by Steven Sanchez
Singer/songwriter/guitarist, Damon Johnson, will be performing an acoustic concert in Fresno at Tower Theatre on Friday, February 15. He rose to prominence during the 90s-alternative boom with Brother Cane, their most notable hits being “Got No Shame,” “That Don’t Satisfy Me,” and “And Fools Shine On” which was featured in the horror film Halloween: The Curse of Michael Myers. Because of these singles, they achieved three number one singles on the U.S. Active Rock Radio charts.
Since 1998 he has co-written songs for rock ‘n’ roll legends like Stevie Nicks, Carlos Santana, Steven Tyler, and Sammy Hagar. He’s also served time in the Alice Cooper band from 2004-2011, and then joined Thin Lizzy from 2011-2012 until they reformed as the Black Star Riders where his tenure lasted from 2012-2018. Now he’s embarking on a solo endeavor with this performance being in support of his latest release, the much-anticipated “Memoirs of an Uprising” scheduled to be out in March this year.
I got to interview the eclectic songster about his Brother Cane days, being affiliated with a popular horror franchise, the process of collaborating with rock royalty, and the joy of performing solo.
KRL: I’ve been getting into a lot of 90s music right now. Your former band, Brother Cane, came out a time where there was a wave of alternative bands that hit the airwaves. I hear that music and it speaks to me now and that music came out quite a while ago. For you, what is it about the alternative music from that time period that resonates with people today, and why do you think it has stood the test of time?
Damon: There was a wave of great bands and artists that had something to say about their lives and their struggles that people in all walks of life could relate to. The 80s, especially in rock music, yielded so much lyrical drivel. So, it was inspiring to hear new artists like P.J. Harvey, Eddie Vedder, Nick Cave and The Bad Seeds, Kurt Cobain and The Pixies come along and provide us their expressions of truth and art. Many songs in the grunge era were about real life.
KRL: Brother Cane’s music was featured on the Halloween 6 soundtrack. The new one just came out, and I’m a horror move fan so I was wondering what was it like seeing your music on the big screen and for it to be a part of a popular franchise?
Damon: It was an out-of-body experience for me to go to the movie theater, a packed house, and watch Halloween 6 the week it came out, and then hear a song that I wrote blasting over the sound system. We were all very grateful for that opportunity.
KRL: You’ve worked with a lot of artists. You’ve played and written songs in several genres from heavy metal, rock, pop. What’s the transition like going from genre to genre and one different artist after another?
Damon: At the end of the day the goal is simply to try and write a good song, regardless of genre. All my songs start with an acoustic guitar and a search for a good melody and lyric. The trimmings and the dressing comes later that can make it more genre specific, be that adding heavy guitar or a synthesizer or a fiddle and lap steel.
KRL: When songwriting for other artists, do you write in the style that best suits the artist or do you put your stamp on it and hopefully they adapt the song to their liking?
Damon: In each instance of another artist recording a song that I wrote or co-wrote, I was writing for myself, focusing on the things in my previous answer. So, it was an additional thrill, for instance, to get a call that Stevie Nicks heard one of my songs (through a mutual friend) and immediately asked if she could record it. And then, of course, she put her trademark stamp and sound on it, just like Santana or Sammy Hagar or Steven Tyler have done.
KRL: You’ll be playing a solo acoustic set in Fresno at Tower Theatre. How do you compare an acoustic performance to a loud, guitar concert with volumes turned all the way up with a full band? What’s your preference?
Damon: Both settings are fulfilling for me. The acoustic performance gives me more of a chance to engage with the audience, share details about the inspiration and creation of some of the songs, and to get to know them as well. And no two performances are ever the same, so that keeps things interesting.
KRL: You’ve had a pretty long career. Broke big in the 90s, played for Thin Lizzy and Alice Cooper throughout the 2000s, and you’re still here today. You’ve seen the music industry evolve. Where do you see it going in the next few years?
Damon: The internet has changed everything, and it has provided me this new chapter in my career where I am taking all the things I’ve learned about the business over three decades and pretty much started my own label and distribution company. There has never been a drop in musical inspiration for me, but the business of making music has at times been challenging and sometimes overwhelming. Not anymore. For someone like myself that has lots of experience and is still driven to write and record and perform, there’s never been a better time to share your art with the world. It’s not easy, but there are some common sense moves to make that are at least fairly simple. It’s energizing and inspiring.
KRL: You’ve played in different forms of the rock genre from classic rock, hard rock, heavy metal, alternative. There’s been this statement going on lately in the current trend of popular music that rock is dead. Do you believe in that rhetoric or is it still thriving?
Damon: Is rock dead? The answer is yes and no. As a cultural influence in style and politics and the youth being obsessed with it, the answer is yes. Times change. Trends change. If my generation had of had smartphones and multi-dimensional video games like today, maybe we would have been distracted from rock and roll, too. But rock music, certainly established rock artists and bands, are making more money than ever before. Until those bands literally age out (translation: pass away/die), we can all go see a good rock show any night of the week.
KRL: You’re focusing on just your solo career right now. Was there ever a time where you sacrificed songs that you would’ve done for yourself but instead gave to the band you were with at the time?
Damon: No. The goal is to take any moment of inspiration and see it through to the end. There are some ideas that get developed to a certain point, but not completed, then get revisited later.
KRL: Songwriting, singing, guitar playing, producing, has there been a musical endeavor that you have yet to do that you would like to do?
Damon: My main technical goal at the moment is to get better at playing slide guitar. I’ve a monumental respect to great slide players. It can be such a great musical texture to songs in any genre that I am writing in.
KRL: Is there a song that may not be popular amongst your fans, but you still play it in your set anyways because it has significant meaning to you?
Damon: There are certainly a few Brother Cane songs that never reached critical mass that I never hesitate to add to my set list, like “20/20 Faith” and “Lead My Follow.” And there’s a song on my 2010 acoustic album called “Leave It All Behind” that always makes an impact. It’s a great feeling to have some old songs in my repertoire that I enjoy playing as much as anyone possibly could as a listener. And few fans have heard my new album yet, and there are several of those that I can’t wait to play in a live setting.
To purchase tickets:
YouTube page: www.youtube.com/channel/UCIQa9x7Ib8Jl6O3BHPnpquA/feed
Official Facebook page: www.facebook.com/damonjohnsonfans
Official Twitter page: twitter.com/DamonJOfficial
Damon’s tour manager: Dean Kasparian, PB&D International / PB&D Productions www.paulbenjamindean.com