Damon Johnson may or may not be a household name to some but to others such as Alice Cooper, Thin Lizzy, Judas Priest, Brother Cane and Black Star Riders he is very well known.
Forming his first band while in the eighth grade, this guitarist from Alabama grew into larger roles as both a performer and songwriter. He has written material that has been recorded by Stevie Nicks and Carlos Santana, toured with the aforementioned Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy and also opened for legendary rockers Judas Priest.
However, it’s what he’s done recently that is grabbing the attention of music fans the world over. Johnson has just returned home from a previewing of his new and soon to be released disc titled,“Memoirs Of An Uprising.” A recent show in New York City at the famed Iridium left Damon feeling rather confident that his decision to become a solo artist is one that he no longer needs to question.
“We had so much fun! The Iridium is such a legendary venue, it’s the perfect place for a band like mine,” hestated with enthusiasm. “We’re definitely a rock band, we can lean almost hard rock but there’s a lot of dynamics in what we do. Everybody is a pro so we were able to get the volume to a place where the songs were still the feature. My voice felt great and I just felt like the songs came off fantastic and I would love, in a perfect world to play that room at least once or maybe twice a year. I can’t love that venue more, it was great and I hope we’ll be back soon. It was really humbling to be inside the radiating glow of that with all of those photos on the wall,Pete Townsend, Tony Bennett, Les Paul, it was just great.”
“I wasn’t really sure what this whole thing was going to be. I had no way of knowing at the time that this would be the catalyst that would motivate me to simply go it on my own and be a solo artist. Some of the lyrical themes throughout the record came from some real life experiences and there were maybe some moments where I felt, OK maybe I don’t need to reveal this much or I don’t know if I can even touch on this but it was fun and that might be too light of a word (laughs) but it was fun to start a song maybe with something that you really experienced and then in the second verse introduce a whole other character or a whole other scene that was completely fabricated in my mind but wow it made for a great story or a great song; it has lines to keep it interesting. I’m really into that kind of songwriting so yeah, it did help my confidence, I think all of us are insecure at times, all of us are uncertain. I guess that’s the fulfillment for any artist whether you’re a painter or a sculptor or a composer; you’ve got to start with something and in the beginning you don’t know for sure what it’s ultimately going to become. I think that’s why “Shivering” was so important; it was a big jolt of energy and confidence into the concept that the album ultimately became.”
“Shivering Shivering” is thefirst track and coincidentally the first single he’s released from the forthcoming disc. Johnson explained how important this was to the development of the overall product; not to mention the importance of having a friend that you can count on.
“Shivering Shivering,” when I started having a stack of ideas, sort of getting the schematics of this album started; I reached out to a longtime friend named Jim Troglin; stage name, “Johnny Blade.” We grew up together in the Birmingham rotten music scene in the early 90’s, even before Brother Cane was put together. Our kids have grown up together, our wives are best friends, so it’s that kind of thing. I reached out to him, told him what I was thinking and he immediately got excited; we began bouncing ideas back and forth and very early in the process, “Shivering Shivering” came together quite quickly. Something in me kind of felt like a jolt of rocket fuel into the whole concept of the completed album; I thought man this is the track to really build everything from. This just felt like whatever the story was that we were going to tell over the course of these 10 or 11 songs or however many it was going to evolve into; that one gave me beyond confidence to forge ahead. I don’t know about other songwriters but it’s nice to have that one track that can kind of be the launch pad or the pivot song that makes you say, OK we’ve got this, this is special, this has elements of it that are undeniable. That’s a great feeling as an artist or a writer and I’m really grateful to Jim because we talked about a lot of things and he doesn’t live here in Nashville, he’s about 100 miles south of here but I’d send him a track of music or a few words and he would bounce it back; we did a lot of this work via computer and telephone. So “Shivering Shivering” was early on and got me really excited without a doubt.”
Some artists have a title or a concept for a record even before they’ve written a word or formed a melody; others like Johnson complete the work and then figure out the packaging later.
“Memoirs of an Uprising,” the title came after all of the songs were finished. I remember that I was riding around in my truck and listening to the second group of mixes and thinking that everything sounded great and that I needed to come up with a title. There’s some great titles to some of the songs and I thought, OK we’ll just pick a song title and that’s what we’ll call the record. Then I started listening to it in its entirety and I felt like there was a thread of some kind; I think these songs can all be consumed in one listen. So if somebody has got 38 minutes to spare they can listen to all 10 of these songs, they kind of take you some place; it’s not a concept record by any means but there was something there. I wanted to come up with something that I felt covered it and that word memoirs popped into my head. Then I was reading a book that Patti Smith had written, an incredible book called, “Just Kids” about her experiences when she first came to New York and was trying to become a legit poet and I’m sure I had seen that word in her book and it kind of inspired that. Then Johnny Blade, I think he said the word uprising and I thought we can’t call it that because that’s that famous Bob Marleyrecord and I’d not be so bold as to do that and then it all kind of just rolled off the tongue. The record does kind of cover some dark themes, some challenges and some learning and it all kind of ends in a good place, a productive place and it kind of has a good resolve. I wouldn’t call it a happy ending but definitely a place where you say, I’ve learned a lot from all this rough stuff and I’ve learned a lot from these experiences. I’m sorry to sound therapeutic or like a marriage counselor right now (laughs) but I felt the title was perfect for these ten songs; once I said those four words there was no talking me out of it. I’m really proud of it, there’s no question that this is a moment of growth and change in my musical life and artist career. I’d rather it be a coming up or an uprising instead of just a lateral move into something else that maybe I’ve done before.”
Damon is no stranger to success or past tours with some of Rock’s elite and when asked, he is very appreciative of the experience he’s gained as he attests from a recent jaunt across the continent with Judas Priest.
“I had a blast, had the best time. I’ve got so much respect for that band, for everything that they’ve accomplished and everything that they stand for, they treated us like family. I first encountered them when we were doing Thin Lizzy in 2011 and 2012; we crossed paths with Judas Priest and we did a few dates in Germany as we were getting Black Star Riders off the ground. So to get to do a whole tour with them, especially in North America; one of the biggest disappointments for me was that we didn’t feel like we were able to move the needle much with Black Star Riders in North America. The people who know about it really dig it but there were just not that many of them. So to get the opportunity to go out and open for them in some big rooms; we couldn’t have dreamed of a better opportunity.”
Johnson’s list of accomplishments is long and storied but as previously stated, “Moving the needle” here in the U.S isn’t often that easy. What does he feel is the cause of this and how does he plan on combating it?
“There’s so many more distractions for music fans here than there are in other countries. Think about it, if you live in the UK you’re not also being marketed to Country bands or even really Hip-Hop; they’re on the radar but everything is really kind of separate here and those are such big genres. There are so many millions of people who listen to just Country and it doesn’t spill over into Rock or other things; it makes it tough there’s no doubt about it. The bad news for everybody is Rock ‘N’ Roll had its day when it was a cultural touchstone and it influenced style and politics and all kinds of things, it doesn’t do that anymore; does that mean its dead? Absolutely not, you can go see a great Rock show any night of the week. The last time I checkedGuns N’ Roses just sold out stadiums all over North America so there are definitely people buying tickets to go see Rock ‘N’ Roll. So you just have to evolve, you have to adapt and find ways to continue to do what you love. There’s no question, I’m always going to play Rock music, I don’t care where it is on the hit list or the popular list, I’m going to do what I love.”
Since he has performed with and written for some of the genre’s largest stars, Damon has a broad view of the current music climate as well as how difficult it is today to be heard. Bands don’t seem to have the longevity of their predecessors but he feels that of they just stay true to the task at hand eventually someone will take notice.
“I look at it a bit definitely; there’s no question that there are great artists and bands out there. I think it’s more to do with them trying to grow their product at a time where it’s more difficult than ever to launch a new band in any genre. I think if you can build it organically and build it right in the region where you’re from is the best way to get it started. If you’re going to get big, you’re going to need a major record company and the major record companies in 2019 are only interested in bands that move the needle and that right now is only Pop and Hip-Hop. Yes, Nashville still has Country music and there’s some talented young artists coming out of there but even there; who is the new Garth Brooks? I don’t know, the internet has changed everything; there’s some really good things about it and there’s some really challenging things about it. It’s certainly a challenge for me but I just look at it more like a task rather than a challenge. My task every day is to spread the word about Damon Johnson, his music, his story, his resume. There are millions of people who have never heard of me, ever; for all of the things I’ve done and as long as I’ve been around, the large majority of the world has never heard of me; much less North America has no idea who I am. So you just have to work hard and take any opportunity that you get to get in front of people, to talk about your record, to play it on acoustic guitar, to give it away on streaming, whatever it takes to try and build your audience. There’s certainly people doing it, it’s different, there’s no doubt about it; it’s definitely a different time and I think it is survival of the fittest. If you’re going to survive you have to adapt and sometimes you have to put your paws up and keep the detractors away and keep the noise out of your head and stay focused on what you’re doing.”
“Memoirs Of An Uprising” is scheduled for release on March 8, 2019 and there is even going to be a limited edition red vinyl pressing for those who want to go that route. So what does Damon plan to do to support the album once out? Will there be a tour and will it be of any length?
“it’s going to kind of be perpetual performing because this is a new thing for me and because I just stepped out of steady gig with another band it’s going to take me a minute to get the thing up to the point where I could have my agent and my team say, look lets draw a big circle around these three months, it’s nine months away but this will be the big tour, this is what we’re going to do. I think that’s another thing that’s really changed for bands; you just don’t set it up like you used to. You don’t say, OK the record is coming out so we’ve got to have 10 weeks of shows booked; we’re going to play Canada, then the Northeast, then the Southwest. We are just going to kind of be weekend warriors, that’s one of the things I love about living in Nashville,you see that example particularly for the Country bands, that’s how they work most of the time. That allows me to be home with my family, spend time with my kids, write more songs and record more as opposed to perpetually being on the road.”
When he does go on the road, Johnson tends to mix it up a little bit with some shows being more acoustic than electric and then just the opposite but one thing which has been consistent for him over the last several years is his band.
“I have an amazing band, my drummer Jarred Pope I’ve known for 12 years now, Tony Higbee on guitar and Tony Nagy on bass. It’s really wild but almost out of nowhere we’ve done three recordings together. They played on my EP, my live record last year and now “Memoirs of an Uprising,” for me to have players of their caliber committed to investing their time with me is really humbling and I don’t take that for granted and they want to stay busy and I want to keep them busy because I want to keep them around.”
To discover more about Damon Johnson or pre-order “Memoirs Of An Uprising” please visit www.damonjohnson.com.