Damon Johnson - Autumn 2018

Photo credit: Stephen Jensen

Guitarist Damon Johnson has been thrilling fans with high energy rock and powerful performances for more than 30 years. He has enjoyed an illustrious career as a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter for Brother Cane, Alice Cooper and currently Black Star Riders and Thin Lizzy. 2018 has already been an intensive year for Damon. He has continued to tour extensively with Black Star Riders, released his solo Echo EP and he is now putting the final touches together Memoirs Of An Uprising, a full solo studio album due for release on 9th November. In addition to all this, Damon will soon be heading out with his Black Star Riders bandmate Ricky Warwick for a 30 date autumn UK and European tour as Warwick Johnson. He is possibly one of the busiest men in rock and we wonder how he finds that most precious of commodities to make it all happen: time. We catch up with Damon to find out he manages to keep so many plates spinning…


You are of course guitarist with Black Star Riders, you have a successful solo career and you also have your partnership with Ricky Warwick with Warwick Johnson. How difficult is it to manage all these commitments and consistently deliver to such a high standard?


It is certainly challenging, as all three of these endeavours are quality and deserve proper time to nurture. Add to all of these my greatest priority, my family, and there is absolutely zero time these days for idle moments. And that is not good, as idle moments are vital for the creative work to develop. I’m proud of all these projects and the output of new music and great performances. But it has become increasingly difficult to juggle so many balls in the air at the same time. 


From a songwriting perspective what rules or tests do you apply to decide whether a song should be for Black Star Riders or solo record?


Ricky and I agreed when the band started in 2012 that he would write all the lyrics for Black Star Riders. With the exception of my lyrics for an older song of mine, Kissin’ The Ground from our debut, that has indeed been our collaborative template ever since. Rarely have I held back a guitar riff or a vocal melody from potential BSR songs, as not everything I play for Ricky is going to inspire a lyric. The beauty of having so many projects needing new material is that any song idea that I’m fond of usually finds a home somewhere. Plus Ricky’s own legacy of quality songwriting and storytelling fuels the common sense of him handling the lyrics for a band with origins springing from 21st century Thin Lizzy. His lyrics in BSR are incredible and the band is fortunate to have him. 


Your shows with Rick Warwick as Warwick Johnson are a wonderful example of how powerful performances from 2 guys with acoustic guitars can be. What do you personally get from these intimate shows, both professionally and personally that you don’t get from a BSR show?


Black Star Riders shows are a bigger presentation, with volume and lights and road crew and a commitment to more of a grand spectacle. Warwick Johnson is just two good friends having some fun in a much more intimate setting. Ricky and I have performed hundreds of solo acoustic shows on our own, so combining our skills into one performance on one stage proved to be special from the very first time it happened. We both felt it. I still feel it and enjoy it as much as any thing I’ve ever done in my career. I hope we are performing as an acoustic duo far into the coming decades.

Damon’s 2018 Echo EP

September and October sees you heading out with Ricky to perform 30 shows across Europe and the UK in nearly as many days. How do you prepare for and survive such an extensive tour?


Ha! When you say it like that, it sort of smacks me awake. It truly is intense and takes a physical toll, even on two veterans that have been committed to gym training and a healthy diet for years now. Our greatest defence is sleep, and as much of it as one can possibly get each night. There’s no way we could survive this schedule if we still treated our bodies like we did in our younger days. Sometimes you have to will yourself to power through the schedule, especially if you’re nursing a head cold or a cough. 


Billed as the Sonic Acoustic Attack Tour, these shows are about sharing career spanning material over 2 hours. To what extent does the set list for these shows allow you to look in the rear view mirror at your achievements as an artist and which are you most proud of?


Great question, and I can honestly say I’m proud of all of it. And it has boosted my confidence to have an artist of Ricky’s level of skill to be so supportive of my songwriting and singing. Guitar playing somehow has always come fairly easily to me; singing and songwriting is much harder work. These acoustic shows with Ricky have helped me improve immensely. Warwick Johnson is a unique presentation by not one but two lifetime artists that are more inspired to write and perform than ever before, and we are both proud of the paths our musical lives have taken. 


As I said, your shows with Ricky are an incredibly powerful experience. Are there any plans to record an album together as Warwick Johnson? 


We absolutely want to do it. It would be fun and would not require much time to commit some songs to tape. But going back to your first question, where is the time? We have so many things demanding focus from us, individually and collectively (there are also plans for a handful of Thin Lizzy festival dates in summer of 2019). But I most definitely want to make a Warwick Johnson album one day very soon. We owe it to ourselves and the fans to make it happen. 

 

You have a new solo album, Memoirs of an Uprising, due for release on 9th November. How is this progressing and how has your approach to this record differed from your record album, the incredible Echo EP?


Thank you, about Echo. As of this interview, mixing for my new album wraps up next week as production must start on pressing vinyl and manufacturing CDs to make our November 9 release date. MOAU is unique for me as I produced it myself and I’m incredibly pleased with it. That said, I do not want to self produce so much the next time as I believe songs always benefit from having a producer to share the process with. I engineered all the vocals, guitar solos and other overdubs and did a good job of it. But engineering and microphones and outboard equipment is not my forte and I would rather spend that time writing more songs. Nick Raskulinecz and I both live in Nashville, and he let me use his studio to record the drums (everything else was done at my house). Nick has graciously taken on the job of mixing, which I’m grateful for as his schedule is always filled. Obviously I also hail his work in the producer’s chair, so if the calendar allows I’d love to have him produce my next one, as he did Echo.


Might your fans get a preview of the new material on your forthcoming tour with Ricky?


Maybe. Part of me wants to hold off for the official launch of MOAU, certainly as all the good people that supported my Pledge Music campaign deserve to hear those songs first. But you never know. I’ve been playing some of the new songs on the acoustic around the house, and they sound damn good.

As our conversation draws to a close, we reflect on what an incredibly busy time it is for Damon, but also more importantly what a hugely exciting time it is for all of us. We’ve expressed our opinion that 2 people with acoustic guitars can be a very powerful experience. This is multiplied exponentially when those 2 people are Damon Johnson and Ricky Warwick. On their forthcoming Sonic Acoustic Attack tour, they will be playing somewhere near you. We highly recommend grabbing a ticket and experiencing first hand what it means to be at a Warwick Johnson show. Also, Damon’s new album Memoirs Of An Uprising can be pre-ordered at www.pledgemusic.com. In the meantime, check out the video for Dead below, the opening track from Damon’s 2018 Echo EP.