Before he was born, Johnny already knew how to keep time.
His parents were both bluegrass musicians, so it might simply be in his DNA. Or it could have had something to do with his mom, who played the upright bass, and her decision to keep touring while she was pregnant with him. It seems almost obvious that choice would lead him to “the next rhythmic movement” – the drums, which Johnny began playing not long after learning to talk.
Fun Fact: Despite the country being shut down, the band snuck away to Gettysburg to make a music video in a haunted house!
Having known many musicians in my days, I have heard stories about how hard living on the road can be to be on a person. While his favorite bands, like Van Halen or Rush, are flying to gigs, Johnny and his band mates were driving in a beat up car, sleeping in strangers homes, and where more than once, “we had to panhandle for gas money to get home.”
He remembers one time in particular, as they were trying to get back home to Baltimore, MD, they were stuck at a truck stop. “After a few hours of begging, and no luck, a mother and daughter pull up in a red corvette and filled up our tank.” For Johnny, that’s a story. For me, that’s a sermon.
Like Johnny, who took the time to meet with me, kindness is out there just waiting to connect. I sensed from our conversation, Johnny would understand. That he would know kindness doesn’t skip out with your money and leave you stranded at a biker rally in New Hampshire; bad promotors do. He knows that kindness doesn’t kill tours; that’s what killer viruses do. Just as it is with Johnny sitting on this throne behind his Ludwig drum kit, kindness sets the rhythm of life with only a hi-hat, kick and snare.
For a guy who grew up having a professional recording studio as his family room, music might have been his first love, but sometime in 1988 that would change. Around the time hair bands were on top and the Seattle grunge scene was just taking shape, Johnny met a girl who would later become his wife. In 1993, when record deals were being handed out like mix tapes, and street music was toping the charts, the two married. In 1994, the year Kurt Cobain ended his life, Johnny’s life would be redefined when his son was born. A couple of years later, their daughter joined their band.
On fatherhood: “there’s times it’s frustrating, and times when it’s amazing. But having a sense of pride when they accomplish something is pretty trick.” Kids are like that. So too are records.
On his favorite holiday season: “Oh, that’s Halloween.” One year his wife did their make-up with little dots, like they were pixelated to look like old newspaper cartoons. Johnny’s been close to making headlines, but comics seem to be the perfect fit for him.
On advice he’d give his younger self: “Invest in Apple computers.” Leave it to a drummer to remind himself that timing is key to success.
On advice for me: “Hit the drum heads like they owe you money!” Exactly what I plan on doing from this day on.
On tattoos: Johnny had plenty to choose from. A rose for his mother and his father’s old microphone, a pin-up girl, and the Zildjian logo (even though he is no currently sponsored by Saluda cymbals). The one that kept grabbing my attention was an old hot-rod etched into this forearm. “It’s my dream to own this car one day.”
Even if COVID has disrupted his world for now, Johnny still a wild man like his favorite Muppet...Animal, of course. One of the crazy things he has done recently: "Yes, I shot a crossbow at my cousin’s house." Turns out that it was not at his cousin’s house per se, but at a target at the back of his cousin’s property. “It was about 30 yards away. The first shot was bad. I don’t know where it went. But the second one hit.”
Anyone who has ever danced with the music industry, you know that you are rarely given a second chance if your first shot is off target. But that doesn’t seem to stop Johnny from producing hits. It seems to me, he was born for this.