Interview by SickthingsUK
It's been a few weeks now since we heard about the departure of Jason Hook to Five Finger Death Punch, and there was much speculation about who would replace him for the upcoming tour. It was perhaps somewhat of a surprise when rumours surfaced that Jason's replacement would in fact be the man he himself replaced, Damon Johnson. No one doubted Damon's ability to do the job, but with his country band 'Whiskey Falls' making big waves since he left the band how could he have the time to tour with Alice again. So we figured the best way to find out was to simply ask him!
SickthingsUK: So Damon, it appears to be "Welcome Back" to the AC band. How does it feel to be back?
Damon Johnson: Thanks, Si. It certainly feels like a homecoming. I've spoken to all the band guys and most of the crew, and Brian Nelson is sending me lots of demented emails...which means things are back to normal! Without a doubt; I am very, very excited to be touring with Alice again.
STUK: What made you decide to come back to Alice again? Are you scheduled to do the whole tour?
DJ: The idea of coming back started with a simple email from Toby Mamis. I had emailed most everyone in my address book about Whiskey Falls' appearance on 'The Jimmy Kimmel Show' back in January, and Toby responded with "Congrats. I guess that means you won't be available to tour with Alice this year". At that time I was unaware that Jason had moved on the FFDP, but I had talked with my wife, literally the day before, about how I would be looking for some extra work in '09 while Whiskey Falls was off the road and in the studio for much of the year. The timing of Toby's email could not have been better.
STUK: What are you most looking forward to now you're back? Did you miss the Golf?
DJ: (Haha) Yes, I missed the golf! Very, very much. I've probably played as much golf in the past two years as Alice and I used to play in two weeks. That will certainly be a blast to be back on the links with Coop while he cracks jokes about my swing. But he'll be impressed with the progress I've made with my short game and he'll love having a golf partner every day that looks like George Harrison. Plus, I'm looking forward to the late night poker games, learning more jive lingo from Keri, the smell of Chuck's farts, and Brian Nelson's sunny disposition and "can do" attitude!!!
STUK: You're listed as appearing at the Boston 'Supergroup' charity show [which Alice is also appearing at], but Whiskey Falls are also playing the previous night on the other side of the country. Will that be possible?
DJ: I'm confident that we can pull it off. Every year, Whiskey Falls performs at the fundraiser for The Children's Heart Association, and that event is in Los Angeles on Saturday, April 25th. But when my good friend Ricky Byrd (longtime guitarist for Joan Jett and The Blackhearts) called me about performing at the Right Turn event in Boston with Coop, I immediately said yes. Let's just hope all those airplanes are running on time on the 26th...
STUK: When do rehearsals start for the new tour and have you heard anything about the new show you can share?
DJ: I'll get together with the band in early May to run through the show a few times before we travel to Spain for the big festival on May 16. Then there will be the shows in Russia with The Scorpions and possibly some dates in Europe, after which there is talk of us putting together a new show in Phoenix sometime in July.
STUK: Are there any Alice songs you would love to play in the new show but have never yet done?
DJ: I think that my "return to the band" gift should be getting to play "Generation Landslide", which has been a favorite of mine since high school. I've always wanted to play that very cool acoustic guitar part and Keri Kelli would crush the guitar solo. Plus Coop could play the harmonica, which he is very underrated at. It's a great, great song.
STUK: You've played keyboards with Alice in the past [for 'Steven']. Any chance you could brush up on 'My Stars' and drop a big hint to Alice that we NEED to hear that again live (it's not been played since 1974!!!)!
DJ: "My Stars" is EPIC. I'd love for us to play that as well. That's a pretty serious piano part, requiring a real piano player, which I surely am NOT. But with modern technology, we could pull something off that would sound fantastic. I'll gladly put in the good word for that song as well.
STUK: So let's run though a couple of the fanboy questions that have already
surfaced [and Jaded demands I ask]...
Do you know if you will return to Alice's left or join Chuck on the right of the stage? and most importantly will you be shaving the beard? (that one seems to be a big question from the girls haha)
DJ: Keri has grooved out a good home over there on stage left; my first phone call with him after learning of my return was to tell him I'd be happy to cover stage right, which is where I started with Coop in '04. Plus I can keep an eye on Chuck that way! The beard?!?!?! Don't you LOVE it?!?!?! My facial hair sorta has a mind of it's own, so you never know what's going to show up next. But I'd love to do something a little different for the tour this year. Maybe is fu manchu time!
STUK: What's happening with Whiskey Falls. They seem to be on the edge of really breaking through big time?
DJ: Whiskey Falls has accomplished some incredible things, especially when you consider that we've yet to have any assistance from a major label. It will surprise no one that after two solid years of intense touring and a commitment to playing as many shows as possible, we've had to take a hard look at our financial situations, within the band and at home, and look for better ways to pay our bills. It's been very expensive to get the four of us together on the road as half of us are in Nashville and the other two guys are in Los Angeles. We're fortunate that everyone has other things they can do while we're working on material for the next album.
STUK: How did the "Toughest Cowboy" show and tour come about?
DJ: Ironically, my old A&R man from Virgin Records, Aaron Jacoves (who signed Brother Cane), was having lunch with the music supervisor for the show. He told Aaron that they were looking for a band that was country but "leaned rock" as well. Aaron says, "I've got the perfect band!". Then our manager was able to connect the remaining dots, especially after all the producers for the show saw a Whiskey Falls performance at the House of Blues in Los Angeles. It's been a great partnership for us and plans are coming together for our involvement in 2010 as well.
STUK: On your site you mention that WF will be writing material over the next few months while you are on the road with Alice. Will that not limit how much you can be involved in the songs for the next album?
DJ: No. As I mentioned earlier, there have been real challenges to having Buck and I basically living in Nashville and then Seven and Walt living in L.A. But one good thing that has come out of it, thanks to computer technology, is that we've all gotten very proficient at writing and recording on the road and "cross country". I've done more writing in the past two years than I have in a long time, and we'll continue to write as a band and get the next album together; even if we have to finance it again ourselves.
STUK: From what I've read, WF seem to be purposely avoiding the 'major label' route and staying independent. What advantages do you feel you get from this. Is it a reaction to how the record industry has changed since the internet changed everything for them?
DJ: This is a complex question to answer. Whiskey Falls would sign with a major label in a split second if we felt there was a commitment from the top down to make us a priority. And you mentioned how the internet has changed everything...that's only part of the changes. The way the major labels have run things since the late 80's and early 90's has had more to do, in my opinion, with the sad state of things in the industry at this point. All they've cared about is money. Period. And instead of true artist development, they've put all their money and manpower into hyping the consumer into what they should be spending their hard earned cash on. Things will never, ever be like they were in the 70's, which was the true golden years of rock, pop, and country. But from the ruins of the current music industry will come new ideas and new ways to get great music to the masses. For the time being however, new acts like Whiskey Falls have the huge challenge of trying to find and grow a fan base in this very troubled climate, and it is truly very difficult.
STUK: You also have another new band, Motorbelly. What's that all about.
DJ: Just after Brother Cane ended in early 2000, I went through the most creative period of my musical life. I recorded a solo acoustic album ("Dust"), started Slave To The System with Kelly and Scott, had a pop/rock band called Dragonfly, wrote and recorded with The Damn Yankees, and recorded seven songs with my friend Johnny Blade that we would ultimate christen The Motorbelly. Johnny is incredibly prolific as a songwriter, and I initially played more of a producer role. But much like Josh Homme did with Jesse Hughes to start The Eagles of Death Metal, I became a co-writer and felt Johnny and I could have something cool to do as a side project. We called my old friend Michael Rollings from Atlanta, who was the drummer in my high school rock band (Michael was responsible for turning me on to Metallica, Slayer, and Iron Maiden). Of all the music that I have EVER recorded, The Motorbelly will absolutely be the favorite of any Alice Cooper fan. It's raw, trashy, fast and fun. If we can only convince Calico to play bass...
STUK: Will you have the Motorbelly EP available at AC shows as well as on your myspace?
DJ: Absolutely!!!! It's perfect timing to have the CD available as I hit the road with Alice. Furthermore, I'm grateful and flattered for all the great feedback we've already gotten from Alice Cooper fans. The word of mouth on this is spreading fast and it's definitely exciting.
STUK: I seem to remember asking this the last time we spoke, but it still seems valid. With all your projects and commitments, including your family, how do you manage to fit it all in, and when do you get a chance to recharge the batteries?
DJ: The last two years have been unique in that I've been basically focused on one thing and one thing only with Whiskey Falls. But it's allowed me to truly recognize that I get a lot of fulfillment as an artist by wearing different hats. And to tell you the truth, it is indeed my family that helps me refuel the gas tank. I couldn't ask for a greater partner than Lynda because she recognizes how fortunate I am to work with so many great writers, singers, and musicians. Plus she is as much of a music junkie as I am.
STUK: Does playing with Alice in a hard rock format give you something that you maybe miss in Whiskey Falls more laid back country style?
DJ: Even when I perform with Whiskey Falls, most anyone in the audience can tell that I'm "the rock guy". But it's more just my passion for music in general and the way I express myself as a player and performer. With that said, I absolutely get some things playing with Alice that none of my other bands have. Let's not forget that Coop is one of the greatest frontmen in the history of live music, and it's an honor and a blast to look across the stage and know that MY singer is such a badass.
STUK: We heard that before you left you wrote material with the AC band for what became 'Along Came A Spider' but only "...Feminine Side" was eventually included. Are there any plans to use any of those songs anywhere?
DJ: I've got to talk to Coop about that. Several of those ideas had some fantastic melodies and guitar riffs, but for whatever reason didn't get completed for the final batch for "Spider". Keri and Chuck and I really speak a similar language when it comes to writing for Coop, so I would imagine at least a couple of those songs will appear somewhere in the future.
STUK: What did you think about the final "Along Came A Spider" album and what songs from it are you looking forward to performing live?
DJ: I felt like it was definite improvement sonically; in general the instruments sounded more interesting and Coop's vocals were in great form. I'm probably a little more partial to the songs on "Dirty Diamonds", but I'd love to perform tracks like "Vengeance is Mine" and "Feminine Side".
STUK: This tour will also see the return of Jimmy Degrasso standing in for Eric while he's out with Kiss. Have you played with Jimmy before?
DJ: No, I have not played with Jimmy, but I am certainly looking forward to it. Jimmy and I officially met for the first time at the Christmas Pudding this past December, and I've been a fan of his since his early playing with Y&T. He's a monster talent and a very, very cool guy.
STUK: Lastly, Forum Moderator Shoey insisted I ask what your favourite Merle Haggard song is, and which is your favourite to play live!
DJ: Great question! For my favorite Merle Haggard song, it's a toss up between "Mama Tried" and "Swinging Doors". But without a doubt my favorite one to play live is "Workin' Man Blues"; that song goes over in any and every situation. Tell Shoey he and I should do a cover of "Pancho and Lefty"!
STUK: Anything else you would like to say/plug while you have the chance?
DJ: I gotta send out a special thanks to all the Alice fans that have been so supportive of Whiskey Falls over the past two years. There's been so many of you at the shows and the meet and greets and I know you wouldn't have been there if not for my history with Coop. It means more than you can know and it inspires me and all the great musicians I have the honor to create with to keep working hard. Thank you very, very much.
STUK: Thanks Damon! Hope to see you in the UK soon. In London we all gather at a pub near Wembley Arena (assuming that will be the venue). You are most welcome to join us. Kerri knows the way :)
DJ: "The first 6 pints are on me!!!!!!!"
So there you have it, from the horse's mouth. Damon's back and firing on all cylinders this year. Make sure you check out the sites below to hear and find out more about all the various Damon-esque projects outside of Alice. All are truly worthy of your time and there really is something for every taste.