Damon Johnson Talks About New Solo Album
April 13, 2010
The recording and mixing of Damon Johnson’s new solo acoustic album, Release, has been completed. The exact date of it’s availability will be updated in our news section at www.damonjohnson.com. In advance of the album’s release, Damon talked at length about the songs, the friends that helped, and the entire process:
“I’m sitting in the control room at my buddy Meredith Lyemance’s studio, Kensington Road in Birmingham, wrapping up the mixes to the album with Kelly. What started as simply a stripped down singer-songwriter compilation has turned into my proudest musical moment to date. For anyone that knows me, that’s a bold statement; certainly with my fondness for many songs in the Brother Cane catalog as well as the Slave To The System and Whiskey Falls albums. Release completes a period of life, love, work, and growth for me that has certainly been the greatest time in my career so far.
The bulk of these songs have been written over the entire span of the past 10 years. “Leave It All Behind”, “Satellites”, and “Better Days Willl Come At Last” were all written within days of each other all the way back in 2000 (or was it 2001?). The title track, “Release (Hard Rain Comin’)”, I wrote with my longtime Birmingham friend Milton Davis the following year. Our original demo is on a CD I made for Gabriel when he was just a baby to listen to when he’s going to sleep at night. The lyrics have been a source of ongoing inspiration for me, which is a unique feeling to have about a song you yourself wrote the lyrics for. The meaning of the word “release” can be applied to so many things, and it has sprinkled lots of relationships and decisions I’ve made over the last decade.
“Pontiac” may single-handedly be responsible for me making this album at all. It’s a song I wrote in 2008 with the great Scott Brewer, aka Chris Scott, and I’ve greatly enjoyed performing it at my solo acoustic gigs and a handful of Whiskey Falls shows. For my friends and family that have known me since my high school days, the lyrics are very honest. I’ll never forget my Dad’s reaction the first time I played him “Pontiac” on my acoustic guitar; there was no doubt it’s a special song.
As flattering as it was to have a couple of my songs recorded by artists as famous as Santana and Stevie Nicks, I’ve always felt that some of the meaning of the lyrics was lost in those interpretations. Humbly, Release contains my own versions of “Everyday” and “Just Feel Better”, if nothing else than to share my own expression of them.
A couple of years ago I met Ricky Byrd. “New York City Ricky” played guitar for Joan Jett for many years and is a monster writer, singer, and guitar player. He’s steeped in all the great Stax Records and other R&B and soul artists, and from our very first conversation we found common ground in our admiration for Steve Earle, Lucinda Williams, Al Green, and Sam Cooke. We got together to write some songs that might be right for Whiskey Falls, and two of those are “She’s All That (And More)” and “Because Our Love’s That Strong”. I’m a huge fan of both of these songs, and Buck Johnson’s string arrangement and background vocals helped take “Because Our Love’s…” into the stratosphere.
I will never spend too much time with Kelly Gray. His mixes are each like a painting, with technicolor splashes throughout and lots of different characters in it. Kelly is a genius and an artist in every sense of the word, and it is an honor and a privilege to write and work with him. In everything musical he does, he simply insists on the truth. That’s a challenging place to go sometimes. “Dayton, Ohio” is the truth.
How can I put into words how blown away I am at the talent, confidence, and swagger of my daughter, Sarah? A handful of my fans have seen her perform with me at couple of shows, but her performances on this album are stunning. The thing you must understand about Sarah is that she sings with absolutely no ego. All of us want to sing like someone else, or at least phrase words like another singer that has influenced us…maybe too much. Sarah sings like she talks, like a female Tom Petty. And she’s totally uninhibited to be as southern as she absolutely is. It was my idea for her to duet with me on “Better Days Will Come At Last”, because it was a 6 year old Sarah that inspired the lyric in the first place. It was Lynda’s idea that Sarah and I record Shelby Lynne’s fantastic “Where I’m From”, and it’s the perfect song in lieu of our upcoming move to Nashville. Sarah, whatever “it” is, you have it. In truckloads.
“Generation Landslide” is my favorite Alice Cooper song of his entire career. It was a good day when I came up with the idea to cut my own version of it, more than anything as a tip of the hat to Coop in gratitude for all he’s done for me. And it was an even better day with I called to ask him if he’d play harmonica on my track and he quickly said, “of course”. Meredith and I flew to Phoenix and tracked Alice in his studio in his house, and he totally blew our minds by performing the harmonica part, literally, note-for-note the way he did on the Billion Dollar Babies album in 1973. And to top it off, he graciously sang the 2nd chorus with me. As my buddy Audley says, “That’s hot!”
In 2000, Dust was released to little fanfare and gave me the launch pad for what has become a real love for performing acoustically. Gene Pledger played percussion on that disc with me, and performed at subsequent live dates sprinkled around the calendar over the next few years. Geno, my roommate while I was in college and drummer in our band Headline, brings his “rhythm pocket” to several songs on Release.
Huge thanks go to Meredith and his engineer and my new buddy, Gary McKinney. Gary rocked the drums on “Generation Landslide” and “Dayton, Ohio” and spent countless hours with me recording my acoustic and vocal. Meredith has been my friend for many years and told me he’d clear the schedule in his Kensington Road Studio whenever I wanted to come and record. In January, I took him up on it, and he could not possibly have been more generous, supportive, and excited about me working there.
I often get asked questions like, “What’s up with Whiskey Falls and Slave To The System?”, and “How long are you going to tour with Alice?”, and “When is Brother Cane gonna tour again?”. The answer to all of those is, “I don’t know.” But what I do know is that I’m going to write more songs in the next 20 years than I have in the past 20…because it’s what I do. And I love it.”