Posted May/June 2011
I’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!”