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Damon Johnson is one of Rock and Roll’s most sought after artists. A true artist’s artist, Johnson made his name in the early/mid-nineties with Brother Cane and in recent years has played for Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy as well as with his own Black Star Riders.
He just released his solo EP, Echo, and we were fortunate enough to catch him via email in between Thin Lizzy tours. Here’s what he had to tell us….
Hey Damon! How are things? I’m assuming you are pretty busy these days with the new EP and being out with Thin Lizzy!
It’s a busy year for sure. Am elated to get my solo music released, and this select group of Thin Lizzy dates should be a good time. And then BSR is back in the studio in August. I love all the activity.
First off, it’s awesome to hear you doing some of your own stuff again. With Black Star Riders success and playing with Thin Lizzy, what made 2016 the right time to release some of your solo music?
I’ve done a fair amount of performing solo acoustic over the past 15 years. It’s kept my singing and performing chops in shape, even while I was working with Alice, Lizzy, and Black Star Riders. My profile has enjoyed a boost from the success of BSR, and it’s been flattering to have so many fans reach out and basically say, “hey Johnson…don’t forget to get behind the mic with that Les Paul in your hand, like we know you can do.” Am hoping and intending for ‘Echo’ to simply be the tip of the iceberg, in between BSR activity, going forward.
Do you ever feel like life is too busy for your own music or are you constantly writing new music of your own?
I’ve worked hard to simplify my life and my schedule in the last 4 years. My family is certainly my main focus, as they support me following my bliss with my music career. I’ve cut way back on the golf, and on going out just to see bands and drink beer (ha!), so there’s rarely a day that goes by that I’m not bashing on my acoustic, singing a new vocal melody or riff into my iPhone, sending it to Ricky for BSR, or logging it for a possible song for myself.
One of my favorite songs on the Echo EP is “Scars.” Would you mind telling our readers a little about that song and maybe the inspirations/ideas behind it?
Thank you. “Scars” was written by my long-time friend and collaborator, Marti Frederiksen. He played me a batch of things he’d been working on a couple of years back, and that song slayed me. The line that says “what makes us great are the scars” spoke to me on many levels. I’m grateful to him for giving me the green light to record it, and I couldn’t be more pleased with how it turned out. It’s absolutely my favorite track on the album.
Echo has a very bluesy feel to it overall. When you went to the studio, what did you want to accomplish with these songs? Was there a certain thought or feeling you hoped to convey to the audience?
That bluesy feel is imbedded in my DNA. It doesn’t matter if I’m recording with Alice, Slave To The System, Brother Cane, Black Star Riders, or someone else’s album. “Bluesy” is the adjective people most use to describe my playing and singing. I admit there being a time that I tried to maybe distance myself somewhat from that, particular in the 90’s when alternative was dominating the radio and we (in Brother Cane) were trying to stay alive as a viable band. But I’m born and raised in the South. The melting pot of music that I’ve been exposed to since childhood is simply the greatest learning tool anyone on the planet could ever ask for. I’m very grateful to be confident in where I’m from and who I am as an artist.
Which song on Echo do you feel represents you the best? Why that song?
Haha! THAT is the greatest thing to me about ‘Echo’: it takes all five songs to express the different colors and dynamics that represent me now, and that really have represented me my entire career. Each song is very different in vibe, tempo and style. My daughter says, “Dad, you’re a hot mess, musically”. I couldn’t agree more.
As an established and respected musician, from your point of view, should new bands focus on shows or on making a demo or album first?
It’s all rolled into the same package. There are exceptions, but it’s really been the same for all bands and artists for decades: write great songs, record a great album, and then bust your ass touring to build a fanbase. And repeat. And the good news for young bands trying to make an impact in this crazy time in the music industry is that THOSE are all things they can control. Labels, distribution, promotion dollars…you can’t control that. Make great art and that other stuff will take care of itself. It just will.
How does the music scene differ from when you started out with Brother Cane?
The concept of “artist development”, at least as investment of a record company, is completely gone forever…never to return. Bands have to think like a business from the beginning, rather than just about “getting signed” or getting monies advanced. And more than that, music does not seem to be in any way near the priority for the current generation that it was in 1992. As young people, we either loved music or sports or both. And I’m not saying the change isn’t good…just sayin’ it’s WAY different now than it was when Brother Cane started.
You have played with some of the biggest names in Rock and Roll and have had an amazing career so far. Do you ever get the itch to pursue your solo career or reunite Brother Cane full-time or do you prefer to just enjoy playing with/contributing to other bands?
At the moment, I am very fulfilled to be in Black Star Riders and to continue growing my solo career at the same time. There is the probability that BSR will never be as big as Thin Lizzy, or certainly Queen or U2. The odd song contribution to other bands or artists is always fun and I’m happy to help out when I can. But going forward, I’m more focused than ever on my band and my own music.
Any chance we will see any solo shows in the near future?
After performing with Thin Lizzy this summer, and completing the next Black Star Riders album in August, I’m taking my solo band out to play some U.S. dates during September, October and November. Am hoping to have those dates confirmed and posted in the coming weeks.
Thanks so much for your time. This is an excellent EP (I wish it were a full length!) and I wish you all the success in the world with it. Are there any parting thoughts you’d like to leave our readers with?
Thank you and thank them for listening! Combining these EP tracks with five more songs in the near future is without a doubt my goal, and I’d love to release them all together as one full-length album. Hopefully soon!