Monday, November 5, 2007 road blog 13

3 am....Nov. 4th 07 Sitting here in the wee hours at out hotel in Lawrence Kansas. Great show tonight...a very attentive audience which is my polite way of saying that people were listening very closely to the quieter songs and not talking to loudly during them. WHICH WE LOVE.

On to my other reason for blogging: I want to thank Chris and Maria for the wonderful podcast regarding the history of my song "Harvest Queen". A big thank you to Morst too. Well done! I feel compelled to fill in a few blanks though.....the music for the song goes back years...all the way to "Big Dirty Yellow" (The house David and I shared when we first moved to Richmond together pre Cracker). I awoke one morning with the guitar riff and melodies in my head and worked them out right then and there. I showed it to David at one point and he called my then instrumental "Harvest Queen". It felt like a great title but we were in the middle of working on many, many other songs and I put it on the back burner. Cut to 1999, around the time I moved back to Redlands and rekindled my friendship with Chris LeRoy.

We showed each other what we had been working on and instantly began collaborating again which always feels natural to us. He came up with a new title and lyrics for the song (Haunted) which I felt where great, but I still liked David's original title idea. We recorded the track with Chris on an old, beat up, upside down bass , Chad Villareal on drums and Maria at the board and it was just spontaneously magical on the first take. It's true as Maria says, I showed it to several session players and they never matched that original track!

One night I fell asleep thinking about David's title idea "Harvest Queen". As Chris says in the podcast he had burned me a CD of several scary old songs by other people. One night I dreamt I was one of 3 or 4 young migrant farm workers in a vast green field in California somewhere. In the dream there was a beautiful, naked witch flying over us. She was slowly changing from a woman to a raven, a ball of fire and back into this temptress / goddess ...then she vanished. She appeared again after dark and was trying to coax these young men into an old 1940s looking car for comfort? protection? To steal our souls? I didn't know but I saw it all...the monkey's paw, the straw...all of it. Scared the hell out of me.

I woke with a start and wrote the whole thing down before I could forget it. The dream became the final version of the song after that. Strange story huh? Even though I wrote the lyrics and music, the song would never have gotten finished without the input of Chris and David. I had played a rough sketch for David Immerglück one night (in the back of a car) and he actually DEMANDED that he play on the track with me. How could I refuse the amazing Immy?
I was honored. One night he came down to Lo-Fi from Los Angeles and had brought along Cracker's original bassist Davey Farragher. They sang those great "AAAAAA" backing vocals and Immy and I did this sword fight of guitar solos at the end of the song which completed the long journey. I recently had the opportunity to play the song live at Roger Clyne's Mexico festival a few weeks ago. It was their suggestion. Roger and the Peacemakers just said "Hey let's do Harvest Queen...yeah we know it". They did and played the hell out of it with me. Yet another of those wonderful "Man I have a cool job" moments. Johnny....over and out.

Tuesday, May 1, 2007 road blog 12

Alright, it's been several months since my last official bloggish communication and that's just ridiculous isn't it? I've had my reasons and strangely, they were mostly physical. At the risk of sounding whiny I'll explain it this way...after fifty relatively healthy years I was suddenly hit with some dreadful maladies last fall. Without going into too much detail I'll just say that it involved discomfort, some minor surgery and a rough recovery period. On the bright side, in the middle of said discomfort I traveled and performed three holiday season Cracker shows in Petaluma, San Francisco and Reno. Hallelujah! He moves! Music cures. Thank you to those of you who gave me some love and assistance out there. The wonderful David Immerglück would be at the top of that list, wheeling me around San Francisco in my chair barreling down crowded avenues to dinner and back, making me laugh myself silly with glee.

On the musical front, I am happy to report that I am currently involved with some new projects. Those of you who were in attendance at the recent Colorado shows will remember Jim Dalton, singer and guitarist from our support band the Railbenders...he of commanding stage presence and amazing, Johnny Cash like baritone voice. Jim and I are about 10 or 12 songs into an album of original material....very old school, sixties sounding country music which is sort of where I come from stylistically (as if you couldn't tell by some of my Cracker contributions and solo songs I guess eh? ). Some of the songs I write are probably just too country for Cracker and it's wonderful to have a home for many of them.....and it's great to write with Jim. We are both singing on the record ala Willie and Merle, Johnny and Waylon. Duets, harmonies and the like. Here are some titles; Mexican Jail, Hello Lonesome, Larimer County Blues, Hold My Drink While I Kiss Your Girlfriend......yeah Mr. Wrong lives.

Around my home town of Fort Collins CO, I've been playing shows with a great alt-rock / alt-pop band called the Piggies. I don't know what's in store for the future there, but something good I'm sure. I've played around in their private studio with a couple alternate versions of my own songs, just to get a feel for their masterful recording chops, and I will probably post the results of that first experiment on MySpace or somewhere else in the next year.

Last but not least in collaborations, I am also very proud to report that my friend Roger Clyne put the song we wrote together on a vacation (rest, sailing and tequila) weekend in Mexico on his new album. The song is "Bottom of the Bay," and the album is "No More Beautiful World." My current favorite songs on the RCPM album are "Andele" (no surprise I guess that I would love a pirate-themed song that mentions ravens, hmm) and "Maybe We Should Fall in Love".

Another bonus of all this collaboration is that doing all this writing and co-writing has got me fired up for some new Cracker music. I can feel it coming soon......Mr. L. and I have both been staying in the muse with other projects which always seems to lead us back to Cracker and new songs....or finishing ones that we started somewhere back in time. By the way, if you have not done so yet check out David's MOG site and devour his new song and video "Deep Oblivion". Enchanting. Okay, it's 4 am and we are not even to the middle of this Duo tour yet so, in the name of health and sanity I will sign off for now and send this to my ever-talented Webmaster Shay. Sweet dreams, Johnny

Tuesday, January 2, 2007 road blog 11

Hello friends...just got back from the 3 shows in Petaluma, San Francisco and Sparks/Reno. As I hang out with my nineteen year old son Hans I find myself feeling wistfully appreciative of my cohorts and decided to write it down.

Allow me to give props to my associates and brothers in Cracker and CVB:

Frank Funaro: This amazing drummer and human being is the engine that keeps both of these bands on the highway. He loves to perform live more than anyone I've ever met much less played with. When he hits the stage Frank puts the show over anything else going on in his reality and has inspired ALL of us to do the same countless times.

Kenny Margolis: An intuitive and brilliant musician who could easily sit in with anyone, anytime, anyplace and hold his own on the keys. Case in a moment of good humored and courageous spontaneity he scooped up a pump organ (foot operated mind you) from a nearby house and dragged it up onstage to add unrehearsed yet splendid backing to my solo show at Pi town. Balls.

Sal Maida: Basically walked right into Cracker and played as if he had been there for years. Amazing style and an uncanny ability to pick up songs, blend and create on the spot. AND he's one of the nicest guys around this camp.

David "Immy" Immerglück: This musical maniac is a combination of comedic genius, consummate showman and brilliant musician. The gang say he and I are a little too similar and grow more so all the time. I am honored by that overview indeed. David has been a spicy ingredient to the brew ever since he joined us in the studio for "The Golden Age" 11 years ago. That's his glorious pedal steel haunting songs like "Big Dipper" and "The Golden Age" and his beautiful singing right along side yours truly on gems such as "I'm A Little Rocketship" and "Useless Stuff". Whether making music together or tossing m-80s off the roofs of luxury hotels at 2 AM he is a delight to be around.

Victor K.: This eloquent and talented man has been, in been many respects at the heart of CVB from day one. From his teenage days when he was part of our small circle of pre CVB punk rock friends around the Inland Empire to the present day he has been a solid bass player, songwriter, vibester and friend to all of us. He is probably the most solid, even tempered and well liked person amongst us.

Jonathan Segel: In a very real way Jonathan is one of the edgy geniuses behind the Camper Van Beethoven sound. An aggressively brilliant multi instrumentalist, songwriter and intellect, Jonathan is a true musical seeker, always reinventing his approach and devouring styles and genres for his own amusement and growth.

Greg Lisher: As a fellow guitarist I have been a major Lisher fan for 2 decades now. We both admire several of the same greats (Jeff Beck, David Gilmour, Peter Green) yet filtered through Greg's brain, heart and hands these influences meld into a highly original style that is pure Greg. His solos are small symphonies of their own and his tone and slide work floor me again and again.

David Lowery: Certainly the fire at the center of our universe, David has written music his own way for as long as I've known him and that's a hell of a long time. I count him among the best songwriters of his generation. As friends playing in separate bands around the same area, his oddly unique humor, wit, angst and passion inspired me long before we became partners in Cracker. I might not have come up with half of the melodies, riffs, lyrics or titles I've contributed to the Cracker canon without his direct inspiration and delightfully skewed vision of life on earth. When asked how we work together once in an interview I once blurted out that I try to play guitar the way David feels when he's telling the story. That's as close as I can get to the core of it. There's no set method. Sometimes the words come first, sometimes chords, sometimes a guitar riff that may or may not become a vocal melody, sometimes it's just a title or a sentence. Here's just one example of a Cracker song's birth : I have a guitar melody that feels to me like a cross between some freaky goth like surf music and The Pixies circa "Surfer Rosa". I show it to David and he soon begins firing off free verse lines on a fictitious character we invented for our own amusement (we do this often) named Kam Phoc. Soon, there are redneck mamas and comets flying around the studio. At 3 am in the hotel that night I wake up and hear another melody line in my head. I pick up my guitar and play it before I forget it. This one is a strange, almost atonal ascending thing. I show it to David the next day and he quickly finds chords to go under it. We graft the the new riff in and around the other until it feels right. Although Kam Phoc started out as my alter ego, ( I have many and perhaps should seek psychiatric help for this ) and would appear as our tour manager and mentor suddenly and without warning, David mind melded with him and realized that he was secretly an underground indie icon from a bygone era. David decided that Kam's TRULY great mid sixties record was called 100 Flower Power Maximum. Some disturbingly choice chanting and breathing from Herr Lowery and my estimation of Kam's wife's voice speaking the song title into a hand held recorder with a dying battery at the very end of the song and we had it. Thankfully our Golden Age producer Dennis Herring was (and still is) as out there as we were and caught it all, prodding us further on into our madness. After hearing David's "Let's pick it up!" screamed into the microphone, Dennis gladly obliged my sudden desire to capture the sound of my amp being dashed against the brick studio wall and miked it accordingly. That's one of the sounds that make up the bridge or "middle eight" as they call it in the U.K. That's how we roll as they say.

Perhaps in another entry I will go into detail about some of the past band members who played a significant role in our family. Johnny over and out.