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INTERVIEW: DAMON JOHNSON – June 2016

What do bands like Brother Cane, Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy and performers like Sammy Hagar ,John Waite, and Faith Hill have in common?  One thing – Damon Johnson.  This guy has graced recordings and stage with these larger than life performers and more.  Now he hits the world with his first rocking EP, Echo.  Deviating from his solo acoustic discs, he went into the studio and unleashed five killer rockers that encompass who Damon is as a guitarist, song writer, and vocalist.  We were able to snag some time from Damon to discuss Echo and so much more…

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Toddstar: Damon – thank you so much. I appreciate you taking time out of your schedule for me today.

Damon: It’s my pleasure, Todd. Seriously, thanks for giving me some of your time, man. It’s good to talk to you.

Toddstar: Let’s talk about one of the biggest things I have heard in a while, man. Echo – this EP came out of nowhere and it just rocks. This thing is just killer from top to bottom.

Damon: Thank you, brother. It makes me feel awesome. Thank you very much.

Toddstar: You’ve been a power to reckon with for years going back to the days of Brother Cane. I can proudly say I still own my original copy of that. How was it it took this long for Damon Johnson to throw his name and his voice on something and just throw it out there for the world to listen to?

Damon: There’s definitely I think some reasons behind that. Man, I was so proud of what we accomplished in Brother Cane. In a lot of ways when we called it a day in 2000, in some ways we kind of felt like it just never really happened. We weren’t able to sell that many records, we weren’t selling concert tickets. We just really devoted our lives to this thing for seven or eight years and we just felt like, “Man, it’s not really growing.” I think in a way, man, I certainly admit that I felt a little bit like, “Well, hey, maybe that was my shot. Maybe it just wasn’t meant to be. I had a great time, I’m going to go back to school, I’ll go do something else.” It really wasn’t until about four years later that I got the call to audition for Alice Cooper that I guess my confidence started to rebuild and I started getting thrown back into it. Roll the clock forward to where we are now. Now I’m a member of Thin Lizzy, I’m a member of Black Star Riders. I’ve always been writing. I’ve never really stopped writing. The timing was just right. The creative fulfillment of being a part of something like Black Star Riders has really kind of gotten those muscles back in shape… my songwriting muscles. I’ve been doing lots of singing for sure over the last ten to twelve years. A lot of it is backup, background vocals, but some solo acoustic stuff as well that’s been a lot of fun. I just felt like the time was right, man. Your reaction to the songs is very, very flattering. It’s an incredible experience that I’ve been getting a lot of that. It’s very gratifying and I certainly want to continue to do this in between my schedule with the other bands.

Toddstar: Black Star Riders is another killer project. Speaking of Black Star Riders and killer, you guys were wrapping up the album according to what I heard. That’s when Nick said, “You got anything laying around you want to put down?” Damon, you’ve been writing forever. You’ve got to have more than this, just these five songs. What made these five songs stand out to you at this point to put these down?

Damon: Well, it was a collaborative process in every level working with Nick Raskulinecz. Very much like we did on the Black Star Riders album, I brought in, I don’t know, ten or twelve songs and Nick said, “Play me everything. Let me hear what you got.” I let him pick. I let him go, “You know what? These are the five that we’re going to focus on.” I knew I was going to do an EP. Listen, man, I have funded this whole thing myself. If you look on the small print on the back of the disc, man, it says Double Dragon Records. That’s my record company. That’s the other fun part, man. Really the only person I had to really collaborate with was Nick. I haven’t had to answer to an A&R guy or a label president or a manager or anybody saying, “Oh, you got to do this, you got to do that.” I just knew that if Nick liked the song and felt like it was an avenue worth pursuing, man, that was the only endorsement I needed. I thought he did a great job. I’m very pleased with the five songs he picked and I think we did a great job on all of them, man. The sound, the arrangements, certainly the mixes that he did, man. They all kick ass, so I couldn’t be happier.

Toddstar: As someone who couldn’t stop listening to it, it took me awhile to break away from it to actually write my review. It just jars you. The band used on it is real tight as well. I mean, you got a great drummer in Jarred Pope and bass player, Tony Nagy. How’d you get those guys to come along on this project with you?

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Damon: Thank you for asking about them. I love those guys and I’m really proud of them. Jarred and I have been friends for quite some time. Jarred played drums in a country band I was in back in 2007-2008 called Whiskey Falls. Two of those band guys were from California and that’s how I met Jarred. He wound up doing some touring with us because Jarred’s from Bakersfield. I always loved his dynamics and just his musical instincts. I used to tell him all the time, especially at sound check, man, because we would just jam all kinds of stuff. I said, “Brother, one day we’re going to get in the studio and we’re going to play some rock. It’s going to be great.” Sure enough, it happened seven years later. He lives in Nashville now as well, so that made it convenient. We talked earlier about Alice Cooper. My great friend, Chuck Garric, who’s been the bass player in Alice for well over a decade now, he is the one that recommended Tony Nagy to me. Tony is a monster, monster talent. I just can’t properly quantify how special this guy’s skills are. All kinds of styles, all kinds of genres. Man, to have he and Jarred come in and have so much enthusiasm for the songs that I had brought to the table, it was very flattering. Certainly with Nick’s guidance, he got great performances out the guys. I know they’re really proud of the album as well. It’s always an honor for me to talk about them and the contributions that they have brought.

Toddstar: Very cool. It’s good to see a frontman tipping his hat to the guys that help support him along the way as well.

Damon: Well, thank you, man. Listen, I’ve been where they are. In some ways, I’m still where they are. I’m a member of Thin Lizzy, but Thin Lizzy’s not my band. That’s Scott’s thing. I mean, Scott’s been there for decades. I’m certainly excited about it and I’m a part of it and my opinion matters and certainly my musical contributions matter. Scott and Alice Cooper both always have made me feel like, “Hey, man, this is your band as much as it is mine.” I absolutely want my guys to feel that way all the time every time.

Toddstar: That’s an awesome insight. You mention Alice, you mention Scott. As a guy who started a band, you had Brother Cane and you have had your other little projects along the way, what was it like to be able to step into those legendary bands and put your own stamp on classic tracks?

Damon: It was truly an honor. Both have been the experiences of a lifetime. I could have never imagined that that would happen to me when… ever. I was going to say when I was younger, but heck man, even when I was in my thirties, you couldn’t have told me I’d be playing with Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy. I think one interesting thing about it is that I was able to really let my entire internal energy really be about the music. I wasn’t having to make business decisions. I wasn’t having to deal with the label or deal with management or anything, man. Just show up and play these amazing songs and work with these great artists that have really built a legacy in their own career. The fact that Alice as well as Scott have been so committed to forward progress, growing the fan base, continuing to work and continue to express themselves; I mean, I think those are great role models for me and for any other musician. On top of that, they both are just incredibly great people. Very gracious when they meet the fans and talk with people. It’s just been amazing, man. If those guys can be cool and not have ego problems, then what have I got to say, man? You’re never going to have any problem out of me if Alice Cooper can go to the movie theater and get a box of popcorn and sign all of his CDs. What more great example can you get than that? It’s been very fulfilling for me and truly an honor. I mean, I hate to sound like a broken record, but I don’t know how else to say it, man. It’s just been an honor.

Toddstar: Again, I’ve been lucky enough to be a fan of yours for a long time. I saw Brother Cane back in the day and I saw your last show with Cooper in Detroit. I mean, I’ve followed you a long time, Damon.

Damon: Oh, that’s fantastic, man. You were there in Detroit for that last show?

Toddstar: Yeah. It was at Pine Knob back in 2011.

Damon: Yeah, brother. You saw me get the pie in the face at the end of the show.

Toddstar: Yeah. It’s a lot of fun to watch you do these different projects. That said, you’ve got Echo out there and I know you’ve got so many other things in the fire, but how long do we have to wait for more music? I mean, that can’t be the only five songs you guys cut. There’s got to be stuff laying around that’s just begging to be heard by the fans.

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Damon: Well, it was indeed the only five that we cut, but there’s absolutely a big bag of songs kind of ready to go. What I’ve been doing in the year since we tracked Echo is continuing to compile more music. It’s a great place I find myself really being in a creative setting with Black Star Riders. Ricky Warwick and I work so great together and we’ve written the bulk of the songs over the first two albums and certainly the upcoming record as well. It’s really kept those juices flowing. I’m always putting stuff into my phone or my computer, little ideas and lyrics and whatever. In a perfect world, I would almost predict that I’d be able to get back into the studio with Nick possibly this fall sometime. The other thing about Nick is obviously, man, the guy is a world class, Grammy winning, rock producer. Sometimes I’m at the mercy of his schedule. I definitely want to do the next one with Nick as well, you know what I mean? I felt like we really caught some lightning in a bottle in this first EP. I think if I could have my way about it, I’d love to do another five with Nick, then combine the two groups of five songs and look to get some proper distribution. Get a proper label involved. Listen, man, I feel like you do. I think these songs are legit. I think there’s a couple songs – there’s no reason they couldn’t even be on the radio. I certainly don’t have the infrastructure here at my house to bankroll something like that, but I also know there’s some great partners out there that if they feel like the music the same way that I do, we could partner up and do some great things.

Toddstar: The history of Damon Johnson – you’ve been doing this forever, man. What or who still motivates you to get in the studio for months on end or get on the road for months on end? You’re leaving family and friends behind and just doing what you love – what still motivates you to get out there and do it day in and day out?

Damon: Great question. My answer to that today would literally be it’s my family. My family motivates me to do that. For all of the great bands I’ve been a part of and the great music I’ve been a part of, I think the thing I’ve been the most fortunate is that my wife and my partner, Linda, is as big of a music fan as you and I are. Over the years, she has seen the ups and downs that my career has taken. I think she kind of feels this wave of momentum that’s happening right now and she sees it. I guess in a way, I could almost call her a coach. She’s standing there going, “Okay, look. You got to get in there. We got to score more touchdowns. Let’s make it happen.” To have her encouragement… she was fully onboard with this idea about making a solo record. She certainly recognized what a special talent Nick Raskulinecz is. She knows and loves the guys in my solo band and she has seen how productive it’s also been to be a part of Black Star Riders. She knows. I mean, we’ve been together for almost twenty years now. She knows that it hasn’t always been this way. While we got all these good things happening, we know that we need to continue to work hard and take advantage of this momentum and this opportunity. I think that’s my legit answer to your question. She and our kids, man, they really motivate me to keep doing this. I certainly love music and they love the music. I’m in a fortunate situation to have their support like that.

Toddstar: Damon, you’ve played played with arguably some of the biggest people in music… Cooper, Thin Lizzy, Sammy Hagar, even Faith Hill. You’ve done stuff with Nugent, Skid Row, Santana. Who’s out there that is on your wish list to do something with that maybe you just haven’t been able to cross that path yet?

Damon: Yeah, man, there’s always a couple. I mean, there’s always other people, even in other genres that I’d love to work with. I’m a big Sting fan. I actually met Sting in Las Vegas about five years ago. There’s a great YouTube clip of he and I playing with Steven Tyler. We played “Sweet Emotion” with him in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand. I had ten minutes with Sting just to talk. He’s a hero. Clearly, man, the guy doesn’t need my help to do anything, but it would be incredible, man, to get in a room with him with a couple of acoustic guitars and create something and go in the studio and record it. Heck, I’d even love to have him in the studio producing something. He’s so special. I’m a big fan of a lot of singer-songwriters. There’s a crop of guys that are just so talented now and people like Jason Isbell, certainly Ryan Adams. I’m a big Ray LaMontagne fan. I probably get more inspiration now at this point in my life from these singer-songwriters than I do a particularly guitar player anymore. My heroes are always going to be my heroes. The same guys – Jimmy Page and Joe Perry and all the Skynyrd guys and Scott Gorham and Gary Moore. I feel like the reason all of this great music happens is always because of a great song. These opportunities to work with some of the people that you mentioned, they just kind of happened. It’s not like I was on the phone or the email soliciting for that. These opportunities just presented themselves. You never know, man. You never know what the future holds. God, I’d love to work with Bruce Springsteen. As soon as we hang up, I’m going to think of twenty other names.

Toddstar: Well, you mentioned something that piqued my curiosity. I know you’re a busy man, so I want to try and wrap this up for you, but you mentioned sitting down with Sting and doing even something acoustic. Your first two solo releases were acoustic. Was it any more fulfilling or just a different sensation actually going in and doing a plugged in rock record versus doing something acoustic?

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Damon: It was incredibly fun and incredibly exciting for me to make this electric record. Again, I had done so little of that since the demise of Brother Cane. I did an Alice Cooper album; that was a lot of fun. I made that Slave to the System album, which was great. I didn’t play a lot of guitar on that, but I certainly sang the bulk of it and wrote the bulk of it with Kelly. Yeah, man. In a way, I just felt like making these five songs on Echo, it was definitely kind of a throwback to the energy I had when I was in Brother Cane and so involved in every song and any arrangements and in working with the rhythm section and going, “Hey, man, what if we go to half-time here going into this third verse?” or whatever, man. I just felt like it was this platform to indulge my entire musical brain where I’m at at this point in my life. I don’t know, man. I knew the songs were good and of course, having Nick and the guys involved in the studio, I knew that was going to be great. Man, I wasn’t really expecting to get this reaction. I literally kind of put it out for myself. I made it for myself and in some ways, for my own enjoyment. Getting this response to the Echo EP, man, all it does is fuel me that much more. It just makes me want to create more and more of it. I know what it’s like to kind of lose your way, get a little cloudy as to where you’re headed or what your vision is for the future. I don’t know that I would ever get to that place ever again. I think now Echo has started this path. It’s just broadened my path and I’m going to be working hard, man, for the next decade or two. It’s really given me a focus and a reason, a real motivation to keep making more solo music.

Toddstar: Awesome. Well, again, Damon, I can’t tell you how honored I am to have had this time speaking with you as a fan of your music. I can’t wait ’til we can hopefully get you up in the Detroit area on a stage soon.

Damon: Todd, it’s been such a pleasure talking to you, man. Detroit is a really special town to me. That’s where Linda and I met. Her family is from Detroit. We met there and we’re up there at least a couple times a year to visit her extended family. I can’t play in Detroit soon enough, man. I really hope to get back there really soon with either Black Star Riders or with my solo stuff. When I’m there, Todd, you got to make sure you come, man. Let’s say hello and visit for a minute.

Toddstar: We’ll certainly do that, brother.

Damon: Great to talk to you, my friend.

Toddstar: Great to talk to you, Damon. Hopefully we’ll do so again soon.

Damon: Count on it, man.

 

DAMON JOHNSON LINKS:

OFFICIAL SITE

FACEBOOK

TWITTER

ECHO – ITUNES

Category: Interviews

About the Author ()

ToddStar - that's me... just a rocking accountant who had dreams of being a rock star. I get to do the next best thing to rocking the globe - I get to take pictures of the lucky ones that do. I love to shoot all genres of music and different types of performers. If it is related to music, I love to photograph it. I get to shoot and hang with not only some of my friends and idols, but some of the coolest people around today.

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