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  • Damon Johnson (2011)

    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!”

  • Damon Johnson (2012)

    Posted January, 2012

    Among 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 Townsince 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 absolutelyhad 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, Pontiacis 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. Pontiacis 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 onThin Lizzy andBlack Star Riders.

  • Damon Johnson Discusses "Echo"

    Posted August, 2016

     

    damonjohnson2016002If you’re a fan of Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, or Black Star Riders, then you most definitely know who guitarist, Damon Johnson, is. His finesse on the axe has taken him around the world with these acts who are household names in the music world.

    Damon recently released his latest five song EP entitled, “Echo” (available on Amazon and iTunes) and recently chatted with me about it, beginning with answering my question as to how many solo albums “Echo” makes for him.

    “Yeah, I guess, technically, this would be my third but it is truly my first fully electric album. I put out two acoustic albums. The first one was almost a fluke. It was just for fun. Then, I put out another one back in 2010. So, this is my first, fully realized, full band, lots of guitar kind of album. I’m really, really proud of it. I hope that it’s the first of many.

    “I love this idea of the EP. I really do think it’s a great concept to have four or five brand new songs and get those out. Then, maybe within a year, get another four or five songs out.”

    Johnson shared what the motivation behind the EP was.

    “I would say that, truly, the greatest motivating force had to be my producer and my great friend,johnsonschonguilfordDamon (R) with Journey's Neal Schon (L) & luthier John Guilford - Photo by Randy Patterson Nick Raskulinecz. Nick and I both live in Nashville. I have been a fan of Nick’s for years. He’s produced so many great rock records. So, when we met randomly at an Iron Maiden show a few years back, I was just knocked out to get to talk to this guy! He was so approachable and really cool. Ironically, our wives became really close because Nick and I have small kids. So, while he and I were doing our various things, the girls would actually connect and get the kids together and whatever.

    “So, Nick produced the second Black Star Riders album, The Killer Instinct. It was a great experience for the whole band but it also gave Nick a chance to really get to know me and what I’m all about musically and as a rock writer and as a player. Not long after we finished that album, he called me out of the blue one day and he said, ‘Hey, man, I’ve got some time. My studio is free. If you want to come on in and record some of your own stuff . . . “and he said, “I’m sure you’ve got songs,” which I did and always do.

    “I think, really and truly, it was that phone call. In my head, I had always thought, ‘Wow! It would be great to record some stuff” but, man! It’s a process. There’s a lot of moving parts. You’ve got to get the guys. You’ve got to pay the guys. You’ve got to pay for the studio. There’s so many factors. With Nick’s help, it was incredible.

    “Once we started taking steps in that direction, then I really got the momentum up in my brain to carry it all the way and get it done.”

    Continuing by sharing who was on the EP with him, Damon said:

    “There’s a guy on drums, Jarred Pope, who played with me in a band called Whiskey Falls. I did a country project back in 2007 for a couple of years. I met Jarred when he was still living in Bakersfield, California. I was blown away by his musical instincts as a drummer. I always told him, ‘One day, bro, we’re going to figure out a way to get a studio or get on stage and play some rock and roll.’ Ironically, Jarred is another transplant to Nashville. He moved to town a little before I did so as soon as I arrived, we hooked up and introduced him to some people I knew and vice versa. So, when I got ready to do this solo thing, I didn’t hesitate to reach out to Jarred.

    “On the bass guitar, is a guy a named of Tony Nagy. I met Tony through my good friend, Chuck Garric. We played together in Alice Cooper. Chuck is still in Alice’s band. Chuck is also a new transplant to Nashville. I always call Chuck first because he’s my brother and we’ve done so much together. I love him and his wife. They’re amazing people. But he had so many other commitments so he said, ‘You gotta check out this guy, Tony Nagy.’ That’s how Tony came to me.

    “So, it was just the three of us in the studio. I play all the guitar. All the keyboards. Taurus pedals. Some percussion. I just had a great time! I really couldn’t be happier with how it turned out.”

    Johnson then shared a rundown about the stories behind the five songs.

    damonalicegenland1Damon & His Former Boss, Alice Cooper - Photo Courtesy of Damon Johnson“There’s two songs: ‘Dead’ and another song called ‘The Waiting Kills Me’. I wrote them both with my friend, Kelly Gray. I don’t know if you remember, Randy, that Kelly produced the Wishpool album for Brother Cane. Kelly and I also had a band together for a little while called Slave To The System. These were two songs that we thought might make a sophomore STTS release. It just wasn’t possible to get everybody’s schedules to line up. I knew that they were both great songs so I’ve been kinda sitting on those for a while.

    “Another song is “Nobody Using,” which I really love. It’s got so much tempo and energy. It just kicks ass, man. It reminds a lot of my fans of “Got No Shame” – kinda reminiscent of that in its intensity.

    “Yet another song is “Just Move On” that I co-wrote with my buddy, Marty Frederickson, who I’ve worked with for two decades now. He and I wrote all those Brother Cane songs together. All the radio singles – we wrote those together.

    “Then, Marty actually brought me what I feel is a gift in the form of a song called ‘Scars.’ ‘Scars’ is probably my favorite song of the five. Just an incredible lyric and an amazing vocal melody and it just gave me a bed to come up with some really – I guess – fulfilling guitar parts. I tried to keep them very lyrical. It’s a great lyric. It really spoke to me and I’ve had a lot of people reaching out and talking about how much they love that song.

    “All five songs are different. Different in tempo and dynamic. Lyrical content. I kinda think that’s been my story my whole career. I’ve never really been part of one style or one specific sound. I wouldn’t have it any other way. I’m very pleased to get these five songs out to represent where I’m at, right now, and where I’m headed.”

    When I asked Damon which song he would use as a calling card for “Echo”, he said:

    “I guess that I would have to base that some feedback I’ve gotten from the fans, my friends, and my inner circle. I think a lot of people are gravitating towards ‘Dead’. ‘Dead,’ in some ways, it could’ve been a really cool Alice Cooper song. Lyrically. Guitar-wise. Kinda trashy. It’s got a real sexy tempo to it. I just think it’s exactly what you said. It just might be the statement song for the album. I have to mention ‘Nobody Using,’ as well. I’ve gotten a lot of great support in Europe. I’ve gotten some radio airplay. A lot of my Black Star Riders/Thin Lizzy supporters over there have gravitated towards that song. I have to give some credit to my great friend, Johnny Blade. He and I wrote that together. He’s another monster talent. I love to get into a room with another creative mind like that. Nine out of ten times, we not only come up with something, but we come up with something pretty fast. He and I are actually working on some new songs right now so you’ll hear more from that collaboration.”

    As for tour plans in support of the EP, Johnson shared:

    “There are absolutely plans to get out and tour. The way my schedule looks for the next six months, we’re going to do a handful of Thin Lizzy festival dates. In August, Black Star Riders are back in the studio with Nick Raskulinecz right here in Nashville to record the follow-up, which will be our third album. So, as soon as we get that wrapped up, that is totally my plan - is to be out, doing some dates to promote ‘Echo.’ That will probably be the latter part of September and into October and November. I’ve already done a handful of shows with my guys. The set list is just ridiculous. Plenty of Brother Cain songs. I play a couple of Black Star Rider songs. We certainly do a Thin Lizzy song. We pretty much play everything off of the new EP and we’ve actually worked up a medley of BAD. ASS Alice Cooper songs. It lasts about eleven minutes. It’s a barn burner, Randy! I hope you get to hear it!

    The music world has been a-buzz with news that Damon’s former boss, Alice Cooper, was reuniting his original band members for a new album. I asked Johnson what his thoughts were about that news.

    “I’ll say this: I’m a little out of the loop as to what or how those specific plans are coming together. I truly am. I know that Alice has been busy with his Hollywood Vampires thing and he has dates with his current band kind of booked throughout the remainder of the year. If there are, indeed, dates with the original band – there’s no question that that would be and is very, very cool! It’d have to be fun for Dennis and the guys to go out and do some proper dates with Coop like that. And I think it would be great of Alice to give those guys that opportunity.

    “That original band was incredibly special. The further distance we get away from that, I think it becomes even more obvious how special they were. Alice has had dozens and dozens of different lineups as a solo artist through the years. But nothing can touch that original band. There was a special chemistry and it was a special sound that had a special swagger that’s not been duplicated since then. Not necessarily that he wants to but those guys played very, very unique together. You can bet – if they’re out there on some dates, I’m going to see one . . .or ten! Ha! Ha! If humanly possible, I’ll definitely be in the house to see that!”

    Regarding what’s on his career radar for the foreseeable future, the renown axe man said:damonjohnsonthinlizzyPhoto Courtesy of Damon Johnson

    “The plans for me, I’m hoping, are a mirror image of everything that has happened over the last twelve months. It’s really been the most fulfilling year I think I’ve ever had in my career. It’s an honor to be a part of Black Star Riders. It’s a real band. It’s truly growing its fan base at a time where it couldn’t be more difficult for guys our age just playing straight ahead rock to go out and build a following. We feel that momentum. We’re energized by it so we’re going to absolutely be balls to the wall with continuing Black Star Riders.

    “Thin Lizzy, it’s Scott’s band. Scott is my brother; my bandmate in Black Star Riders. Whenever he wants to do a handful of those, I’m certainly available. Again, what an incredible experience for me and Ricky to be a part of that Thin Lizzy band with Scott, as well. The rest of the time, I’ll be doing my stuff. I really would love to put out another acoustic album. My wife laughs. She goes, ‘You’re kind of like a southern version of Neil Young. You can put out these introspective, folk singer/songwriter things and then fire up the amps with the band and be rockin’ in the free world.’ Ha! Ha! So, I told her that was an incredible compliment so I’m certainly flattered by it.”

    Whether you catch Damon with Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, a random pick up jam band, or one of his amazing acoustic gigs, you will be in for an incredible musical treat. If you get the chance to meet him, you’ll have met one of the nicest, warmest, most genuine people God’s green earth.

    Keep up with Damon at any of these links:

    Website:     Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

     

    Twitter:      Damon Johnson      Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders         

    Facebook:   Damon Johnson     Thin Lizzy     Black Star Riders

  • Release

    releasealbumcoverRelease
    Damon Johnson
    Label: CDBY
    Reviewed: May, 2011

    Release is the second solo project released by guitarist, Damon Johnson, which, like his first solo album, Dust, is all acoustic. While there are some tunes between the two albums that complement each other, Release presents an excellent collection of mostly Johnson crafted tunes that have a feel and vibe all their own.

    Beautifully crafted lyrics, perfect melodies and chording on the guitar and vocals all make Release a must-have album for your listening library. While Johnson is certainly capable of blazing acoustic and electric guitars, alike, with his incredible playing ability, it’s how he plays simple chords and melodies on each song. One additional note or chord would have upset the balance of these excellently crafted jewels and Damon seems to know that as he offers them up. Cuts like the title song, as well as Dayton, Ohio, Leave It All Behind and Satellites conjured up memories of Layne Staley while have sounds distinctly Damon.

    As is often the case, while I loved the entire album, I do have a couple of personal favorites. Pontiac takes me back to my teens, tearing up roads all over the country. I swear that I can almost smell the farms and orchards I used to drive by as a kid as I listen to this song. Another favorite is Just Feel Better. Co-written by Damon and originally recorded by Santana with Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler kicking in with vocals, Johnson sings it with the heart and soul of one who lived the story told within the lyrics. Listen to this song once and it will stay in your cranium for hours.

    Okay. I lied. I have a third favorite from the album. Generation Landslide from Alice Cooper’s 1973 album, Billion Dollar Babies, is remarkable for several reasons. One being that, though performed acoustically, the song is bang-on identical to the original recording. So much so that the second reason for its remarkableness is that, because I knew that Alice was on that song, I assumed that he provided all of the vocals on it. Nope. Except for the help on the chorus lines, Johnson delivered a perfect delivery of the tune. It even fooled the Snakemeister himself (you can read about that here). The third remarkable attribute of this song is Cooper playing the harmonica exactly as he did on the original recording. This song alone is worth the entire purchase price.

    If you love great acoustic guitar gently coated with beautiful lyrics and delivered with perfect vocals, you will want your copy of Release. You’ll be telling your friends all about it by the second listen. It’s that good.

  • Shep Gordon Talks Alice Cooper, Chefs, and the Dali Lama

    Posted March 2017

    jesse dittmar shep gordon croppedPhoto by Jesse DittmarOdds are pretty good that unless you’re a real music business geek (or a celebrity chef business geek), you have never heard of Shep Gordon.

    I became aware of Shep many moons ago because I’ve been an Alice Cooper fan for over forty-five years and Shep just happens to be Alice’s one and only manager.

    In 2015, Mike Meyers (Yeah, Mike “We’re Not Worthy” Meyers) produced a documentary about Shep entitled, Supermensch. The phenomenal response to the film is one of the reasons that prompted Shep to write his autobiography, They Call Me Supermensch.

    The book and movie certainly delivered what I had hoped and expected with regards to stories about Alice Cooper. However, it was a real eye-opener because of the mountain of other accomplishments Gordon has achieved in his momentous career.

    Chief of those accomplishments (at least, from my view) is the role of adoptive parent and grandparent. I don’t want to spoil the story in the book but let’s just say that Shep stepped up to the role and challenge in a huge way. The book is worth the purchase just for that story alone.

    Suffice it to say, because of the movie and book, I requested an interview with the legendary 

    manager to the chefs and stars (now mostly retired), and Gordon was gracious enough to accept.

    I called Shep at his beachfront home in Maui. If you watch the movie, you will see that it was a home that he bought for privacy, serenity, and entertaining. The views are spectacular and definitely seem to be key to Gordon’s Zen-like approach to life these days.

    At the outset of our chat, Gordon shared the motivations behind writing his book.

    “It was a combination of things. It was really sparked by being at an event and Anthony Bourdain coming up to me and introducing himself, telling me he had become a book publisher and not just for his own books with Harper Collins and he wanted to do a book with me. I loved his work. I didn’t know him but I’m a bit of a groupie. It sounded like an interesting path.

    “That - combined with the movie - brought a lot of attention to me and it brought a lot of people sort of looking for answers. ‘How come you’re happy?’ How to be successful. How to be happy. Big questions that I certainly didn’t feel qualified to give an answer to but thought that maybe if I spent some time doing my own kind of exploration of my life, I would find common themes that I could pass on to someone that might help them.

    “So that had sort of been in the back of my mind. Then Anthony Bourdain showed up and I said, ‘Okay, let’s take a crack.’ Sort of like seventy years of psychotherapy put into two years.”

    And how long did it take to get it done?

    “Yeah, it took about two years to vomit it up!” he said, laughing.

    jesse dittmar shep gordon 06When I interviewed Joey Kramer about his book, Hit Hard, he said that it was quite cathartic for him. I asked if that was the same for Gordon.

    “Yeah, very much so. That’s what I meant by ‘psychotherapy.’ It really made me be introspective and find a lot of stuff about myself. Hopefully, some people can use it to help them.”

    And the feedback from readers about the book has been enormous.

    “Yeah, quite a bit. Sort of like you. They read it and ‘it really touched me and I’d like to talk about it.’ It’s had an impact.”

    Many authors, when setting out to write about themselves, are surprised by the raw emotions and memories that are unearthed during the process. Shep Gordon was no exception.

    “I got a much deeper appreciation of my father and how much of my life was sort of following in his footsteps. Things that I didn’t really realize beforehand but by writing the book I came to realize that he really sacrificed a lot to raise me and I sacrifice a lot to do what I do and never knowing why I was doing it.

    “My dad died while I was fairly young and my mom passed away about twenty-five years ago. I think my dad was about thirty years ago, thirty five years ago. TheyEverythingKnoxvilleLogoEdited each got to about seventy. I’m seventy-one. I think I was thirty-five when he passed away. Something like that.”

    One of the many surprises in They Call Me Supermensch is learning that none other than Jimi Hendrix is the reason why Shep got into the artist management business.

    “Yeah, in sort of a left-handed way but he introduced me to Alice Cooper. I was sitting around with him and the Chamber Brothers. They asked me what I was doing for a living and nothing I was doing was legal. Anthony Bourdain said that I was a ‘pharmaceutical salesman’. They were great customers but they wanted to know what did I do that was legitimate. I didn’t really do anything and Jimi said, ‘Are you Jewish?’ And I am and I answered him honestly and he said, ‘You should be a manager.’

    “The Chamber Brothers were sitting there – a couple of them – Willie and Lester – and they said that they had a band from Phoenix living in their basement that needed a manager – Alice Cooper. And that’s how it started some forty-odd years ago.”

    When I asked if he hung out with Hendrix anymore after that, Gordon replied:

    “Not a lot. He was on the road a lot. Doing a lot of recording. Going over to London. So not a whole lot. Chamber Brothers were there a lot so we hung a lot more. And Janis Joplin was there. She ended up dying there. So, she was around.

    “But everybody came in and out. I had Pink Floyd, Creedence Clearwater Revival, and Bob Dylan. Everybody. It was sort of the rock and roll hangout.”

    The place Shep is referring to is the legendary Landmark Motor Hotel. Notorious for being Mecca for artists in the early days of classic rock, it is also where Janis Joplin passed away.

    Typical of any major writing project, there are things that are planned to be included in the work that, for whatever reason, just doesn’t make the final cut due to having second thoughts about their importance or reader interest. Supermensch was no exception for Shep.

    “Yeah, I think a lot of the things that didn’t make the cut were – and another part of the effect of writing the book had on me – was maybe some of the things I was holding as anger I had let go. When I saw them in front of me, I realized it was a petty anger and let it go.

    “And, then, there were a few things that Legal cut out of the book that I can’t actually talk about; people who are still living I felt needed to be exposed but I just couldn’t do it legally. It’s part of the reality of living in our world.”

    I’m a huge Alice Cooper fan and have been since I was around eleven or twelve years old. I say that I was a fan then. I think that it was actually a scared and morbid fascination with all the Cooper did in those early days to push the envelope rock performance. All that said, I asked Gordon what the least known or understood thing was about Alice.

    “What a good lyricist he is. I would say that he gets the least amount of credit for that. He’s really a great lyricist. It comes to him really fast. It’s amazing. I’ve never seen anybody write as fast as him.”

    Readers will be fascinated in reading about all the huge names Shep knew on a personal level and/or managed.  It reads like a Hollywood “Who’s Who” - people like Groucho Marx, Salvador Dali, and the Dali Lama. As a kid growing up in New York, knowing and working with the rich and/or famous was never in his plans.

    “It was never on my radar screen at all which I think helped me in the beginning stages of my career because it was never on my radar screen at all. As I became immersed in my business, I found myself becoming more and more of a groupie. I’m really attracted to power and wealth. I think part of it is the fool’s gold aspect of it. But part of it is most of the people who get above the crowd got there for some reason. So, they become real interesting personalities and a lot of them I always felt that I could learn a lot from.

    “But I definitely, in my younger years, could not care less about celebrity. I’m definitely a victim of the times because now I see myself always attracted to fame and power.”

    When I shared that my experience in interviewing celebrities has pretty much been a positive one, Shep added:

    “We’re all just people. In the end, we’re all just people. It doesn’t matter who you are. The same thing happens in a super market. Seventy percent of the people checking you out are nice and thirty percent are, ‘What did I ever do to bother you?’ It’s a human condition more than an entertainer’s condition.

    “I think entertainers have a different set of things where they’re different. The way they touch and feel the world is different than a lot of people because, usually, if they’re successful, they have people who touch the world for them. So that part, maybe, becomes a little different. A little different sense of reality.

    “But, as far as the basic core of humans, they all wipe their ass . . . if they’re still fortunate enough to be able to do it,” Gordon said with his trademark laugh.

    I often ask people in interviews how they would fix the music business if they were made Music Czar – assuming that it needs fixing. Gordon’s response surprised me.

    “Nah, I don’t think it needs fixing. It is what it is. The Grammy show will probably be the most watched show in the history of the Grammy’s, like it is every year.

    “Part of music is if the old people like it, the young people don’t and if the young people like it, the old people won’t. What needs fixing in an art form is a very qualitative question. It’s in the eyes of the beholder . . . in my opinion. I know there’s a wide held belief that music is not as good, it’s not as successful. I don’t feel qualified to say that.

    “I went to see the play, Hamilton. It was just as valid as a Broadway play. It had songs that I wouldn’t call a song. But to my kids, those are songs. One of the main raps that I hear from fellow people in the business my age is that there’s no more songs. It depends on how you define a song. There’s no more songs as we know them. That’s sort of my feeling. It’s sort of a young people’s game to vent and an old people’s game to enjoy.”

    Shep Gordon is primarily known for being an artist manager representing not only Alice Cooper but also Anne Murray, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, and others. However, many readers will be surprised to learn that he is also credited for making the celebrity chef world what it is today. When I asked what the differences or similarities are between the music and culinary worlds, Gordon said:

    “I think they’re almost exactly the same. In the end, they all do the same. The culinary art form is so developed. It’s great artists the same way that I think Alice is a great artist. I think Emeril Lagasse is a great artist on many levels.

    “For Alice it’s lyric writing. For Emeril, it’s recipe writing. For Alice, it’s on the stage. For Emeril, it’s in front of the camera. They both have to play their hits all the time. If Alice does a concert and doesn’t do “School’s Out,” his audience would be really disappointed. If Emeril didn’t do some Cajun dishes, his audience would be really disappointed.

    “They also have to invent new stuff. If Alice didn’t write new material, he’d become a thing of the past. Same thing with Emeril. Gotta write new recipes. They both spend the afternoon in their street clothes. Show time comes, Alice puts on his uniform and Emeril puts on his whites. Alice gets the band together and says, ‘You know, last night, I’d like to hear the guitar part here a little longer; maybe you could hold the bass down there and I’m going to do one lyric.’ Emeril gets the chefs together and goes, ‘You know, guys, last night there was little salt in that fish and I really want that potato cooked another thirty seconds.’ And, then, the show begins. Alice hits the stage. Emeril hits the kitchen and they, hopefully, make their customers happy and go home. You know, it’s really the same kind of thing.

    “What the chefs didn’t have when I got started was any way to touch their fans outside their kitchens. So, think about if there weren’t record players, radio stations, or arenas, Michael Jackson would be a wandering minstrel. Just like Emeril had one restaurant. It was the invention of the record player and radio and TV and all these outlets that allowed them to touch their audiences. T-shirts with their names on it. That’s what I did for the chefs. All they had was one restaurant.

    “I got the TV Food Network on the air and I got them selling pots and pans and doing videos of their cooking and selling cookbooks – ways that an Emeril Lagasse fan didn’t have to be in a hundred seat restaurant to be a fan and to live part of the experience. He sells spices. He can make his recipes.

    “And now they’re starting to get remuneration at the level of rock stars. Emeril gets three or four hundred thousand dollars some nights to do big parties just like U2 gets paid fortunes to do their thing. Emeril is making a fortune on QVC just like the artists are making their money.

    “So, to me, it was very obvious. They were great artists just like musical artists. They just happen to be culinary artists. They did exactly the same thing. They just didn’t have a way to touch their audience.”

    And what does Shep hope people take away from the movie and book?

    “My first reaction to the question is that I don’t really care. The movie wasn’t my thing. It was Mike Meyers. I never really did it for a reaction. The book, I think more personally, I hope that people take away the fact: live your life. You’re gonna die. Everybody’s gonna die. Live your life and be proud of what you do. You can do it the right way and be successful and be happy. I hope that comes through.”

    As for what is on Gordon’s work radar for the next year or so, he says:

    “I don’t really know. I’ve never really been a planner. I know I’m going to continue with Alice. It’s like a body part. He’s at a point in his life where he really is enjoying being on stage. He loves his band. I think he’s doing a hundred and ten dates this year.

    “Next year I think that we’re doing some things with the Hollywood Vampires, which has been a lot of fun to put together and work on. I just see a lot of charity stuff and projects. I’m starting to do some talks. I’ll be speaking in Orlando and speaking up in Carmel. It’s nice. It gives me a chance to interact with the audience and let them ask questions about the book. I feel very comfortable in giving answers.”

    As we wrapped up our chat, I asked Shep Gordon what I often ask people who have been in the business for a long time like he has. How does he want to be remembered and what does he hope his legacy is?

    “No idea. That he was a good cook and a great grandpa. I loved people. I sorta do what I do for me so I don’t really think about things in those terms. I just hope that it’s not a big funeral that people have to travel to.”

    If you haven’t done so already, you will definitely want to order Shep’s book, They Call Me Supermensch. Heck, while you’re at it, order Mike Meyers’ Supermensch. Both are well worth the investment and are fascinating to devour.

    After you’ve read the book, try to start living life with “coupons” (you’ll know what that means when you read the book).

Featured Photo

Jim Keltner.Broken Glass DW

Our Featured Photo by Boomerocity friend and famed rock photographer, Rob Shanahan (robshanahan.com), is is a bit different from past featured photos. 

 

 

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