Interview and Photos by: Robert Cavuoto
Damon Johnson – New Solo CD Echo is a Wall of Sound!
Damon Johnson guitarist for Black Star Rider, Thin Lizzy, and Alice Cooper has released a five track solo EP called, Echo. Record though out 2015, Damon plays guitar and takes on lead vocals to deliver songs that are meticulously crafted and searing with passion, emotion, and melody.
Along with Jarred Pope on drums and Tony Nagy on bass the trio demonstrates just how huge rock ‘n’ roll can and should sound. To help complete this sonic masterpiece Damon enlisted Black Star Riders Killer Instinct CD producer Nick Raskulinecz to produce and mix Echo.
I was able to catch up with Damon to talk about Echo and the Thin Lizzy 50th Anniversary tour with Tom Hamilton of Aerosmith and Scott Travis of Judas Priest.
Robert Cavuoto: Tell me a little about how Echo came about?
Damon Johnson: I’ve got so much material lying around and constantly writing and putting ideas on my computer and phone. My confidence as a songwriter is at a hi-point and I knew that making some type of a “fully electric” solo album was something I very much wanted to do. Producer Nick Raskulinecz gets lots of credit for offering his time, studio, and skills to help me get it done quickly.
Robert: What are some special aspects that Nick brings as producer?
Damon Johnson: Nick is a fan of hard rock music; all sub-genres of it. So when you combine that with his experience in making some of the best rock albums of the past 15 years, he is a lethal weapon in the studio. There is no phase of the process that he lacks confidence or great ideas. And he’s got killer guitars and amps! I was a kid in a candy store.
Robert: Tell me what gear you used on the CD as the guitar has great attack while sounding smooth?
Damon Johnson: I used my newest and most awesome Gibson Custom Shop ’57 reissue; just the greatest guitar I’ve ever owned. Other Gibsons on the EP are my trusty #1 Les Paul, Korina Explorer, and Nick’s B.B. King “Lucille” 355. Also, my custom ESP “Double Dragon” made an appearance on “Nobody Usin’”. For the various tones, my 50 watt Wizard Vintage Classic was combined with amps in Nick’s collection of ridiculous badass amps: Bogner Uberschall, vintage Hiwatt, and his modded Marshall JCM 800.
Robert: Did keeping things simple – just guitar, bass and drums – steer you down a certain creative path?
Damon Johnson: I think if we had of kept the recordings more “live” and those three instruments, the album would have sounded very different. But I could almost produce that kind of album myself. It was far more creative to have Nick steering the ship with loads of guitar overdubs and underlying melodic parts. He was constantly pushing me to create transition parts and harmony bits throughout, much like the Black Star Riders album. The result is a giant wall of sound that places Echo, I feel, absolutely on par with any contemporary rock recording, anywhere.
Robert: Who influences you most as a songwriter?
Damon Johnson: There are so many writers that I love their work: Dylan, Bowie, Steve Earle, Pete Townshend, Phil Lynott, Gregg Allman, Bob Seger, Lowell George, Eddie Vedder, Jason Isbell, and Ronnie Van Zandt.
Robert: I’m intrigued by the title of the CD, is there a meaning behind it?
Damon Johnson: My wife Lynda came up with that. She was saying how much she liked the fact that my two previous solo albums (both acoustic) had one-word titles; Dust and Release. The idea of the word “echo” makes me feel that I’m reminding listeners that I’ve been making noise as a singer/frontman for many years, and am not just a sideman for Alice Cooper or guitarist in Thin Lizzy.
Robert: Do you feel that you’re playing techniques changes from Thin Lizzy to Black Star Riders to your solo CD?
Damon Johnson: Not really. I want to believe that I’ve always sounded like myself, whether in Brother Cane, Thin Lizzy, Black Star Riders, even when I was in Alice’s band. Even though I can play fast and have a fair amount of technique, I’ve somehow tended to shy away from that when making records. I’m much more interested in playing melodies and parts that compliment the song. It’s always about the song.
Robert: Are you planning any solo tour dates to support the CD?
Damon Johnson: Yes indeed. Once we complete our work in the studio on the next Black Star Riders album (August/September), I’m putting together some dates in the U.S. that should last into late November. I really want to get out and perform these new songs live with my solo band.
Robert: Are you excited to be playing with Tom Hamilton and Scott Travis for the Thin Lizzy anniversary shows?
Damon Johnson: Elated! To have Tom and Scott on board for this handful of dates will be spectacular. Aerosmith absolutely inspired my early playing, writing, and bands. So to perform onstage with Tom will be amazing. He’s always been one of my all-time favorite bass players; so musical and special in his style.
Robert: Will you bring that line-up to the US?
Damon Johnson: Not sure. I certainly hope so. Nothing is on the books on this side of the Atlantic yet. But I would love to bring this version of Thin Lizzy to U.S. soil, for sure.