Over 25 years after the birth of Brother Cane, band founder Damon Johnson continues to create hard rocking music that deserves to be heard. At 51, the current Thin Lizzy and Black Star Riders guitarist has found balance in his life between making the music that he loves, his family, his health, and finding happiness in the face of a world often predisposed to pessimism and negativity. In the end, it is all about choice and Johnson has made his own optimistic views clear on his new solo EP Echo.
Echo took root at the end of the recording sessions for Black Star Riders’ sophomore album, The Killer Instinct, which was recorded in Nashville and produced by Nick Raskulinecz (Rush, Foo Fighters, Ghost). Johnson, an Alabama native, now calls Nashville home, and he has become fast friends and relative neighbors with Raskulinecz.
“We don’t live but about 15 minutes apart from each other,” Johnson recently shared with Metalholic. “So our kids play together, our wives go out together, and whatever. So it was one of those times where we were just hanging out and he said, ‘Hey do you have any solo material that you would be interested in playing for me?’ As a longtime songwriter, there’s always material sitting around. I’m always getting inspired and kind of writing just to keep the muscles in shape. So I played Nick a handful of songs and he said, ‘Man, there’s some stuff here I really love, why don’t we pick a couple of days and go in and track.’ That’s really how the whole thing started.”
Echo is Johnson’s third solo effort having released two acoustic albums, Dust in 2000 and Release in 2010. The EP features five tracks which are perhaps a reverberation of Johnson’s music from Brother Cane forward, with elements of all his work woven into the tapestry of this new material.
“Echo represents a guy that’s been around and is as in love with songwriting and creating music as I’ve ever been at any point in my whole career. I wouldn’t have envisioned it being this way. If you had told the 27-year-old Damon Johnson: ‘Hey, man, when you’re 51 you’re going to be more inspired and driven than you are right now,’ I wouldn’t have thought that possible. In my mind, I would have thought guys in their 50s are thinking about retirement. They’re thinking about slowing down. Nothing could be a more opposite situation. I feel like in a lot of ways I have just simplified things in my life and really just stripped it down to my family, my health regimen, and music. Other than watching some football on television, that’s plenty. I’ve got plenty to keep me busy and plenty to stay excited about. I feel like Echo is the culmination of all that. This is where I’m at in my life right now, and I feel these five songs are a measuring stick of where I’m at musically and where I’m headed musically.”
After spending the 90s touring and releasing three albums with Brother Cane, then spending the next decade touring and recording with shock rock legend Alice Cooper, one might think Johnson had achieved his dream, but bigger things were on the horizon. As the decade turned, Thin Lizzy, the band he’d idolized as a teenager, tapped him to be their new guitarist. This turned into the formation of a new band, Black Star Riders which has already released two critically acclaimed records. In the midst of this, Damon has had plenty of success with his own solo music as well, and Echo is a firm statement of how powerful that music can be.
“I’m just committed to giving even my small group of fans—I’m just committed to giving them what they want. They wanted an acoustic record, I gave it to them. They wanted some electric; I’m giving it to them. To be able to piggyback that with my work with Black Star Riders–with my involvement with Thin Lizzy, man I feel like Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. I feel like I got the golden ticket and I’m running the whole shop. I feel very grateful to be where I’m at in my career right now.”
As Johnson shared with Metalholic in the full interview, which can be heard below, he is about to head to Europe for some tour dates with Thin Lizzy, which will feature Aerosmith’s Tom Hamilton on bass and Judas Priest’s Scott Travis on drums. This August, he and the rest of Black Star Riders will return to the Nashville with Raskulinecz to record the band’s third album: A record they plan to release in 2017, according to Johnson, who says he and vocalist Ricky Warwick have already penned parts for 13 or so songs, and he shared that Warwick and guitarist Scott Gorham are working on a handful of others as well.