Friday, October 6, 2006 road blog 10

First off let me offer my apologies for these long lapses. I MEAN to write more often but sometimes don't have the luxury for long stretches at a time. I am happy to say that they are usually due to a very active life, a very full career calendar, fatherhood, marriage and many great friends. Oh...and song writing. I had a fever and was sick for a few weeks there (thank you for the get well wishes) and got a lot of song writing done. My friend Brian from the Bottle Rockets told me last week that Neil Young wrote "Cowgirl In The Sand" and "Down By The River" in bed with a fever..on the same day. I told him I was going outside in my pajamas so that I could stay sick and write some more. Autumn and fever both get me writing for some reason.

Anyway, I came a lot farther on a batch of songs I started on the road this summer. At the moment I should be sleeping but I'm not. I am quite unwise that way....often. Cracker are in the middle of three days of rehearsals for the upcoming European tour. We almost never rehearse. This is due to the fact that we gig so much that there is not much need unless we are working up a slew of new material or there has been a personnel change. In this case it is the latter...temporarily...our beloved Frank has some family obligations and can't make the European tour. Filling in will be our friend Nate Brown from Virginia. Nate has played some drums on our CDs and toured with us in his former band Everything and we also know him from his days playing with guitarist Gibb Droll (All Thumbs Trio). It's always a good shot in the arm to play with different people and I look forward to playing with Nate this month. I will indeed miss my Frankie though. Frank and I room together a lot out there on tour. We are similar in a lot of ways, not the least of which is a shared childlike and passionate enthusiasm for music. We are also the most extroverted two guys in our world as well. Many of you know this eh? Who are you most likely to find having a Sambuca or a Maker's with you "Crumbs" after a show huh? Frank and I discuss the pleasure and privilege of this joyous (most of the time) activity often.

We appreciate and genuinely like our fans as a whole. I count some of them as my best friends. However, on occasion and for various reasons, there are times when we don't socialize after a show. Please know that it's nothing personal. Sometimes we are on a tough schedule and have already been operating on very little sleep, or have to be up ridiculously early after getting off work at 3 am or so. It's a great job but still a job. Imagine if you will, trying to end your work day by hanging out in a room or alleyway full of rather drunk and excited people as you pack up a few tons of heavy equipment.....every day after work. EVERY day after work. Sometimes you just don't have it in you. We've actually had insults hurled at us for simply wanting to go to sleep for a few hours. Those of you who have been around us for a long time seem to be able to sense the nights when the hang just isn't going to happen. Thank you for understanding and respecting us. We are not aloof, just thrashed or are perhaps having personal problems as everyone does now and again. Or we are sick. Or someone just ripped us off. Or somebody just pissed us off by being rude or invasive. Or we simply want to go get on the phone and say goodnight to our kids or partners in a quiet place. When you do this as much as we do you sometimes just need a little space, a little peace and quiet. These things are very rare out there on the road. Time to sleep. God bless you my friends.

Hope to see you soon. Johnny

Sunday, July 16, 2006 road blog 9

A glamorous life. 7/15/06Great first show of the second leg of touring for Greenland last night at the "new" 9:30 club in Washington DC. A splendid venue with great sound, staff, food and a dressing room with...unbelievable! penises drawn on the walls! Why do musicians draw huge penises on the walls of dressing rooms? Insecurity? Do they think this will get them laid? Trust me morons, this is not something women want to see if you are lucky enough to escort one back there. Visiting Moms and aunts don't want to see it either. Of course here in the 9:30 dressing room there IS a highly stylized and oddly sexual Grecian painting on the dome ceiling. Hmmm. There are also clean bunks where a musician can afford him (or her) self the rare luxury of a nap. This club gets a 10 on the 1 to 10 scale. A far cry from the original 9:30 of yesteryear which although legendary, was in actuality a hellish little punk rock dive with a low, cramped stage with support beams that half hid the performers from the crowd. Perhaps a blessing on some nights. There was a storeroom/dressing room with overhead pipes that were a regular thoroughfare for big rats looking to pilfer your rider (backstage food). I remember stomping my boot at one such brazen rodent who looked up and hissed at me fearlessly before sauntering off into a hole in the wall with a tortilla chip.

At the moment I am sitting behind David as he drives through the upstate New York downpour as we try to find our way around construction riddled road detours to the gig near Albany NY. At around 2:30 AM in DC last night, after settling the business, loading out the equipment, signing CDs and T-shirts we hauled ass to our hotel to steal a precious few hours of sleep. Up at 7 am to grab a coffee and hopefully some rider scraps we'd stuffed in our backpacks from the night before we head out to the next adventure. I awake sleep addled and befuddled after having snoozed in the back seat most of the 8 hour drive while David and Wayne (our temporary tour manager from South Carolina) take turns at the wheel. Load in was supposed to be at 3:30 and due to the weather and construction delays it is now 6:20. Sometimes routing and variables just fuck up the best laid plans. Yikes....we are at the venue. Time to snap out of it and move gear in the rain! Yeeeha!!! Over and out..... Johnny and the grizzled veterans of the road.

7/15/06 3 am. Frank sleeps peacefully in the next bed...his traditional post show Sambuca numbing his weary soul to slumber. The band played their asses off tonight. On a 1 to 10 it's a solid 9 show.

7/16/06 Hoorah....we got to sleep till 11!! We are on a punctual course to Poughkeepsie until one of the trailer tires blows out on the highway. Today being Sunday, it takes some phone scrambling but we find an open RV outlet and buy a new wheel. They have no separate tires so we buy the whole enchilada, rim and all. Once again we head toward a late load in. 2 opening bands tonight. Sound check? Probably not. Dicks on the dressing room walls? Probably. I'll check in with you later my friends.

PS: Just got another report from Pioneertown about the fire. All the historical buildings still standing...including Pappy and Harriet's and the big barn up the road where we recorded Kerosene Hat. David's cabin has very likely burned down. No access to the road up to it yet but the satellite photos do not bode well.

Wednesday, July 5, 2006 road blog 8

6/20/06 "SITTING IN" Ahhh.... I have been invited to "sit in" tonight with my friends Counting Crows. They are co-headlining a show with The Goo Goo Dolls at the legendary Red Rocks amphitheater on July 5th.

I first met Counting Crows about thirteen years ago when they rolled up in a cluttered, crowded van behind a great club called Ziggy's in Raleigh/Durham North Carolina in the fall of 1993. They were there to begin a run of shows performing as Cracker's opening or "support" band. Our second album "Kerosene Hat" had just been released but had yet to ascend to the level of success it gradually afforded us over the following year. Counting Crows had just finished recording what would become one of the most successful debut albums of the decade "August And Everything After". At that moment though, there back at Ziggy's years ago they were simply our new, relatively unknown opening band. Always keen to meet the people we were to be sharing a stage and traveling with for the next month or so, I went over to say hello. David introduced me to them, having had a small connection with them from the San Francisco area where his former band Camper Van Beethoven were local legends. They seemed eager, excited and friendly enough. When I caught their show for the first time that humid southern evening I was pleasantly surprised. Here was a young band that had refreshingly little in common with the "grunge" sound that was so prevalent, much imitated and overdone at the time. Nothing against the talented originators of that scene, but these guys seemed to draw much more inspiration from The Band or Van Morrison than from Alice in Chains, Soundgarden or Nirvana. Here was this dread-locked young guy with a strong, soulful voice flailing and wailing over a gorgeous, swirly mix of organ, bass, drums and guitars. The songs were steeped in deceptively simple, seductive melodies. The guitars rang more than screamed. The singer emoted and phrased in his own sweetly broken yet powerful kind of way, supported by a band that possessed an intuitive sense of dynamics, seducing the crowd with a quiet, steady hypnotic groove, building to massive mid song crescendos, then ending with a whisper. Over the next few weeks I remember thinking to myself that if there was any justice in this unpredictable, often corrupt business (there rarely is) these guys should succeed. Little did anyone know back then how successful they would become or that that David would co-produce a great album with the band "This Desert Life" years later and that by that time they would be known the world over.

Over the course of a few tours with Cracker, Counting Crows scored big with their first radio hit "Mr Jones" and we began opening shows for them. We were soon fortunate with the success of "Low", followed by "Get Off This" and also moved ahead a square on the big chess board of the music business. This happens a lot in our world. As we soared past bands we previously opened for, so did Counting Crows and so will many more new bands to come. I actually like this aspect of our huge and fractured profession. It is our version of the time worn "be nice to the man in the elevator on the way up for you will most assuredly meet him again on the way back down" adage. In our business it is a constant, clamoring sea of competitive musicians vying for attention. The effect is often dizzying and frustrating but also hopefully gives us all a healthy and humbling diet of pragmatism. It is part of the difficult dance of ego and reality. On the one hand, I've seen unchecked ego destroy potentially great bands barely out of the starting gate. On the other hand, you have to dig your bad self to some degree or you will never succeed in music or for that matter, in any business.

Cracker and Counting Crows, like very few of our contemporaries have managed to slowly garner and be honored with a loyal following of fans all over this and other countries that come to see us live whether or not we have a hit on the radio at the time. Both bands have survived a decade and a half through turbulent ups and downs, band members managers and crew members being replaced or leaving for various reasons, record label turmoil, a business that has undergone tremendous changes, not to mention marriages, divorces, break ups, births and all manner of personal and emotional upheavals. We have all somehow weathered things that would have splintered most bands years ago. When I see my friends Adam, David, Dan, Charlie and Immy I will remember the nights when as a little boy, my now 18 year old son Hans would shake them down for quarters to play foosball or video games in the small clubs we played. They remember the times when Hans would fall asleep, earplugs intact behind dad's amp as Cracker roared mere feet away. I remember putting cardboard pizza boxes along his mattress on the tour bus to keep him from rolling off the high bunk as we flew through the night to the next city. He would sometimes wake before the band and play with his leggos in the back lounge. I remember once waking to him whispering "Hey, Dad...the guy from the magazine is here. I got him some coffee and told him you would be right out". Such is the life of a rock and rollers' kid. Such is my life. I'm not rich but I get by just fine. I suppose I'm kinda famous, but only to the point where I get the occasional "Hey Johnny!" and some friendly conversation from smiling fans while walking through major cities or airports. I have friends all over the world that I adore. I work with a brilliant and prolific song writing partner who also has a mathematics degree (much like Mick Jagger but on a smaller scale) and watches the bottom line so that we can survive as a company in this fiercely competitive business. I'm one of the estimated 20% of North Americans that actually love their job...well, most of the time. Several days in a row of little sleep, early morning radio interviews and on air performances, hauling equiptment at 2 AM and long drives will always suck but at the end of the day I remember that I feed and clothe my kids with rock and roll. Lucky.

Monday, June 19, 2006 road blog 7



New bassist Black Sal's first gig at Cain's Ballroom in Tulsa Oklahoma was a smashing success. Black Sal? Yes. Why? Because everyone in this band gets a nickname or two, often an absurd one. In this case, Kenny Margolis (our keyboardist/accordionist) who brought Sal in told the rest of us he was black. A black Cracker? Cool thought we. When Mr. Maida, a towering, blue eyed Sicilian American showed up for auditions it was clear that our collective legs had been pulled. Now naturally, he's "Black Sal". At least for now. As I mentioned before, in our world you get a few nicknames. More on that later.

WAKARUSA!....AND FESTIVAL LOVE. Black Sal's second gig with Cracker is in front of a huge festival crowd on a sweltering Kansas afternoon. This after little or no sleep and learning a staggering number of songs in the past week or two. He triumphs, locking with Frank as song by song they lay the foundation of the new rhythm section that will propel us through a very busy summer and beyond. Earlier, as we carried our gear up the ramp at the back of the stage we found the Flaming Lips sound checking for their headlining show. Both CVB and Cracker had played with The Lips at festivals years ago… and today, they greet us warmly. Singer Wayne Coyne is dressed in a suit, one that almost looks the white inner lining of a suit, which somehow looks quite elegant on the slender, handsomely graying singer.

We compare freak guitars...mine tattooed and time-battered, his appearing to have been constructed of kids' toys and brightly colored hunks of plastic. In spite of what is most likely a busy press schedule he and his band mates stay and watch much of our shows from the side of the stage. Just before we sound checked earlier that same day, I was happily surprised to find that my wife and three year old son rode up from Colorado with our friend Bluejay (not a nickname but her given Native American one), here officially as photographer for both Relix magazine and Wakarusa. They join on side stage with the famous MC/hip rock and roll scenester "Beatle Bob" and other personalities.

After our early afternoon Cracker show, David and I perform for a live podcast. We play acoustic guitars, strumming for the microphones under shade trees behind the hospitality area, as pretty girls watch from the surrounding lawn. I love my job, especially on days like this one. We play "Something You Ain't Got" from our new album "Greenland" as well as "The Loser" written by Robert Hunter and the late Jerry Garcia. Garcia liked our version of his song on our "Kerosene Hat" album and subsequently invited us to open for The Grateful Dead for three consecutive shows in Eugene Oregon years ago. This is a piece of Lowery/Hickman history that inspires some good natured envy amongst our famous jam band friends. I'm proud to say that we even received a very rare (according to Jerry) standing ovation from the Dead audience. He also told David and I that he and Bob Weir liked our song "Euro-trash Girl" and had mentioned covering it with The Grateful Dead. Sadly, he passed away a year or so later and so we will never know how close we came to this high honor. But I humbly state that it's likely part of why Relix and other jam-oriented publications take interest in our band today. Garcia would have felt and looked right in place at Wakarusa.

It's relatively hippie-centric around here with it's tie dyed, patchouli scented throngs cavorting happily in the heat with yuppies, hip indie rock kids, bikers, families with small children in tow, and backward baseball cap frat boys with their well scrubbed girlfriends. Some musicians don't care for festivals, considering them a necessary, promotional pain in the ass. I love them and am always pleased to see them on the tour itinerary. I'll take the cramped, shared trailers that pass for dressing rooms, little or no hospitality food or beverages, little or no sound checks, and general confusion for the chance to be a part of something this magical. There is often a shared sense of commonality and respect amongst bands at festivals, that in a nightclub setting, might be more competitive. I live for the opportunity to watch and often sit in with fellow musicians that I admire. For over twenty years I've been fortunate enough to perform at festival type shows as diverse as:

Willie Nelson's Annual 4th of July Picnic in Austin Texas where I met Willie, Waylon Jennings AND Johnny Cash; Farm Aid 2 where I met Neil Young; Bonnaroo; The All Good Festival in West Virginia where David and I sat in with our buddies, legendary jamgrass band Leftover Salmon. I've played the European festivals Pink Pop, Hultsfred, Take Root, England's famed Reading Festival, and we have headlined The WHFEST in Washington D.C. with 40,000 people making the sound of a jet's roar as we walked onstage. I've sat in several times with my friends from Widespread Panic on both mandolin and harmonica.

And exhausting as the journey there may be, I never tire of it. I'm enjoying my first Wakarusa immensely so far as my little family and I hitch a ride on a festival golf cart and go careening through the lovely fray. On the ride I see familiar faces yelling "Alright Cracker!" and "Hey Johnny". I feel like a million bucks right now....wouldn't you? I am presented with my favorite "beer from home" (a bottle of Abbey, stashed in my wife's tent)… then we are dropped off at the New Belgium brewery booth to say hello to our fellow Coloradoans. New Belgium is the official beer of Wakarusa this time around. Soon we are handed frosty cups of what I consider one of the world's most delicious brews. It is like nectar from the Gods in the baking midwestern heat. Our three year old has just jumped into a football toss with some of the New Belgium guys.

Soon we gather him up and head to The Voodoo Stage to catch our good friends Roger Clyne And The Peacemakers. RCPM's regular drummer (and founding member of Rogers' first popular band The Refreshments) PH Naffah is absent, having snapped his collarbone a few weeks ago, just before their own hugely successful bi-annual "Circus Mexicus" festival in Puerto Penasco Mexico. In '05, I opened Circus Mexicus for the Peacemakers, playing much from my solo album, the then-new Palmhenge. Roger has often cited David and I as influences and made me feel more than welcome in his world. When Roger's management called and invited David and I both to Mexico for Spring '06, we signed right up. In the year between Roger and I had spent some time at his house down there writing music together and solidifying our friendship, sailing on his boat and stumbling down dusty, moonlit Mexican roads lit up on his own "Roger Clyne's Mexican Moonshine" tequila and our good fortune. But back to Wakarusa…it's nice to have a job where you run into the same friends in Mexico and then Kansas, only weeks apart.

As usual RCPM are delivering the goods to the fans in the Voodoo tent. They grin confidently, whipping the crowd of fans and curious newcomers into a shouting, fist pumping frenzy with their raucous Arizona desert rock. Standing in and doing a truly fine job is P.H.'s drum tech Louie. After show, back on Rog's tour bus, I see that Louie's hands are blistered and bloody from the new grind of playing every night. I am reminded of my own self inflicted injuries onstage throughout the years. I've more than once bloodied my hands from bashing away on my guitar a little too enthusiastically. I've also torn hell out of a ligament in my knee jumping off an amp and even after surgery still pay for it today. You just don't feel those things in the moment. Just ask Iggy Pop or Pete Townsend. Louie chuckles and wraps duct tape around his wounds to hold the bandages in place.

We climb off the bus and hitch a ride on a golf cart through the night as Roger hangs laughing on the back of the cart. As the older but questionably wiser of the two of us I am compelled to grab his arm and hold on tightly, not wanting to be known as the old pirate who let the famous Mr. Clyne fly off a golf cart to his untimely demise at a Kansas rock show. Soon we are foisting Fat Tires and standing in awe on the side of the stage as the spectacle of a Flaming Lips show unfolds before us. We are caught up in the glorious maelstrom of the moment, gladly volunteering to backlight a sea of 30 or so costumed green space aliens on stage right. For those who don't know, there is a nightly ritual of assigning eager Lips fans to wear costumes that range from huge stuffed animals to tonight's Aliens vs. Santas madness. On the other side of the stage is the army of Santas, a few female volunteers in bikinis with full white beards and hats. In their midst as in the alien camp looms a giant "leader". It is a truly Fellini-esque spectacle as the band launch into an audience participation rendition of Bohemian Rhapsody. The charismatic Coyne, with arms outstretched as floodlit streamers spiral around him, is already holding the rapt and singing ten thousand plus crowd in the palm of his hand.

This, mere moments after he clowned graciously with Roger and I for Bluejay's camera backstage. As we laugh and cheer maniacally I am reminded of what drew me to Roger in the first place. In spite of fatherhood and myriad responsibilities he has never lost his childlike wonder and enthusiasm for new experiences and his general lust for life. I strive to always retain these traits in common with my good friend. Our wives and managers call us big five year olds. What a compliment!

My wife takes our three year old son over to the Santa Claus side of the stage. He returns soon, telling us the people Santas are nice, but the giant balloon Santa Claus has a man inside and scares the heck out of him. He is over it soon as I hoist him above the delicious insanity to see over the aliens heads, as Wayne climbs into an eight foot, transparent sphere and rolls out over the ecstatic throng. The look on my son's face is worth a million dollars to me at this moment. I suppose other kids go to basketball games and such. His reality, like his older half brother before him, is somewhat stranger. I recall my now college aged son at age seven, hanging out with his hero (and one of mine) Beck. The very young Beck was at the time just beginning to ascend in his now highly honored status as a true musical original. I will never forget his kindness to my little son back in the day. (Note: Beck's' father David Campbell was responsible for the hauntingly beautiful string arrangements on our album "The Golden Age". After meeting and working with his brilliant, soft spoken mad scientist like dad I can ponder how Beck might have come upon his admirably unique melodic sense. He must have been immersed in every style and genre of music from day one.)

After the Flaming Lips finale here at Wakarusa we all reconvene on Roger's bus to laugh and celebrate our lot in life. We gladly remark on how lucky we all are to be able to do what we do. At 1:30 AM Roger's crew of pirates laugh as my three year old tells them "oh, I'm not tired" at the same moment that he slumps backward into deep slumber, potato chip still in hand. The next morning he wakes up with a smile and says "Hey....let's go back and see Wayne in the big ball again!" I tell him that the show is over. "Maybe back at Wakarusa the show is still going!" he says. I hug and kiss my family and say a quick farewell, grab my guitar and bags to hop back aboard the Cracker tour van. Off to Texas! Thank you once again my friends...year after year you give me this life. Best wishes and good night, Johnny

Wednesday, June 7, 2006 road blog 6

6/7/06 So...after a few days of intense NYC rehearsals with our new bass player Sal ( going very well...more on Sal later ) a hectic, rainy photo shoot and several busy press days I stumble sleepily down the hallway to my hotel room. The cell phone rings and it's our manager informing me that my friends (and one of my favorite bands) Drive By Truckers are performing on Conan O'Brian. Cool!....nice way to wind down a busy, productive day. So I shower, don my semi swanky hotel robe, crack a cold beer and with remote in hand settle in. The television pops to life at the tail end of "Late Night With David Letterman" . Elvis Costello is in mid song and behind him (as he has been for several years now) is our former band mate, bass player Davey Faragher. Davey is in fine form, resplendent in his leather jacket as his talented hands do that white boy soul "fruit at the bottom" bass thing he did so well with David and I years ago before personal matters and a subsequent, near inability to tour took him out of our world. I smile as I recall how a year or so ago, he and the equally talented David "Immy" Immergl├╝ck (Counting Crows, Monks Of Doom) rolled into Lo Fi studios in Redlands California to lend their God given chops to my Palmhenge sessions.

My wife catered the evening in style as 3 old friends laughed, got caught up on each other's lives and made music. After the song ends Letterman strolls past Davey to shake Costello's hand and I wonder if he remembers him from the first time Cracker appeared on the show. If not I suspect that the delightfully effervescent, 6 foot 3 bassist reminded him with an impish grin. With a proud and happy heart I change the channel...and....what the hell!? Here's former Van Halen singer David Lee Roth prancing around in jeans and boots in front of a half circle of bluegrass musicians singing.....ok this can't be real.....a hillbilly version of "Jump".

This isn't just weird, it's frightening. Suddenly I recognize yet another Redlands musical alumni and friend John Jorgenson on mandolin behind Roth. For those of you who may not know it David Lowery and I are both also from Redlands. It's not a very big town. Now here's another homeboy on the screen. Multi instrumentalist John has, since his fledgling days there on the new wave/punk scene been (amongst other things) a member of popular country rockers "The Desert Rose Band", one of three virtuoso guitarists and founder of "The Hellecasters" an instrumental group of MUSICIANS musicians that have made guitarists all over the world want to either quit or go home and practice until their fingers were numb. Myself included. From there he became Elton John's 2nd guitarist and multi instrumentalist ( he plays 6 or 7 other instruments very well ) and musical director. He recently graced the big screen (with Penelope Cruz...oo la la!) playing the part of renowned guitar legend Django Reinhart as well as performing/arranging the score for the film.

The Roth gig must be a $weet temporary sideline for John. I find out later after an e-mail exchange that (of course) he also put the bluegrass cats together and no doubt sketched out the musical arrangements. Change the channel again and now, here's big ol Paterson Hood howling his sensitive yet somehow menacing heart out as Jason and Cooley wail away on raw, soulfully bluesy guitar solos from the left and the right. Bang...well done DBTs. I drift off to sleep happy for my talented friends and thankful for my band-mates. With a great new label and record I wonder if we will find ourselves back on the late night television shows. If not, truthfully I will not be that upset. The live shows just keep getting bigger and better........and with the tour commencing in a few days that feels MORE than blessing enough. Thank you for that Cracker fans. You make my mostly charmed life a reality year after year. Hope to see you soon.....goodnight.

Monday, June 5, 2006 road blog 5

6/5/06 is splendid my friends. Here I am nestled into my midtown NYC hotel room the day before Greenland "officially" releases! AND!!...AND!!....the newly coolified website is up and running! Teameffort conquers all! Thank you Cursion, Shay and SR for wrangling it together in time. MANY many hours of sacrifice and love there. Tomorrow Cracker go into rehearsals for the upcoming year of touring which you can see is extensive. I feel an exhilarating giddiness about the prospect of rehearsal tomorrow. This band very rarely practices. Probably because we play so often live that we know each-other like the proverbial backs of our hands...yet.... somehow whatever mutual hoo doo that put us all together in the first place kicked in recently and simultaneously from Colorado to Richmond and up here to NYC. Uncharacteristically, the e-mails started flying and was in the cards. New record, new ideas to revamp Cracker live (we still do not use a set list like 99% of bands do) and a new bass player. You'll see soon enough. Kenny is bringing in someone starting tomorrow. Without divulging his name let's just say that the rest of us trust the journeyman instincts of the multi talented and stealth humored Mr.Margolis. I mean...he's a virtuoso playing, pimp dressing, euro music directing, suavecito. I think he knows what's up. Anyway, sorry for the year off from blogdom. Hope to see you all plans for you. Hehe heh. Love, Johnny