INTERVIEW WITH JOHNNY DEE OF BRITNY FOX / DORO
Date: November 27, 2015
Interviewer: Bobby Caughron
BRITNY FOX RECENTLY ANNOUNCED THAT THEY HAVE RETURNED FROM A LONG HIATUS AND ARE ONCE AGAIN READY TO ROCK THE CROWDS. I HAD THE OPPORTUNITY TO TALK WITH JOHNNY DEE AND DISCUSS THE BAND’S PAST, PRESENT AND FUTURE PLANS, AS WELL AS LEARN MORE ABOUT THE DRUMMER, GRAPHIC ARTIST, TOUR MANAGER AND JACK OF ALL TRADES THAT IS JOHNNY DEE.
Sleaze Roxx: So what’s the latest news from within the Britny Fox camp?
Sleaze Roxx: Now that you’ve reformed, do you think you will be working on a new album or are you guys strictly doing live shows only? If you’re working on new material, when do you expect to have it finished and released?
Johnny Dee: The possibility of doing new music was definitely a big reason for getting together. We are shooting for a release sometime in 2016.
Sleaze Roxx: Do you guys typically write songs together or do you work individually?
Johnny Dee: I’d say the majority of it starts individually. Or a combination of Billy [Childs] and Tommy [Paris] collaborating and then bringing that to the band. We could also create something together by just jamming on a riff… say as we did with the song “Black and White” from ‘Bite Down Hard.’ But “Springhead” was such a disjointed effort, we really want to get back to an in-person collaboration.
Sleaze Roxx: It seems like a lot of bands have the drummer come in first and lay down all of the drum tracks. Does it ever surprise you when you hear the finished product with all of the other instruments and vocalist?
Johnny Dee: Before digital recording became the norm, it was definitely cool to see the layering process come to life. Laying down a drum track and everyone building on that as a solid foundation. Hearing the tracks again weeks later after all the overdubs were done could surely be a surprise — good or bad [laughs]. I definitely prefer that way though.
I’ve also done quite a few totally opposite… where I recorded drums to finished songs with a programmed beat as a “guide” as on the ‘Springhead [Motorshark’] CD. That can be a surprise as well. To hear how good it can sound… or because it can be so damn stiff or difficult to get “right.” I much prefer to shape the songs by playing them all together FIRST, then going in and recording them. But lack of time, the big budgets we were accustomed to and geographical challenges may not allow for that in most cases.
Johnny Dee: Nothing from SM so far but yes, all the rest.
Sleaze Roxx: What are your favorite tracks to play live?
Johnny Dee: It changes. You get a more immediate reaction from a song people know well, you can’t beat that feeling. “Girlschool,” “Long Way To Love,” etc. But we like to throw some deeper cuts or medleys in to keep it fun.
Sleaze Roxx: Tell me about your drum set up? Do you have anything unique or customized in your kit?
Johnny Dee: I’ve been playing my acrylic kit on dates in the US. It’s a custom build of shells from RCI Starlite and finished with DW lugs, hardware, etc. It’s a gorgeous blue kit… I love it. Sounds amazing and is so fun to play. It’s nice to change things up once and a while to keep it interesting… It is a nice change from the double bass kit I use with Doro. I endorse DW drums hardware and pedals, Paiste cymbals, Vater drumsticks and Evans drumheads.
Sleaze Roxx: Tell me about new guitarist Chris Sanders?
Johnny Dee: Chris came to us through our manager and he’s fitting in nicely. He’s played in bands like Lizzy Borden and London as well as his project Night Fury. His fingers are quite nimble so you have to be careful there are no flammable liquids close to the stage!
Sleaze Roxx: Prior to hiring Chris, was there ever an attempt to work with Michael Kelly Smith again?
Johnny Dee: Sure. Mike seemed to lose interest in touring as far back as 2000 when we reunited for the Live CD. He was asked to be involved in this current version but declined.
Sleaze Roxx: I don’t want to dwell on the past too much, but I’m curious if there is ever any communication between you guys and your former front man “Dizzy” Dean Davidson and former guitarist Michael Kelly Smith?
Johnny Dee: They’ve both gone MIA.
Sleaze Roxx: Back in the ’80s, how many cans of hairspray would you estimate were used by Britny Fox while on tour?
Johnny Dee: Enough to melt the Polar ice caps!
Sleaze Roxx: I’ve always thought that ‘Bite Down Hard’ never got the credit it truly deserved. It was the first one with Tommy and a fantastic album. It’s still one my favorites today. Can you tell me about making this album? It seems like you guys had a new found energy on that release.
Johnny Dee: After the second album fiasco with Dizzy, we had something to prove and the freedom to make a real band record. We locked ourselves away in a studio at the Jersey shore in winter to eat, sleep, write and record together. We also had to find a new deal when Columbia didn’t pick up our option. It was hard times but we believed in salvaging what we had worked that hard for. So, we did have a new energy to get us through — some killer tunes and a guy that could sing his balls off in Tommy! So we went to LA and made a killer record with Duane Baron & John Purdel who had just finished Ozzy’s ‘No More Tears.’ That was a blast hanging around with those dudes and Zack (Wylde), Mike Inez, Randy Castillo, etc. They made the process fun and easy. And the record reflects that.
Sleaze Roxx: Tell me about your time in Waysted and working with artists like Blaze Bayley [ex-Iron Maiden] and Doro?
Johnny Dee: Waysted was my “baptism by fire” [laughs]. Jumped right into that situation and the “business.” An amazing time and learning experience. A lot of firsts — major magazines, recordings, videos, touring and all the insanity that comes with that level of success.
Working with Doro has been great for me. Not only is she a very talented and driven artist, but she’s also kind and humble and has so much love and appreciation for her fans. It’s inspiring. And joining her band when I did brought me to Europe when the rock scene was really struggling in the US. We’ve done some really cool stuff together and the band is definitely more of a family vibe.
The Blaze thing came up on a Doro break while I was staying in Germany and I was asked to sub for their drummer for about ten shows. We’ve done a bunch of shows together after that and Blaze has been a special guest on many of our shows. He’s a riot. Great frontman!
I’d say that overall, they are more loyal to bands — less trend motivated. And they really support live music, love festivals like real hardcore shit… standing in mud and rain for days, camping out… not the bullshit you get crammed into one day in the US type “festivals.” But you know, things are changing… Economically many people can’t afford all the shows they would like to — especially in the poorer countries. You can really see and feel the appreciation when you perform for them. So, we’ll see where things go from here.
Sleaze Roxx: I remember seeing you guys live back in 88-89 when you were opening for Poison. You put on a great show. What are your memories from that tour?
Johnny Dee: Just a killer time for everyone. If you were a band or fan of that kind of music it was heaven. And that was a great tour for us… perfect bill… and Poison treated us amazingly well. Our videos on MTV, selling a shitload of records and coming out to a huge roar every night. Such an amazing feeling when everyone in the arena knows who you are and all the songs on your record. We received a gold album while on that tour and had a blast.
Sleaze Roxx: I know bands that tour together are often notorious for pranks on each other. What’s your best tour story?
Johnny Dee: There are many. One was between Dean [Davidson] and our sound guy who kept eating all the food in the dressing room before we’d even get to it. We stopped at a truck stop to fuel up and get food for a long drive. Dean bought a chocolate pie, chopped up a box of ex-lax, stuck it in and let the guy go to town on it.
Sleaze Roxx: If you look up your entry on Wikipedia, it lists your occupation as drummer, songwriter, tour manager, and graphic artist. It sounds like you are a multi-talented guy. Can you give me some details about each one with some examples of what you’ve done for each.
Johnny Dee: Well, as you know, everything on Wikipedia is 100% fact [laughs]! But I do dabble in most of those. Not really a “songwriter” as much as a contributor. And I went to school for Graphic Arts. That was my pre-music career choice. I’m not a full-time tour manager but I do the job when Doro tours the US…It’s a bit stressful but I kinda like it. Wouldn’t mind doing it and not having to play a show as well!
Sleaze Roxx: For anyone that doesn’t know you, what would they be surprised to know about Johnny Dee?
Johnny Dee: I’m not as tall as I appear behind the kit. I hear that all the time.
Sleaze Roxx: Have you ever had a fever and the only prescription was more cowbell [Interviewer’s note: hopefully you’ve seen the Saturday Night Live skit with Will Ferrell]?
Johnny Dee: Absolutely! That’s what’s wrong with music today… not enough fucking COWBELL!!!
Sleaze Roxx: How old were you when you started playing drums and who were your inspirations?
Johnny Dee: I always had a bit of an obsession for drums… even before I had a kit or played at all. They just looked like fun! I was around 12 when I got serious though. Ian Paice, Neil Smith, Bonzo, Moon, Peter Criss — soaked it all up like a sponge.
Sleaze Roxx: What advice would you give to young aspiring musicians looking to break into the music business today?
Johnny Dee: So many things have changed since the way we did things. But I still think the basics can help you… practice, being good at your instrument, knowing how to play and interact with other musicians, play within your situation. Don’t be a show-off, riff all over the singer or song, try to create your own style and of course…don’t be an ASSHOLE [laughs]!!!
Sleaze Roxx: You’ve performed with a lot of great musicians. Is there anyone that you’re still in awe of and would love to play a gig with? If so, who and why?
Johnny Dee: I’m open to anything! We get to play on some cool gigs with many bands I loved as a kid… especially in Europe. But I’d like to do a recording project and get some big names/friends on it. I think that’s overdue.
Sleaze Roxx: After your audition, how did you find out that you got the job behind the drums with Britny Fox?
Johnny Dee: I went down and played through the tunes in the rehearsal room with the guys. There were no others auditioning. Since I knew everyone in the band, it was a done deal as long as I didn’t suck horribly when we all played together.
Sleaze Roxx: Was their ever a time at any point prior to landing the job with Britny Fox that you thought maybe you might not make it big? If so, How did you deal with it?
Johnny Dee: Luckily, things progressed for me fairly quickly from early on. I was only 24 when I joined Britny Fox and had just come off a tour supporting Iron Maiden so. Without ever really having a back-up plan, I suppose my goal was to sustain that level of touring/recording.
Sleaze Roxx: When did you first feel that you were personally successful?
Johnny Dee: Different achievements such as the first time in a magazine, recording, etc. But I think the ability to make a living playing music was a huge relief from the pressures of having to choose between “reality” and what was looked at as “fantasy land” by many people at that time. You know… the “Why don’t you get a haircut and a real job?” types. Pre-internet “YouTube” sensations, “Idol” TV shows, etc.
Sleaze Roxx: Were your parents supportive of your aspirations to play in a rock band?
Johnny Dee: My parents were extremely supportive. They put up with so much in those early years when my house was the rehearsal place. The noise and the characters in and out of my basement was comical. But they were always welcoming — and feeding — all my fellow musicians and friends. Beautiful people.
Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything that you’d like to promote or say to the Britny Fox fans out there?
Johnny Dee: Come check us out live and keep your ears open for some new music soon!
Sleaze Roxx: Is there anything that I haven’t asked you in this interview that you’d like to tell me?
Johnny Dee: Yes! I wish I had a buck for every time someone misspells the name of this band [laughs]!
Sleaze Roxx: Ha ha ha. Thanks Johnny! I really appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to talk with us today. I’m looking forward to seeing Britny Fox out on the road and hearing some new material soon!