SCOTT ALBERT JOHNSON INTERVIEW
How has the reaction to your latest CD been?
So far, so good. It's been added by more than 40 stations in the USA, and already some stations in Europe as well. Some reviews are starting to roll in, including Rootstime in Belgium and a lot of well-known people in the harmonica world, and it's all been positive. I've also gotten a lot of great compliments delivered to me personally.
I think some people who didn't really know my own music, and who knew me best as a harmonica player, were pleasantly surprised by the style of music. You know, because I am a harmonica player from Mississippi, they were kind of automatically expecting standard blues music. But those who were familiar with my first album Umbrella Man (2007), which was pretty eclectic... I think they saw this as a natural evolution from that record, as I do. I love blues and it is certainly an influence, but it's only part of the mix. Anyway, I have been really pleased with the response.
How long did this CD take to make from start to finish, recording-wise?
It took almost seven years. The first sessions were in the fall of 2008. I started and stopped a lot, due to family and career obligations. But we really sprinted the last seven months or so.
Please inform us about your favourite songs and lyrical highlights and why?
Well, that's kind of like picking your favourite children, isn't it? I like something about all of them. But I guess a few stand out for me... "Fragments" has a very deep meaning for me because of the sort of awe-struck view of life and the universe that it was meant to impart, which is a big part of my worldview. It was also very special to be able to collaborate on that one with Chalmers Davis, my regular keyboard player who is a Muscle Shoals studio veteran and a 23-year member of Little Richard's touring band.
"If I Only Knew the Words" was a big one for me, because it took me the longest to write (ten years) and feels like something that really came together the way I hoped after a lot of effort. It's about communication in relationships and also about songwriting, and how hard they both can be. It took a lot of effort to get the overall sound right; I was going for something that would hold up against songs by my heroes like Peter Gabriel or the Police. My bassist on that track, Raphael Semmes, called it "redneck Sting," which he meant as a compliment.
"Simply Human" is also really special to me, as it was intended to make people thing about the future of technology, which really could run away from us. It's written from the standpoint of a machine that is on the verge of becoming conscious, and trying to figure out what it means to be human. I wanted the music to be a combination of organic and synthetic instrumentation, and I think we pulled it off pretty well. And, of course, the title track "Going Somewhere" was a lot of fun because I got to collaborate with Jeff Raines and Robert Mercurio from the great New Orleans band Galactic. Along with Chalmers and Denny Burkes on drums, I think everyone brought the funk/rock on that one.
Who are your influences and heroes? (music-wise)
Well, I mentioned Peter Gabriel and the Police... I am very much a child of the 70s and 80s, and there are a lot of people that I admire from that time, some of whom are still making great music today... Rush, U2, Mark Knopfler, the Cars, Van Halen, Tom Petty, Stevie Ray Vaughan, the Who etc. I am also a big fan of classic R&B, jazz, and blues... Ray Charles, Stevie Wonder, B.B. King, Louis Armstrong, Miles Davis and so on. I like jammier bands like Phish, Widespread Panic, and the Dead. New Orleans artists like Galactic, the Meters, and Johnny Vidacovich are important to me. And of course, I am a big Beatles fan. I also really like more contemporary people like Beck, Daniel Lanois, and Radiohead. So all that stuff has an influence on my overall approach to the sound.
Lyrically, I am very heavily influenced by people like Sting, Bob Dylan, Neil Peart of Rush, Randy Newman, and Bruce Hornsby. I think it's important to get in touch with your own voice and the things, emotions, and ideas that are important to you, intellectually and/or emotionally, instead of writing what you think people want to hear. If it comes from within, it's more likely to resonate. I don't write a ton of songs; if I get an idea, I try to really nurture that idea until it really says what I want it to say.
When it comes to the harmonica... some of the people who have had a big impact on me are better known in the harmonica world, like Richard Hunter (who helped me think about how to expand the sonic palette of the instrument through effects), Paul Messinger, Jon Gindick, Adam Gussow, PT Gazell, Jelly Roll Johnson, Jimmy Gordon, Rosco Selley and Pat Bergeson. Others are better known to the general population, like John Popper, Toots Thielemans, or Stevie Wonder. I was also very influenced by a guy named Chris Michalek, who used to work on my harmonicas and was one of the best players in the world (he died in 2010). He really was a big influence in terms of looking at the diatonic harmonica as an advanced instrument that could play any note, any phrase, any way. He helped me get my head around the overblow technique, which enables one to play the diatonic as a fully chromatic instrument.
But honestly, I am influenced in my phrasing just as much, if not more, by other instruments like horns, the guitar, or the piano. I listen to people like Louis Armstrong, Wynton Marsalis, Jerry Garcia, John Scofield, and Bruce Hornsby a lot, and try to take away lessons about tone and phrasing that can be applied the harmonica. I really view the harmonica as an instrument that can do anything.
What are you listening to (on iPod, record, cd, bandcamp)?
I'll just list a few things that I have had on in the last few days... the new Wilco album, Radiohead, Beck, Rush, the Crusaders, Marcus Miller (with Fred Yonnet, a great French harmonica player), Ozric Tentacles (yep! go space rock!), Andy Summers, Steely Dan, and so on. I am also into a lot of artists from right around here in Mississippi, like Thomas Jackson, Ron Etheridge, George McConnell, Jon Yargates, AJC, Alphonso Sanders, Gunboat, and the legendary Cassandra Wilson. I got to know Cassandra a little from playing at her venue here in Jackson, the Yellow Scarf. She's amazing. Anyway, I recommend you check out some of these Mississippi artists.
What advice should you have taken but did not?
Wow... that's a tough one. I usually listen to and consider what people have to say, but then I plot my own course based on getting as much information as I can (plus intuition, common sense etc). There was a person I got involved with on my first record, an industry type, and several people warned me to watch out for him. They were right. So I guess that would be one example.
The other thing -- and this is not exactly ignored advice as much as a simple regret -- I wish I had been more active with music in my 20s. I was in bands in high school and college, but then I stopped when I was 21 and didn't pick it up again until I was 30. I think part of me felt like I was putting away childish things, but there was most definitely something missing in my life during that time.
Music has given me the most important things in my life. It brought me back to Mississippi and my parents... and that brought me to my wife, who gave me my children (and a wonderful extended family). I appreciate the ability to perform and write music so much... it's beyond my ability to express it.
What should people know about you?
- My family is the most important thing in the world to me. We have three children: Charlie (9), Benjamin (8), and Lily Margaret (6).
- My wife, Susan Margaret Barrett, is an amazing photographer and took the pictures for my album. The jet engine on the front was taken somewhere over Spain in 2004, and the picture of me on the airport runway was at Hawkins Field, a small airport in Jackson.
- I used to kick field goals for the Harvard football team.
- I went to graduate school for journalism and once got to interview Mikhail Gorbachev (briefly).
- I have lived in ten U.S. states and visited 37... and I have been to Canada, Mexico, Australia, and ten European countries (including seven visits to the Netherlands; I played some shows there in 2005).
- I was in Amsterdam when I learned that my wife and I were going to have our first child. I love the Netherlands and I consider Amsterdam to be like a second home.
- I love to read and I love comedy.
- I worked briefly at the White House during Bill Clinton's first administration. I had worked on his campaign right after college.
- I am an only child and am adopted. My parents are, along with my wife and kids, my biggest fans.
What has been the most significant achievement you’ve had with your music so far?
If I had to pick one thing, I'd have to say that it's this album. It took a long time and a lot of work and there were obstacles to overcome. Fortunately I had an enormous amount of help, not least from the amazing musicians who contributed their talents.
There have been other big moments, though. One would have to be playing with James Burton and Marty Stuart at the inaugural Mississippi Grammy Celebration in 2007. To trade solos with a Rock and Roll Hall of Famer (Burton) was pretty amazing. Of course, there are quiet moments of success all the time. Every time I finish a song, or conquer a problem on the harmonica, it feels great.
What does the next 6 months look like for you?
I'll be promoting this album... performing live a lot... possibly doing some writing and recording... and helping my wife to raise my kids. I am hoping to do some touring in Europe next summer.
*New album GOING SOMEWHERE out now!*
Scott Albert Johnson - Going Somewhere
Scott Albert Johnson heeft 7 jaar aan zijn tweede album gewerkt. En het resultaat mag er zijn op dit veelzijdige en soms erg persoonlijke album. Scott Albert Jonhson is naast virtuoos mondharmonicaspeler een prima zanger en songwriter. Dit is geen alledaags album en na een paar luisterbeurten blijven de teksten al in je hoofd rondspoken. Neem bijvoorbeeld het nummer ' If I Only Knew The Words' waar de zanger tien jaar aan heeft gewerkt. Het nummer gaat over de communicatie in een relatie en het proces van het schrijven van nummers. Het sluitstuk van de cd 'Fragments' is wat mij betreft het absolute hoogtepunt van dit bijzondere album. Op het nummer ' Fragments' horen we Scott Albert Johnson op geweldige wijze de harmonica bespelen slechts begeleid door de piano van Chalmers Davis. Op indrukwekkende wijze worden we geconfronteerd met de nietigheid van de mens. Scott Albert heeft een even mooi als bijzonder album gemaakt.