Interview : Robert Cavuoto
Guitarist, vocalist, and songwriter, Damon Johnson, is currently working on a follow-up CD to his 2019 release Memoirs of an Uprising. As always, Damon delivers his Rock n’ Roll with a hard edge punch and promises the same if not more from his newest CD, Battle Lessons, due out later this year. Had it not been for the setbacks of COVID-19 and the studio’s lockdown, the CD would have been completed and released. To date, he has six of ten songs recorded, mixed, and mastered. To add fuel to the fire, Damon and his band The Get Ready, which includes Jarred Pope [drums] and Robbie Harrington [bass], has teamed up with Richie Faulkner of Judas Priest for a very special streaming event, “A Tribute to Thin Lizzy.”
The show will be broadcast live on September 25th from Damon’s hometown of Nashville. Tickets to view the show are available at damonjohnson.veeps.com.
Pre-order for Battle Lessons are available here: https://www.indiegogo.com/projects/damon-johnson-phase-2-for-new-album-2020#
I had the pleasure of speaking with Damon about his upcoming new CD, Battle Lessons, preparing for his streaming tribute show to Thin Lizzy, and working with Richie Faulkner.
Robert Cavuoto: I heard the title track “Battle Lessons” off your new record. It’s a tease for the full album; what’s the rest of it sound like?
Damon Johnson: It’s a classic hard rock sounding record. That song is indicative of what the entire record will sound like. When I started writing in November of 2019, I knew I wanted to more bring tempo and guitars into the recording process. My last CD, Memoirs of an Uprising, is special to me as I produced it myself, but my friend Nick Rasqulinecz, mixed it. I was thrilled when I played him the new demos, and he got excited. That was a turning point for me. He is not going to spend his time on something he doesn’t like; he doesn’t have the time [laughing]. I then cranked up the writing output and wrote a total of 15 songs.
Robert Cavuoto: Will all 15 songs be on the record?
Damon Johnson: We were only putting ten songs of the record. Under normal circumstances, the record would be done and out. We put everything on hold as we couldn’t even get into the studio due to the health and safety protocols. I’m chomping at the bit to get everything finished. I can’t wait for everyone to hear it, and the new single “Battle Lessons” is a reflection of what’s to come.
Robert Cavuoto: I also heard, “Can’t Clap Any Louder,” which was outstanding too.
Damon Johnson: Oh, wow, you’re getting privileged information [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: Will the record be as diverse as Memoirs of an Uprising?
Damon Johnson: I was thrilled with the musical diversity on that record. Battle Lessons is a little more focused in the rock direction. My drummer, Jared, gets his cardiovascular excise on this record. Several songs are clocked in at 140 beats per minute. He told me that whenever we get back on the road, he is going to have to start running again just play all this stuff.
Robert Cavuoto: I’m always looking for fast-paced records to work out to [laughing]!
Damon Johnson: This is the record for you, my friend! It’s funny you say that as my gym is still closed, so I’ve resorted to running in my neighborhood. I try to do a 5K four days a week, if not more, and it’s been awesome listening to my new songs while I run [laughing]. There is a lot of tempo so that it will be good for your health and fitness, I promise.
Robert Cavuoto: When will the record be released?
Damon Johnson: My goal is to get it out by the end of the year. We have six songs recorded, mixed, and mastered. We are going back into the studio next month to get the other four songs finished. As an independent artist, I don’t get bogged down with red tape. The minute I have the masters in my hands, I’ll take them to the manufacturing plant the next day. When we get the green light to go back on the road playing shows, I’ll feel like we will be in a pretty good position to have some new music to play.
Robert Cavuoto: I saw a YouTube video where you are offering some nice pre-orders bundles. What can you tell me about that?
Damon Johnson: It’s my pre-order campaign for my fans. Last year we had a rough experience with the Pledge Music debacle. I was one of the artists directly affected by their bankruptcy. No surprise, I did a lot of research this time and decided to do another pre-order situation like that. The platform I’m using is Indiegogo and the thing I liked about them as they are not strictly music-centric. They do pre-orders and crowd-funding for film, arts, TV, painters, writers, and start-up businesses. We have been doing the pre-order in phases. Phase 1 was in February, but we hit pause because of COVID-19, and a few months back started Phase 2. I’m proud to tell you we reach the goal we set. That means I can bring in proper publicists and hire radio people to get the songs in front of the right people. I’m humbled by the reaction. In this situation, I think more people have had time to look around for music because they have been stuck at home so much.
Robert Cavuoto: In the event this interview isn’t published prior to the show on September 25th, will it be available for viewing past that date?
Damon Johnson: The platform right now gives us 48 hours of flexibility for people to view the show. I’m currently looking to see if I can stretch that a bit further. I’m overwhelmed at the reaction, and having Richie involved is incredible. I’m grateful to him and the guys in my band as it’s a lot of work to prep 13 Thin Lizzy songs. It’s a little work for me as well because I have played them all in Thin Lizzy but never played and sang them.
Robert Cavuoto: Playing in Thin Lizzy, I wonder if Scott Gorham or Brian Downey gave you any advice on how to play Thin Lizzy’s songs?
Damon Johnson: What a great question. I spent a lot of time talking with Brian about how they made the Thin Lizzy records and the process involved. Like so many bands of that era, it was all about feel. Phil Lynott would walk in with his acoustic guitar and a sheet of lyrics and say, “This is what I got.” Brian is such a stylist as a drummer and really underrated; it’s the way he plays those songs on the drums that make them great. At the time, they were trying to separate themselves from the pack with the harmony guitars, which was essential to their sound. Phil’s writing and the sound of his voice made it special as well. Playing shotgun with Scott since 2011 has been a dream come true for me as I have been a fan since I was a teenager. To meet him the first time was tremendous but to be asked to join Thin Lizzy a few years later and then to be in Black Star Riders was fantastic. Scott owns that real-estate in the history of rock. He told me that when learning and playing those songs, you can’t just go with the music theory of playing the third above each note on the other parts. You have to give it some vibe and sometimes land on another note above it to make it right for the song and part. You will hear some of that in the song “Battle Lessons.” It’s not as prominent as in a Thin Lizzy song put I put some harmonies in there. Playing with Scott all those years helped me.
Robert Cavuoto: Did you pass any insights on to Richie?
Damon Johnson: He is such a straight-up great guitar player. I have been playing my whole life and professionally for 30 years, but he is unbelievable. Many guys have technique, but Richie has feel. He’s already carved out his own sound and style, which is difficult to do in the metal world. If you lined-up 20 guys and have them play, I could pick out Richie [laughing]. We just had a rehearsal last Saturday, and he was having so much fun. There was a lot of laughter as we ran through the songs. It sounded so great. I’m grateful for our friendship.
Robert Cavuoto: He is also a phenomenal writer who has elevated Judas Priest on their last two records. Any plans to have Richie play on those remaining four songs from your CD or collaborate on a future CD?
Damon Johnson: [Pause] You know what? That’s a great idea! Maybe I can get him on one or two of the songs that aren’t finished. I think that is a great idea which I’ll have to peruse! I can grantee there will be a collaboration between us in the future. We are neighbors out here in Nashville, and he doesn’t live that far from me. We will be playing “Battle Lessons” on the night of the Thin Lizzy Tribute, and it sounds amazing. He has a spot in my band anytime he wants to have a few beers and play a little guitar [laughing].
Robert Cavuoto: What are some of the songs you will be playing at the tribute show?
Damon Johnson: It’s no surprise that we will be playing all the hits because you have to. I’m not doing it for anyone else; I’m doing it because I love those songs as much as anyone. I’ll be doing a few deep dives that we never did with Thin Lizzy. There will be a few surprises. There a song off Black Rose called “Got to Give it Up,” which we will play. The lyrics are haunting with the path that Phil’s life took after that record. It was very foreboding.