TORA TORA AND DAMON JOHNSON AT MINGLEWOOD HALL IN MEMPHIS
Date: December 28, 2019
Venue: Minglewood Hall
Location: Memphis, Tennessee, USA
Reviewer: Tyson Briden
Photos: Tyson Briden
Now let’s be honest, what can be more exciting than seeing a band in their hometown? Back in the fall when I went to see Tora Tora in Chesterfield, Michigan, singer Anthony Corder mentioned an upcoming hometown show with Damon Johnson. You see, Damon Johnson is one of my all-time favorite artists of the last 25 years. So the fact that these two great artists would be playing at one show in one of my favorite cities, I quickly made arrangements to make the road trip happen. I could not pass up this trip of a lifetime. The history of the music is so important to the Memphis history. Anyone ever heard of Elvis ‘Fucking’ Presley? He may have taken up residence in this great city. So to see hometown boys, Tora Tora and former Memphis resident Damon Johnson on the same stage, it is just too good to be true.
For those that don’t know, back before Brother Cane, Johnson played with Memphis band The Delta Rebels. Johnson also has a co-write on Memphis band Every Mother’s Nightmare’s debut album. So with the history of these two great artists in relation to this great city, that’s truly amazing to me. Some may say, “Memphis is kind of run down. It’s got a lot of sketchiness!” That is possibly true, but that’s what makes it so special. I think of Fenway Park and Wrigley Field when that becomes the conversation. It’s the character that sets those ballparks apart. They’re old, but by far the two coolest ballparks in all of baseball. Now, I will say I love Broadway in Nashville, but every year, I’ve seen a change. It’s getting cleaner and the bars are being bought up by corporations. It’s becoming too squeaky clean. As for Beale St. in Memphis, it’s still got character. Handy Hall for instance, the place where Tora Tora filmed the original “Walkin’ Shoes” video and the latest “Son of A Prodigal Son” video, the wallpaper is faded grey and peeling off the wall, but I have spent a whole afternoon drinking in that bar with my beautiful wife for that simple reason. The music is great, the PBR’s are cheap and the atmosphere is like nothing else in this world.
Now, a road trip to Memphis from Oshawa, Ontario, Canada is quite the trek. On this trip, I would be joined by my good buddy Red Green, his son Tristan and my son Nolan. This would be Nolan’s first concert and my hope was that he would get away from listening to Drake and all the other horrible entertainment he’s into these days. It was time for Nolan to be introduced to the true sound of rock n’ roll and to see it performed by real artists.
We set out on December 27th, a day before the show. We had reservations at a hotel in Bowling Green, Kentucky later that day. The alarm went off at 5:30 a.m. and we all quickly rustled ourselves to get on the road in a timely fashion. A quick stop at Tim Horton’s up the street from my apartment and we would be on the 401 highway in a matter of minutes. By 8:00 a.m., we would reach the American / Canadian border. By 6:00 p.m. that evening, we’d reach Bowling Green, Kentucky. Day One was a success.
The next morning, we quickly ate breakfast and got back on the road to Memphis. I said to my compadres on the trip, “You know, we do have time to stop in Nashville to check out Broadway!” By 11:00 a.m., we were on 3rd Avenue in downtown Nashville. We quickly discovered that Broadway was sanctioned off for some kind of event that day. I quickly made my way down 3rd Avenue, turned right and swept by the Country Music Hall of Fame, then made another right on 4th Avenue passing The Bridgestone Arena, Rippy’s Bar, Tootsies and the infamous Ryman Theater. I proceeded to give the boys a little history about how artists back in the day would sneak out the side door of the Ryman, make their way down the alleyway over to the back door of Tootsies. There they would drink until their manager would retrieve them in time to play the show, possibly drunk of course. Once out of the downtown area, we quickly jumped on the freeway that led to Memphis. In three hours, we would reach our destination.
As we entered Memphis, something in me started to feel excitement. In a few short hours, we would be at the Minglewood Hall taking in great live music, but before we did that, we would have to find our accommodations for the next couple days. We were staying at a great Air B&B that was situated very close to the venue. When we arrived, I quickly discovered that I had not received a confirmation of the establishment. I needed an access code to get in. I jumped from the vehicle and assessed our situation. “Holy shit! What if we have no place to sleep tonight?” I was somewhat worried. All of a sudden, a car appeared and it was the general manager of the residence. The manager introduced herself as Jenny and welcomed us to Belvedere Suites. Now I have to admit, I was quite impressed by the establishment. It had an outside gate with a walkway that led to our room. It kind of reminded me of Melrose Place. As we entered, we soon discovered an old, yet very clean and respectable residence. It included a kitchen, eating area, bathroom, A queen bed and a pull out. We played rock paper scissors to decide who got the big bed by the way.
Once settled in, we cracked a beer and discussed going down to the venue to pick up the tickets I had reserved for us. We soon discovered that the venue was a quick five minute walk. Actually, Jenny had given us those directions upon arrival. We got our tickets and could hear music coming from the hall. We ventured outside, and noticed the side doors open. Tora Tora was sound checking. I peeked my head around the corner quietly as I didn’t want to be noticed by a security person who may feel it was time for me to leave. We stayed briefly and made our way back to our room. The show would be a couple short hours away.
As I entered Minglewood Hall, I could hear music coming from the venue itself. What I thought I heard and what I actually heard were two different things. We came to security and handed our tickets. I received a bracelet to purchase alcohol after I presented my Ontario Drivers’ license. Come on now, I may look younger than my actual age, but I sure as hell don’t look 21. With that said, we must respect policy. As we entered, I noticed that it was actually Damon Johnson on stage playing the classic Brother Cane song “Breadmaker” and not the P.A. system. That more or less defines how good Damon Johnson actually was. If I thought it was the song being played over the P.A. system rather than a live artist, then that artist is kicking serious ass.
Johnson’s killer set included an accumulation of new solo material and favorites of the past. Let’s be honest, Johnson has really played in some killer bands including Brother Cane, John Waite, Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, Slave To The System, Motorbelly, Whiskey Falls and Red Halo, just to mention a few. I am always curious when it comes to an artist who has done a wide variety of stuff in what the set will entail. With being the opener as well, that somewhat cuts into your material. For me, every time Johnson includes the Brother Cane material, my heart skips a beat. The memories that are invoked from this music is simply still exciting for me. It is so easy to sing along to a track like “Hard Act To Follow” or “Got No Shame.” These songs simply have held their own over the years.
As I was standing and watching Johnson, I looked to my right and there was my friend Todd Poole of Roxy Blue. Poole and I have developed a friendship over the last year that I feel will live on for years to come. I raced over to say hello. Poole quickly turned and gave me a big hug, then introduced me to his wife Amy Jamison, who is also the daughter of late Survivor singer Jimi Jamison. We finished our introduction and went back to what we had set out to watch in the beginning, Mr. Damon Johnson.
As it quickly appeared Johnson’s set was coming to a close, there was a bit of confusion between the sound guy and Johnson. The lights quickly came on, but Johnson’s band still looked like they had one more song in them. I will make quick mention that Johnson is playing as a three piece. I wasn’t sure how that would go over, but it was perfect. Of course, the band did have one more in that as “Got No Shame” had not been played yet. Johnson was kind enough to let everyone in attendance know that he would at the back after the show shaking hands and kissing babies. I was quite enthralled to hear that as Johnson and I had not seen each other in person for many years. We spoke last year via telephone when he did an interview with me for this very site. In the end, Johnson, as always kicked major ass. I was thinking of how many times I had actually seen Johnson on stage — four times with Brother Cane, once with John Waite, three times with Alice Cooper and once with The Black Star Riders. I guess that would be nine times. The God‘s honest truth in all these performances, had Johnson not been on that stage, I may have stayed home and crocheted a sweater or a pair of socks. There you go, that is my part time hobby. If you believe that one, I’ve also got some land for sale in Arizona as well. I’ll sell it to you cheap.
Damon Johnson’s setlist:
02. Dallas Could Have Been A Beatdown
03. Hard Act To Follow
04. 20/20 Faith
05. Shivering Shivering
06. Lie In The Bed I Make
08. The Boys Are Back In Town
09. Got No Shame
As we waited for Tora Tora to grace the stage, my son and I waited in line to speak with Damon Johnson. Quite a line had congregated and I was worried that we would not get to speak to Johnson before Tora Tora hit the stage. Well luckily, we made it in time. I walked up to Johnson, looked him straight in the eye and said, “Damon, it’s Tyson!” He looked at me, “You’re from where?” I said, “No, it’s Tyson… from Canada!” Suddenly, a big smile appeared on his face, “Oh my God! What are you doing here?” Johnson walked over and gave me a big hug. I explained to him that Anthony Corder had tipped me off about the show back in the fall. Damon had explained during his show that him and Corder were actually neighbors and good friends. Honestly, that makes total sense to me because both are two of the nicest musicians in the business. Johnson and I conversed as quickly as we could. It would have been nice to catch up longer, but there were many behind us waiting to meet Johnson. We quickly discussed Johnson coming on my podcast (Non-Stop Rock Talk with Tyson Briden), to which he obliged and we said, “Goodbye! Talk soon!”
As I left the back of the venue where I spoke with Damon Johnson, I quickly scanned the crowd. Minglewood Hall was not at full capacity, but a good amount of people had congregated close to the stage. That crowd stretched back beyond the soundboard. You could feel the anticipation in the air. This was Tora “Freakin’” Tora in Memphis. As the band came on, the crowd got louder. I and my party positioned ourselves to the right of the stage.
The band would cover material from their four studio albums. I would occasionally move my positioning as I wanted to enjoy the show from a few different perspectives, but in the end I would come back to the spot where the rest of my party was at the right of the stage. I can’t really pinpoint a pinnacle part of the show as every song was just as good as the next. Possibly a highlight for me was the band playing “Revolution Day” and “Mississippi Voodoo Child”, but that really doesn’t take away anything from the band’s other material played on this evening. What was a surprise was that Tora Tora did an amazing cover of The Faces‘ “I’m Losing You”.
In a Tora Tora show, there are always highs and lows. A few of the band members will leave the stage and allow Anthony Corder the chance to work the crowd and play a little acoustic guitar with his partner in crime, Keith Douglas. I say this because during the show that is exactly the name given to Douglas by Corder. It is obvious to see the chemistry of the two. They fit together like Thelma & Louise. Bad analogy? Of the new material off the band’s latest album, Bastards of Beale, Tora Tora would perform four tracks. “Giants Fall”, “Rose of Jericho”, “Sons of Zebedee” and “Son of a Prodigal Son” all went over very well and really sounded great. I would have loved to hear “Silence The Sirens” at this event, but like the two previous times I had seen the band in the past year, that song was not performed. I am not sure if they even perform it live. Regardless, it is a great musical composition.
As the evening was coming to a close, I looked to my right and there again appeared one Todd Poole. I jetted over towards him. He was more center stage than I had been. We once again said “hello” and proceeded to rock out. As Tora Tora broke into their staple hit “Walkin’ Shoes”, the crowd was in a frenzy. Everyone was singing along. As Anthony Corder made his way closer to our side of the stage, he noticed me and called out my name. Todd Poole and I proceeded to sing the words out loud for all to hear, but honestly, did it matter? Everyone else in the crowd was doing the same as us, so who cares. Just throw yourself out there and have a good time is what I always say. It’s a rock show. We’re there for one thing and one thing only! To have a good time.
Just like that the show was over. We came all that way and we were not left disappointed. It was surely worth the drive. As the lights came on, my son and I looked towards the stage. I could see the setlist in front of the spot where bassist Patrick Francis had been minutes before. Suddenly a nice young girl said to my son, “Do you want the setlist?” She then quickly jumped on the stage, grabbing the list and a few picks. My son’s eyes grew bigger and he said, “Thank you.”
From that point, we made our way back to the very spot where Damon Johnson had been an hour and a half before. There was somewhat of a line-up, but we could wait. Where else did we have to be? In bed? The line moved quickly and once again appeared Todd Poole. He was fraternizing with Tora Tora occasionally from the bar. His wife Amy was in tow and chatting with friends. As we approached the guys in Tora Tora, Anthony quickly noticed me. He hugged me and said “hello.” Guitarist Keith Douglas came over and chatted for a few moments. “Hey, were you the guy at M3? You also came to the show in Detroit?” “Yes, that was me man!” I also spoke with drummer John Patterson briefly and told him we had come from Canada. He was astounded that we had come so far. The setlist made its way across the table where the band was sitting at. As it approached Patrick Francis, he commented, “Oh this was my setlist! Cool!” It was then mentioned that we take a picture together with the band. Before that could happen, Patrick Francis got up went to the merch table and came back with a Tora Tora sew on patch and a few more picks for my son. Again, my son was in his glory.
As I close out this long winded presentation, I think back to 2019. If there was one constant in my life, it was music. For a guy who had never seen Tora Tora, 2019 ended up pretty sweet as I managed to catch the band three times. I look forward to this coming March when I will see them again in Maryland at Ballroom Blitz with Roxy Blue and Spread Eagle. 2019 may have been the toughest year on record for me in my 45 years, but if I had to do it all over again, I’d turn around and run like hell! Honestly though, it was the music that got me through it all.
Tora Tora’s setlist:
01. Giants Fall
02. 28 Days
05. Mississippi Voodoo Child
06. Rose of Jericho
07. Revolution Day
08. Lay Your Money Down
09. I’m Losing You (Faces Cover)
10. Love’s A Bitch
11. Phantom Rider
12. Nowhere To Go But Down
13. Sons of Zebedee
14. Son of A Prodigal Son
15. Walkin’ Shoes