DAMON JOHNSON: ‘MEMOIRS OF AN UPRISING’
Damon Johnson had not really considered a full-time solo career.
The band that he co-founded six years ago, Black Star Riders, had just completed a seven-week tour supporting Judas Priest all across North America in the spring of 2018. Johnson and lead singer Ricky Warwick had co-written the bulk of the songs on all three BSR albums, culminating with their solid 2017 release, ‘Heavy Fire’. He had successfully juggled some solo releases between BSR tours and a few select Thin Lizzy performances, and was forging along at a fast clip, working tirelessly and seemingly content to continue that path. Yet, as BSR had taken him all over Europe and North America in recent years, and was certainly keeping his songwriting skills in shape, there were two things he couldn’t stop thinking about: his family and his future.
“After that Priest tour I was feeling some real anxiety about many things: getting older, where my career would be in 10 years, how much time I was continually spending away from Lynda and our two youngest kids, who were about to turn 14 and 10,” Johnson says. “Plus I was sitting on a near completed solo album of the most honest music I’ve ever made. Ignoring some hard truths could not be a part of my deal anymore.” So Johnson made the decision to part ways with Black Star Riders, finish his album, and start over yet again…this time completely on his own name.
The resulting album, ‘Memoirs Of An Uprising’ (out March 8 on Double Dragon Records), is fierce and diverse and a powerful springboard for him to start this next chapter.
“The last fully realized collection of new electric songs, with me singing them, was the Brother Cane ‘Wishpool’ album…and that was 20 years ago,” Johnson explains. “So much has happened since then. I got divorced, Brother Cane split up, I got remarried, two new kids, Alice Cooper tours, a move to Nashville, so much. I’ve been in several band situations and had interactions with musicians and fans around the world. After all these years there were new song ideas brewing inside of me of things I’ve experienced and observed other people experience. It is thrilling now to have a place to gather those ideas and characters into this one volume of music.”
Collaborating with his longtime friend and songwriter, Jim “Johnny Blade” Troglen, Johnson began assembling a group of songs in various tempos and grooves that reflect where is currently is musically, and laced them with lyrical themes of betrayal, revenge and struggle. “The first two songs we put together were “Shivering Shivering” and “Dallas Coulda Been A Beatdown”, and I knew we were off to a great start,” says Johnson. Throughout ‘Memoirs Of An Uprising’, there are musical events that are strictly meant to get bodies moving, like “Dallas…” and “Making Peace With This Wicked Beast”, and there are some truly challenged literary actors in “We Got A System” and “The World Keeps Spinning Round”. When it is suggested that ‘MOAU’ could be a concept album, Johnson says, “As much as I’d prefer to steer clear of that label, there is no denying these 10 songs can be consumed in one listen and feel like a complete story.” The protagonist in “Shivering Shivering” makes it clear from the opening lines that things are gravely amiss:
“Something’s got me all shivering shivering
I’m seeing double and I’m bending shapes
I’m having visions all trembling trembling
I’m nodding off and I’m switching lanes
And oh, it’s unsettling…I can tell I’m out of range”
There is real struggle going on for the characters found within the storytelling in these songs, finally arriving at what feels like a hopeful resolve in the soaring and fast paced album closer, “Glorious”.
There is also on display the urgent energy that has come to define Johnson’s guitar work for decades, and it is that strongest of skills that help him stand out in the crowded streaming of rock and roll music on Spotify. “Playing guitar is always the easiest part of the process for me, and I’m grateful to have that golden hammer in my tool box,” he laughs. “All the real work went into the writing and arranging. The only measurement I gave myself with the guitar playing on this album was simply to have fun.” With Johnson in the producer’s chair, he brought in the same Nashville friends and musicians that he has worked with over the past three years: Tony Nagy (bass), Jarred Pope (drums) and Tony Higbee (guitar). He then enlisted trusted collaborator and Grammy Award winning engineer and producer, Nick Raskulinecz, to handle the final mixes.
Johnson has certainly amassed an almost dreamlike resumé of accomplishments since forming Brother Cane in the early 90s. That band received significant American rock radio airplay (Three #1 singles and more Top 10s) and was support on major tours with Aerosmith, Robert Plant and Van Halen. Damon joined Alice Cooper’s touring band in 2004 and would log five years with the shock rock icon, traveling the world multiple times. He then became a member of legendary Irish band Thin Lizzy in 2011, which would morph into Black Star Riders…a solid ensemble writing new music in the Lizzy vein and touring constantly in Europe.
“It’s going to be a lot of work to forge this new chapter as a full time solo artist, but there is an almost intoxicating amount of freedom that is already making it absolutely worth while,” Johnson smiles. “The freedom to be in control of my calendar, and to write and record whatever style of music I feel inspired to work on at a particular moment; that is exciting beyond words. And just the simplicity of working with musicians that live literally down the street from me…it hasn’t been that way for me since the Brother Cane days.” All the hard work over the years has raised his profile as a guitarist and performer substantially, and he is now ready to educate the world about the artist he is finally ready to embrace. “This is not something I’ve been plotting, or feeling like I should have made this move sooner. I wasn’t ready until now. It’s an exciting time in music history for any artist that has something to say, is proficient on their instrument, and embraces working hard. I am absolutely ready for this.”