INTERVIEW WITH BLACK STAR RIDERS GUITARIST AND EX-BROTHER CANE SINGER/GUITARIST DAMON JOHNSON
Date: August 15, 2018
Interviewer: Tyson Briden
JUST THE OTHER NIGHT, A GOOD FRIEND OF MY WIFE CAME BY TO HANG OUT. NOW MY WIFE’S FRIEND IS VERY MUCH IN TUNE TO WHAT’S HAPPENING IN MUSIC. LIKE ME, IT’S THE BASIS OF PRIMARILY HER WHOLE EXISTENCE. AS WE WERE CONVERSING ON MY DECK, I ASKED HER A VERY RELEVANT QUESTION THAT PERTAINS TO THIS INTERVIEW. I ASKED HER, “IF THERE WAS ANY ONE MUSICIAN YOU’D LIKE TO TALK TO OR INTERVIEW, WHO WOULD IT BE? NOW, IT DOESN’T NECESSARILY HAVE TO BE A BIG STAR EITHER, BUT SOMEONE YOU RESPECT AND ADMIRE AS AN ALL-AROUND MUSICAL INFLUENCE!” SHE THOUGHT ABOUT IT FOR A SECOND AND REPLIED, “THAT’S A TOUGH ONE. I GUESS IF THERE WAS ANYBODY IT WOULD BE NORAH JONES!” “COOL! THAT’S A GREAT ANSWER!” NOW I AM NOT FAMILIAR WITH NORAH JONES. I KNOW THE NAME BUT CAN’T SAY I KNOW HER MUSIC. REGARDLESS, IT WAS MY WAY OF GETTING TO WHAT I WANTED TO TALK ABOUT. MY EXCITEMENT WAS REALLY PERTAINING TO MY LATEST INTERVIEW WITH FORMER BROTHER CANE SINGER/GUITARIST AND CURRENT BLACK STAR RIDERS GUITARIST DAMON JOHNSON.
NOW, THIS INTERVIEW WAS SOMETHING THAT I HAVE BEEN WANTING TO DO FOR QUITE SOME TIME NOW. THIS WAS THE ULTIMATE INTERVIEW FOR ME. IT WAS THROUGH THE HELP OF MARK STRIGL, WHO HAS A WEBSITE CALLED ‘TALKING METAL.’ MARK IS A LONG-TIME FRIEND OF DAMON JOHNSON WHO THEN LED ME TO DAMON’S GUY BEN, WHO IN TURN MADE THIS ALL HAPPEN.
MY RELATIONSHIP WITH DAMON JOHNSON GOES BACK SOME 20 YEARS. I WAS IN MY EARLY TWENTIES WHEN I FIRST CAME UPON DAMON JOHNSON AND BROTHER CANE. YOU SEE, THERE WAS SOMETHING IN DAMON THAT I WAS REALLY DRAWN TO. THERE AREN’T TOO MANY GUYS THAT ARE THE TOTAL PACKAGE — LEAD GUITARIST, SINGER AND SONGWRITER. REALLY THERE’S ONLY A FEW OTHERS THAT COME TO MIND… DAVE MENIKETTI, TOM KEIFER, BUTCH WALKER!
MY FIRST MEETING WITH DAMON WAS AT LEE’S PALACE IN TORONTO BACK IN 1996. IT WAS IN A SMALL BACKSTAGE TYPE ROOM, PROBABLY THE SIZE OF A LARGE BATHROOM WHERE WE WOULD HAVE OUR FIRST CONVERSATION. I WAS VERY NERVOUS WHEN I BLURTED OUT TO DAMON, “HEY, I WAS LOOKING AT THE FIRST EVERY MOTHER’S NIGHTMARE CD AND A DAMON JOHNSON IS LISTED ON THE SONGWRITING CREDITS OF THE ‘SONG BAD ON LOVE.’ IS THAT YOU?” DAMON QUICKLY SMILED AND IN HIS GREAT SOUTHERN ACCENT REPLIED, “YEAH MAN. THAT’S ME” “I THOUGHT SO. WHAT PART OF THE SONG DID YOU WRITE?” DAMON THOUGHT ABOUT IT AND QUICKLY EXPLAINED. PLEASE UNDERSTAND THIS WAS MY FIRST MEETING WITH ANY TYPE OF RECORDING MUSICIAN SO I WAS REALLY TRYING TO MUSTER UP THE BEST POSSIBLE, OBSCURE QUESTION I COULD TO LOOK COOL IN THE EYES OF MY HERO. I WAS OF COURSE A HUGE MUSIC FAN FOR MANY YEARS PRIOR, BUT HAD NEVER GOTTEN ANYWHERE CLOSE TO ANYONE I ADMIRED.
SO AS THE YEARS HAVE PAST, DAMON AND I WOULD RUN INTO EACH OTHER OCCASIONALLY. FROM THAT FIRST MEETING THOUGH, IT WAS OBVIOUS TO ME OF WHAT A GREAT, AUTHENTIC PERSON DAMON TRULY IS. DAMON WAS ALWAYS GRACIOUS ENOUGH TO HAVE A CONVERSATION WITH ME NO MATTER WHAT HE HAD GOING ON. I THINK AS YOU READ THIS INTERVIEW, YOU WILL UNDERSTAND WHAT I AM TALKING ABOUT. THIS WAS A REAL HONOR FOR ME TO GET TO SIT AND TALK WITH SOMEONE I TRULY ADMIRE. AS USUAL DAMON WAS HIS PERSONAL, UPBEAT AND FRIENDLY SELF. TO BE HONEST, YOU MAY THINK TO YOURSELF AS YOU READ, THAT POSSIBLY THIS IS LESS OF AN INTERVIEW, BUT MORE TWO OLD FRIENDS CATCHING UP. TO ME, THAT MAY BE, BUT YOU DECIDE FOR YOURSELF. THANK YOU DAMON JOHNSON, I TRULY RESPECT ALL YOU HAVE ACHIEVED AND I LOOK FORWARD TO THE FUTURE.
Sleaze Roxx: Damon good to talk to you. I’m going to start by talking about your new album ‘Memoirs Of An Uprising’ that will be out this coming November right?
Damon Johnson: Yeah. November 9th. It’s always a daunting proposition to self-release your own record and to set a release date. It puts the pressure on all kinds of the behind the scenes stuff. The biggest challenge for me has just been trying to schedule things outside of my other commitments — obviously Black Star Riders. Ricky [Warwick] and I are doing a Warwick/Johnson tour starting the first week of September. I feel like I’m kind of under the gun right now just to get everything done. It’s all looking good. I can’t wait to get this music out.
Sleaze Roxx: You’re always busy man!
Damon Johnson: Yeah, pretty busy. That’s the thing. I’ve said this in a couple of interviews before, but when I was younger and I was a junkie for reading all the music magazines about the musicians, songwriters and guitar players that I looked up to, they never talked about stuff like how much hard work it was. It always looked like a lot of fun. Just being onstage. The lights and the excitement. That’s just a small part of it as we know now after we’ve done it for decades as an occupation. As you know Tyson, I’m a family man. I have kids and a wife that I’m crazy about. They’re really my biggest priority above any music related stuff. It’s definitely an effort to balance all of that. So far, so good in pulling it off!
Sleaze Roxx: In terms of the title of the album, what was the premise behind ‘Memoirs Of An Uprising’?
Damon Johnson: It was a group of songs that I started putting together over the last year and a half. They all had a theme. Almost like a story of the challenges that I think we all go through at certain points in our lives. Just kind of struggling with our own insecurities and trying to make good decisions about what path to take in life. What partner you decide that want to spend your life with. I know that all sounds like some gravity for a rock record, but its interesting man! It’s like, sometimes I feel like every kind of rock n’ roll song has been written by the generations of great bands that came before us. I think I started thinking about it from the perspective that the only thing that really hasn’t been said is my own truth. Things that I’ve experienced in my life. More than any record I’ve ever been a part of Tyson, I feel like this new album is just loaded with my own truth. It made it, I don’t want to say ‘easy’ to write these songs because I think that would be disrespectful [laughs]. Songwriting is never easy, but I definitely had something to say. For the first time ever, it was fearlessness as a lyricist, for me to kind of put these songs together. I collaborated with an old friend that you might remember… Do you remember the project I put out a few years ago called “The Motorbelly”?
Sleaze Roxx: Yep… yep!
Damon Johnson: Yeah, my friend Jim Troglen, aka Johnny Blade… We’ve been friends for a long time and I reached out to him about 18 months ago with this idea. I wanted to get his energy in there. He’s kind of a ‘savant’! You talk about a guy who’s just lives and breathes… He wakes up, hears lyrics and melodies in his head. He’s just one of those artists that have to get it out. Sometimes, he can be a bit overwhelming. He’ll come to you and say, “Hey, I’ve got these ideas!” He talks so fast. Other people will be in the room and say, “Wow that guy’s intense!” I don’t feel that way. I just think, “Oh wow, that guy just got tons of ideas! Let’s collaborate together!” So, we came up with these ten songs man! Then I decided what to call it. It just felt like… It’s that kind of that cliché image of “The Phoenix” rising from the ashes. I didn’t want to go that route, but I did like the idea of a new start or a new beginning. That kind of concept. I don’t know. It just kind of felt sexy man! ‘Memoirs Of An Uprising’! When you hear all ten songs, I think certainly any fan of mine will recognize pretty quickly why this group of songs would be called that. It starts in some chaos, some fear, some struggles, but it kind of works itself out by the end as the protagonist learns a lot about himself and learns about maybe some of the things that get in his way. It feels good man. Maybe a little therapy! A little self-induced therapy! It’s been great. I’m really proud and for someone like yourself Tyson, you’ve been a follower of the stuff I’ve been a part of for a long time. I’m grateful. You and some of the other listeners, I think you’ll feel immediately it’s a special group of songs. If there’s anything to compare it to, it’s a little ‘Wishpool’-esque. Simply in the fact that they are personal stories or at least they started like that. The great thing about songwriting is it may start from a real life event, but by the second verse, you can introduce a new character. There are no rules.
Sleaze Roxx: That is very true. I recall us talking about ‘Wishpool’ outside of Lee’s Palace back in ’97 and I asked about the song “The Truth.” As you’re describing this album, I remember you describing that song to me, saying, “That one is a really deep song. It is very close to my heart!”
Damon Johnson: Yeah… “The Truth”! Thank you for reminding me of that conversation. That record was loaded with a lot of heavy stuff. It’s dark. The new record’s not that dark. There’s actually some humor in there. There’s a lot of fun in there, but if you just read the lyrics, “Oh no!” You kind of just read it, there are some pros, and you’d be like, “Wow! What’s going on right here?” [laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: As an artist, that’s kind of what you want right?
Damon Johnson: I feel that way. I really do. I literally feel like it’s a springboard into the future for things coming ahead. You know, the great thing about Black Star Riders, Tyson, is that it really has ignited my songwriting fire like never before. When Brother Cane called it a day, it was a part of me that felt like maybe that was my shot. That that shot had passed me by. We had a great time, we did some cool stuff, and then as you know I’ve been kind of a sideman for the last 15 years. When we put Black Star Riders together, Ricky and I started writing songs together… He’s such a great writer. He works fast. It just felt great to have a partner that I was on the same page with. Now, Black Star Riders are his lyrics. It’s kind of his story and I think it needs to be that way since he’s the singer. I’ve always believed that whoever is up there at the microphone, they need to believe what they’re singing in the stories that they’re telling. I’ve never had an issue with Ricky handling the lyric writing, but I definitely have been compiling things of my own on my own time. That fire got re-lit, so I’m grateful to Black Star Riders and to Ricky in particular. He’s been a real inspiration for it.
Sleaze Roxx: That was one of the questions I wanted to ask you and since we’re on that topic, I’ll ask. When you’re writing material for Black Star Riders, do you have it set in your mind that you want it to sound Thin Lizzy/Irish-ish? Is that what just comes out or is that something that you have to work on?
Damon Johnson: Tyson, I have to tell you man, it’s been like this right from the beginning. We never… As incredible as this might sound and I get that it might be hard for some people to believe, but we’ve never sat down and gone, “We have to write something that sounds like Thin Lizzy!” Now, we did on the first record because in the beginning it was going to be a Thin Lizzy record. So, there was definitely some cool progressions, some tempos, kind of some drum grooves with the feel with the rhythm section that could have been reminiscent of something from the past. Really and truly, especially on the ‘Killer Instinct’ and ‘Heavy Fire’… Everything Ricky and I sit down and write, the goal was to just try and write a great song period! What winds up happening is, when you take those songs into the band and work it up, the grooves always have a lot of energy. Ricky’s always got so much punk in his background that there’s always a lot of good tempo in the songs. Then when Scott [Gorham] gets to put his trademark thing on the songs… You know, Scott was a massive part of the sound of those records. He may have not been a principle songwriter, but his style and his inflection was a huge part of those records. A massive part! So, you’re going to get some of that. We always take it as a compliment when someone says, ‘Hey man, I love that song “Testify Or Say Goodbye”, but it’s really reminiscent of Thin Lizzy!’ Okay, that’s a compliment and that’s awesome! We never sat down with the intent, here’s this title, “Testify Or Say Goodbye”, how can we make it sound like something Phil [Lynott] would say? How can we make it sound like Gary [Moore]? You know what I mean? It just kind of works out like that! Obviously Ricky being Irish, being from Belfast, Northern Ireland and being such a student of Phil when he was a youngster, Ricky’s got that rich baritone in his voice, similar to Phil. Someone was asking me the other day, “What would it have been like if Black Star Riders had had some kind of typical, screaming, high pitch 80’s rock guy?” That would have been a disaster [laughs]! That would have been terrible.
Sleaze Roxx: Well, I’m glad it didn’t become that! Not that I don’t like that stuff and obviously I do, but for the Black Star Riders, Ricky’s voice is what we’re accustomed to right?
Damon Johnson: Yeah man and Ricky’s incredible. The fans have been incredible. There’s no question that that Thin Lizzy fan base in Europe really deserves a lot of credit for giving the band its start. Two things happened that we were hoping for, one unexpected, but one was the fact that BBC Radio 2 in London started playing our songs on the radio. We never anticipated that ever! We were so fortunate to get some of that airplay. It really helped educate the public about the band quickly right out of the gate. The other thing was the support from the Thin Lizzy fans. I think they were so relieved that we decided to not to release the new music and call it Thin Lizzy. That would have been a mistake. Hey man, it was a great record. There’s some great songs on that debut album. I’m just proud… Proud to be a part of it. Those three records, there’s quality work in there. I’ll stand beside those songs forever man. It’s good work! I’m proud of that!
Sleaze Roxx: Initially, when I heard that you had joined Thin Lizzy, then it became the Black Star Riders, I was so happy for you. For you, that’s the “Perfect Gig”! I thought, “Damon’s doing that. He’s such a huge Thin Lizzy fan!” Having talked to you about Thin Lizzy in the past… I was just so happy for you!
Damon Johnson: [Laughs] Thank you Tyson. Thank you very much man! I certainly have documented it into music history my love of Thin Lizzy. There is no more debate. No one can wonder anymore man! “Damon loves Thin Lizzy” [laughs]! You know? After talking about it for the first twenty years of my career, I get to join the band and then the Black Star Riders thing. It was an honor man! Just to be a little footnote in that great story and the fans have been great! They’ve been really supportive.
Sleaze Roxx: I wanted to come to the show in Buffalo this past spring, but I just couldn’t swing it. I wanted to see the full Black Star Riders show! I was lucky enough that I did get to see you in Oshawa. The awesome thing was that my seats were kind of back a bit and I got to move up to the front for your set, which was even better to catch you guys. There were the people that said, “Who the hell are these guys?”
Damon Johnson: Right, right. Yeah! A lot of people didn’t know who we were.
Sleaze Roxx: It was great to see. I had my “Welfare” shirt on and I was at the front.
Damon Johnson: I saw that shirt [laughs]. I saw that shirt and thought that was crazy. Oh my God! That’s so crazy! Awesome! “The Welfare” and you wore that shirt.
Sleaze Roxx: Did you know that was me?
Damon Johnson: Tyson, I didn’t connect the dots man!
Sleaze Roxx: I didn’t think you did. You looked at it, “Ah that’s cool!” How would you know? Look at all the places you play! Who knows where I am…
Damon Johnson: You know man… Hey listen, thanks for understanding! There’s no question I’ve met a lot of people and talked to a lot of people. I guess the last time you and I spoke face to face was back in the ‘Wishpool’ days or did we run into each other during Alice Cooper?
Sleaze Roxx: It was Alice, that one tour where you came across Ontario. We ran into each other at the Blue Jays game of all things.
Damon Johnson: Okay… Wow! That’s crazy man. Wasn’t Eric Singer the drummer? That was ’06 maybe?
Sleaze Roxx: It was ’06. I remember the Jays played the Angels. I think you guys were cheering for The Angels? Roy Halladay was on the mound for the Jays. I remember stupid shit like that!
Damon Johnson: [Laughs]
Sleaze Roxx: I walked up to you and said, “Hey Damon!” You were just, “What the hell are you doing here?” It was funny!
Damon Johnson: That’s wild man! Well Tyson, I use the world grateful in redundancy. I guess I should work on that! I don’t know the better word than gratitude for any of the people that have been a fan of my music and just been interested in hearing what I’m doing. Whether it be playing guitar in a band or if I’m writing songs and singing. I’m just really excited about the next ten years. I feel like I’ve got a focus. I feel like I’ve got a lot of things to say and I’ve never been more confident in saying that. I really look to a lot of artists now… It’s kind of like role models I guess. People that are the total package. They sing, they play guitar and they write songs. They kind of do their thing. Everybody from Joni Mitchell to Lenny Kravitz. Jack White. Jack I love. My wife is such a big fan. We’ve seen him a few times. We saw him back in the spring in Dallas. I just think if you’ve got some skills and you have something to say, man you can fucking say it. It doesn’t have to be an arena full of people. Maybe it’s 75 people in a little club somewhere, but hey, you can still make an impression on someone’s life. You can still give them something to kind of escape the dull-drums of routine of day to day. Maybe they’ll be a song that they’ll say, “Man, this is my favorite song! You wrote it and you’re singing it! That’s awesome” [laughs].
Sleaze Roxx: Like I said in my review of ‘Birmingham Tonight’, “The Road” is going to be my song when I pass! It will be played at my funeral!
Damon Johnson: Ahh Tyson, man, that is so fantastic! How special? Well, you’ll be happy to know that I just worked up “The Road” in my solo band and we played it. I did a really cool festival in North East Alabama, in a little town that I went to junior college in. It was amazing man. We headlined this little festival. There were two or three thousand people there and we played “The Road.” You know the guys in my band are all Nashville guys and a couple of them weren’t really familiar with that song, but when we rehearsed it, they played it, I was kind of emotional. We never played that song live in Brother Cane. We were so hell bent in just rocking out. You know, “Got No Shame” was a hit at radio. Man, we’re opening for Robert Plant and then opening for Aerosmith. It was okay, “No room for slow songs! We got to fucking rock out” [laughs]! We really didn’t play that one.
Sleaze Roxx: I only saw you once on that first tour. It was that big club, RPM. I remember you saying, “That place is so big!” So you guys didn’t play that song? I remember you played almost everything off the album. Maybe you didn’t do that one. I believe you did “Jailbreak” and “Gimme Three Steps” by Skynyrd?
Damon Johnson: We would have done “Jailbreak.” If we did a Skynyrd song… Oh no, it was “Saturday Night Special.”
Sleaze Roxx: Was it? Okay. That was so long ago.
Damon Johnson: Yeah, that was a long time ago man!
Sleaze Roxx: I still have a guitar pick from that show.
Damon Johnson: Unreal!
Sleaze Roxx: I’m not trying to be a “fanboy”, but I keep that stuff and I like it. It just means something to me.
Damon Johnson: Hey man, music is such a part of our lives. I hope the new generation is getting the same fulfillment that we got from it. I don’t know that they get the same energy or experience we did. Going to the shops to buy a CD or buy an album. You hear when one of your favorite bands is coming to town at a small venue and you know you’re going to get to hang around. You get to see them at sound check or see them after the gig. That’s just the best. I’m a fan of Pat Travers.
Sleaze Roxx: I remember you saying that in your Decibel Geek interview.
Damon Johnson: Yeah man… I’m a fan! I just saw Pat on one of those cruise ships where they have 30 bands. I ran into him in the dining room. He was so cool and so gracious. He had kept up to me from Brother Cane, but before Brother Cane, I was just a fan. I used to fucking stalk that guy [laughs]! I think I saw him half a dozen times. To where for a little while, we were kind of on a first name basis. “How are you Damon? What’s up? You drove a long way to come to this one!” “Yeah man, you guys are killer and what’s that pedal you used on Snortin’ Whiskey?”
Sleaze Roxx: That’s like me asking you the question about “20/20 Faith.” “What tuning are you playing that song in? Is that G tuning?” You corrected me, “No man it’s in Drop D” [laughs]! That’s the same type of thing to me.
Damon Johnson: Well that’s what makes it fun. Listen, there are so many artists that I love. There’s so much music that I love. Anytime, I get to cross paths with someone who’s songwriting I respect and enjoy, it’s so cool man! It’s so special! They can tell by the look on your face, the things you’re saying that you’re genuinely a fan of what they’re doing. I guess I’m lucky. I get to kind of be on both sides of that exchange. It’s special and powerful. I won’t ever take that for granted.
Sleaze Roxx: I wanted to ask about the Burgundy Les Paul Custom. I noticed that you posted some photos of it on Twitter about a year ago. The pick guard is off of it I believe. Is it in retirement?
Damon Johnson: No man, that’s kind of why I brought it out. I haven’t played it in a long time. I got a little work done on it. I am really fortunate that my bass player in my solo band — his name is Tony Nagy — who also happens to be a bad ass guitar luthier. He works down at Gruhn’s Guitars in Nashville. So I just took it to him. I said, “Hey man, this thing needs some love. The frets need dressing. It needs an adjustment and maybe some new pots.” You know when I’d try to roll the volume off playing some rhythm parts, it would make a lot of racket. He kind of pulled all that stuff out, replaced it and got it up to speed. I think I had it with me when we did those Thin Lizzy dates last year. We did a cruise ship with Thin Lizzy in early ’17 and I played it on that. That’s the very first Les Paul I ever owned. It’s really special to me. You know I haven’t toured with it as much in recent years. I definitely have two or three that I like better. I like the feel of the neck better. I like the tone of the guitar better. But you know, they’ll never be another first.
Sleaze Roxx: I love that guitar. I have a photo of you and that guitar back in the ’90s at RPM that you signed for me, so I get to look at that guitar every day.
Damon Johnson: [Laughs] Thank you Tyson. It’s been really cool for me how many people ask about that guitar. I think they kind of equate it with the music that they like. They equate it with those songs, those Brother Cane songs. I certainly do that with a lot of my favorite artists and bands. I could just start listing them.
Sleaze Roxx: Kind of like Eddie Van Halen and the Frankenstein guitar.
Damon Johnson: Yeah, you know it’s like my buddy Jeff Carlisi with .38 Special. He had a custom made Korina Explorer that’s just bad ass man! When I see pictures of him playing it, I just get excited. “Yeah, there it is!” Of course, Gary Moore with his Peter Green Les Paul, that’s an even greater example. Peter Frampton, he had that three pick up black beauty. The fretless wonder that he played back in the ‘Frampton Comes Alive’ days. God man, what a special guitar.
Sleaze Roxx: I just got an original copy of that album on vinyl. That album sounds phenomenal.
Damon Johnson: It’s just bad ass. What a great guitar player. A great writer, a great guitar player. I love Frampton.
Sleaze Roxx: He’s kind of the first talk box guy.
Damon Johnson: Well, he’s definitely the one who made it popular. I think Jeff Beck had done it before him, but Frampton definitely made it a household name.
Sleaze Roxx: In terms of the first Brother Cane album. I wanted to touch on the guitar tone itself. The tone on “How Long” and “Make Your Play” really come to mind. Was it all Jim Mitchell achieving that amazing tone or was it you as well? Even possibly a combination of the two?
Damon Johnson: It was definitely a combination. I love working with Jim. What a sweet, sweet man! He’s so passionate about guitar. We picked Jim Mitchell because Jim worked with Guns N’ Roses on the ‘Use Your Illusion’ albums. He essentially engineered those with Mike Clink. So without a doubt, I showed up to that first day, “Alright Jim, how do I sound like Slash” [laughs]? It went down like that. You know I was just a fan. I was obviously a huge fan. ‘Appetite for Destruction’ changed my life like so many other people. I loved so much of both ‘Use Your Illusion’ records. Jim introduced me to the “PulTec EQ.” It’s an old, probably, I don’t want to speak uninformed here, but I think it’s pre-war era. A Tube EQ. It’s got a giant black knob in the middle of it. It’s got minimal stuff on it. You can find photos of it online pretty easily. I forget the number because ‘Pultec’ makes several different pieces of outboard gear. I just know when it came time to cut guitar solos, it would almost be like this little ritual. Jim would back his chair away from the desk and kind of crack all his knuckles. You know take a deep breath and then he would slip that big knob on the ‘Pultec’ [laughs]. That was really key man. That EQ was really essential to picking up the upper mids in the tone. So you mentioned “How Long”, a solo like “Last Time”, even “The Road” — without a question man.
Sleaze Roxx: That intro solo on “The Road” is that guitar sound where you feel the bends and the feel. I think you know what I mean. I just love that tone.
Damon Johnson: Hey man, Jim gets a lot of credit. I never measured and probably still can’t measure how many that are out there that love that record and love the guitar playing on it, which is certainly flattering, but without a doubt the combination of my old noisy, beat up 100 watt Marshall, that wine red Custom and that ‘Pultec’ EQ. That was it! Nothing more than that. I think it was an SM57 on the cabinet. It just had some 25 or 30 watt celestion speakers in it. There’s no magic trick beyond that.
Sleaze Roxx: Speaking of that album and going back to talking of vinyl, will that first album ever be released on vinyl? It’s funny when you look at the back of the CD, it states, “The music on this compact disc was originally recorded on analog equipment.” That just seems like one of those things that needs to be put on vinyl.
Damon Johnson: Well, I would love that as much as anybody. The tough thing about that Tyson is making it cost effective. It would take a lot of money just to get the record re-mastered for vinyl. You’ve then got to start thinking about how you’re going to market it. How are you going to make it worth investing, not only the money, but the time to get it out the door? As much as Brother Cane changed my life and as much as there are definitely some die-hard, passionate fans out there of all three records, it could be argued that there may not be enough of them to justify pressing up that many records. Now I came close a few years back, some of the guys at Universal, I have a relationship there and they did some investigating for me, looking into it. What I was hoping was going to happen was that either BMG, which is what Virgin Records is morphed into now, either BMG or Universal themselves would be, “Yeah man! We’ve researched the numbers. The band sold half a million copies of three records. Let’s do this!” There just wasn’t anyone that was motivated to take on a project like that. You’ve got to do cost benefit analysis.
Sleaze Roxx: I’m assuming since they own the rights to the albums, in order for you to do it yourself, you would have to buy the albums from them?
Damon Johnson: What would happen is they would license me the record. They would be involved in whatever sales that would go down and they would give me the rights to go through the process. Seriously Tyson, they want me to do all the work. All the heavy lifting! Invest all that time. As we talked about a couple times in this interview about time being so valuable. I just don’t have a lot of it. Hey, I’m not saying never and I’m not saying it’s impossible, but maybe somebody would reach out and want to partner. “Hey man, I’m going to invest. Here’s twenty grand. Let’s just make this happen! Let’s get all three records. Let’s just press them up! I’ll cover the cost on the front end, if I make my money, great, if not, it’s not a big deal!” Those people exist. They’re out there. If they were to come down, then I would be all about investing some time to get it done. We’ll see. The window is open. Every once in a while, I poke my head out and go, “Hmm… Vinyl? Those Brother Cane records? Maybe? I don’t know!”
Sleaze Roxx: I was in Nashville back in May, I went to Grimey’s Records on 8th Avenue. I was looking for the Black Star Riders on vinyl. Unfortunately, they didn’t have it. A month later I found myself in Dublin, Ireland and low and behold I found ‘The Killer Instinct’ and the ‘Heavy Fire’ picture discs.
Damon Johnson: Cool. You know, Nuclear Blast Records has done a great job of getting that product out there. They do a fine job of servicing fans of that music. It’s more of a heavy metal label. I don’t know that we’re the perfect fit for that label, but man, they certainly are passionate.
Sleaze Roxx: Anyways man, I cannot thank you enough for taking the time with me.
Damon Johnson: Well, thank you Tyson. It’s my pleasure man. It’s really good to talk to you again. Thanks for listening. Thanks for spreading the word and thanks for fighting the good fight. That’s what we’re all doing.
Black Star Riders “Testify Or Say Goodbye” video:
Black Star Riders third album, Heavy Fire, out worldwide via Nuclear Blast Entertainment. Purchase, download and stream at http://nuclearblast.com/bsr-heavyfire.
Black Star Riders “The Killer Instinct” video:
BLACK STAR RIDERS present the official video for ‘The Killer Instinct’. Order at: http://smarturl.it/BSR-TKI-CD. Subscribe to Nuclear Blast: http://bit.ly/subs-nb-yt Subscribe to Black Star Riders: http://bit.ly/subs-bsr-yt AVAILABLE AT Nuclear Blast: http://smarturl.it/BSRTheKillerInstinct Amazon: http://geni.us/BSRKillerAmazon iTunes: http://geni.us/BSRInstinctiTunes Google Play: http://smarturl.it/BSR-Killer-Google THE KILLER INSTINCT out on February 20th (EU), 23rd (UK) and 24th (NA) 2015 via Nuclear Blast Entertainment.
Brother Cane‘s “And Fools Shine On” video:
Music video by Brother Cane performing And Fools Shine On.