SEEKINGBand to Join, Lead Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Drums, Other Percussion, Violin, Trumpet, Harmonica, Other, Steel guitar, Upright bass, Cello.
I am Johnny J Blair "Singer at Large." I'd love to perform in your town--please contact me if you have a gig, a house concert, a party for me to performa at. I can do it solo or with band...As a solo act for an amazingly long time, I've been blessed to work with some of the most amazing musicians in the world, from Mike Garson (David Bowie) to Buddy Miller (Emmylou Harris, Robert Plant) (more are in my Photo Galleries). For a discography/performance log, go to ://.johnnyjblair/?page_id=45.
From 1993 to 2012, I had the pleasure of working closely with Davy Jones (of The Monkees ://davyjones/). He was a good friend and master showman who taught me much. I was also fortunate to perform/record with him and his fabulous band: Eric Biondo (Beyondo), Aviva Maloney, Jimmy Riccitelli, David Robicheau, & Felipe Torres. We were the supporting band for The Monkees Reunion Tour of the UK and US, selling out Royal Albert Hall and the Greek Theatre.
- Screen name:
- Member since:
- Aug 24 2012
- Active within 1 week
- Level of commitment:
- Years playing music:
- Gigs played:
- Over 100
- Tend to practice:
- 2-3 times per week
- Available to gig:
- 6-7 nights a week
Passionate Pop music with a twist, Maverick rock'n'roll, Noir Pop, Pop-Soul-Psychedelia informed by classical, country, jazz, & world music
- Vocalist - Tenor:
- Acoustic Guitar:
- Bass Guitar:
- Background Singer:
- Rhythm Guitar:
- Other Percussion:
Carvin bass, Gibson EC20 acoustic guitar (very unique), Alvarez acoustic 12-string tuned down to C, assorted keyboards, percussion, odd ethnic instruments, accordion.
Exotic Animals And Beaches Of Pennsylvania feat. Davy Jones (Monkees)
Exotic Animals And Beaches Of Pennsylvania feat. Davy Jones (Monkees)In 1965, a young Jones was fresh from Broadway and had a deal with Colpix Records as a solo act ( “The Monkees” were not yet birthed). In an interview on a Los Angeles radio show, he predicted there’d be “Broadway rock” and that Spoken Word records would find a niche in pop culture. The radio host argued “not,” but within a few years rock musicals were huge (HAIR, GODSPELL, etc.) and artists such as Donovan and Velvet Underground did Spoken Word recordings. Fast forward to 2001: “Exotic Animals…” follows this stream as David laid zany narration over prog-rockers jamming with Moscow’s Felix String Quartet. It imagines a "spy movie soundtrack” in the land of The Amish—which David (referencing Central PA) called “God’s Country” (for more of the story click on the link). On a cosmic jukebox this would play next to Kronos Quartet, The Monkees HEAD album, New York Rock Ensemble, and “Theme One” by Van Der Graaf Generator. The music bed (rhythm section and string quartet) was launched in Stockholm (Sweden) by my old pal, drummer-percussionist-tech wiz Bil Bryant. Parts were added in Kentucky and the recording was finished in Williamsport PA (mixed by Tim Breon).
All Things Are Possible
All Things Are PossibleFrom a dance-gospel-electronica-jazz phase I was in. Inspired by Donna Summer and St. Etienne but played like Brian Auger and Weather Report.
Love That's Here To Stay
Love That's Here To StayI was taking a break from a cruise ship gig, disembarking on the Caribbean island of Eleuthera. I ventured away from the tourist-y area to walk on a long, quiet highway. Then I came across an abandoned church, now a hurricane-blasted shell. There was something calmly defiant and timeless about that church scene, and that informed this song. The song title refracts on the George & Ira Gershwin song, "Love is Here to Stay." From there my lyrics draw from public conversations I overheard from people talking about how they rose above their problems + some Bible verses and a C.S. Lewis essay ("...evil cannot stand alone in the blaze of a glorious light”). The music is a flamenco-glam rock groove built on a re-working of the bass line from "The Model" by Kraftwerk. On a cosmic jukebox, this song would playlist between T. Rex, David Bowie, Mick Ronson, and tango legend Carlos Gardel.
The Sleeping Giant (Of Love)
The Sleeping Giant (Of Love)This is a twist on Jonathan Swift’s oft-tributed and parodied GULLIVER'S TRAVELS (a political allegory that some say was the first science fiction novel). While sailing on a ship, Lemuel Gulliver is storm-tossed and knocked unconscious, only to awaken as a prisoner on an island populated by eccentric little people. I turned it around so the island is populated by marooned humans who, after a dark and stormy night, find this Giant on the beach. They can’t wake him from his peaceful slumber. Yet they’re compelled to rouse him because they think he has answers, that he is friendly. They learn that the Giant is a metaphor for something they’ve forgotten about: Love. Musically I was inspired by David Bowie and Split Enz/Neil Finn (+ imagining Dennis Wilson on drums). My fiance Uma Robin Mackey says it’s one of her favorites!
Dancin' By The River (Tex - Mex Garage Band Mix)
Dancin' By The River (Tex - Mex Garage Band Mix)“We still have time for summertime dreams…” This spicy jangly-guitar pop track was inspired by early Beatles, vintage Chicano rock’n’roll, Mexican gangster films, Roy Orbison’s “Pretty Woman,” and The Everly Brothers’s cover of "Lucille." On a cosmic jukebox it would play next to Richie Valens, Neil Diamond, and The Monkees ("Little Bit Me Little Bit You")—in fact, Davy Jones said it should be “top of the pops.” This recording has gotten airplay around the world and features the drum work of Bill Matlack, Jr. + vocals & percussion by evinrude a.k.a. Kevin Spyker. The song has been in my live set for years. The lyrics came from a dream: I saw a clear summer day with a water baptism happening at Pine Creek, a scenic waterway that flows from mid-state New York down into central Pennsylvania. There was a romantic undercurrent between a man and a woman, visibly in love and grateful to be getting baptized. Surrounding them was a group of happy people having a festival—kind of like a Grateful Dead concert (minus certain substances).
No Be No Yes Be Yes
No Be No Yes Be YesA silly love song grown from a 4-track home demo series in 1989-90 and finished years later (remixed by Tim Breon). At the time I was listening heavily to 80s synth-pop, David Bowie, OMD, and The Bee Gees, and those influences come through (not a bad thing either).
Surfing Spying Dancing
Surfing Spying Dancing“Spying Surfing Dancing.” Spy movie music, surf guitar, baroque pop, and retro sound effects came together for this imaginary soundtrack—like if Dick Dale did a score for “The Avengers” (the 60s British sci-fi/espionage TV Show). It’s on the 2013 download album IF I COULD DRESS LIKE CLIVE OWEN—MUSIC FOR FILMS NOT YET MADE. The track assignment on this album was modeled after a Brian Eno album in which every other song was an instrumental.
(And You Can) Colour My World (Long Version)
(And You Can) Colour My World (Long Version)SONG OF THE WEEK: “(And You Can) Colour My World (Long Version)”—My recently-released mod rock update on a Petula Clark song, with a positive message for today. The original had a distinct sitar riff, which I demo’d using a Rickenbacker 360 electric guitar. Then I arranged it in a glam rock/New Wave zone with some childlike “flower power” ambience. With more tinkering I got a track I like, thanks to the mixing expertise of Chris von Sneidern (Flying Color, Flamin' Groovies). On a cosmic jukebox this could play next to Cheap Trick, Pretenders, Small Faces, T. Rex, and The Who. In 1966 Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent wrote this song* for Petula Clark as they were on a roll after “Downtown” became a smash hit. Clark was considered part of the 60s pop/rock British Invasion (next to Lulu and Dusty Springfield) even though Clark already had a solid career before the Invasion had started. “Colour My World” coincided with mod-ness and the “flower power” vibe of the times. From 1967 into the 1970s she did it as her opening song in concert. The song has been re-done several times, including country and Croatian versions. Now it’s my turn. Your download of this track will help me greatly as I’ve experienced significant income and work loss due to our COVID-19 times. God bless you and be safe out there! *Not to be confused with the similarly-titled song by the band Chicago.
Journalistic Girl“If you don’t like the media, be the media” This Kinks-influenced pop song is Part 2 of a song trilogy: >Part 1: A teenaged female reporter collects guitar picks from her favorite bands while obsessively covering the music scene for the school paper. Meanwhile, her devoted boyfriend takes second place to her fanaticism. >Part 2 (this song): Years pass. She is now a successful globe-trotting star journalist. Her high school sweetheart has grown up with her, but their relationship has not grown with time. This saddens him but she’s too preoccupied to see it. >Part 3: She’s gone missing in a remote African war zone, and he takes it upon himself to go brave the outback and find out what happened to her. This track was originally on my 1988 YELLOW HOUSE album (long out of print) and has been remastered for 2020, making it’s online debut! Your download is greatly appreciated and feedback always welcome.
Meet Me At The Summer Place
Meet Me At The Summer Place“Blossoms fall around your face, Sunshine plays upon the lace, Meet me at the summer place.” SONG OF THE WEEK: “Meet Me at the Summer Place”--A “vacation of the mind” song, with summer as a peaceful place, a twilight refraction on discreet and gentle moments that remove us, emotionally and spiritually, from the ruckus of life. The title name-checks that schmaltzy but irresistible 1960 instrumental “Theme From a Summer Place” by Percy Faith (that track blissed me out when I was a kid). I was nudged into making this song after hearing Mike Roe’s evocative track, “Come & Gone.” The music has an overt Beach Boys imprint, but it's also influenced by Todd Rundgren and Steely Dan. On a cosmic jukebox, this would play next to “Crystal Blue Persuasion” (Tommy James) and “Groovin’” (Young Rascals). Thank you all for listening…see you at that summer place in your soul. Downloads appreciated and feedback welcome…
Like a Father to a Son
Like a Father to a Son“Over valleys over mountains, Found somewhere safer from the cold Started drinking from the fountain Makes you wise as you get bold… Like a father to a son Like a mother to a daughter Telling tales about the One Who stilled the storms and walked on water…” This is an “open story-song”: You create your own meaning for the song. The lyrics came from dreams I had about Old West California, of late night tale-telling around a campfire out on a trail. I wrote this while I was living in Pennsylvania on a day I was feeling a tinge of homesickness for California. The song served as a metaphorical connection—a fantasy transcontinental train line between two places having Americana lusters that compliment one another. The image shown is a cartoon of Cyrus Fallin’s famed “Appeal to the Great Spirit” statue (a.k.a. the Brother Records logo). The music and vocal style is inspired by Gerry Rafferty's "Long Way 'Round" and The Beach Boys "Leavin' This Town" (Blondie Chaplin and Carl Wilson for vocalese)--there's a little PET SOUNDS and “Til I Die”-style orchestration in there, too. A Dennis Wilson song is quoted in the second verse.
The Sky Cries (Acoustic Version)
The Sky Cries (Acoustic Version)“The Sky Cries (Acoustic Version)”—On Tuesday (6/2/20) I joined the music industry in observing Black Out Tuesday. A lot of us turned off social media and our business. I spent the day in prayer, reading useful material, studying ways to make a difference, and reflecting on community and relationships and things I CAN change. Late in the day I decided to sort my stash of postcards (some people tweet, I post-card). I found 2 cards I saved for 2 friends who are now deceased. I recalled problems and challenges I shared with these friends that seemed so important at the time. Those issues seem trivial now, overruled by what matters in life and love. No one I know approves of the looting, hate speech, and partisan carping going on out there, but these regretful things shall pass, to be replaced by long long long overdue changes. I’m focusing on what endures and the rays of hope piercing through the storm clouds—people getting off the fence and speaking out, solidarity between protesters and police, and other remarkable awakenings. The world has fallen apart before and we’re still here discovering the Spirit. The lyrics for “The Sky Cries” are based on the scripture, “The rain falls on the just and the unjust…” Rain is the big equalizer of humanity. “Blood is pounding through your head, nothing makes any sense You have a dark spot a feeling of dread, tired of waiting on the fence Makes you feel like you’re the only one who ever felt this pain Makes it hard to see the sun when all you see is rain “And the sky cries, the rain falls down on everyone But it never ever lies, and it doesn’t last forever… “The rain falls on the just and the unjust The rain falls on the rich and the poor The rain falls on the captive and the free The rain falls on the black and the white The rain falls down on you and me …and the sky cries, it cries, it cries… …but it doesn’t last forever!” Musically I was influenced by Fleetwood Mac, Roy Orbison, and Mike Roe (of the 77s). This is the original acoustic version (played on detuned 12-String guitar w/slide) produced by Mark Doyon and recorded in Virginia.
Space Oddity (Album Version)
Space Oddity (Album Version)(Song composed by David Bowie. Copyright 1969 Bucks Music Group/Essex Music/Onward Music Ltd. Licensed by Johnny J. Blair 2020). At this writing, NASA and SpaceX are sending American astronauts back into space. On that note, I’m offering my cover of David Bowie’s “Space Oddity.” In making this recording I was blessed to work “a galaxy of talents”: Uma Robin Mackey: harmony vocals & “Lt. Uhuru countdown” Robert Matthew Powell: ebow & pedal steel guitar Prairie Prince (Tubes, Todd Rundgren): drums Chris von Sneidern (Flamin’ Groovies): electronic percussion & mixing Me: bass, guitars, Mellotron, percussion, piano, Stylophone, vibraphone, lead & harmony vocals Some interpret “Space Oddity” as a dystopian story of futility and failure. I beg to differ. If you study the indicators in David Bowie’s music, he enjoyed a spiritual quest, a pursuit of God’s heart in the cosmos, inner and outer. There’s no sign that Bowie killed off Major Tom. Instead, Bowie reprised the Major Tom character as a conflicted man, “…Strung out on heaven’s high, making an all-time low,” seeking redemption from his foibles while expressing awe at the vast potential of creation. My goal in covering this song point towards the childlike faith/sci-fi themes of my next full length album, WE’RE GETTING CLOSER TO THE SUN.
Colour My World
Colour My World“(And You Can) Colour My World”—My just-released update on Petula Clark’s song from 1966. The original had a distinct sitar riff, which I demo’d using a Rickenbacker 360 electric guitar I borrowed from Adam Savetsky. Then I took the song into a glam rock/New Wave zone with some childlike “flower power” ambience. I’d kept tinkering and got a track I like, thanks to the mixing expertise of Chris von Sneidern. On a cosmic jukebox this could play next to Cheap Trick, Pretenders, and T. Rex. Tony Hatch and Jackie Trent wrote this song* for Petula Clark as they were on a roll after “Downtown” became a smash hit. Clark was considered part of the 60s pop/rock British Invasion (next to Lulu and Dusty Springfield) even though Clark already had a solid career before the Invasion had started. “Colour My World” coincided with mod-ness and the “flower power” vibe of the times. It was her opening song in concert into the 1970s. The song has been re-done several times, including country and Croatian versions. Now it’s my turn. *Not to be confused with the similarly-titled song by the band Chicago.
We're Getting Closer to the Sun
We're Getting Closer to the SunLyrics in this song were prompted by Lt. Uhuru’s (Nichelle Nichols) comments to Captain Kirk (William Shatner) in the 1968 Star Trek TV episode, “Bread & Circuses.” The song is the title track from a full-length album in the works—a collection of songs based on a childlike faith in themes of the cosmos and God, angels and astronauts. Musically it pulls from late 60s experimental pop and psychedelia, surf rock, spy movie music, and future-primitive sounds. I drew inspiration from the moral tales in “The Twilight Zone” TV series, the C.S. Lewis space trilogy, and science fiction books I read in grade school from Scholastic Book Services, particularly books by Alexander Key. Some modern sci-fi (especially in film) is dystopian, depicting the human race as grubby poltroons who deserve to be enslaved by machines or brutal corporate dictators. I defer to a gentler, cleaner, and constructive brand of sci-fi, speaking towards empathy, hope, possibilities, and spiritual dynamics.
A Little Industrial Nachtmusik
A Little Industrial NachtmusikA collaboration with synthesizer/remix wizard John Bechdel (Fear Factory, Killing Joke, Ministry), (the late) Davy Jones of the Monkees, and Johnny J. Blair "Singer at Large" (on Mellotron and funky guitar).
One Planet-One Utopia-One Helmet (Expresso Mix 2007)
One Planet-One Utopia-One Helmet (Expresso Mix 2007)This bouncy rocker is about as political as I get. The title is a satire on an ecological bumper sticker. The phrase “one planet-one utopia-one helmet” is an abstraction on history; how tyrannical regimes rose to power on these exact themes. The lyrics pull from three sources. First, it references the 1984 San Francisco mayoral elections. Jello Biafra of the Dead Kennedys came in fifth. Dianne Feinstein was running for mayor on a slogan that she’d “sweep the city clean of crime.” Jello followed suit by going around town with a vacuum cleaner. Second, I quote theology from the streets of San Francisco, so full of competing philosophies and religions, as in the days of Paul at Athens in the Areopogus. I was responding to the popular belief in Yin/Yang, as if “good” is totally dependent on “evil” to define “good” to obtain balance. I just can’t get my head wrapped around that. To paraphrase C.S. Lewis, this is like saying you need a parasite in order to know if you’re healthy or not. Last, it’s a tribute to characters and images in concept works by Ray Davies and The Kinks (who are also the primary musical influence on this song). The more you know about their music and subjects, the clearer it is: ARTHUR, MUSWELL HILLBILLIES, PRESERVATION ACTS, “Waterloo Sunset, “You Really Got Me,” etc. The “-ation” rhyming in the chorus copies “When Work is Over” from SOAP OPERA. The chorus alludes to the freakishness of the John Lennon assassination. Death does not discriminate. The song was the airplay-favorite from my first album in 1985 (even charting around the USA and parts of Europe), and I used to play it regularly in concert. A manic acoustic remake was made in 2005 for TREADMARKS. In 2007 I offered an “Espresso mix” of the original (adding fresh guitars, percussion, and remastering) and put it on GRATEFUL…which describes my gratefulness that people still like this odd little ditty.
Unresolved (Graham Greene's Script For Laural & Hardy) (Kick Mix)
Unresolved (Graham Greene's Script For Laural & Hardy) (Kick Mix)One sunny afternoon I was doodling around on the song “Yesterday” by Paul McCartney, and the workout led to the guitar riffs that led to this song. I’m a fan of classic comedy of Laurel & Hardy. I’m also a fan of Graham Greene, the prolific British writer known for exploring ambivalent moral, political, and spiritual issues of the modern world. His specialties were paradoxical characters who (often reluctantly or surprisingly) became saviors through ironic or redemptive acts. Meanwhile, Greene would carefully detail the sin-nature of so-called innocents. Greene’s story-endings weren’t always tidy and Hollywood-friendly (even though many of his books became films), yet you have to accept it—because everything happens for a reason. The lyrics propose the notion that Greene could’ve written a film script for Laurel & Hardy on the theme that parts of life are unresolved tragic-comedies. In a way, the song is a refraction on the hymn “Farther Along.” Tracking was started on a 4-track a portastudio in a loft in San Francisco, then released in an acoustic version on SNAPSHOTS (2002). I played all the violins—multi-tracked countless times. It was a noisy room, but somehow we EQ’d the violins into shimmering submission (I don’t think I’ll ever be able to do that again!). Five years later I digitized the tracks and moved them to Mind’s Eye Studio in Williamsport PA where I added bass and drums (under the engineering wand of Scott Francis). That became the “Kick Mix” issued on the GRATEFUL CD in 2007. The end result is probably one of the most Beatle-esque things I’ve ever done.
Please Don't Wait Too Long
Please Don't Wait Too LongThe music was influenced by Todd Rundgren, Brian Wilson, and Cliff Richard--whose Euro-pop market place was my target for shopping this song. I sent it to Sir Cliff, who didn't use it, but he was kind enough to send me a letter of commendation, and he asked that I send more tunes. A British pub band also covered this song.
Sunday Morning (Johnny J Blair and the Cellarbirds)
Sunday Morning (Johnny J Blair and the Cellarbirds)In 2016, I started rehearsing this song (to perform it live again) with my partner Uma Robin Mackey. I've been doing 12 Step recovery work since 2014, and as we kept playing this song, it dawned on me that it is a confessional expose on recovery, even if Lou Reed may have not intended that. When Velvet Underground recorded this song in late 1966, their goal was to tailor a hit single. Instead, they created a dark lullabye, an almost-gospel message about the world versus the spirit. The song was intended to be sung by Nico, but Lou Reed ended up singing it in a Bob Dylan demeanor. John Cale added the celesta on impulse, emphasizing the lullabye-like flavor of the song. The first VU album would gain notoriety for its experimentalist performance sensibilities, as well as the focus on controversial subject matter expressed in many of their songs including drug abuse, prostitution, sadism, and sexual deviancy. Yet it also has themes of hope, affection, eternity, tenderness, and wisdom that comes from a moral compass. Reed said he never intended to write about such topics for shock value. Reed, a fan of poets and authors such as Raymond Chandler and the beat poets, saw no reason why the content in their works couldn't translate well to rock and roll music. An English major who studied for a B.A. at Syracuse University, Reed said that joining the two (gritty subject matter and music) was "obvious…That's the kind of stuff you might read. Why wouldn't you listen to it? You have the fun of reading that, and you get the fun of rock on top of it." The song opened one of rock’s most influential albums, THE VELVET UNDERGROUND AND NICO. Released March 1967, the album was a commercial flop and critics ignored it, but, like Brian Eno said, “Everyone who heard that record started a band.” The record has since become one of the most influential and acclaimed rock albums in history, appearing at number thirteen on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 Greatest Albums of All Time as well as being added to the National Recording Registry by the Library of Congress. It was recorded (for less than $3000) in 1966 during Andy Warhol's Exploding Plastic Inevitable multimedia event tour. Cale and Reed wrote “Sunday Morning” in a classic pop-rock template that could’ve suited The Monkees, The Turtles, or any number of pop acts of that era. In 2003 I was asked to participate in a Lou Reed tribute project, and I took the song into a straight-up pop mode--adding vocal harmony and thicker guitars and keyboards as well as Brian Wilson-style percussion--yet retaining the atmosphere of the VU version. I recorded and mixed it in 6 hours (less than 3 takes) with members of The Badlees (Bret Alexander, Ron Simasek, and Paul Smith under guise as The Cellarbirds). If you want to move fast in the studio, they’re the cats. It was one of my most relaxed recording sessions and the track has gotten a lot of mileage. I’m grateful that, in 2006, Lou Reed himself commended it and featured it on his website.
I Like The Street (Electric Velvet Version)
I Like The Street (Electric Velvet Version)is a song about "my mind on bike." Sweat points to a rhythm under your skin and makes it glisten in the light. Sweat does not discriminate between burlap or satin, barkeep or ballerina. Lying makes people sweat. So does love. Jesus sweated drops of blood. Sweat carries the dust of disappointment and the heat of anticipation. Sweat is veracity and a means for sizing things up. I can even smell music. This is Sweat Logic, a way of coping and seeing behind the masks that people wear in life. When I had my “day job” of bike messenger, I had many opportunities to study sweat, strangers, and speed. A bike messenger is a courier who uses a bicycle to make deliveries, mostly in urban areas where vehicle traffic is thick. Bike messengers have been the subject of books, films, and documentaries. “I Like the Street” is my autobiographical recall of that time and that experience. The famously hilly streets of San Francisco (my work base then and now), are actually very navigable on a bike, and I messengered, off and on, from winter 1978 into the late 80s. Monday through Friday, a force of at least two hundred messengers cycled the streets. Ages ranged from thirteen to sixties: all shapes, sizes, sexes and sexualities—including corporate dropouts, punk rockers, Deadheads, fringe artists, under-aged runaways with fake IDs, semi-pro racers, religious cultists, Marxists, and academic outcasts. One female biker was a Rhodes scholar. She had a foul mouth but looked like Doris Day. It was a world I called The Asphalt Ballet. Less-enchanted viewers referred to the bikers as A Cabal of Nihilism. Kamikazes. Anarchists. In context, they were just another part of what makes San Francisco a butterfly collection of subcultures. A bike messenger racked up twenty to forty miles a day. Like field mice scurrying through tall grass, bike messengers wove through knots of downtown traffic, a continuous shape-shift of bodies and motor vehicles. Even the most careful messengers had regular accidents and were threatened by people, even when it wasn’t the bikers’ faults. Surprisingly few messengers got killed. The story I always heard about happened in 1976: a heedless chap named Tennessee hand-hitched to a truck going up the perilous Broadway hill. The truck turned right. Tennessee didn’t. Messengers roamed the streets like a horde of grungy pranksters, on vessels adorned with flowers and pirate flags, blowing kisses upwards, past carbon towers’ majesty to the big sky. Messengering is, simply, the pick-up and delivery of (mostly) legal documents, blueprints, artwork, and media items. It wasn’t unusual to carry chairs, contact lenses, dentures, dirty laundry (literally and metaphorically), flowers, food, frozen blood, inflatable dolls, mink coats, rubber chickens, telephones, tuxedos, umbrellas, urine samples... Deliveries, or “tags,” took bikers in and out of architectural marvels (like the Trans America pyramid), luxury hotels, shipyard docks, tourist traps, grimy warehouses, and sagging flophouses. Occasionally, a tag connected messengers to celebrities and some of the richest people on the Pacific seaboard. The street-beat also put us in proximity with grifters and the shadow-dwellers of society—“all the beautiful people.” In my experience, a peer of the realm only had to cross a line to be a lowlife. The messenger uniform gave me passage as a pseudo-ambassador, allowing entry to places only cops, journalists, and libertines dared to tread. I felt privileged by that. It put Sweat Logic into action. “The richness of the world, all artificial pleasures, have the taste of sickness and give off a smell of death in the face of certain spiritual possessions.” [Georges Rouault]
Halfway to Dakota
Halfway to DakotaIt’s night. Your heart is the engine while your car headlights pierce jagged dark horizons. You're driving relentlessly through mesas and boundless skies. This is my Twilight Zone “pocket opera” about a man traveling over vast Western spaces to get home. In my mind, I’m looking down from the sky on this night driver. On a cosmic jukebox it would play next to Roy Orbison, Chris Isaak, and some tango singers. It was recorded at Tape Vault Studios in San Francisco, with Chris von Sneidern in charge as co-producer & guitarist + guitarist Paul Robins and drummer Prairie Prince (Tubes, Todd Rundgren, XTC).* * This recording team is back in the studio with me to work on my next full-length album, WE’RE GETTING CLOSER TO THE SUN—your download of this song ($1 or any amount) will help me to finish this project!
If I Could Dress Like Clive Owen
If I Could Dress Like Clive OwenA tribute to the great actor and a tribute to the importance of dressing well. "You have to protect yourself and look for armor, answers, and help in all life's elements...All fashion is boundary-laden, message-whispering, drenched in politics..." (Jessica Pallington West). This song is a tribute to the great actor Clive Owen, who drapes well when he's dressing up or dressing down. The lyrics communicate on a few levels. They came to me in a "Cole Porter moment" when difficult and seemingly disparate elements come together in rhyme and can make sense. Humphrey Bogart said (paraphrase) that the sign of a great actor was when he/she played a character on the screen and the character was so alive and so good you forgot who the actor was. Such is the case with Owen. He's been in many hit films, but hardly anyone (at least in America) knows him as a household word. It so happens that many of these movies are amongst my favorites (as for Owen the private person, I know little, except to say he avoids bright lights, tabloid-engaging misbehavior, and is said to go home to his family). Second, it's about the practice of "putting yourself together" in public. It's that edge of knowing that you prepared yourself to function with people, places and things. Maybe that isn't necessary for everyone, but it is for me. I have a "dress code" out of respect for other people. It's a matter of decorum. It's an extension of my inner self and interests. It shows I care and respect people and my surroundings. I didn't just dress this way for me--but for everyone. Along with that, people are more comfortable with you when you project an air of confidence, extending from the mere fact that you put thought into your appearance, like a form of armor. The music bed strongly quotes "For Your Love" by the Yardbirds as well as familiar "spy movie music" signatures. The song came together quickly and it's one of the fastest recording sessions I've ever had, thanks to the able hand of Bret Alexander and the quick drum chops of Ron Simasek (Bret and Ron appeared courtesy of The Badlees).
Throw The First Stone (A Psychedelic Soul Suite)
Throw The First Stone (A Psychedelic Soul Suite)This was first released in 2000 on FIRE (http://www.amazon.com/Fire-Johnny-J-Blair/dp/B000FJH15S), though different versions of it (live and studio) are out there, before and after. Musically, this song was catalyzed specifically by T-Bone Burnett's "Boomerang." Later, I added a Talking Heads-style Afro-pop/funk element. The lyrics are based on the famous story in John, Chapter 8, about the Adultress about to be stoned by the self-righteous religious authorities known as The Pharisees. Jesus makes the point that all have sinned and "whomever is without sin can cast the first stone." Everyone faded away. Everyone was busted. http://www.keyway.ca/htm2004/20040811.htm It was a PBS television show called Frontline that triggered the idea. The show, spearheaded mainly by reporter Judy Woodruff, targeted evangelical Christians for being slack in catching financial (and other) abuses and scandals committed by assorted tele-evangelists. There was something about the tone of the show that seemed very slanted because it did not even begin to count the non-Christians who commit the same kind of abuses with money and power. I wrote her a letter (which actually got a response), and from this the lyrics came forth. A service-able demo of the song was made in 1984 with wunderkind Jonny Vitas (I may reissue that someday), and I played it around for years. There are also a decent live versions of it online. However, the definitive version is this one (from FIRE), with quotes from Talking Heads, ABBA, and other musical influences. I had fun with this one, combining psychedelic funk, string quartets and resonator guitar. Personnel-- Wayne Avers: electric guitar Cassie Blair: harmony vocals Johnny J Blair: bass, drum programs & drum fills, guitars, keyboards, and lead & harmony vocals Felix String Quartet: strings Sandy Gennaro: drums Monette Newsuan: harmony vocals Recorded in Moscow (Russia), Stockholm (Sweden), Williamsport PA, and Tokyo (Japan).
Dumb AngelDUMB ANGEL copyright 1991, 2008 JJ Blair Word2Soul publishing BMI Don’t know you well enough to call you buddy The kids laughed when I called your car a boat Thanks for the ride to the Bible study Even though it looked like you needed a smoke CHORUS I saw Elvis crying in the chapel The dumb angel writes his book The carpenter is waiting at the seaside Used to have a ball in Avis Waxing nostalgic at fourteen Man can sing like birds but the women saved us From basking in the music of the trees REPEAT CHORUS TWICE BEHIND THE MUSIC: Many of my songs come to me, completely arranged and ready-made, in dreams. Swirling images and impressions are hard to play back in conversation, but joined to melody, harmony and rhythm, it becomes easier. “Dumb Angel” is my articulation of a dream about growing up in Avis PA, a very small town surrounded by shadowy mountains and bucolic waterways. It was my goal to write a concise and cheery-sounding pop song for lyrics embedded with streams of implication. Much of the time I don’t know what my lyrics mean until later (sometimes years later). The dream starts in 1970, when I was age 12. I was visited by Lewis Carroll, Elvis Presley and Brian Wilson. This ensemble seems odd to me in my childhood context; I barely remember having any Carroll books around, and I didn’t regard Brian’s music until 1974 and Elvis until the 1990s. Yet, they’re as good as anyone to take a ride into “Wonderland.” Carroll and Presley were waiting for me at (what is now an abandoned) church. Carroll had messages. Presley was just there to pray and was “crying in the chapel,” just like in the song he sang. I felt sorry for him. This is conveyed in the chorus. The carpenter in Carroll’s WALRUS AND THE CARPENTER poem is transformed into the Carpenter from Nazareth who walked upon water. The title, “Dumb Angel,” was intentionally stolen from Brian Wilson. In 1966, it was his working title for the original Smile sessions. Brian, along with Van Dyke Parks, invented this angel character that could not speak (dumb), yet had messages to give to people (angels are God's messengers). I deliberately echoed the “Smile period” for arranging the drums, percussion, keyboards, and saxophone. To get the verve I wanted on sax, I instructed the sax player, Vince Alire, to listen to a “Smile” bootleg with “You Are My Sunshine/Old Master Painter." My bass playing is a comp of Brian’s bass method in that period, quoting Good Vibrations and other Beach Boys songs of the late 60s. In another twist, the drummer was named Brion S. Wilson. We recorded and mixed this track in one session in 1989. I added percussion and a vocal in 1993, and remixed it in 2008. In verse one, Brian Wilson had the duty of chauffeuring me and my friends around town in a Lincoln Continental, a big car that “us kids” used to call “a boat.” I’ve been a fan of Brian Wilson for ages, but in the dream I knew I didn’t know him well enough to call him buddy. He was shaky and kept smoking. In a real life, I first met Brian Wilson at a Pennsylvania airport in 1981 (and he was a nervous wreck). The second verse fast-forwards me to age 14 and starts with a lie: “Used to have a ball in Avis.” Perhaps only when I was with my friends. In reality, that was one of the darkest times of my life. Songs like this let out steam and probably help me to face off old demons. In 1971, we moved out of Avis under a cloud. God only knows, but I was nostalgic for Avis because it was familiar havoc as opposed to new havoc. The escape hatch was “waxing nostalgic” i.e. recalling good times that either weren’t really there or had the duration of a vapor. When we boys dared to go skinny dipping in Pine Creek, it was an act of freedom for me, not rebellion. The second line was going to be “skinny dipping in the creek,” but I changed it to “waxing nostalgic at 14” because I didn’t want to be too silly or worry about diffusing homo-eroticism with people. My friends, the Kanski boys, and I “could sing like birds.” The danger for me, then and later, was in being too introspective. “Basking in the music of the trees” describes the spell of self-absorption that stunts your heart and makes you only hear your own self-pitying voice. We’re supposed to get our songs from God. Music is His voice, not man or nature. Sometimes He sends women to snap us to and rescue us from our own stupidity. It was time for us lads to discover our hormones; “the women saved us.” We had to grow up. When I play this song live, I often quote parts from Good Vibrations, which is what I needed when God's angel, dumb with few words, messengered this song to me in a dream. Live version: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1adaRT-TVpU&list=UUIQGK3FjeBQrU1hd2AVvfog&index=24&feature=plcp Download or purchase disc: http://www.cdbaby.com/cd/johnnyjblair3
Woody Guthrie's America
Woody Guthrie's America"Woody Guthrie's America" (download single 2010). I was contacted by Seth Olinsky of the band Akron/Family to cover one of his simple songs. It was actually an open collaboration with other musicians, non-musicians, artists, actresses, whatever, to do their own version of this song, to be posted on a website. I "took it to church," in a Beach Boys style (circa HOLLAND 1973). I played the piano and did all the vocals in 1-2 takes.
Keep Sharing the Crayons
Keep Sharing the Crayons“Keep Sharing the Crayons” Subtext: God gives us all “crayons” to share and use in life. We’re coloring creation according to divine design. I first performed this song in a church in San Francisco, as a sentimental motivational note to my brethren. The original 4-track demo sounded like an outtake from The Beach Boys’s SMILEY SMILE, complete with Carl Wilson “nah nahs.” Years later, while setting up tracks for my FIRE album, I gave the song a makeover, keeping the Beach Boys flavor (adding “Bluebirds Over the Mountain” percussion), but with an 80s synth-rock flair, with gated Bowie-fied drums and a guitar-keyboard shimmer to imitate one of my favorite obscure 80s bands, New Musik (the brainchild of Tony Mansfield, later of A-Ha fame). NM wrote songs like The Beatles, Genesis, and Kraftwerk were in the same lab, and they had a unique sound, employing dissonance amidst perfectly cogent and gleaming guitar and synth tones. That was the sound I was looking for! What you hear is a rough mix by Tim Breon. It was thought that “Crayons” didn’t fit on FIRE, so it was "outtaked," then re-visited in 2007 for GRATEFUL, then "re-outtaked." Finally I decided this rough mix by Tim sounds alright and there’s no sense hiding a perfectly good “crayon.” http://johnnyjblairsingeratlarge.bandcamp.com/track/keep-sharing-the-crayons-early-mix
Night Garden“Night Garden” (from the album I LIKE THE STREET http://www.amazon.com/gp/product/B005XB31K2/ref=dm_mu_dp_trk8). Donald Fagen said that he sometimes wrote lyrics because they suited his voice. He didn’t necessarily always know if the lyrics had meaning. I’m the same way—I write lyrics to suit how my mouth moves. I don’t always know what the words mean till later. Such is the case with “Night Garden.” So many elements coalesced to make this recording. The lyrics are a sequel to a “dream song” I made years ago, called “Last Ride.” It was Brazilian in theme, even though I never made a proper recording of it. “Night Garden” is an update, even though, when I wrote it, I didn’t know there would be a story. As it turns out, it’s about a couple who are on the lam, wrestling over some incident that forces them to think about crossing the border out of the USA. It also touches on themes of eternity, written in a style akin to Solomon's poetry. The music grew from a bass line that, every time I played it, people would start jamming to it. The only way to describe this song is “psychedelic Cuban.” Cuban and Caribbean music has always stuck me as rhythmically and harmonically confident and strident. The rhythyms make you feel alive and comfortable, moving ahead despite it all. The bass and drum lines of “Night Garden” emanate from that center. The music bed was recorded in Brooklyn, Los Angeles, and Williamsport PA with the indespensilble aid of Eric Biondo a.k.a. Beyondo (whose music has my undying support) and the bombastic piano work of Mike Garson (best known as David Bowie’s pianist).
And I Love Her
And I Love HerSummer 1991 in San Francisco: I was in a "rediscover my roots" phase, and The Beatles came up. I rarely cover Beatle songs, but my fancy was taken with the idea of doing "And I Love Her" as though it were written for a Japanese opera (Kabuki Theatre) libretto about a haunted shipwreck, as scored by King Crimson. I first recorded this on 4-track in San Francisco, then Scott Francis adeptly remixed it in 2009 for a Beatles radio special. The searing slide guitar work pays tribute to Dave Gilmour (the guitar was de-tuned to an E minor chord). There's a smattering of Ronnie Spector in the fade chorus. That all said, to me the best cover of this song is by Julio Iglesias.