Ahh....forgive me friends.... I’ve been chastisably remiss in my reporting. So much has happened since my last entry that I almost don’t know where to begin so I’ll just take a deep breath and backtrack. Suffice to say that I have had one of the most utterly hectic, intensive yet thoroughly satisfying 2 month runs of my entire up, down and around musical career. After the west coast / desert leg of “Cracker CVB acoustic duo” (Lowery/Hickman) shows I said goodbye to David and flew immediately up to Seattle Washington to meet up with my good friends and co/conspirators in musical merriment , Radio Nationals. (More about these guys soon).
* 2/27 Upon landing I checked into a cheap motel and slept for a
desperately needed 12 hours straight. *Johnny’s road tip #41!...always crank up
the ac/heater unit no matter the temperature. Even the fan only setting will
mask any annoying noises like sub woofing jerk cars at 4 AM, knocking maids with
voices like fingernails on chalkboards at 9AM or fellow musicians doing
unspeakable things in nearby rooms...or hallways. Upon waking I called my
friends Barbara (also my publicist) and Jared (singer/songwriter for Radio
Nationals) and informed them that I had not fallen off the face of the earth but
was actually in town. I then walked 3 or 4 miles up and down the hilly
neighborhood streets surrounding Seatac to get provisions at a distant drug
store. Note to self.....never begin a 2 month tour with brand new boots. My
blisters were getting blisters. On the way back I had a great Seattlesque
moment....my throbbing feet were miraculously saved by a battered, abandoned
bicycle laying 15 feet below, tangled in long vines in a ditch near some woods.
The handlebars were bent comically sideways and there was no chain, but as it
was mostly downhill from there I hopped on with my swinging bag containing
shaving cream, razors, vitamins, band-aids, Neosporin ointment (with pain
relief) and a power cord. As I gleefully coasted down one particularly steep
suburban hill at perhaps 35 mph....tears filling my numb and dumb ears, I had a
sudden, harsh realization. No chain = no brakes. As the gods of comedy would
decree, a late 60s model Ford Falcon glided up next to me. “Hey....he says
you’re Johnny from Cracker...are you?”. The guy riding shotgun yelled, grinning
from ear to ear as he gestured toward the driver. “NO” I yelled smiling. “I’m
much smarter than he is!” This cracked the pair up no end. “Nice bike!” The
driver laughed, thumbs up as he cruised along. “Need a ride?” “Naw.....but I’ll
take a tow” I said, grabbing the door handle and steadying myself . “Where you
playing?” They asked. “The Tractor.....Saturday” I yelled as I veered off
towards my hotel down the side street. They honked and waved as I wobbled away.
I lay the bike in a patch of grass and walked to my room. Looking out the window
an hour later it was gone, some other freak probably saving my life for me as he
walked off with his prize.
*Monday Feb. 28........Jared and I dropped an advance copy of
“Palmhenge” by Seattle’s legendary radio station WEXP.....we begin the first
rehearsal with the band and later Jared and I play an impromptu acoustic
*3/1 through 3/ 3 Rehearsed, drank brown liquor, ate lots of fish and
rehearsed some more. Drank copious amounts of Rainier beer in honor of how fast
the guys learned my songs.
*3/4 Drove down to Portland for our debut show together at Dante’s. On
the way we drive past the area around Mt. St. Helens where Radio Nationals lead
guitarist Aaron Taylor was born and raised. That night after he played a red hot
set I gave him the nickname “Lavabilly”. Days later digital pictures of me in an
ice machine at 4 AM materialized. Don’t ask.
*3/5 I’m proud to announce that we nearly blew the roof off of
Seattle’s legendary Tractor club. After recording Palmhenge with some of the
best musicians I know I was a bit worried about how I would pull it off live.
This show confirmed my theory that these guys were THE SHIT. They backed me
superbly on my set and then ended the night triumphantly as they hammered the
sold out crowd with their own great set...bringing me back up for a few raucous
encores. Ahhh total bliss...made even better by a brief spotting of the guys who
towed my freak bike earlier in the week.
*3/6 We load the gear into Jared’s van with Rick, Rich and Aaron and
then Jared and I packed CDs, ipod, Red Bull, Coffee and began the drive to San
Francisco for the second of our acoustic duo shows together. On the
stereo.....Neil Young’s new greatest hits CD, Slobberbone, Bottlerockets Blue
Sky, Drive By Truckers (lots), Bobby Bare Jr. , and random gems from Jared’s
impressive collection. Computer wiz Jared kindly installs a wireless card in my
laptop. We both sign up for the Flying J wireless deal for a month. Pull up to
the truck stops, grab a coffee etc....log on! Old Johnny gets with these new
*3/7 Monday night.... booked at the last minute, we did our gig at
Hotel Utah in S.F. Small but enthusiastic crowd...great club. Some of the sweet
local girls adorn the stage with a hundred candles for us. Great vibe. Look
forward to playing here again with some advance notice/publicity next time.
Victor K. and his mate Troy were there to share the wine and good cheer. If
there is a better way to spend a Monday night I don’t don’t know what it is.
*3/8 HOLY SHIT!! These are the days that test the
boundaries of good health both physical and mental........the erstwhile “Flying
Js” woke up early and drove nonstop to Salt Lake City Utah for our gig at Monks.
13 hour trip...barely made it at 10 PM in time to set up, have a beverage with
the always cool Mike Finch, Wolfitz and company before hitting the stage. Really
enjoyed this cool little venue...great pizza....the owner even presented us with
a set of groovy, square Maker’s Mark high ball glasses after the show.
*3/9 Drove toward Denver after spending the night in the middle of
nowhere at the “Touch Nothing” motel. (Jared’s name for sticky carpet, see
through sheets, cigarette burns on everything, kind of luxury accommodations.)
YEE HA! After hearing of the CVB/Cracker equipment thefts, Jared has decided
to sleep in the van with the guitars many nights. A true hero. One night he was
awakened by the sound of a would be thief trying to pry the lock off the van
door. When the asshole got a look at Jared (who is a 6 foot 3 man mountain)
bellowing and scrambling for the door he pissed himself, legs flying and his his
bones mercifully intact.....my big little brother barreling after him like an
angered grizzly as he fled into the night.
*3/10 We play a loose but fun show at The Lion’s Lair in Denver
Colorado. The “Flying Js” have their first band argument but decide that we are
brothers and laugh it off. Just like real musicians should do. I get a short but
sweet visit with my wife and 2 year old son who are staying with my in laws from
nearby Ft. Collins. In the morning we thank my friend’s John and Eddy for
putting us up and head south.
*3/11 Jared and I arrive in Denton Texas to catch the first of two
farewell shows performed by local legends Slobberbone. Old friends of Radio
Nationals, these guys did an outstanding goodbye show preceded by a short film
of performances and interviews from their ten years on the road together. It was
bittersweet to see this great band live for the first and last time as their
fans cheered and wept, lone stars held aloft in the sold out crowd. My friend
Patterson from Drive by Truckers (who was out on tour himself and could not
attend) was a very close friend of Slobberbone so we scored him a limited print
farewell poster signed by his buddies. One of those nights that just feel
magical all around.
*3/13 I grab my acoustic guitar and play an unannounced opening set
with Jared at Rudyard’s in Houston Texas. Ian Moore is the headliner and his
crowd is attentive and cool. Nobody knows who I am until Jared makes an
announcement. I find this experience to be strangely enjoyable....especially
when the set goes over very well. Ian and his band are quite impressive and
afterwards we end up going to a friends house for an all night jam session with
musicians sleeping on pool tables amid empty beer cans. Ian kindly tosses me an
air mattress that he stows away with his gear. We all awaken to a huge tray of
fish tacos and good coffee from our gracious host! Nice. I stupidly leave 2 of
my harmonicas behind as we go careening off to Austin.
Next up..........tales of howling ribaldry at South by Southwest!!