It was a decision made on the spur of the moment. Laid up for three months, recovering from surgery on his left hand to fix what had been a debilitating carpel tunnel problem (“My hand got so numb I couldn’t even hold a fork”), Gordie Johnson was offered the opening slot on a national George Thorogood tour.
“I was restless, I wanted to play but I didn’t have a band at that time,” noted Johnson. “So I got together with percussionist Stephane Beaudin, we went into the studio and laid down some gospel-blues arrangements with dub reggae rhythms in like a day and a half and recorded “I Was Just Trying To Help” and then off we went, supporting George Thorogood.
[quote] “Someone will have to remind me the day I achieve commercial success, I don’t know what the yardstick is for that. I don’t have Taylor Swift envy! I might as well be baking bagels compared to what they are doing.”[/quote]Noted for his work as lead guitarist/vocalist for reggae-blues band Big Sugar, Johnson also made his mark with country-rock band Grady and even contributes on bass to rock-blues band Wide Mouth Mason. But now with Sit Down Servant, Johnson has added blues-gospel, set to dub reggae beat arrangements as another notch in his creative belt.
Call him a musical chameleon if you will, Johnson’s musical style defies description. He developed Sit Down Servant so he could play steel guitar which created less pressure on his weak left wrist, but in doing so, developed yet another musical outlet for his vivid creativity. Obviously this collaboration with Beaudin worked well enough that he’s doing it again, touring this fall as the opening act for Joe Satriani.
“Fans coming to our gigs shouldn’t expect us to play `Digging A Hole’,” warns Johnson. “Sit Down Servant is a new style with new instruments. It’s very satisfying creatively. When we tour there is no pre-conceived notions of what we are going to do. Whatever we bring that night is what we are going to do.”
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It’s not that Johnson is against playing well-known songs. “I’m very fortunate in my career to have recorded a body of work that a lot of people recognize but I have never considered myself to be a `commercial artist’,” noted Johnson. “Someone will have to remind me the day I achieve commercial success, I don’t know what the yardstick is for that. I don’t have Taylor Swift envy! I might as well be baking bagels compared to what they are doing.”
“I have no aspirations to be commercially successful in the pop field,” Johnson continued. “Nobody I hang with is aware of what it is to be successfully. People I hang with like Black Crowes, ZZ Top and even Willie Nelson are people who just make music. Sometimes it connects and sometimes not as much. We are all in it for the long haul, it’s not like If I don’t sell a million records, I’m not here. I’m just trying to find people who appreciate my music.”
This is a mantra the Winnipeg native has followed ever since joining with bassist Terry Wilkins and drummer Al Cross in 1988 to launch Big Sugar. Although this reggae-blues infusion group did connect with a couple of radio-friendly hits ( `Diggin A Hole’, `Turn The Light’s On’, a cover of Traffic’s Dear Mr Fantasy) the majority of their six studio releases and one greatest hits record (Hit And Run) were embraced by fans attracted to their eclectic, free-flowing blues-reggae dub concerts which they usually performed without the aid of a set list.
Johnson then graduated to perform in an Austin-based country rock outfit called Grady but did reform Big Sugar for a 2010 national tour which resulted in the band’s sixth CD, “Revolutions Per Minute”
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One thing though, don’t even infer that Johnson is a `blues player’ even though many critics labelled Big Sugar blues rock and he has been know to help out players such as Colin James and Joel Plaskett (amongst several others) as well as touring with Thorogood and his current jaunt with Joe Satriani.
“Blues music never defined me, I never held my hand up and said `Hey, I’m a blues man’,” noted Johnson. “I’ve played a lot more reggae music than I have blues, you won’t find me in any `Blues Hall Of Fame’. I play all kinds of music. I have a whole career of playing country music – but no one knows about that because it was never recorded. Blues to me is just one ingredient in a pretty rich gumbo of music that I draw from.”
Returning to Sit Down Servant after spending time in an Austin club residency where performed instruments backing `name’ dub music and rap artists, Johnson may need to change his musical style to respond to his wrist injury but all that means to him is a fresh musical challenge.
“It’s what I do,”explained Johnson. “ Whether it’s George Thorogood or Joe Satriani, it’s a new challenge for me. With George it was more of a beer crowd so we had to ramp things up but Joe is more of a jazz-rock influence so I will have to have my A game going when I open for him.”
Johnson recognizes that the music industry has changed drastically over the past few years but notes that has had no bearing on his career. “Commercial music and me operate on two separate planes. I’ve always reach an eclectic audience, my music has never and will never appeal to the masses but I think you get in trouble when you try to appeal to the masses. Look at Rush for example, they obviously never gave a fuck. They never conformed to what was popular at the time but an audience found them..and that’s what is cool about their success.
“I’m just happy to be making music on my own terms,” concluded Johnson. “Any day I am sitting in a recording studio with a guitar on my lap, that’s a good day. Every career has it’s ups and downs but you just play along and go with the flow.”
Sit Down Servant’s tour dates with Joe Satriani are listed in Concert Connection