There was always music in the house. Neither one of my parents play instruments but they turned all three of us kids onto artists such as Jimi Hendrix, Duane Allman, Carlos Santana and Stevie Wonder. I remember being five and hearing Jimi’s version of the Star Spangled Banned. My brother and I would listen to it on repeat completely entranced by the sounds he was able to manifest through his instrument. My dad would blast Wilson Pickett’s version of ‘Hey Jude’ featuring Duane Allman on the guitar all over Brooklyn in his blue Ford Van. The first guitar player I remember hearing and realizing it was a guitar was Chuck Berry doing Johnny B Goode. Everyone in my family calls me Johnny, that was my cue.
I started playing guitar at around age ten or eleven. This was the early 1990’s so there was cool guitar stuff happening on MTV such as Nirvana, Metallica’s black album had just come out as well as Pantera’s ‘Vulgar Display of Power’. I was able to dig into that and add that to my bag as well. It was about that same time that my brother and I heard Jaco Pastorius’ debut solo album which devastated us and led us to jazz. I also heard Stevie Ray Vaughan around that same time which led me to the three Kings as well as Howlin Wolf and Muddy Waters. I love James Brown, Bob Marley and those old records by The Meters. I don’t discriminate. If it’s good and honest I’m all over it. I love it all.
2) What are you working on now?
The main goal from here on out is focusing on Bendy Effect, a group I lead with my brother. Since getting sober I’ve realized how much time I’ve squandered. It’s sad that in this business it’s the norm to be wasted on and off stage. Real musicians are conduits. The great stuff doesn’t come from you, it comes through you. Your vessel is merely the vehicle. It’s just that it’s easier for most people to get out of there own way after they indulge in chemicals. I’m here to tell you they are not necessary for any of the the magic to occur. You are not your body, you are the eternal light which illumines it.
3) What is the role of education in music?
I’ve had no formal education in music. I have taken a handful of lessons from a guitarist out of Warwick, NY named Jeff Ciampa when I was 18. He was at Berklee when Pat Metheny taught there for a minute in the 1970’s. He was one of Pat’s students. He turned me on to the Major scale and its modes, the Melodic and Harmonic minor and Diminished scales and the harmony behind them all. He put me to work big time. He opened my eyes to a lot of things that I am still working on fourteen years later. He taught me how to practice. Thank you Jeff.
Knowledge is power. Feed your head. Never stop learning. Never be satisfied but don’t beat yourself up too hard over it. There is information that you have to acquire in order to evolve. You can learn it in school or through a great private teacher but you still have to do the work. You get out what you put in. In school it’s all condensed. What might take you twenty years to acquire on a bandstand you get in four. But you still have to do the work. That said you can practice all you want on your own but where it counts is up on the stage in front of the audience. There are plenty of cats who sound amazing in their bedrooms but that don’t mean scat.
I was accepted to Berklee when I was twenty years old but didn’t have the scratch to go. The thought of being tens of thousands of dollars in debt frightened me. When I was twenty I met Michael Brecker and he told me “Take every gig that is offered to you. Every gig. You might be on a polka gig and the drummer might be a super bad mutha like Jeff Tain Watts” You dig!? So I really took that to heart and I took every gig that was offered to me and continue to do so. My motto is if you are the best player in the band you are in the wrong band. Loosing the fear of playing with great musicians when you have insecurities is imperative. We are humans first. The people that I have met that are the baddest killin muthas on the bandstand are some of the nicest cats I’ve ever met in my life.
4) How do you feel about the current ‘state of the music industry’?
It is what it is. My intention has never been to be some rich rock star. If I had been one in my 20’s I’d be dead already, no doubt in my mind. I want to make people feel the way I felt when I heard Jimi, and Stevie, and Jaco. My main focus has always been the gig and taking people to a place where they are bathed in sound and forget their problems and worries. If the music makes you shake your ass and gives you goosebumps my job is done. All that other stuff is your ego screaming for validation.
5) Why do use Mooer pedals?
Tone for days, and they don’t weigh down my gig bag like other pedals!!! Rawn is one of the nicest cats I’ve met and Mooer has been nothing but supportive since day one.