.sxsw.com for more details. 

Also, you will be able to buy her latest CD, From Dusk Til Dawn, on March 16th (and can order it and her other great work here at Boomerocity.com!). You can read my review of it by clicking here.

You’re really going to fall in love with this tremendous, perennially beautiful, Canadian talent.  You really are!

Davy Jones

Posted January, 2010

DavyJones1As a kid in the sixties, I LOVED watching The Monkees.  There was something about the fun that Davy, Michael, Mickey and Peter exuded from the TV screen that left their viewers and fans with no choice but to smile along with them.

Even after the show was cancelled from its Monday night line-up, the band (yes, they could really play their instruments) enjoyed a loyal following.  This was helped to a certain degree by the Saturday morning re-runs of theirs shows and the release of new albums.

The Monkees still have that loyal following and to help fill the need for a Monkee fix is Davy Jones, arguably THE heart throb of the band.  Because of his British accent and charm, along with the looks that made girls swoon, Jones commanded the bulk of the attention the band received.

I recently chatted by phone with Davy to learn more about what fans can expect from his Dallas area appearance with David Cassidy on February 6th of this year.  Honestly?  I was expecting a by-the-numbers interview where in this icon of the Broadway, TV, and concert stages would try hard to tolerate questions that he’s had to have heard a million times before.

I was wrong.  I laughed.  Hard.  I laughed a lot.  After the call, I felt like I maybe should have paid the price for admission just to have laughed as hard as I did.

Jones started our conversation off by filling me in on a little historical background about the Monkees being followed by David Cassidy and The Partridge Family after Monkees’s show was cancelled.  This was helped along by the fact that both shows were produced by Screen Gems.

Davy said, speaking of David, “I had actually known his father, Jack Cassidy, back in New York, in the sixties as well as Shirley Jones.  I was on Broadway in Oliver.  He was all part of that little click with Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones.  It was Judy Garland and Tony Newly; Dudley Moore, Joan Collins, Peggy Lee, Buddy Rich.

“Oh my goodness!  It was like, Judy Garland was good friends with Georgia Brown.  Georgia Brown was Nancy in Oliver.  She put me under her wing like I was her little man.  I was only sixteen at the time.  We always use to go over to Judy’s apartment on Central Park West and they got into whatever they got into.  I wanted to be JUST like them.  By the time I was seventeen years old, I was well into gin and tonics, you know?

I’m thinking, “This is it.  I’m just like everyone else!”  It wasn’t until I saw Judy Garland go around the revolving door at the Russian Tea Room three times, trying to find her way out, that I realized, “I don’t think I want to be like that!”

“I sang with her at Carnegie Hall and that was cool.  It was all about the time that I was on the Ed Sullivan Show in ’64 – the night the Beatles were on.  I did a song from Oliver.  That was when I first thought, ‘Ah!  Music!  It’s good, all these girls!  I think I’ll have a piece of that (fame), actually!’ That’s why I got into what I got into.

“As I said, Jack Cassidy and Shirley Jones was all part of that click and it was like, ‘Goodness gracious, me!’  Years later, David shows up on the lot at Columbia Pictures, he’s in a TV series and his mum there.  And he’s like, ‘Oh, my goodness gracious!’

Obviously relishing the nostalgic memories of youthful innocence, Davy continues:

“It was all good – very incestuous, in a sense.  It’s all from the same little mold, you know?  We all hung out together back in the 60’s with the Grass Roots, the Turtles, the Association and the Beach Boys.  It used to be that we’d all be going to the same parties and, pretty much, dating the same girls.

“All of a sudden, we’d be saying, ‘We’re going to knock you off the charts next week.  Don’t you worry!’  It was like – you wouldn’t imagine Bobby Riddell pulling a gun on Fabian, could you?  ‘Hey, man!  Get off the charts!’

“I approached David (Cassidy) and said, ‘Come on, man!  You and I!’”  He and I had been, like, vying for All Time Teen Idol Celebrity for thirty years.  So I said, ‘Why don’t go out as the Ultimate Idol?’

“So, Dallas is going to be good (where he appears with Cassidy).  And we also had a date in Staten Island or somewhere like that.  We talked about it.  I think that we’re going to work together.  It brings people in and gives them a lot of nostalgia.”

Sliding in a little humor, Jones humorously makes light of the ages that his high profile generation:

“He (Cassidy) sings, ‘I think I love me, what am so I afraid of?’ Tony Orlando sings, ‘Knock three times on the ceiling if you hear me fall”.  Peter Noone singings, ‘Mrs. Brown, you have a lovely walker’.  Roberta Flack sings, ‘The first time I ever forgot your face.’  And Willie Nelson’s on the throne again.  All this stuff is, like, ridiculous.  Ringo Starr sings, ‘I get a little help from Depends.’ It gets crazy.  Paul Simon sings, ’50 ways to lose your liver’ and Abba is singing ‘Denture Queen’.

I’m sure that these take this as all being in good humor . . . don’t they?

“People will look at me when I’m in the super market and they’ll say, ‘Do you know who you are?’ And I say, ‘What? Was I dead or something?’  They’re looking out the window to see if my Rolls Royce and my driver are there and they’re wondering why I haven’t moon walked into the cheese department.

“It’s like, ‘Sorry, this is the real man!’  I keep race horses and I keep myself fit.  I can’t believe that I’m 60-friggin’-4.  It’s ridiculous. I go places and people go, ‘You look just the way that you did!’  And I go, ‘Did when?’

Circling back to his Ultimate Idol idea, Jones excitedly shares information about his pet project.

“We’re putting together an Ultimate Idol tour.  We’re actually going on a cruise ship with (cruise ship company) Costa and it’s going to be produced by Ron Dante, who produced The Archies and The Cufflinks.  He produced Cher, Pat Benatar, Barry Manilow.  He’s been a friend of mine for years.  He and I have been in the studio cutting some songs lately, finding a couple of nice things that look and sound like they could be pretty good.

“Barry Williams from the Brady Bunch is going to be with us.  Bo Donaldson and the Heywoods and a couple of tribute bands – The Beatles and The Grass Roots.  We’re going from the 3rd thru the 9th of April out of Fort Lauderdale.  It’s all be on my website, www.davyjones.net and it gives the instructions and information.  We’ll do a question and answer thing; we do an autograph thing; we do a night in a night club where we’ll jam and play.  Barry does one, I do one and Ron Dante does one. Bo Donaldson backs us up and plays.  We’ve got great musicians!  It’s all going to be wonderful.

Bringing the conversation back around to the Dallas appearance, Davy says, “David and I love the fans.  It’s going to be great!  I’ll obviously sing Clarksville, I’m A Believer and Pleasant Valley, I Want To Be Free, Stepping Stone, and Daydream Believer.

“You know, all of the songs were written by Carol King, Neil Diamond, Neil Sedaka and Harry Nilsson.  The credentials of the music is sort of the who’s who in the industry.  Consequently, it’s not hard to go out there and do what I do.

Talking again about his age, Jones jokes, “But it’s not just about the songs, though.  The first thing I say when I go out there is, ‘Hello, everybody!  Good evening!  I’m Davy’s dad.  Davy will be out here in a minute!’  And then it starts there.  I’ve got my wife Telemundo star, Jessica Pacheco), standing on the stage, winding her arm around, saying, ‘Get on with it!  Sing a song!”

“I do schtick, I talk and tell jokes, telling how I got there that evening and how long it took.  I’ll talk about the taxi driver.  It just comes to me and I feel so familiar with the audience.  They don’t go there to judge me.  They go there to be entertained and enjoy and listen to the familiar material and all of that stuff.  It’s a doddle – it’s easy!

“The part of it that’s not easy is to try to not be repetitive with everything you do and say.  Obviously, the little dialog I mentioned, talking about Abba and Tony Orlando and all of them – yeah, there’s little sets and little dialogs that I have.  But I try to say it in a different way and make the band laugh and have a great time.  Whether it be from an expression on my face or the words I say.  I make fun of the band and I talk about the past and I talk about falling in love three times in every episodes and getting stars in my eyes; being the centerfold in 16 Magazine.

“It all sounds a little bit ‘nothing’ but once you put it all together, it’s an evening of nostalgia – Monkee memories.  It’s something I lived.  I DID go to Birdland with Buddy Rich and I did sort of sing with Judy Garland.  I did lunch with Elizabeth Taylor.  It’s a name dropping thing at the time but there’s a story behind every one of those occasions. And I try to make it fun and funny and informative; to let people see the human – the ordinary side of who they are listening and looking at.”

I brought up a quote by Jones when asked about why a Monkees reunion tour wasn’t going to happen.  The net/net of the quote was that it wouldn’t happen because the rest of the group are “serious” now and that Davy likes to inject large amounts of self-deprecating humor and such into the shows.  He reminded the interview that humor was what the Monkees were all about.  I concluded the reminder by saying that, while our generation doesn’t want to live in the past, we don’t want to forget about it, either.

“Yeah, that’s the thing. I go on stage now and, obviously, I make fun of the fact that Peter joined a one man band but gave it up for musical differences.  About Mickey Dolenz, I say, ‘Since he doesn’t have any hair now, how does he know when to wash his face?’; whatever it takes to make the crowd laugh.

“The idea is that I WOULD go out and do the Monkees again if we would do the Monkees.  I play the guitar.  Mickey plays the guitar.  Peter plays about twelve instruments – at once, I might add, if you know what I mean.  And the idea would be, if we’re not going to do the Monkees, I don’t want to do it – I don’t want to go out.

“I can go out with musicians I know and give them parts to play, okay?  And present a show that I know is going to be entertaining.

“I was approached (for the Monkees) to go to Europe.  The Monkees went to about 36 countries around the world where the TV show was shown.  So, there’s a vast audience who has never seen us live.

“The odds of getting Mike Nesmith involved is another story altogether.  Mike is involved with other stuff and he’s not really into performing.  He doesn’t like to play on stage that much.  So, you can understand that.  He’s 66 years old or thereabouts.  He doesn’t want to go out there and be a Monkee.

“I go out and I perform.  I refer to the Monkees.  I sing Monkee tunes and I also sing Nat King Cole and swing music and I sing country music – all kinds of stuff.”

At this point in the conversation, Jones drops this little nugget:

“I was approached just this week by a company in Las Vegas about giving us a residency as the Monkees.  Just like Elton John.  Just like Cher.  Just like Bette Midler.  Just like a lot of people have done.  So that the people come to you.  It makes it easier.

“John Lennon said years ago, ‘I don’t want to be 40 years old, wearing a silver suit, playing in Vegas, you know?’  He also said that the Monkees didn’t sing like the Beatles they were more like the Marx Brothers, which was a compliment.  Thank you very much, John!

“The thing would be that people are doing that now. As you get older, travelling becomes harder. It’s more difficult, especially in the winter months.  You get people to come see you.  It’s not what it used to be.  It’s the entertainment capital of the world.  There are more shows and more entertainers go there to perform because the people come to them!

Becoming more verbally animated, Davy excitedly continues to describe the concept.

“It would be great to go there for three months and put on a show. Use film, use footage, use sets.  You know, reset the Monkees living room and work it out of there and give them a show!  Just like the Jersey Boys, they’re going to do it eventually anyway.  They’re going to put the Monkee thing back together because the songs all hold up and they’re great songs. So, they’ll eventually do it so why don’t WE do it?”

Jones’ foot is nowhere near the brake on this topic.

“I don’t want to tour around the country with two other grumpy old men, you know what I’m saying?  Because, you know, they go through their menopause about every two weeks.  Forget it!  It’s not easy.  You feel one way and you look at yourself in another. And so I try to put the fun into my performance. I’m not inhibited by anything.  I’ve been to the top of the mountain, okay?

“The Monkees was such a successful idea.  I don’t need to escape anything.  I just need to include other things.  I’ll sing some theater. I’ll sing a medley of Oliver songs.   Or I’ll sing something from West Side Story. And I won’t feel uncomfortable or like I’m throwing it down people’s neck.  I’m just adding to the schedule of the show and be entertaining. I talk.  I talk about things that have happened to me and about things that will happen to me.  I make it as tough as I can for the next act who comes into that theater. They better be good if they come after me, okay?  I’ll probably be going on first so Cassidy better start thinking about it!” Jones concludes with a laugh.  He later adds, “If you enjoyed the show, tell everybody.  If you didn’t, tell them it was David Cassidy!”

I happen to know that, while Davy and his lovely wife, Jessica, lend their celebrity to a lot of charity work, they also quietly lend a hand to charities in much lower key ways.  It’s a belief that those good deeds done in relative secrecy will be openly rewarded.  Not a bad philosophy to live by, don’t you think?

Another bit of trivia that some Davy Jones fans might not be aware of is that he is quite the hands-on equestrian.  He’s quite proud of the fact that He feeds his horses and grooms them himself.  He was also quite complementary the thoroughbred breeding operation of his peer, David Cassidy though Jones is quick to point out that Cassidy is on a different, more expensive level than he is.  That said, as our conversation was winding up, Jones was about to head out the door and to the barn to feed his babies.

As we closed, Davy Jones did something that caught me completely and pleasantly off guard.  He encouraged me to keep on keeping on with my work with Boomerocity.  While I wasn’t looking for encouragement, it was quite a welcome comment coming from someone who is an icon of my youth.

I guess that now makes me a Daydream Believer.  How cool is that?

You can find out where Davy Jones is going to appear near you by going to www.davyjones.net.  If you plan to be in the Dallas area on February 6th, why not plan to catch a rare opportunity to catch both Davy and David Cassidy in concert?  It is certain to be quite a nice addition to the memories we all love.

Damon Johnson (2012)

Posted January, 2012

 

damonjohnsonthinlizzyAmong the many artists and bands who dominated the soundtrack of my youth in the seventies, two on my short list of favorites were Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy.  Songs like I’m Eighteen and The Boys Are Back in Town struck the chord of teenage angst and confusion or elicited a sense of bravado that defied any real explanation.

But, then, why did there need to be an explanation?

Last year, when I interviewed then - Alice Cooper guitarist, Damon Johnson, it was (and still is) a personal thrill to be able to interview, a) such a great guitarist and, b) one who is connected to one of my childhood heroes.  Little did I know at the time that Damon would be making a seismic shift in his career that would fulfill a huge dream from his youth and connect yet again with a band from the soundtrack of mine.

In August of last year, Damon announced that he was leaving Alice Cooper’s band and joining Thin Lizzy.  The news was met with both excitement and expressions of “what the heck?!” (or some variation of it). Then, earlier this month, Damon announced a few dates with his musical love child, Brother Cane.

With all of these developments in Damon’s career in such a compressed period of time, I thought I’d better get off my ample butt and have a chat with the boy to find out what the heck is going on.

Damon gave me a call from his Alabama home as he was resting up in preparation for Thin Lizzy’s European tour in just a few short days.  If you read my last interview with Johnson (here), you’ll recall that a horrific tornado had just devastated the town of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, very near where Damon lives.  I started our chat by asking him how the area’s recovery was coming along.

“It’s recovered really well. We were fortunate. We live south of town so we didn’t get all the damage that some of the areas did. It was devastating in parts. But Tuscaloosa, which really got hammered – the biggest and the broadest – there’s still recover there and rebuilding but everybody’s good.  You know, man, you live out there in Texas, so you know what it’s all about. We’re not technically in the tornado belt but I don’t see why not. I mean, we should be with as many as we have. We’ve lived with that stuff our whole lives and nobody gets more freaked out about them than I do. I’m just as scared of them now as I was when I was eight years old. It’s serious stuff.  It’s no fun, brother!”

We shifted gears to more pleasant subjects like Damon’s upcoming dates with Brother Cane.  I asked if this was the seminal start of a lot more work from the band.

“I definitely want to build up something with Brother Cane, Randy. You know, the band broke up in the late 90’s – 1999. We had faced so much apathy from MTV, from even our record label, we had so much overhead when we would tour, it was just hard to make a living.  So we really just ran out of gas and said, ‘uncle!’ and went off to do other things.  But the band had so much exposure on the radio and so many people did get to see us through the years – particularly from all the opening slots that we did with Aerosmith, Van Halen, Robert Plant and tours like that. Everywhere I’ve been over the last decade I’ve been inundated with questions about Brother Cane or people commenting about how they love the songs or why I don’t do this or that. That’s because I’ve started no less than four other projects in the last ten years – definitely in an effort to try and get some kind of success with one of my own original music project. More specifically, bands that I had some ownership of and not just be a side guy.

“My plan for this year – last summer, I pretty much started putting a plan together to work almost exclusively with Brother Cane and start putting together some solo acoustic stuff for this year. I had told Alice about it and I was going to transition out of Alice’s band and, in his words, just take a break for awhile.  He and I love each other, man!  We love working together so I knew that there was a security blanket there – of a place that I could go back to after working on Brother Cane.

“But, of course, the Thin Lizzy thing changed everything. I didn’t want to just bail out completely on the Brother Cane activity particularly because I had talked about it so much and have been putting some energy in that direction.  Thin Lizzy is my number one priority for obvious reasons. But, whenever it makes sense and whenever I can put it together, I absolutely want to book some Brother Cane stuff – as many as 20 or 30 dates, if possible, maybe more, depending on the schedule.”

Because Brother Cane performed at last year’s Dallas International Guitar Festival (as well as a solo acoustic performance by Damon), I asked Johnson if he was bringing Brother Cane to it again this year.

“I so wish that we could do that again, man!  Jimmy (Wallace) and all of the guys at the guitar show basically invited us the week after we played last year.  They said, ‘Man, we want Brother Cane back and we want to do this again.’ I’m afraid there are going to be Thin Lizzy dates. We’re slated to go back to Europe, doing some more package dates with Judas Priest over there. We just did that run in the U.S. with them in October and November. It’s an incredible tour and was very well received. Nothing has been posted, Randy, but, from what I know, that’s kind of what’s gonna be the plan. I’ve got word from the head office to count on Thin Lizzy work starting on the first week of April.”

After I tightly crossed my arms, stuck out my lower lip and pouted with all my strength, Damon added, “Like I said earlier when we were talking about ownership, I would’ve probably jumped at the Thin Lizzy thing – when I did jump at the Thin Lizzy opportunity anyway – and it started out as just another side man thing similar to what I had done with Alice. But what I wasn’t expecting – or even thinking about – was for those guys to have a meeting with me and offer for me to become a partner in the band – in the touring company. That kind of thing is so unheard of these days and particularly for a heritage act like that that’s been around for awhile, I was floored.

“As anyone who I’ve done interviews with knows, I’ve blown the Thin Lizzy horn loud and proud my entire twenty-plus year professional career.  That band has massively influenced me as a writer and a guitar player. I’ve said before that I feel like Mark Wahlberg in that movie, Rock Star.  You get to join your favorite band. That’s my life, man!

“The Brother Cane fans are so cool. I wish that there were more of them. Again, that’s why the band ran out of steam in the first place. We just didn’t quite reach critical mass like a lot of other acts. But the people that loved the band are die-hard and very vocal about it. They’ve been real supportive and they get the Thin Lizzy thing because we used to do Lizzy covers!  So, they get it and out of a commitment to the fans I wanted to go ahead and book this first run of dates, Randy.

“The first show we’re doing is going to be March 2nd (2012) up in Flint, Michigan. We’re going to try to squeeze in five or six shows in the month of March and we’ll go from there. We’ll see.”

When I responded by saying that perhaps Brother Cane will be to him what Black Country Communion is to Joe Bonamassa, Johnson responded, “I would love to do that, man. I would SO love to do that. I’m thinkin’ down the road, too, it’s not always a lot of fun for a lot of my friends who are side men, as well, to be a slave to waiting on the phone to ring. Sometimes, it doesn’t ring, man. It can be frightening, particularly in this day and age. I feel so blessed, so lucky that I’ve had some of the accomplishments that I’ve had- specifically, a situation like Brother Cane.

“Another thing, I held off forever on doing any work with Brother Cane because I felt for so long that it had to be the original guys and it took me awhile for me to get over that. Now I’m over it. I hear it from old radio friends, from people in the business who say, ‘Look, Damon, we don’t know what the band looks like. You guys weren’t on MTV. All I know is that you sang those songs; you wrote those songs and that’s your guitar playing that’s featured on there.’

“So, I called up my drummer, Scott, and said, ‘What do you think?’ and he said, ‘Yeah!’ That’s the plan. If we can work with the other original guys, if the schedule permits, absolutely, man!  It’s just hard to get everybody together because everyone has lives and commitments and other things happening. But, for Scott and I to go ahead and book some dates and not have to wait on the perfect line-up, it means that we’ll get to do more shows and that’s what we really want to do.”

Putting a nice little bow on the Brother Cane discussion package, I asked Johnson if there were any plans for a new Brother Cane CD in the future.

“I’m definitely writing and would love to do another CD, Randy. Absolutely.  I mean, really and truly, we weren’t a big enough band that we could go out there and play the hits like Alice Cooper can or like Thin Lizzy can. We just didn’t have that big of a catalog so I think it would be almost vital – if we’re going to tour, if we’re going to crank up that machine again, then we’re going to have to have some new music to be talking about, playing and be promoting and mix that into the catalog, as well.”

To shift gears over to begin discussing Damon’s move to Thin Lizzy, I led into the subject by mentioning what some of the chatter about his move was like among Boomerocity readers and fans.  I asked Johnson what he had heard from his fans about the move.

“The people that really know me and the people who have followed my website and come to my acoustic shows and have really been a Damon Johnson fan, you could’ve asked any of them, ‘Hey, what would Damon decide to do’ and they would say, ‘Thin Lizzy without a question’. Yes, Alice is a bigger name in many countries – certainly in the United States.

“Alice has had 20-something guitar players in his line-up which blows a lot of peoples’ minds. They don’t even believe me when I tell them that but it’s a fact!  Alice is a solo artist and that’s his band, it’s his entity, it’s his trademark. Essentially, for a guy like myself who has a big family and has a lot of people counting on him – it’s almost like a professional athlete. You go and play for a team. They bring you on, you work out a deal and say, ‘This is what I’m going to work for’.   Then, another team will call you and say, ‘Hey, we can move some things around and we can draft you on this team and we can pay you twice as much money.’  Hey, man, it’s like getting a promotion in any other job.  That’s the reality of life and I really laugh sometimes when I see people criticizing any band that’s out playing and go, ‘Oh, these guys are just out there for the money!’  That’s just life! You’re born. You go to school. You get a job, make money and then you die!  That’s the whole gig! So, if your craft is guitar playing, then you’ve got to look for work as a guitar player.

“Alice has been such an amazing employer beyond being one of my best friends in the world. I always feel a little uncomfortable talking so much specifics about what’s up with it but I probably would’ve taking the Thin Lizzy job just on the sheer terms of the financials of it. But, like I said, anybody that knows me they know that it’s way beyond that. I would’ve taken a pay cut, Randy, to play with Thin Lizzy!  That’s how much that it means to me, man!  I would!  That stuff changed my life.

“Was I a fan of Alice Cooper as a kid? Yes. I was a fan of some songs. But, bro, I can tell you, out of eleven studio records that Thin Lizzy made, I can tell you the song order on eight of them – what’s on side a and what’s on side b and who’s playing what guitar solo, what the lyrics are, what key it’s in. It’s just a different passion for me as a fan, as a guitar player and as a songwriter being associated with Thin Lizzy. This is actually fun for me to talk to you about this in such terms because, in a way, I can’t really say it any better than that. And, yeah, Alice is amazing and he’s a legend and an icon. The Thin Lizzy opportunity would’ve never happened for me had it not been for Alice. I owe him nothing but gratitude, love and support. I just saw him over New Year’s Eve and I know that I’ve got a home there – playing guitar for that guy for as long as he wants to keep doing it. And, I assure you, man, Alice Cooper is NOT going to retire at sixty-five.  He’s gonna be doing this for a long, long time, as he should!

“When I used to listen to Thin Lizzy songs as a kid, it would bring me to tears or it would motivate me in some relationship I was in. I have countless stories about it, man!  You know die-hard Beatles fans or die-hard Zeppelin fans? That’s the kind of fan I am of Thin Lizzy.  And now I’m their guitar player!  It’s unbelievable!  That stuff just doesn’t happen!

“I went to see Ted Nugent in Huntsville, Alabama, in 1979 at the Vaun Braun Civic Center and we didn’t know who the opening act was until we walked in the building. One of the ushers or security people said, ‘Yeah, it’s this band, Thin Lizzy’.  All I knew was The Boys Are Back In Town and those guys came out and just crushed my face! I was fifteen or sixteen and I hit the streets the next day looking for as much Thin Lizzy as I could get my hands on. It’s been almost an obsession for almost thirty years!

“Eric Bell. Brian Robertson. Gary Moore. Snowy White. John Sykes. And, now, Damon Johnson. Wow!  Come on, man!  Come on!  Maybe I have done it for egotistical reasons, too.  I mean what a list of names to be associated with!  Every one of those guys are world class, amazing guitar players. And, ever since I’ve officially joined the band, I’m a part of every business meeting. I’m a part of every conversation about the set list, about new material, about the tour, about these dates. That’s incredible, man!  That’s what I had with Brother Cane and I haven’t had that kind of thing since then. So, I feel a lot of pride and a lot of gratitude, man.

“It’s tough to compartmentalize that answer when someone says, ‘Hey!  What was that guy thinking, man?! Alice is so much bigger!’ I’ll let you tell ‘em.  You can explain it!” Damon says with a laugh.

“And I’ll tell you this, too, Randy, when I leave Sunday to go to London, we’ve got three days of production rehearsals and then we’re doing a four week run.  We’re playing many of the exact same venues that I play with Alice and, in some cases, we’ve already sold those out. Not everybody can sell out 2,000, 3,000 seat venues. Thin Lizzy meant a great deal to European fans, much more than they did over here in the States.  Then, I talk to fans in the U.K. and they don’t have a clue who Brother Cane is. They don’t have a clue, man, and we were a staple on rock radio for seven years. You couldn’t turn on rock radio and not hear a Brother Cane song.  It just depends on timing and a lot of factors that are obviously out of your control.”

I had read recently that Johnson had a pretty sweet gig in Hawaii during the New Year’s celebrations.  Among the rock and roll dignitaries who Damon performed with were Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Michael McDonald and Pat Simmons from the Doobie Brothers, and Mike Meyers.  I asked him to tell me about that.  With a laugh that reflected his “can you believe my luck” feelings, he responded by saying, “Yeah, man, that supports my statement earlier that I’m a part of the Alice Cooper family and, hopefully, will be for years to come. Yeah, it worked out that the band guys – Chuck (Garric), Tommy (Henriksen) and Glen (Sobel) – were going to come and work with Coop, who was going to be the featured act at this charity event that Alice’s manager has there in Maui every year.

“When the other artists that were going to be involved  - when the guys found out who they were going to be backing up, they called me and said, ‘Dude! You need to be here for this, man!’ I had already played with Steven (Tyler) before and they knew that I was a big Doobie Brothers fan and played a lot of those songs throughout my life in the clubs and that kind of stuff. I was so excited that they called me. Steve Hunter couldn’t be there and (Damon’s replacement in Alice’s band) Orianthi was already booked doing her solo tour for her new record. So, yeah, man, I just went down there and had a blast! It was a great, great night and a great 3 ½ - 4 days. It was a lot of fun!”

Since you can hardly turn the TV on without seeing Steven Tyler on it, I asked if Damon had any plans to work with Tyler or, for that matter, with the Doobie Brothers again.

“Those things just kinda happen. I’ve got mutual friends in Steven’s camp. I’ve got mutual friends in the Doobie Brother’s camp so you just never know. But it’s cool man – you can see it in their body language that they get really comfortable really fast because they’ve all had to jam some of their classic material with a group of sidemen or some thrown together group for some charity event or some function, whatever. We really brought the ‘A Game’. We blew up those Aerosmith songs and the Doobie Brothers songs. It wasn’t even work, Randy. That was a labor of love right there, man!

Again reflecting his true humility and gratitude for the fruits of his musical labor, Damon, tells of the mind-blowing line-up for another charity event rock-out a few months ago.

“I’ve just had an incredible year. I played with Steven back in September in Vegas for that iHeartRadio event. So, on Sweet Emotion the band was myself, my friend, Marti Fredrickson, on drums, Steven on vocals, Jeff Beck on guitar, Sting on bass!  That’s my bucket list band!  I betcha if you could dig up old interviews, you’d say, ‘Who’s the best guitar player?’ I would’ve said, ‘Beck’.  ‘Who’s the best bass player?’  I’ve said ‘Sting’ forever because I was such a fan of his songwriting. And, Tyler, he’s my top three – him, Paul Rodgers and - hell, I don’t know who the third guy is.  Maybe it’s the top two!” Damon said, laughing.

Whenever I can, I like to poll you Boomerocity readers for questions that you would like to see asked of the people I interview.  I don’t always get to use them but I do try to ask for suggestions from y’all.  When I knew that I was going to chat with Damon again, I asked for question ideas.  While I couldn’t use most of them (“Is Thin Lizzy anorexic?”), a musician friend of mine wanted to know what would Damon call his greatest career moment and which group did it come with.

“That’s a great question. I’d have to roll the clock back. Probably my biggest moment – my biggest gig ever – was when Brother Cane played Madison Square Garden, opening for Aerosmith. A year and a half before, we were still in a development deal with the label and I was looking for a singer. We had been through three singers already because I wanted to be a guitar player and just a guitar player. The label guy heard me sing in a bar one night, singing a couple of covers – ironically, a Thin Lizzy cover and a Doobie Brothers cover, thank you very much – and he shoved me behind the mic the next day in the studio. A year and a half later, we’re opening for Aerosmith at Madison Square Garden. We’ve got the number one rock track in America with Got No Shame. Wow! Hard to top that, man.

“There’s a couple of huge shows with Alice Cooper. We played that giant Wacken Festival in Germany in 2010 and it was 75,000 people. That’s a feeling you won’t ever forget. Walking on stage with Thin Lizzy for the first time in San Antonio, Texas, on October the 14th, 2011, that was a big one, too, man!”

Like some of you, I’ve never had the privilege of attending a Thin Lizzy gig so I asked Doman what people expect from a current Thin Lizzy show.

“You can expect a massive commitment to the great sound – the classic sound – that the band had.  They’ve had a couple of different guitar players in recent years that were amazing but were also influenced by newer hard rock, metal guitar players – kind of the ‘post-Eddie Van Halen’ school. I’m a huge Eddie fan – huge fan – but we’ve had specific discussions about getting great guitar tone and, as Scott Gorham says, ‘that classic Lizzy sound’. We’re committed to doing that.

“They can expect that and they can expect to get their minds blown, Randy, at what an amazing front man Ricky Warwick is. Ricky is from Belfast. He grew up a Thin Lizzy fan his entire life and he’s had – I don’t want to say ‘a similar career as mine’ – he used to front a band called ‘The Almighty’ that was actually quite bigger than Brother Cane ever became. They did well in Europe and in Japan but weren’t able to keep it together. He’s done solo records and a lot of people in the industry knows Ricky and are very aware of his talent.

“Ricky’s a lot like Phil (Lynott). He’s a punk from the streets. He’s not Mr. Crooning Songsmith as Phil was not, either. There’s such a common ground in their spirit and their work ethic and their commitment to live performance. Ricky’s very inclusive of the audience.  He brings everybody kind of inside, spiritually when we do these songs. Phil was always like that. I’m as excited about getting to work with Ricky as I am the other guys in the band and who are the original guys. It’s really special, man.”

So, what’s on the Thin Lizzy radar as far as projects and activities are concerned?

“These guys absolutely want to make a new record. Again, it’s such an honor for me, and really flattering, that they would now say, ‘okay, we’re ready to do this’ because there’s been facsimile out there, off and on, for the last ten years. But Scott and Brian never felt like they had the will or the energy to. It took them both a long, long time to get over Phil’s passing. They were thick as thieves, as they say. And, of course, Phil is a one-of-a-kind artist.  He’s like Freddie Mercury or David Bowie.  He’s just an icon, man!  He wrote most of those songs.

“I know that they have so much confidence in Ricky’s position now as the singer. He’s a super talented songwriter. He’s not only got the songwriting chops, he’s also got the respect and commitment and he takes great pride in the Thin Lizzy name that they would want a guy take into the studio and make a new record. I certainly would be proud to add that to my list of accomplishments - that I co-wrote and performed on a Thin Lizzy record. Come on, man!

“Look, man, I get any and every naysayer that says, ‘um, you guys go out there and play the songs and it’s cool. I get it. But we gotta draw the line at new music because Phil was one of a kind.’ I don’t disagree with that. Phil was one of a kind. But Brian Downey went to high school with the guy and he played on every single record that that band ever made. When you’ve been a part of something that big and that successful, where’s the rule book that says you can’t carry the legacy on with some other guys.  Queen did it. If Queen can do it, there’s no greater argument that I can come up with.   Everything moves forward. We can’t go back. None of us can go back. We wish we could. We wish that we could’ve saved Phil. We wish that we could’ve done things differently – all of us in our lives and our careers.

“But Thin Lizzy is alive and well in 2012. It’s a six member band and it’s a band full of guys who are songwriters. It’s never been a band like that, you know? So, if we’re getting the green light from Brian, Scott and from Darren – Darren was the keyboard player on four of those studio records – to have their support and their enthusiasm to move forward, I’m gonna work as hard as I can to come up with great ideas and make a great record.”

To keep up with all things Thin Lizzy, Damon Johnson and Brother Cane, be sure and visit the links provided below.  Trust me when I say that catching any gig that Damon Johnson is a part of promises to be a very good time for everyone.  So, whether it’s with the great Thin Lizzy, Brother Cane or one of Damon’s solo acoustic gigs, you’ll definitely be in for a real treat.

Thin Lizzy      Damon Johnson

Damon Johnson (2013)

Posted January, 2013

If you’ve been reading Boomerocity for very long at all, you already know that Damon Johnson is considered a friend of this website.  I first interviewed the guitar slinger (here) when he had just released his acoustic solo project, Release, and was still playing guitar for Alice Cooper.  By the end of the year, the word was out that Damon flew the Coop (so to speak) and joined up with the band of his youth, Thin Lizzy. Of course, Boomerocity talked to him about that move (here).

Naturally, with the news that Thin Lizzy was coming out with a new studio album but under a different band name – Black Star Riders – as well as Damon hitting the road for a series of acoustic shows in various states – I had to track the boy down and get the scoop.

He was kind enough to call me from his home in Alabama and chat for a bit.  I started off by commenting that a lot has happened in the year since we last spoke and that Thin Lizzy has made some tactical career changes.  I asked him to fill me in.

“I joined Thin Lizzy in October of 2011 and immediately all the discussions had turned to talking about making a new album. For any heritage rock act, it’s truly important to have new music out there. It gives you something to promote, something to talk about in the press related things, interviews, etcetera, etcetera. And the unique situation with Thin Lizzy is, obviously, they hadn’t made an album of original material since 1983 when Phil (Lynott) was still alive. The reasons for that are various. For the new Thin Lizzy – the 21st century version of Thin Lizzy – to continue this great momentum that the band has been able to achieve in the last two years, the logical next step was to put out some new music.

“So, we were all committed to that idea and went ahead and started writing early in 2012 and had even gone to the press and said as much – that that was our plan. As the songwriting continued and as we got closer to going into the studio in October to actually make the album, we started having some second thoughts. Obviously, there are a lot of lifelong fans that were a bit conflicted and understandably so. The straw, for us, that helped us make the decision that we did was when we spoke to Phil’s family – his widow and his daughters – because they’ve been incredibly supportive of this new revitalized Thin Lizzy that’s been out on the road touring. But the subject of new music under the name Thin Lizzy that would get released around the world with no Phil Lynott in it – it made them uncomfortable and it always made the fans uncomfortable and we were never a hundred percent sure ourselves.

“The good news is that we were totally energized and excited about this new music that was being written and none less so than Brian Downey and Scott Gorham. They were really fired up about the material. So it just made more sense – for all these reasons – to come up with a different name and put the music out under that different name and then let the world know, hey, this was going to be the new Thin Lizzy album and literally and simply out of respect to Phil – and out of respect to the amazing legacy that original band established and achieved – it makes more sense to put it out under a new name which, as you know, is Black Star Riders.”

Johnson’s comments begged the question: Is Thin Lizzy going away or is the band going to assume two identities?

“I think the way you just described it is a good way and that is the band is going to assume, essentially, two identities. But the performances as Thin Lizzy are going to be much, much less than what they have been over the last two years. That really has a lot to do with the fact that we love these new songs and we want to get out and build that name, Black Star Riders, and, obviously, we’re going to have to do a lot of touring to accomplish that and to promote the record. 

“Secondly, my band mate and lifelong hero, Brian Downey, he’s at a point in his life that he doesn’t really want to do 120 shows a year.  That’s a lot of work. That’s a lot of travel. That’s a lot of time away from your family. I think we would all agree that Brian has nothing to prove to anybody. The guy’s a legend. So, for him to decide thirty or forty shows a year makes much more sense to him, then that actually fits perfectly with rest of us and our desire to go out and promote the Black Star Riders album and to do dates as that. So, me and Ricky (Warwick), especially, it’s absolutely the best of both worlds. We get to write songs that are completely influenced by Phil Lynott – totally influenced by Phil Lynott – and then get to go out and play those songs live and, as Black Star Riders, we’d be crazy not to add some Thin Lizzy songs to the set.”

Continuing in that line of thought, Damon added, “I just think that once we put some time into educating the public – and we’ve got a lot of great support from the press, particularly once we made the decision to not record as Thin Lizzy – there was a collective exhale on a lot of people’s part.  It just reinforced that we had made the right decision. We’re excited. We’ll see how it all plays out once the record comes out. The plan is, hopefully, for it to come out the middle or end of May. We’ve got all the gears in the machine turning towards getting this record out in May and we’ve already got festival dates booked in June as Black Star Riders.”

To the question of what the reaction from Thin Lizzy fans has been so far, Johnson said, “Well, the fan reaction has been across-the-board positive simply for the fact that we made a decision. Absolutely positive. I think it was confusing to people in the beginning, which I understand that, as well. But now that it’s been a couple of months since we made the announcement, people are starting to go, ‘Yeah, now I get it! That totally makes sense!’”

It was at this point that I had to ask an obvious question: What’s behind the name, Black Star Riders?

“It’s a name Ricky came up with and we all really loved it. When we were trying to come up with a band name, I’d rather eat my own eyeball than to come up with a band name. It’s one of my least favorite things to do. Ricky called me and said, ‘Man, I’m working on some ideas. I’m going to send an e-mail out to everybody by the end of the week.’ I said, ‘Great!’

“So, he sent an e-mail that had five or six names that he had whittled down from, I’m sure, two or three dozen – knowing that guy. He’s so creative. But for me and Scott, Black Star Riders is a bit of a tip of the hat to our favorite movie, which is Tombstone. We love that movie, man – with Kurt Russell and Val Kilmer and the whole story about Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday. Little kids are into Disney and grown men are into Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday!  Ha! Ha! So, Black Star Riders is sort of our version of Wyatt Earp and his immortals. We all feel really good about it and we felt like it fit the music, fits the vibe and it was something we could all get behind. Which is the main thing: As long as the five of us could feel good about it, then it’s really up to us to put out some good music and the music will define the name.”

About the new album, what can you tell us about it? 

“I’m so fresh from coming out of the studio that I still have to talk about Kevin Shirley (producer of BSR’s album). I’ve been a fan of a lot of records Kevin has made throughout the last twenty years. He’s somebody on my bucket list that I’ve always said, ‘Wow, it would be great to make a record with that guy’ and I just never thought it would ever happen. So, when his name came up and he expressed such deep affection for Thin Lizzy and their influence – not only on the world but on him specifically. He was a big fan of Phil, Scott and the guys, like the rest of us.

“He treated this recording in the absolute perfect way and that was to get us all in a room together and have all the drums set up, all the gear set up. We’re all in a circle looking at each other as if we were in a rehearsal room or doing a show and we just tracked it live as a band. There was no, ‘Okay, let’s just get the drums and we’ll come in and do the bass and we’ll put the guitars on.’ I didn’t want to do that from the beginning so I was elated that that was how he wanted to approach it. To me, it’s what’s going to make the record sound more classic and a little more old school. We’re shamelessly old school. We prefer the classics of the seventies over most of the stuff being made today.

“So Kevin really did an amazing job and I can’t say enough about what a positive experience it was working with him. He brought all of that experience and instinct to the table. The other thing I think he was excited about is that we had done a mammoth amount of work before we had even got there. We made very elaborate demos on our own back in the early fall. So he knew going in that it was a project that we could come in and knock out pretty fast. We literally did twelve songs in twelve days and that was it!  That aspect of the record was real important to me and a real pleasure to experience. Then, again, the songs – they sound like classic Thin Lizzy but up to date. Twenty first century Thin Lizzy. There’s no gray area that you go see live now – that is Thin Lizzy – and what the Black Star Riders record sounds like.

“The one differential being the drums. Jimmy DeGrasso, who I played with in the Alice Cooper band for three years – he’s always been one of my favorite drummers – that guy studied at the feet of Brian Downey and those records. Jimmy always insisted on how would Brian play it?  What would Brian be thinking? That’s a lot easier said than done. I’ve played with a lot of drummers through the years and I’ve been covering The Boys Are Back In Town since I was seventeen or eighteen years old and I’ve got to tell you, man, there’s not a lot of guys who can swing that song. They can’t swing it and make it have the right feel and the way that Brian does. Jimmy is one of those rare drummers that can really do that. To me it’s even rarer to get that from a rock drummer. Most rock and roll drummers, they just want to beat the hell out of everything and play hard. That’s cool and all but that shuffle feel that Brian has, in my humble opinion, that’s where all the sex was in all the Thin Lizzy records. Anybody that’s passionate about that kind of stuff will absolutely agree with that.

“The thing I’ll tell you, too, is that we made this record for ourselves. We absolutely had the fans in mind and we know, from a business standpoint, that if it doesn’t sound like Thin Lizzy then it alienates this pretty significant fan base that we’ve been working really hard the last two years to nurture and to bond with. But I think the unique thing for Scott and Brian, with all due respect, there’s a part of them that didn’t really want to try to sound like Thin Lizzy since Phil passed away. You know what I mean? It’s not like they were going, ‘Well, I want to make a record that sounds like Lizzy with some other people.’ I think that happened by accident. I think the key ingredient was getting two guys in Ricky and me into the band who are career songwriters as well as performers who just happen to have a deep, abiding love for Thin Lizzy. To have Scott there by my side and for me to play a riff that completely was influenced by Johnny the Fox and Bad Reputation and have him say, ‘Hey, man, this is really cool!’  He doesn’t even connect the dots. He doesn’t even know that I’m totally lifting something from Soldier of Fortune.  I’m like, ‘If Scott doesn’t catch it, nobody else is gonna catch it!’ I guess you can call that a fun game of cat and mouse.

“There were definite moments during the recording that I would just have goose bumps and think, ‘Wow! I could’ve never foreseen this day ever in my life!’ This is, essentially, my Thin Lizzy tribute record and I had always wanted to do that anyway. I’ve had a list of songs for over ten years – Thin Lizzy songs - which I always wanted to record, do a tribute record, and do my version of them.  This is that times two and Scott Gorham’s my guitar player! It doesn’t get any better than that, brother! Absolutely!”

Our time was running out but I had to ask Damon about a handful of acoustic sets that he was about to do in Texas and Oklahoma. I wanted to find out what fans could expect from those shows. 

“The acoustic dates that I’ve done throughout my career have always been incredibly fulfilling and it’s an amazing opportunity to play new songs and pull some old songs out of my catalog that I haven’t played in a long time or never played in an acoustic setting. I’ll maybe pull a couple of covers that I love out of the bag. It never fails when there’s been a passage of a year or two between my visits to a certain city, the set list is generally forty or fifty percent different than it was the time before. This will be no exception. I’m excited to play some new songs that I’ve written and just revisit my catalog. I really get a kick out of that and am grateful that I’ve got some fans out there that are interested in coming and hearing that with an acoustic setting.”

I still love Release and, as I’ve written before, Pontiac is still my favorite song. Because of my genuine love of that album, I asked Damon if there are any plans for a follow up to it.

“Yeah, absolutely, and thank you for saying that, by the way. Pontiac is easily one of my two or three favorite songs from the whole album. I’ve been grateful for the response – particularly about that song. I would love to do acoustic records from this day forward. The plan in the back of my head right now is to make my first proper ‘electric’ solo record and I’m sure that there’ll be something acoustic oriented that will pop up on that, as well. Release was a pivotal record for me because it gave me a lot of confidence as a writer and as an arranger. Again, the response to it has been really positive and I’ve been pleased with that. It gives you that motivation to roll up your sleeves and do it again. Plus the fact that I love the acoustic performances so much. It sure makes sense to have another acoustic based record out there that I can get out there and tour behind.”

And speaking of that tour, you can catch Damon at the following dates and venues:


02/07/13 – Ft. Worth, TX – Live Oak Music Hall & Lounge
02/08/13 – Ardmore, OK – Two Frogs Grill
02/09/13 – Dallas, TX - Poor David’s Pub (Will I see you there?)
02/10/13 – Denison, TX – Loose Wheels

Order your tickets now because they’re going out in a blaze of glory!

Click here to keep up with the latest on Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders.

Damon Johnson (2011)

Posted May/June 2011

 

damonjohnsonJune2011bI’ve had the privilege of meeting – and even interviewing – some great artists.  Each one displayed their own unique traits that impressed me.  Among the musicians I’ve come in contact with, the exceptional ones have always been those who have the ability to enjoy a diversified career and depth in their playing that crosses a variety of genres.  One such artist that I recently had the privilege of interviewing is Damon Johnson.

I became aware of Johnson quite simply because I have been a long time fan of Alice Cooper.  Damon just so happens to be the guitarist for recent inductee into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for the better part of the last seven years and is just the right kind of scary good player for a scary rock and roller.

Johnson is a triple threat to the second power because, not only is he a tremendous rock guitarist, singer and song writer, he fills the same three pairs of shoes in the other genres as well. In Damon’s main area of expertise, rock, he first hit the national stage as the frontman, guitarist and primary songwriter for his band, Brother Cane, which headlined its own shows as well as toured heavily as an opening act for Aerosmith, Candlebox, Lynyrd Skynyrd, Robert Plant and Van Halen before breaking up in 1998.

In the songwriting portion of Damon’s arsenal of musical weaponry, he has had his songs recorded by such rockers Sammy Hagar (Salvation on Sand Hill), Stevie Nicks (Every Day), Ted Nugent (I Won’t Go Away), Queensryche (Middle of Hell and Home Again), Skid Row (Ghost and See You Around) and Carlos Santana (Just Feel Better) as well as his former country band, Whiskey Falls.

He’s also lent his licks and vocals to the likes of country star, Faith Hill, on her huge 2002 hit, Cry.  He’s also sang and played on projects with Sammy Hagar, Ted Nugent, Damn Yankees, John Waite, Slave To The System, and even The Temptations.

When Damon isn’t on tour with Alice Cooper, he focuses his efforts on his other band, Brother Cane, as well as his own solo efforts such as his recent acoustic CD, Release – a phenomenal work that I can guarantee you will wear out from listening to it over and over again (you can read the Boomerocity review of it here).

It was with great excitement that I was able to arrange a phone interview with Damon since our schedules couldn’t synch up at the recent Dallas International Guitar Festival.  It was a call that I was afraid wasn’t going to happen since, the day before, a devastating tornado hit Tuscaloosa, Alabama, shaking things up a bit near his home an hour away.  Fortunately, all was well at the Johnson household and our call went on as scheduled.

We started off our chat by talking briefly about that tornado.  Damon shared that, “I’ve lived in Alabama ever since I was five years old and I’ve never seen a day like yesterday.  I’m 46 so that’s a long time, man! Tornados have become almost passé here – it’s just a way of life. But that one was like a terrorist attack or something! Man, it was just CRAZY! Pretty much, everybody I know, personally, has made out okay.  I have some friends who had some trees down in their yard but no real loss of property or, certainly, no loss of life. But, unfortunately, that’s not been the case with everybody. We’re definitely relieved and grateful, man!”

As I mentioned, Damon was at the Dallas International Guitar Festival. What I didn’t learn until after the show was that Damon also attended the Phoenix wedding of Alice and Sheryl Cooper’s son, Dash, and then back to Dallas for his acoustic performance that Sunday afternoon.  It had to have been a mastery of logistics to have pulled that all off.  Johnson talks about it.

“Yeah, I did go to Dash’s wedding. See, Brother Cane played Friday night. Then my wife and I got up early the next morning and flew to Phoenix out of Love Field to get there and then we were on a different airline to come back. So, we fly back to DFW Airport (about another 30 minutes or more of drive time than from Love Field) on Sunday and I literally got out of the cab and straight onto the stage with my acoustic guitar to sing back there at that Singer/Songwriter stage (one of several stages at the guitar show). It was a crazy weekend, man! It was fun! It was high intensity and always running behind, it felt like, but it was fun and met some great, new people and met up with some old friends. Somehow, we pulled it all off.”

We steered our conversation around to discussing Damon’s latest CD, Release.  The album is a pleasant mix of rock, country and alternative in a package that transitions evenly from one genre to another without jarring the senses.  It especially bridges the gap between country and rock.  After sharing my take on Release with him, I asked Johnson what he set out to accomplish with Release.

“Randy, it was really just about getting those songs committed to tape and get them out there into the atmosphere – out in the world. There’s fourteen tracks – three of those are ‘covers’ so the other eleven songs are part of a stack of 40 or 50 songs that I’ve written or co-written over the last 7 or 8 years.  They were things that just weren’t right for Slave To The System. They weren’t right for Whisky Falls but I knew that there was some good stuff there and I thought that the only way to get it out was to put it out under my own name.

“I started working on this in my head a little over a year ago. A few people have said, ‘Well, we really would have expected another rock project out of you.’ And I said, ‘Precisely!’  That’s the whole reason why I wanted to do this because I’ve done so much rock and guitar-heavy stuff in recent years – particularly with as much as I’ve toured with Alice that the stuff I listen to in my spare time – particularly in the last several years – has been decidedly more American/Singer-Songwriter stuff.

“I don’t know, man.  It was just my way to pretend that I could hang out with cool guys like Guy Clark and Steve Earle – the legend that is Van Zant. I really love Lucinda Williams and artists like that. I love what you just said, Randy, about it kind of bridging the gap between rock and country.  That is absolutely what I was thinking, as well. I’m glad that it came across that way. It’s really about the lyrics, the writing and the singing than it is about the guitar playing.  The fact that people have said so much nice stuff about my acoustic work is a real bonus because I had a great time making that record.”

From the countless times I’ve listened to Release, I kept feeling that most of the album was introspective and contemplative.  Having been guilty in the past of not “getting” an album from time to time, I asked Johnson if was an accurate observation or if I was reading too much into it.

“No, brother, I think that’s very accurate, Randy. A lot of people just weren’t able to know or understand when that first Brother Cane record came out in 1993, some of those were the first songs I had ever written in my life, man. I had always wanted to be Jimmy Page or Joe Perry when I grew up and hadn’t really given much thought to writing lyrics. I was a fan of great lyrics and songs that had great lyrics, but it just never occurred to me that anybody would ever care about what I had to say about anything. So I had let my guitar do the talking all those years.

“So, being kind of thrust into that arena when I became the lead singer for Brother Cane – not long before we made that first record – it kind of opened up a whole new world to me. I’m so proud of how that material – the Brother Cane material – Randy, has stood the test of time.  But there’s no question that I’ve learned a lot and grown a lot.

“Again, listening to so many great song writers, I just felt really inspired to want to just get my songs out there. I, too, felt like there was a lot of reflection in almost all of those songs and, somehow, they seem to fit together nicely even though Pontiac may lean a little country and Leave It All Behind could almost be a grunge song and Everyday and Better Days Will Come At Last – those are just great pop songs. But, somehow, it all worked. I just think that’s a credit to the songs and that’s what I’m most proud of, man, is each song seems to stand on its own.”

A personal favorite of both my wife and I is the song, Pontiac.  It compels the listener to repeatedly play the song while driving with the one you love – especially if you’re fortunate to still be with the love from your youth.  As a boy born in the south, I could almost sense the pleasant smell of farms as I drive and listen to the tune.

Damon laughs at the “farm” comment as he replies, “You’ve obviously listened to the CD, man, because I think Pontiac is the best song on the record.  It’s the song that I think stands the greatest – it deserves to be recorded the most. I’ve gotten so much flattering feedback on that song in particular.  Even a couple of Nashville artists have expressed the desire to want to cut it.  I’ve heard that kind of thing through the years so I don’t get too excited about it but it could certainly happen with that song. I think it’s deserving of that because it is very ‘every man’.

“I laugh with my dad about it. I’m like, ‘Well, this is my attempt to try to be Bob Seger’ who I hold in such high esteem!  For us in the south, man, Bob Seger is our Bob Dylan! I’m not saying that Bob’s lyrics are simple but he just seemed to speak to the common man more than anybody else – or at least to that generation. So, I’m really flattered that you dig that song. I’m very, very proud of Pontiac.”

When asked how long Release took to put together, Damon gives us the skinny.

“I started putting a list of songs together while I was on the road with Coop last year – I’m sorry, in 2009.  Whiskey Falls wrapped up kind of early 2009 and I went back to work with Alice that spring. That was when the idea first came to me. I just had a list going on my phone. I would just go, ‘Oh, I like this song’ and it just kind of morphed out of that.

“So, when I was home in January of 2010, a friend of mine has a great studio here and he took a meeting with me and we talked about some kind of schedule. So, it was nice, man, to sort of – in a way – work for somebody else in that the studio had a schedule to keep. I made it a point to be on time, try to get there as early as I could and stay there as late as they would let me and get as much work done as possible. Because, really, man, during those off days from being on tour with Alice, I’m trying to be with my wife and kids as much as I can. But I’ve got to give them some credit for being supportive of that whole thing.

“But, to answer your question in a more precise manner, I think the whole thing, really, got recorded in about a month. And that’s, literally, like a Tuesday night here, a Saturday afternoon there, that kind of thing, so it wasn’t a super intensive, every day kind of thing. I was just trying to mix it up, man. That balance is something that I feel that I’ve struggled with my whole career so it’s been extra gratifying to get the support that I have from my family and then to be able to put out something that people have said some really nice things about has been very rewarding and really fulfilling.”

For those of us who don’t walk on stage for a living, it’s hard to relate to being away from home for weeks and months at a time and then come home and try to be a spouse and

Damon and Alice Cooper Recording Alice's Harmonica Solo and Cooper's House - Photo Courtesy of Damon Johnson

a parent. I commended Johnson for tackling the challenges of balance and quality of home life because family is usually the first casualty in an artist’s life.

“Well, Randy, I’ll share this with you, man – and that’s really cool what you just said. It inspired a thought within me. I used to think that it was easy, too. It used to be easy but I think that was when I was a lot more self-absorbed, man – just really selfish with my time and what I wanted to do. It’s a gross understatement but a marriage is a partnership.  Most musicians really fail at that. I say that with a lot of respect. I’m not saying that to be judgmental or to put anybody down. But, man, to be married to any creative person is a challenge because it’s almost like they have this sickness or this kind of ‘thing’ that overtakes them and there’s no on or off switch. It either comes or it doesn’t. Sometimes, it comes in waves and sometimes it doesn’t come at all. I think some of that struggle – that’s the word I’m looking for – some of that struggle to try to do a better job of finding that balance was absolutely reflected in this collection of songs. I think that was the place that I was at in my life as these songs came together.

“Now, these songs mean different things to different people, as songs should, but I got some kind of fulfillment – it was almost like those songs were with me in those times of trying to just keep a grip on things. This rock and roll thing will beat-your-ass if you let it. It will beat up on your relationships and it can cause you problems if you don’t at least try to find some serenity in there. Forgive me for sounding all new age about it but I’m really sincere. This record means a lot to me and that was a big part of it.”

It was at this point that Damon said something that has resonated with me ever since our call.  I mentioned in passing (while setting up another question) that I was about to celebrate my 31st anniversary.  Johnson cut me off by exclaiming, “Wow!  Well, I’m a lot more in awe of people that have held a marriage together for 30-plus years than I am – anymore – about a guy who has a platinum record or that got his face on the cover of a guitar magazine. That used to be the kind of thing that I held as measuring sticks. It’s just not anymore, man, because, in some ways, that kind of stuff is easy. There’s some things you do: you connect the dots and you go and do it. But, man, to keep a marriage going for 30-something years? Now THAT’s impressive!”

Our chat about family matters led me to the fact that Johnson included his daughter, Sarah, on a couple of cuts on Release.  Her contributions to the project were substantive as she exhibited talent and maturity beyond her years.  I asked Damon how it worked out working with his daughter.

“It was as special as any dad could ever imagine it to be. It was just that special, man. The thing that I have to say – this isn’t really bragging about Sarah; it’s more of a commentary – she’s naturally talented as a singer and equally talented as an acoustic player. She kind of picked it up for fun about three years ago. She got swept up in the whole Taylor Swift thing like so many other young girls did. Taylor really inspired a lot of young girls to think about writing songs and thinking about playing guitar, which makes her so special.

“I could hear her (Sarah) singing. I could hear her practicing.  She even sent me a video one time when I was on the road with Whiskey Falls. It was her in front of her computer screen and she sang some song she had figured out.  It just leveled me. It was so – I mean, it was, obviously, adorable and sweet and all that stuff. But it was truly good! For awhile, I didn’t even think about it. I thought, ‘Well, you’re just being a typical father. Of course you think she sounds great.’ But, then, I went, ‘Wait a minute!  I’m in the business. I know when something’s good and I know when it’s not and SHE’s good and she sounds great!’

“She came with me to a couple of shows – a couple of my acoustic shows. We did one down at Auburn University. I had been hired to play some function. These were all college kids. It was almost like a Greek social type of thing. In a way, I was almost like wallpaper because I’m just back there playing some songs. But it was cool and the kids were standing there with their drinks and watching me play.

“Then I said, ‘Listen, I want to do something kind of special for you guys. I want to bring up a guest. This is my daughter. She wants to sing a couple of songs for you.’ Randy, she brought the house down, man! She – brought – the house – DOWN! And the reason why the kids reacted like that, obviously, is that they saw themselves in her.  They’re like, ‘She’s one of us and look at her get up there in her sun dress and just sit there on that stool – she’s like a young Joni Mitchell or something!’

“I’m telling you this whole long story to tell you that she’s completely aloof to how talented she is. She doesn’t have that need to feed her ego that I had and all of my musician friends had and still have. It’s not about that for her. She just likes to do it. She just likes to sing. So, I was so grateful that it hit me that this would be an opportunity to try to get her voice recorded. It was her choice to sing Better Days Will Come At Last with me because she always liked that song. My wife actually came up with the idea of the Shelby Lynn cover – the Where I’m From where it has that lyric great lyric about being from Alabama and all of that.

“Again, to reiterate, I couldn’t be more blown away and proud and just impressed with her natural talent.  She’s 18 – 17 when we cut the song. She’s been playing and singing since she was about 15. But, I’m telling you, man, she just went on about her life. It’s not like she’s hitting me up, ‘Hey, Dad!  I want to do that again. I’ve written some songs!  I want to go into the studio with a band.’  No, man, she’s going to college and she’s in a sorority.  She wants to be in international business.  It’s just something that she does. I love her diversity and that she’s into all of this stuff. I’ll always be eternally grateful for having her involved.”

When I stated that I think she has a Sass Jordan-esque sound to her, Damon chimed in by saying, “What a flattering comparison, man! I think you’re dead-on about that. Any of the comparisons that she’s gotten have all been just quality singers. That makes me feel so proud!  Certainly, if she wanted to pursue it or continue it, I would do anything that I could to help her.”

Alice Cooper’s album, Billion Dollar Babies, is the first album that turned me on to his work when I was a pre-teen.  Generation Landslide, about a society that degenerated into bedlam and anarchy, was one of my favorites on that disc.  I was curious as to why Johnson selected that particular song to cover and how he got Alice to sing it on the album.

“Well, quite simply, Randy, my story is identical to yours. It was that album, and that song off that album, that really captured my attention for whatever reason. Ever since I did my first full tour with Alice in 2005, I’m always trying to get that song added into the set. Look, man, I get it. It’s a lot more acoustic based. It doesn’t have the arrangement, or even the production value, that all of his other great show songs have.

“So, we talked about it in the golf cart. We’ve talked about it at dinner. So, it was just an awesome day when I asked him if he would come and play harmonica on it like the original version.  He was like, ‘Absolutely!’  He was flattered that I would ask him.  It turned out to be a super, super cool thing.”

Wait a minute!  That’s not Alice doing the vocals?  Y’all listen to that cover of the song and tell me that Damon doesn’t sound just like Alice!

Anyway, Damon sheds some more light on the subject.

“Well, in the second what I guess is the chorus – it doesn’t feel like the chorus, really – but in the second chorus of the song he sings two lines and then we do the ‘La da da ta da!’ in unison.  It’s easily one of my top two favorite moments on the whole album. It just makes me smile.

“It’s funny, when he was recording his harmonica part, he had the headphones on and he was listening to the track.  He knew that it was my session.  It was the recording that I had been piecing together.  Obviously, the dynamics were different because it’s more acoustic guitar and not as much electric. In a minute, he goes, ‘How did you get my vocal on there like that?’  And I said, ‘That’s not you, Coop. That’s me!’  His mouth dropped open and he said, ‘Are you KIDDING me?’ I said, ‘C’mon, man! The coolest part of the whole song was your vocal on it all those years ago.’ I’ve heard that song a hundred thousand times and it came so natural to sing it with all a lot of his same inflections and his same phrasing. That made my day for him to think that that was him when it was really me singing it.”

“Listen, I’m going to blow your mind with this. Coop and I were talking about this song and the original recording. He said, ‘Damon, those lyrics were all pretty much stream of consciousness. We were just goofing around in the studio.  Mike (Bruce) or Glen (Buxton) had this guitar lick and, of course, Ezrin (Bob Ezrin, their legendary producer) morphed it into the genius that Bob always does. I just sat down with a notebook and just started ‘throwing up’ on the paper and that’s what fell out. We tweaked a line or two but, in general, it was all just off the top of my head.’

“You could knock me over with a feather after that. I would’ve thought that he had labored for weeks over that – to come up with all of those killer lines. It’s just another commentary on the genius that is Alice Cooper. That’s what keeps me here with him for so long.  I just think he’s a really rare, special artist. And to get to work with someone like that and write with someone like that and just be a part of that whole fame that is Alice Cooper has been VERY special to me, Randy. It’s, obviously, raised the profile of my career and it’s been an amazing experience.”

Neal Schon, John Guilford & Damon Johnson At The Dallas International Guitar Festival - Photo by Randy Patterson

I asked Damon for the background story as to how he would up getting the Cooper gig.

“Well, quite simply, one of the guitar players in his band right before I joined is an old friend of mine, Eric Dover.  Eric was getting ready to move on and he wasn’t 100% sure if he was going to leave Alice full time but he did take a break towards the end of his 2004 tour.  They held auditions and Eric had apparently told Alice that he needed to get me out there. The tour manager called and said, ‘Hey, we’re indeed having auditions. If you can come and play, we’ll give you a spot.’  I was like, ‘Wow!’

“I just kind of knew that everyone from Hollywood would show up and they would all look like Izzy from Guns ‘n Roses, I don’t know.  And, sure enough, man, that was kind of the case when I got there. I showed up in jeans and a t-shirt, looking like that guy in Brother Cane that listened to too many Skynard records”, Johnson said with a self-deprecating laugh. “But I knew the songs, man. I knew those things inside and out.  I had learned the parts with all of the right notes and I jumped on the microphone and started singing background vocals and I think Cooper appreciated that because he’s got so many vocals in his songs that he needs as many strong singers on the stage as he can get. I think that kind of helped seal the deal.”

Earlier this year, Alice Cooper was inducted to the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.  Being asked if he felt the induction was having an impact on this year’s tour plans, Damon said, “It’s a real impact, man.  Alice and his manager are doing the right thing to take advantage of that momentum and they should. Coop should have been in the Hall of Fame 10, 15 years ago. But it is a great opportunity for him.

“There’s a lot of chatter in the press and it’s just a good time for Alice and even all the old guys – the original band.  They’ve made a few appearances and have done some stuff, which has been really fantastic – certainly for fans like me that love seeing that group together again.  I just think now, man, it’s time to celebrate the whole career that is Alice Cooper.  He’s certainly got lots to talk about now in the press between the Hall of Fame and Bob Ezrin coming back to do the next album, which is a HUGE deal!”

“This fall, they’re looking to release Welcome 2 My Nightmare.  It’s going to definitely be an extension of the original Welcome to My Nightmare, which is, for the people that don’t know, Alice’s first solo record without the original band. I’m sure that it’s going to be a two year period of activity – a lot of work. A lot of shows.

 “You know, I don’t think Coop is one of those kinds of guys that wants to keep doing a hundred shows a year into his seventies.  I’m sure he can see - not necessarily the finish line - but he can definitely coming where he really wants to scale it back to be with his family more. I know that he and Sheryl would love to be grandparents any day now. It would be fine with them!  Man, he’s earned that. He certainly deserves to be able to do whatever he wants.”

As a fan of all sorts of music, my rocker friends and readers will often give me a hard time for my love for country music.  With a lot of Johnson’s body of work, such as his Whiskey Falls tunes, falling into the country genre, I asked him how his fans have reacted at the cross genre work that he does.

 “That’s a good question. I’ll tell you this: The people that come to the show, anybody that came to the show to see Whiskey Falls play live – to a man, everyone of them said, ‘Oh, I get it. I totally understand why you would shift gears mid-stream and go wholeheartedly into this.’  Randy, the sound of those four guys singing together is as good as anything I’ve ever heard in my life, much less have been a part of. I have really have attempted to conduct myself fairly humbly throughout my career as far as what I think about my songs, my singing, my band or whatever. But, I’m telling you something, man, those four guys singing together in harmony, I would put up against the biggest name harmony groups that you could think of – even the big guys.

“I picked up the phone and called Alice and I said, ‘Coop, something really out of left field has come across my desk. It’s really special and I’ve got to give this a shot.’  Well, the first thing he did was say, ‘Why don’t you come and do the Christmas Pudding?’ That’s his annual Christmas charity thing. So, we did, man. In 2006, we came and sang at his event.  We brought the house down.  He and Sheryl came over to me afterwards and he said, ‘Damon, I totally get it! You’d be out of your mind to not do this!’

“We just all assumed that it was going to be a slam-dunk, to be honest with you, Randy. We really did. I loved it. I loved those guys. I loved those songs. It’s just a shame that we ran out of funding. We ran into some tough times, economically, when the whole economy in general took a hit in the latter part of 2007. We just never could recover from it. We were on a tiny label but we had done so much in that one year, year and a half.  Everything from playing the Grand Ol’ Opry twice (to standing ovations) to opening dates for everybody!  Alan Jackson, Brooks and Dunn, Brad Paisley, Vince Gill, Leann Rimes, the list goes on.  It was good mojo, man. We just simply ran out of money.”

Any chance of the band resurrecting?

“I never say never, mainly because I did those guys so much and know the power of the sound of those four voices together.  But it’s just going to be hard. Everybody’s got families and other commitments. We just felt that we had this window that we could all focus our attention 100% at one thing and we gave it as hard a shot as anybody could.  We just couldn’t get it – we couldn’t poke through that bubble to get to the next level to at least start to generate a little capital so that we could sustain ourselves.”

When I mention that many people are shocked to learn just how much a band has to support itself without any help from its record label, Damon concurs.

“That’s the truth, man. There are some great people who work at some of these labels and it’s a hard truth that many young artists can’t fully appreciate unless they’ve been through it. There’s so much of it that you need to do on your own. You need to build your audience on your own. You need to make your first recording on your own. You need to sell some tickets and sell some product – on your own. Then, you can attract some of these ‘suits’ with big checkbook that can put a whole staff behind promoting a single on radio and crafting your image and shooting videos and photos and all of that.  They’ve got to think that you’re something special for them to do all of that.”

On the heels of my Whiskey Falls question, I asked about the status of Brother Cane.

“Here’s the status right now, Randy. Brother Cane has done three shows in the last eleven years.  When we called it quits in early 2000, we had just run out of gas. We had been beaten up by our record label changing presidents three different times and three different field staffs and heads of promotion at radio. It was a challenge. A little similar to Whiskey Falls, we just couldn’t make a living doing it any more. Everybody’s marriages were in the toilet – was just rough. Since then, I had sort of an allegiance to those guys – that original band because we had been through so much together.

“As time transpires – this ties a little bit to the conversation we had about half an hour ago about family and about trying to find some balance – I do have that ‘disease’ of music. It’s going to be with me the rest of my days so I’ve got to find a way to scratch that creative itch, be a performer and be the breadwinner of my family. After all the projects that I’ve been a part of, I think – I know that I can’t outrun the shadow of Brother Cane anymore. It’s like, everywhere I go I get asked about it. I get such an amazing blessing – for lack of a better word, Randy – those songs have stood the way they have and that there is as much good mojo surrounding the name of that band – the songs that that band had. I wrote those songs. I sang those songs. I don’t think I’m going to run away from it any more.

“Now, with that said, I’ve got to see how this touring year shakes out with Alice and kind of what his plans are for 2012. But I absolutely intend to do a lot more work with Brother Cane in the next couple of years.”

The Alice Cooper tour isn’t going to last forever, so I asked Damon what was next after the tour was over.

“One thing I won’t do is put something I don’t think is ready. I’d love to make another Brother Cane record but the first thing we’ve got to do is get the songs together. So, I’m going to hit the road with the mindset that I want to start gathering material and writing some more.  It is a challenge to write on the road. I’m sure that you’ve talked to enough musicians to get reinforcement on that. A lot of times, it’s enough of a challenge to be on time and to keep yourself healthy. With as much travel as we do, that will chew up a full day pretty quickly. But we’ll see.

“I’ve talked to a lot of the guys I’ve collaborated with through the years and everybody’s in, man. Everybody is excited at this idea. I’m just really excited to know what the next batch of songs will sound like. I’m so proud of the projects I’ve done over the last five or six years – super proud of my latest album, Release. So, I want to know what’s next. I’d like to see what I can come up with. I got a lot to say – probably more now than ever before and I’d love to do it with an electric guitar now instead an acoustic. I’ve been playing electric guitar for so long that sometimes I don’t give it its own due. That’s kind of where I’m up right now – getting my chops back up because we’re getting ready to do these rehearsals – I’ve got the electric in my hand. It just feels good to work those muscles for a change. I love to play electric guitar. I’ve never been Mr. Hot Licks, super technical, Yngwie Malmsteen. But I can definitely close my eyes and just get lost in it. It’s another one of the selfish fulfillments that doing this so long has brought me. I love that.”

Speaking of the electric guitar, at the Dallas International Guitar Festival, I had the privilege of visiting with John Guilford, founder and owner of Guilford Guitars.  Guilford manufactures the Damon Johnson HB-1 electric guitar.  John comes across as a truly humble and confident man who knows what he believes and has a strong moral compass.  I commended Damon with his affiliation with Guilford Guitars.

 “Super humble, man!  Very mellow. Very caring. Very attention-to-detail kind of guy. I think that’s rare, man.  A lot of these guitar luthiers are either chasing the dollar and being consumed with trying to be a business man, which is fine. Or they’re so nerdy-weird about guitar schematics and measurements and neck widths and wood and it gets like, ‘Ah, I don’t want to talk to this guy, either.’  I think that John strikes a great balance with all of that.  He’s a pleasure to work with and I’m honored to be involved with those guys. They make a beautiful guitar. It’s just been very flattering that they approached me with all of that.”

Since it was obvious that Damon has put a lot of thought into what he wants to do, I asked him what he envisioned himself doing five and ten years from now.

 “Man, I think I’m going to be right here! I’m going to be making records. I want to be doing some amount of performing. But I’m hoping that in five or ten years I’m spending a few more days a year at home than I have the last five or ten. And I say that with excitement – not like, ‘Oh, I’ve got to give up this.’ I just want to lean a little more to the other side, Randy.”

With a chuckle, he added, “That’s not to say if Joe Perry breaks his leg and Aerosmith calls and needs somebody - I would jump at an opportunity like that. I’m just not out there looking for excuses to start up another band anymore. That’s why so many of these things that you have so flatteringly asked me about – it just feels good to feel like I’ve got a plan. Let’s keep it simple. Let’s keep writing as always but let’s think about Brother Cane. Let’s think about another solo record and let’s keep working with Coop. And that’s enough, man! That is a full time music career!  Anything more than that would be overkill and I-have-been-guilty-of-overkill in my life!  So, I’m ready to see what the next 5 or 10 years holds in store. If I’m lucky, I’ll get to keep playing and to keep writing and have a few people out there paying attention and interested in checking it out.”

As we wound up our chat, I asked Damon Johnson how he would like to be remembered long after he’s stepped off the tour bus for the last time.

 “Man, I would love to remember me as a guy that always felt like he was so lucky to get to do what he loved for a living. I don’t even think what they think about my guitar playing or my songwriting or my singing or any of that stuff. That’s the thing I try to get across to younger players, to my kids, to my family – I’m really fortunate in this day and age that I have spent my entire adult life getting to do what I love and to follow my passion. I can’t even explain how it happened, man!  Somehow, just staying committed to that, navigating all the bumps in the road has gotten me there.  How is that for an answer, man? I feel like I was really lucky to get to do what I get to do!”