Monday, January 19, 2015

Damon Johnson - Paying It Forward With Black Star Riders - The Rock Guitar Daily Interview

"I will argue until somebody puts me in a pine box that there are not two people on this planet with more respect and more humility about an opportunity like this than Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson. There's just not. 
"We have a commitment to that that we bring every time we sit down to write a song, write a riff, write a lyric, working on harmony parts, whatever it is - there is no way we would ever do something consciously to tarnish that legacy and that name." Damon Johnson on the legacy of Thin Lizzy.

Damon Johnson takes his job very seriously. Not that he doesn't have a great time writing songs and performing them with Black Star Riders, he definitely does, but he's also fiercely proud and protective of all that that means. It's a band that rose from the remnants of the legendary Thin Lizzy, and in spite of many world tours, and now two great albums under the new name, there may still be those who cannot make the leap from the past to the present, but Johnson more than understands it, he even manages to be humbly appreciative of the feelings of those with whom he may not see eye to eye.

(Listen along on Soundcloud!)

The Killer Instinct is Black Star Riders' sophomore release, recorded in conjunction with new producer Nick Raskulinecz, and this record sees the ante upped - their debut album set the bar high with it's great selection of songs and performances, but after a lengthy stint on the road, and a second trip into the recording studio, Black Star Riders have emerged as a much stronger and cohesive unit. The trepidation of writing for a possible Thin Lizzy album is no longer a hinderance, and the songwriting team of Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson are now committed to creating a new legacy with a bloodline, but its own name. This might be the first great album of 2015, and in any case it'll be a tough act to follow.

The band have completed the transition from being a latter day Thin Lizzy into an entity all their own - sure, the bloodline is still intact, and any record on which Scott Gorham appears will certainly show that flavor, but this is a band that has now stepped officially into the future - any kid coming up would be wise to listen real close, and read and heed Damon Johnson's words on the responsibility one has to his bandmates, their legacy, how to succeed as a musician, and never wearing the wrong outfit to a video shoot.

I started off by congratulating Damon on a job well done on the band's new album:

Damon Johnson: "Thanks, that means a lot! 
"I really appreciate it. You know, this whole journey of evolving from Thin Lizzy into Black Star Riders is still just as exciting as it was two years ago when we started putting the first album together. 
"I guess more than anything right now, man, I just have this ongoing feeling of pride in all the guys, and everybody's hard work. Because I'm sure you can appreciate that at any time in music it's not the easiest thing in the world to crank out two records in two years. A lot of bands take four or five years, so there's a real commitment to creative output in this band that's very exciting for me, because I love to write songs and I have an amazing partner in Ricky (Warwick), and certainly the other guys in the band."

I asked Damon to describe his impressions of listening to the album for the first time after it had been recorded, mixed, and mastered:

Damon Johnson: "You know, that's a great question, because I'll tell you this, Tony. 
"When you first get your mix, and it's probably like this for a lot of other artists - you've got your head in it still, you're so close to it. You're still going, well, is the vocal loud enough on this track, or maybe the drums are taking up too much information right here in this chorus on this song, or whatever. 
"So, the real kind of excitement moment for me came about two weeks after we mixed it, because I made a conscious effort not to listen to it anymore. I took a long trip to visit some family, and I put it on in my car. And you know, it blows my mind - I just remember feeling that I just cannot fucking believe that I'm in a band in 2015 that could make an album like this, that would be this good, and have a sound like this, to have songs of the quality that these are. 
"Without sounding too...I don't even know the word I'm looking for, I don't want to sound conceited about it, or certainly not cocky in any way, but look - there's tons of great bands with great players, but I just don't know that there are a lot of bands putting out songs like Black Star Riders. There is so much depth in the lyrics, the storytelling that Ricky brings to the table, I just don't think there is that much of that anymore. There's lots of great vocabulary, and word play, and images that people create, but Ricky is a throwback, like he writes great folk songs with really loud guitars, haha! 
"For me, I've been a fan of stuff like that my whole life, so when I finally had a chance to absorb the whole record, that was the feeling I had, just blown away that a band like this even exists, and then the fact that I'm in the band. It's incredibly exciting."

This new album does indeed present a bold and confident Black Star Riders - I asked Damon if that was a fair statement:

Damon Johnson: "I think that's a very fair statement, and I think that has a lot to do... I think more than anything just the fact that we had time to get to know who we are as a band. 
"I'm sure you know the whole back story about how the first album came together. So much of it had been written to potentially be a Thin Lizzy record in the first place. Any of us would be dishonest to say that we didn't have some anxiety about that. For all kinds of reasons - reasons that people would expect, and reasons they wouldn't expect, just down to a sheer confidence level, like, 
"What are we doing, can we pull this off?" 
"So, after touring the world for a year and a half, we know who Black Star Riders is at this time, and that makes a huge difference. 
"Then, when you plug Nick Raskulinecz into the equation, and everything that he brought into the studio, the pre-production, his level of excitement and enthusiasm about it, it was contagious and it just fueled everyone. 
"Yeah, it was a good time - that whole month of October, you just felt like a lot of things came together, and lined up in a great way, and the record reflects that."
Nick Raskulinecz
These comments led perfectly into my next question - what exactly did Nick Raskulinecz bring to the record?:

Damon Johnson: "Well, there's a lot of great producers out there, and there's a lot of great rock producers, but I don't know that I've ever had the experience of working with someone that has so much positive energy in every facet of the process, starting with putting all the songs together, kind of tearing the arrangements apart and putting them back together, and seeing if we could improve them. Getting drum sounds, getting guitar sounds, his passion about even the rough mixes as we were going along! 
"I remember early on - the first two or three days after we had tracked drums and guitars, he would just have it blasting through the speakers daily, and he'd be jumping around like any other fan. And you've got to be flatlined if you can't feed off that energy - and we did! Scott, Robbie, everybody. 
"The guy has such an arsenal of kick ass amps, guitars, and drums. So, for all of us obviously being veterans in this business, and being a part of so many records collectively - it's pretty amazing that you'd have so much fun making a record, and that's all because of Nick. All because of Nick."

You can hear the enthusiasm on the record, that is for sure. The guitar interplay between Damon and Scott Gorham is exceptional - I stated this, and asked Damon how they decided what went where:

Damon Johnson: "I agree with you, it's really good! 
"I think we definitely took it to another level, even from All Hell Breaks Loose. For the second time, a lot of those decisions just happened organically.
"The thing I've always said about Scott that still blows my mind is that he has no ego. Even when I joined Thin Lizzy, it was never anything like, 'Look junior, I'm the guy, I'm the legend, I'm letting you hang out with me, this is what I want you to play.' 
"It was never that, man. He wanted me right up front, he wanted me taking tons of solos, and I just feel that he gave me this gift, right from the beginning of an amazing platform that any guitar player would only dream of having. 
"So that's carried over now into the writing and recording process. There are some moments on the record where Scott just... He morphs into that guy I've idolized, that I started idolizing back in '79, when I was just a kid. 
"Then for him to turn to me, and go, 'Hey, what do you think? What harmony would you put with this,' or, 'What other part would you play against that?' I live for that, Tony. I just live for it. 
"There were these other moments, too, that I am so proud of, things that I kind of brought to the table right from the beginning and said, 'Hey, here's what I'm thinking for this song,' and to see him react and get excited, like, 'Hey brother, you got that, that sounds great, full steam ahead. I can't wait to hear that when it's finished. 
"He's just the most amazing partner to be in a band with!"
Photo by Tammy Buckner
It's not just in matters of the guitar that Scott Gorham places his faith in Damon Johnson's more than capable hands - another area in which the Lizzy legend handed the keys to the ship to his partner was when it became time to pick a replacement for drummer Brian Downey. Jimmy DeGrasso had only just joined the band when they went in to record the band's first album, but the time on the road certainly has turned the band into an extremely powerful, empathetic, and musical combo, not the least of which the role DeGrasso takes on the new album - he's replaced one of the most stylistically iconic drummers in the history of rock, and created something completely new and fresh to go along with some tremendous homage that's paid to Downey on several of the album's cuts:

Damon Johnson: "Well, he really did, man. I don't take that confidence lightly. 
"Scott's been through a lot in his career, a lot of highs and a lot of lows, and for him to still be at it at this phase of his life, and still have that drive and motivation to continue to tour, and continue to make new music and be creative, and be an artist. I kind of feel like, and I know Ricky says this a lot himself, we almost feel like it's our responsibility to look out for Scott, and protect that. Not so much look out for him, but to protect that energy that he has, because look, man, we want that guy to play for twenty more years! Not just selfishly, like, 'We want to keep our band together and keep touring', we all want Scott Gorham to keep making music - you do, I do, the fans do. 
"And, if I can have some small part in keeping fuel in the tank of that car to get him there, then that is an honor. I'm really proud of that."

The partnership between Johnson and Gorham is sometimes a subtle thing - one of those things ids the fact that when one guitarist goes into a solo, the other guy doesn't lay back and take it easy, but rather they dig in and play tough, tight, and creative rhythm guitar parts with which to drive the other guy and support their work:

Damon Johnson: "Thank you for saying that - we both love to play great rhythm guitar. 
"There's a real commitment from both of us that the rhythm guitar be special. I know that when i first started playing with Scott, he probably had more comments about rhythm parts than he did with other guitar parts. 
"You'll find this interesting, that for me being a Southerner, and growing up just as influenced by R&B, blues, and certainly Southern rock - Skynyrd, The Allman Brothers, and things like that - sometimes I have this sort of style where I tend to play on the back of the beat with my soloing and my rhythm playing, and no one had ever said, or had ever noticed it in a way that Scott did. 
"I remember when we first started to play the song 'Suicide', the Thin Lizzy song - he said, 'Hey bud, I feel like you're playing it too far on the back of the beat, play it, just faster', which was essentially what he was looking for - and I cracked up. I was like, 'Wow, man, that's so awesome that you're even paying that close of attention.' Because I do! 
"I grew up listening to Steve Cropper, and even country players like Don Rich, and Merle Haggard's guys, everybody. So, the fact that Scott hears that kind of thing is a lot of fun for me, and exciting. 
"There was so much commentary about the rhythm playing on this album - as you can tell from listening to it, there is even a broader selection of tempos this time. There are a couple of really quality mid tempo songs on this record that you can't blast away with your right hand, and get the full point across that the song really needs. I'm always learning from that guy - he teaches me a lot every time we rehearse, or certainly when we're making a record, which is very, very exciting."

I had a long conversation with Scott Gorham late last year, and he told me a great story about the circumstances of Damon's joining Thin Lizzy, a story which was birthed of a golf course conversation, some luck, and good timing. I related the tale back to Damon, and he commented on how it came to pass. Gorham had said that during the whole process, Johnson, still a member of Alice Cooper's band, was a complete gentleman, and most charming in relating his desire to join the band:

Damon Johnson: "You know something, man? What we essentially know now is what he was alluding to - the was the newest version of Thin Lizzy that he was obviously having discussions about putting together, but that's really nice of Scott to say that, but he didn't truly know at that point who I was as a guitar player. I'm sure he had some respect for me right out of the gate, just knowing I was playing with Alice, but after that initial meeting we stayed in touch, which was very exciting for me, Tony. 
"You know what I mean? To even meet Scott in the first place was mind blowing, so I was very happy that he wanted to exchange contact information. So, I had sent him some music, some things I had been involved with even outside of Alice at the time, and we stayed in touch, but I think even he would agree that the thing that sealed the deal was when they were already touring with Ricky as the new singer, and they were really in a crunch to fill the spot, and it just so happened that we all did a show together, Alice Cooper and Thin Lizzy. I think that was when my name really became a serious contender in the conversation, and of course, the timing fit was pretty amazing. 
"It was tough leaving Alice in the middle of his tour, and Scott was pretty concerned about that himself, but Alice said exactly what I knew he would which was, 'Damon - Thin Lizzy is your favorite band of all time, there's no way you can't go do this.' 
"It's weird, man, to look back now over that whole time period, and you just almost feel like it was fate. It was just destiny, and all meant to be at some point."

I then asked Damon to go back a bit in time, and to tell me about his experience with Alice Cooper's band:

Damon Johnson: "The story of me joining is really interesting - it's so non-traditional, it's just not what you would expect. 
"One of the guitarists in Alice's band in 2004 was my longtime friend Eric Dover - he was in the original Snakepit with Slash, he was actually the singer, and he came to join band called Jellyfish later, who I was a huge fan of, and Eric is just a tremendous talent. He called out of the blue one day in the summer of 2004, and he said, 'Hey man, I think I'm ready to move on and do some other stuff, and Alice is going to need another guitar player, and I told him that if you were available that you were the guy.' 
"And that came out of nowhere! I wasn't looking for that, I wasn't asking for that. Literally, it fell in my lap, and to be honest with you, I thought Eric, I thought, 'Maybe he's been drinking, and he's just being nice!' 
"Sure enough, two weeks later I got a call from the tour manager, and they were going to have auditions. So, my wife and I had just had a baby, and I remember having to jump through some hoops to even get all the way out to Los Angeles from Birmingham, Alabama, where I was living at the time. 
"So, I showed up, Tony, with my Les Paul, and I'm wearing jeans, a t-shirt, and my Chuck Taylor's, and I get there and there are like four or five other guitar players there, and they all look like they're going to a Guns 'N' Roses video shoot. I just remember thinking, well, I've clearly underdressed, and if that's what they are going to make the decision on, then I'm not the guy. 
"As it turned out, the band and Alice are totally looking for someone that could play and sing. I'll never forget it, playing the first song, we played 'No More M. Nice Guy', and Eric Singer was the drummer at the time, and they had been up there all afternoon playing with different guys, and I remember we ended that song, and Eric about leapt over his mounted toms, and just said, 'This is the guy!' 
"I was kind of taken aback, and I said, 'What do you mean, man?', and he said, 'You're the only guy that has listened to the drums the entire day'. So, between Eric Dover and Eric Singer, I think a lot of the time I give these guys more credit for me getting the gig than anybody else, and for six out of eight years, I toured the world with Alice, and we became great friends, and we're friends to this day, Tony. 
"Ironically, I just did a New Years Eve gig with him, they needed somebody to step in, and back up some other musicians, as well as himself, and man, it's so awesome, and so flattering to still be a part of the family like that. Alice is an icon, he's a legend, and he deserves all the accolades that have come, and continue to come his way. But, at the end of the day, he's one of us - just a regular guy like you and me, and he loves his family, loves to play golf, and have some laughs. He's a great role model for any of us. I'm just grateful for all the time I've had playing with him."
NYE 2014
I tell Damon that I had seen video clips from the New Year's Eve show - in fact, the reason that it caught my eye was because the person occupying his chair in the Alice Cooper band today is my pal, and guitarist extraordinaire Nita Strauss:

Damon Johnson: "We love Nita! 
"No bro, listen she was at that NYE thing, and we had already met a couple of times, but never really had a chance to hang out, so Nita, and my wife, and I, the three of us, we spent a ton of time together when we were out there. She's so kick ass - that is a great gig for her. I'm happy for the band, that they got a great player, but more than that, I'm happy for Nita because what an opportunity for her, and it's bringing a lot of attention to her and her skills. She certainly deserves it, I can't say enough good about that girl. She's really special."

Getting the gig - it's not just luck, and it's not that easy. Being a man that has gotten some of the hottest gigs in rock, I asked Damon what  it takes to get the gig:

Damon Johnson: "That's a great question, man. 
"I just turned 50 last summer, and it's funny how many times I've had an occasion to reflect over my resume recently, and I almost feel like I should apologize for not having a better answer to start with, other than it just sort of happened. 
"But - the reason it happened, without a doubt, is because I'm the biggest music fan that ever lived and breathed. I've never wavered to this day. I listen to music every day, and I sit down and try to learn other songs every day. I sit down and try to write songs every day. 
"Essentially, when I put Brother Cane together, that was when the songwriting thing started heavily for me. 
"You know, I told a young guitar player just last week, I said, 'You know, man, you just need to develop as many skills as you can, don't be just a guitar player. Come to an understanding and knowledge about the drums, arrangement, singing, about harmony parts, all of that stuff, man, and the more of that you can do, then mix that with an easy ability to work with people, to compromise, and to step up and make decisions and speak up and say, 'Hey, this is what I really think we need right here.' 
"It's kind of a weird balance of that stuff. If you would have told me, bro, that when I was 16-17 that I'd have the kind of resume I have right now, I would... I would have been like, 'No way! That doesn't happen!' Not to some kid from a farm in Northern Alabama, that's just impossible. 
"And I mean it, Tony, if that could happen for me, it could happen to anybody. I think it's just a combination of the work ethic, but also to being able to get along with people, to deal with people. There's a lot of players that have shot themselves in the foot because they are difficult to live with, or difficult to work with, and that is just not going to work in your favor. Unless you're Prince, or Sting, or just this super nova artist/visionary, you are going to need some help to get there. 
"Band members, songwriters, even management, and booking agent people, you want to be able to work with everybody along the way. The fact that I've been a full time musician for thirty years is exciting, and I want to work hard for the next twenty years, thirty years. It's just good to keep a positive slant on your name out there. It's a small business, and especially in rock 'n' roll these days, it's a pretty small community, so if you have any substantial issues, the word gets around pretty fast. 
"So far, I don't think I ever wore anything too stupid in a video, Tony, or said or done something that would kick me off of too many people's Rolodexes when it comes to looking for a songwriter, or a guitar player, so I'm proud of that."

Getting back to The Killer Instinct album, I asked Damon about the gear he used to capture the album's brilliant tones:

Damon Johnson: "Man. The gear. 
"Wow - it was such a totally different experience this time. I really loved working with Kevin Shirley on All Hell Breaks Loose, and the thing I was proud of about that is Kevin fell in love with my Wizard Amps that I brought the studio, that I continue to play to this day. 
"Rick St. Pierre at Wizard Amps up in Cornwall, Ontario, Canada. We've been partners now for twenty years, and he's another guy that's like a big brother to me, and he's been so supportive of my playing and helping me as my career has progressed. So that's what I tour with with Alice, Thin Lizzy, and Black Star Riders. 
"So, I brought these amps to the studio with Nick. Now, on All Hell Breaks Loose, and with Kevin Shirley that's all I used was one of my Wizards, and I'd have it set up for rhythm, and if I was going to track a solo, I might click the gain knob up a notch or two, but that was it. 
"This time, Tony, man, it was like a guitar smorgasbord with Nick's insane arsenal of gear. He ad three of his amps, and essentially what we would do was have cabinets set up to where we could mix or match different things at any point. So, for instance if on a song like 'Soldierstown', on my rhythm passes, it's like a combination of one of the Wizards, and also Nick's old Orange - it's even got black tole, I'd never seen one like that. He's got an old Hi Watt that just sounds insane, he's got a Bogner Uberschall that really blew my mind. I wasn't super familiar with that amp. 
"So, we kind of had a combination of all that stuff, he has an old JCM800 that is the best 800 I've ever heard. Over the years, and all the records he's made he's collected this stuff, so there's no way I could tell you exactly what I played on each song throughout the record, but I do know that those four amps were kind of my meat and potatoes that I played. 
"The other fun thing about Nick - when it came time to do a solo, he had this big box of pedals - you almost tripped over it every day when you'd walk into the control room, and he would be like, 'OK, let's try something'. He'd reach down, grab a pedal, and plug it in and we'd record. And a lot of times, you would think that, 'Well, are you going to want to make a note about what pedal we used, and the settings and all that', and he's just not that kind of guy. It's all feel, and sound, and capture the moment! 
"It was another part of the process that made it so fun for me, because studios can be laborious sometimes, as I'm sure you know, depending on who's producing and engineering. Nick and his guys, Nathan and John, that worked with us, it was just like hanging out in a rehearsal room or something, the whole process. To have that bank of amps was just ridiculous - I've got some great shots of a lot of that gear on my Facebook page, but it was killer. 
"If we do another record with Nick, and we will do another record with Nick, you can write that on a rock, I may not even bring any of my gear. I'm just going to show up, man, with my phone that's got my song ideas on it, and I'll just play his guitars and amps. He's got so much great shit it's unbelievable."

This attention to tones, sounds, and texture are definitely apparent on the record - these are some the finest classic tones I've heard in ages:

Damon Johnson: "Well, if you think about the big differences, you take a song like 'The Killer Instinct' that's straight ahead, real kind of classic late 70s, early '80s almost European rock guitar sound, and then you go into a song like 'Blindsided' which is maybe my favorite song on the album, Tony. There is some David Gilmour, Gary Rossington guitar stuff going on in that song that I just two or three years ago would have never imagined our band doing a song like that. 
"So, there's a lot of diversity this time, and I can't wait for the fans to hear the record, and we're looking forward to getting their feedback. I know there's going to be some stuff there... There will be some mind blowing reactions, I can't wait."

That last comment is not as understatement in any way. The Killer Instinct sits proudly next to the best albums in the legend of Thin Lizzy, the Jailbreaks, Live and Dangerous, Black Rose, and I don't say that lightly as these are albums I have revered my entire life:
Damon Johnson: "That's awesome, man."

Another great new addition to Black Star Riders is new bassist Robbie Crane (Ratt, Vince Neal, Lynch Mob) whose work on this record dis tremendous - his tones range from brutal to huge to huge and brutal, and he's fitted into the mix magnificently by Raskulinecz:

Damon Johnson: "Aw dude, that's awesome! I can't wait to tell Robbie that you said that! 
"Because listen. Robbie is a motherfucker of a bass player. Listen - I'd know. I had met Robbie a couple of times over the years, I had heard some of the stuff he had done with Ratt, and that sounded great, but I didn't realize how down and dirty, mean and growling of a tone and approach that this guy takes.He is not fucking around, and I could just not be happier. 
"To have that guy in our band, and in our lives. He's such a positive addition to our whole family. Dude, he kicked ass on this record, and indeed, he and Nick really worked really good together. And it's some of that same thing - they'd have a combination of amps, and you know it's no surprise for me to tell you that Nick was running Robbie's bass through that Marshall head, and through a 4x12 cab, as well as an old tube Ampeg, and pedals. He'd say, 'C'mon man, we're going to have some fun with this.' Robbie is the perfect guy for us, and he kicked ass on this record."

Indeed he does, and filling the shoes of master bassist and everybody's 'go to bass guy' Marco Mendoza is no easy task:

Damon Johnson: "No. those are big shoes to fill. 
"Again, Robbie kind of came out of left field. My buddy Keri Kelly who I played with in Alice Cooper, he and Robbie had ben tight for a long time, and had played in some projects together, so he had talked a lot about Robbie, but Jimmy DeGrasso had actually done a few gigs with Robbie, so Jimmy was the one who initially mentioned Robbie. There were a lot of names thrown around, and we knew we'd come up with somebody, but there was definitely some anxiety. Like, 'Shit, we have to replace Marco Mendoza, that's not the easiest thing in the world to do, man! 
"I just feel we've landed on our feet, and more so having Robbie on board. I think it's really exciting for him that right after he joined the band we go straight into the studio and make a record. I know he's having a great time being a part of it."

Of course, you can't talk Black Star Riders without talking about Johnson's songwriting partner and frontman, Ricky Warwick. He's had a long and stellar career, but this might just be his best moment yet:

Damon Johnson: "Tony, of all the things that have happened since I got the call to join Thin Lizzy, the thing that I am most grateful for is that that guy came into my life. 
"I've said it in a couple of interviews recently, and it's almost became some kind of sound bite in the press, but what I said is that, 'I joined Thin Lizzy to play those songs with Scot Gorham and Brian Downey, but I absolutely joined Black Star Riders because of Ricky Warwick.' 
"That guy is special beyond description. I don't even think it is possible to measure how talented that guy is, and how committed to great songwriting that guy is - I'm talking about on the same level of commitment that somebody like Phil Lynott had, like a Van Morrison, a Bruce Springsteen, a fucking Kris Kristofferson, that guy is so good. 
"Both records we've done together now, it's all... It's not even work for me, Tony. It's more than just a labor of love, it's almost like, I feel like we are in the marines or something, and we know we are strong and talented, experienced, knowledgable, and together we have a vision that we evolved quickly as to where we would like Black Star Riders to go musically. 
"I just think he took it to a whole other level with The Killer Instinct, even a step up from All Hell Breaks Loose, which has great fucking songs on it, as well. 
"Some of the lyrics on this record - 'Charlie I Gotta Go', who the fuck comes up with the idea to come up with a song about Charles Manson's clan, and is observing everything that's happening, and then at the last minute, in the eleventh hour goes, 'Man, this is too much for me, I've gotta pull out. Charlie I gotta go.' That's what the song is about. Who comes up with something like that, bro? That's completely insane - that is so good. 
"'Soldierstown' that is epic storytelling,as much as any Iron Maiden lyric that Steve Harris wrote, or even 'Emerald' Phil Lynott's famous Thin Lizzy lyrics - 'Soldierstown' is right up there with that. 
"I'm inspired to work with the guy, each and every day. We've become great friends, his family and my family, and he didn't hesitate to jump on a plane and come here to Nashville to write with me. It was a year ago this month that he came out and we started writing the songs for what became this record. 
"I just never thought that I'd be at a place like this at this point in my career to be in such a great band with someone I have this level of respect for, and enthusiasm for writing songs with."

Quite frankly, anything less than this much talent, and this much commitment would simply not have worked. truth be told, there were people waiting for this band to fall on their respective asses, but instead, they just keep getting better:

Damon Johnson: "They do, and I think a lot of that is just human nature. 
"Look - there's still Thin Lizzy fans out there that they're just never going to get on the Black Star Riders wagon, and I totally get that. But, that doesn't mean that we shouldn't do it. It doesn't mean that we shouldn't form a band with Scott Gorham that has elements that celebrate that sound, from that band. 
"I will argue until somebody puts me in a pine box that there are not two people on this planet with more respect and more humility about an opportunity like this than Ricky Warwick and Damon Johnson. There's just not. 
"We have a commitment to that that we bring every time we sit down to write a song, write a riff, write a lyric, working on harmony parts, whatever it is - there is no way we would ever do something consciously to tarnish that legacy and that name. 
"Quite the opposite, we want to celebrate it, we want to protect it, we want to continue it, and educate the next generation of youngsters - and that's happening, man, we see it! There's kids in Europe coming to our shows, and they're not even that familiar with Thin Lizzy. They know 'The Boys Are Back In Town' because they've heard it on classic rock radio their whole lives. They're singing more lyrics to the Black Star Riders songs than the Lizzy stuff we play and that's mind blowing and exciting. Because then you can say, 'Hey, you need to go check out these records that absolutely were the blueprint for what this band has evolved into, and what we're out there celebrating. 
"You were talking a few minutes ago about the records, and I'll tell you - Jailbreak, Live and Dangerous, Black Rose, some kid comes up to me today in 2015 and says, 'I wanna be a rock star, I wanna be in rock 'n' roll, I want to be a songwriter, a performer, a guitar player.' I'll give him those three records, and that's all he needs for the rest of his life. Those records have everything! They've got different styles, different tempos, storytelling, tones, swing, R&B, pop, metal... Fuck! They have everything. Those three records - it's all you need. I'll put my cowboy boots on any table in Nashville, Tennessee and argue that for the rest of my life."


tdchagas said...

Best interview i ever read!
Thanks a lot.

Rock Damen said...

Damon Johnson takes his job very seriously. Not that he doesn't have a great time writing songs and performing them with Black Star Riders, ...