Johnny Chops Revealed

Johnny Chops By March 21, 2018 No Comments

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It’s been 5 years since Johnny “Chops” Richardson rolled out his first solo project, “Sticks & Stones” with his band The Razors. A couple more Randy Rogers Band records in the books and a lot of highway miles to go along, Johnny Chops has found the time and thanks to his fans, raised the money via PledgeMusic, to put out a self-titled, second offering on March 23rd.

“Johnny Chops and The Razors” picks up the rock where they last left it. It’s an eclectic mix of vintage tones, guitar fuzz, upbeat rock ‘n’ roll boogie and mellow blues all wrapped in a wild west ghoulish backdrop.  Think Tim Burton taking over a jukebox littered with traditional rock ‘n’ roll and country.

I was able to catch a Johnny Chops and The Razors show at Gas Monkey Live! several weeks back. Before the show, we chatted it up over some fish tacos. Chops is always laid back and easy to talk to, and oozes cool that’s far from presumptuous or aloof. Our conversation flowed effortlessly from music in general to growing up in our respective hometowns, sports, and finally to the new record.

Most people know you from your main gig as the bass player for The Randy Rogers Band but you’ve been doing Johnny Chops and The Razor for at least 5 years. How do you find time to do both?

I really don’t take vacations and I enjoy what I do. So it’s not like I’m going to “work” or I don’t feel like it’s that way. I’ll get off the route with Randy, take a day off, relax, then get up the next morning and start working on more music. It’s that simple.

In 2013, you established your traditional rock ‘n’ roll sound with “Sticks & Stones”, but your sound is unique in that it’s got this spooky, Halloween rock feel. Is that intentional?

Not entirely, we started out with a straight-ahead, guitar-driven rock sound. I don’t know if it’s because I was really into punk rock when I was younger but I just like the spooky feel. For me, it’s a comfortable place to write from and what I tend to gravitate to.

It even creeps into the tunes you’ve written for the Randy Rogers Band – “Wicked Ways”, “Ten Miles Deep” and “Shotgun”. It’s a mash-up of old westerns, God, the supernatural, death, and superstition that ends up creating a sort of “Western Death Vibe”.

You might want to coin that phrase, I like the sound of that!

This new record you’ve done with David Abeyta, who is producing a lot of folks these days. How was that?

Dave is a great person to work with; he’s easy going and we are into a lot of the same sounds musically. He’s also got some great equipment at his house that we were able to use. We really connected and I think it shows on the record.

“Believer” is the first single you released off the record and it’s a good transition from “Sticks & Stones” because it has similar tones. You also put out a video for it, so talk about both.

I wanted to write it from the point of view of somebody that’s so obsessive about their superstitions that they’re afraid to even walk outside. For the video, we came up with the idea of this guy that does everything blindfolded, as if he’s relying on nothing but his superstitions to get him through all these sticky situations. We shot a lot of it at the Globe Theater in Bertram, Texas which is this cool theater that’s been restored to early-twentieth century, period correct decor.

The second single you released, “Taking A Chance on Me”, features some gospel singers that bring some soul to that track. How did that come about?

While we were in the studio cutting it, somebody said: “Hey you really need some old school guys to sing on this and give it a gospel feel.” The song isn’t necessarily a gospel song, but it could be interpreted that way and when we got into the studio we decided to take it in that direction. I’m really happy with the way it came out and the guys that sing on it are three brothers who call themselves The Gospel Starz. They’ve been singing together their whole lives in this small church near Austin and they brought an energy that took the song to an entirely different level. We did the video in this bar in the Rainey Street district of Austin. It’s actually this old house that they moved 10 miles from the east side of town and it was a cool backdrop for the video.

“Stick & Stones” has a heavy rock slant while the new record leans on more Deep South, Mississippi Blues influences. Was that intentional?

Definitely. While I love the rock stuff, I’ve always been a huge Delta Blues fan. One of the things that got me started playing guitar was finding Robert Johnson. He was different than anybody I had ever heard, it was like two guys playing guitar at the same time but it was all him. He is still the benchmark for me. For a few years early on, I was listening to all blues all the time so I think it’s always in the back of my head. After the first record came out and with the feedback I got from live shows, it just seemed that the blues stuff was coming off better, so this time I tried to focus writing more in that vein.

You also did a really cool cover of a Muddy Waters tune, “I Just Want To Make Love to You”, but with a different take?

We had a half a day left in the studio and we just casually laid down this cover that we do at the live shows. After we were done tracking it, David had the idea of turning it into a duet to really take it in a different direction. He immediately thought of Brandy Zdan to come in and do it, but we switched things up and gave her the guy verse to sing as another spin. When I heard her vocals on the track, it really blew my hair back.

Album Review

Outside of the tracks already discussed, “Tombstone Flowers” is a Chop’s personal favorite. Dubbed  “a love song from beyond the grave”, it’s done in a swinging 50’s soda shop style that really lightens the mood. “Ten Cent Talkers” spotlights the scrubs of this world who oversell and under-deliver on everything they do    because “Idle hands are easy to keep clean.”

With its heavy keys a la Jerry Lee Lewis, “Rock Bottom” will you get you jitterbugging to its up-tempo,  optimistic, things-can-only-go-up-from-here attitude. 

A personal favorite, but more than likely a deep cut, is “Only When You’re Breathing”. It’s anchored in repressed anger and contempt for a cold, heartless woman who speaks only in lies. It’s a long tune, coming in at close to seven and a half minutes with the song building up to a really cool two-minute guitar and drum-heavy instrumental.

Finally, “Good Night” closes things out in what could only be described as death lullaby about a hitman who finally meets his match against a female opponent. It holds true to that “Western Death Vibe” he’s established.

Overall, “Johnny Chops and The Razors”  is full of dark subject-matter but presented with varying spins. It is at times chill, sometimes rockin’, other times upbeat and humorous, and occasionally flat-out creepy.

Come March 23rd, be sure to check out the new record available at typical music outlets. Also, keep in mind a portion of the proceeds will benefit the Rockport Humane Society and Adoption Center which has been on the front lines helping lost and abandoned animals as a result of Hurricane Harvey. For more cool tunes and information, check out the Johnny Chops website.

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Mile 0 Fest is Worth Every Mile Getting There

Cody Canada, Cross Canadian Ragweed, Jack Ingram, Jason Boland, Jeremy Plato, Mike McClure, Pat Green, Red Dirt, Road Trips, Show Coverage, The Departed, Wade Bowen, Walt Wilkins By February 15, 2018 No Comments

We started the week bringing you Brad’s thoughts on Mile 0 Fest and we’ll end the week with mine. As usual, they’ll be some media to add pictures to words.

Let’s start by rehashing a tweet sent the moment the festival closed on Saturday night.

Almost a week removed from Mile 0, the sentiment still holds.  This thing had a lot going for it, so let’s start with the festival itself:

  • The lineup was superb, especially for a first-year festival. While there were 50+ artists that participated, only about half of those saw the big stage. The rest did gigs at a handful of bars that partnered with the festival. Not quite as copious as LJT or Steamboat, but still very ample and high quality. In fact, they probably hit a sweet spot with the number of artists. You get too many names playing in different places at the same time and you have to make difficult choices on who to see and who to skip and that can leave a bad taste in your mouth. The event scheduling was so well done that you could see pretty much catch everyone at some point. During the early afternoon, you picked from any number of shows going on Duval Street and from 3pm up until 11 you hit the main acts up at the amphitheater.
  • The venue was great, sizable but not overwhelmingly big, with room for both lawn loungers and stage swooners. Sound quality was good. It was busy but not insane and you could get around easily. While the festival had an island attitude, it didn’t run on island time as all the acts were on/off stage at their assigned times. It made planning the day a lot easier.
  • Hitches and glitches were small and mostly undetectable. The biggest issue encountered surrounding this festival was securing lodging, which took us 4 four attempts to nail down. Two of the places found were double booked thanks to some AirBnB website issues while the third place shut down because of hurricane damage. Despite having nothing to do with the festival, the folks putting on Mile 0 Fest helped us locate new accommodations, going so far as setting up a conference call with the key organizers who were familiar with the town. After some searching, we landed at The Authors’ Guesthouse, a cool little B&B in old town. Barbey, our septuagenarian host and former “Queen of The Conch Republic”, graciously peppered us with island history, stories, and most importantly…coupons for free key lime pie and cocktails at various establishments across the island.
  • As for the attendees, the demographics definitely skewed towards the 35 and up crowd; mostly established professionals looking to get away and cut loose.  Didn’t see massive quantums of vomiting or fights, no obnoxious people, just good folks loving good music. That’s the way it should be.

Now for the other half; after all, festivals are a holistic experience and without the backdrop, they’d all be the same. Imagine LJT without campfire jams or Steamboat without the mountains. Here are your Key West perks:

    • The weather. While our peeps in Dallas were dealing with 30-degree temperatures and sleet, Key West hovered in low 80’s. Factoring in the humidity, it was quite warm from mid-morning up until late afternoon before the sea breeze kicked in and quickly cooled things off. From 5 o’clock on, it was phenomenal. Scoreboard – Key West.
    • Duval street. Think Bourbon Street without seeing and smelling trash and vomit. It’s lined with bars, restaurants, and eateries of all types. For every garden variety crap T-shirt and souvenir shop, there was nicer boutique shops and funky art galleries.
    • The rest of the island. Key West is more than a one-trick pony. Lot’s of historical sites, museums, beaches, dining, and every type of water sport – fishing, diving,  jet skiing, boating, you name it. My wife and I tacked on an extra day to squeeze in some snorkeling and sunset sailing in the 76-degree turquoise waters.

  • Wild chickens are everywhere and a car is more trouble than it’s worth. You can bike anywhere on the island in 10 minutes or if you aren’t into that, spend $10 on an Uber and get there in about the same amount of time. Walking is more than doable and the people watching sport can be fully enjoyed here. On the first day of the festival, I saw a guy get kicked out of a bar before 1 pm. That’s impressive.
  • The attitude. Packing for Key West is easy – shorts, your best beach bum shirt, and comfortable walking shoes/flip-flops. Nobody cares what you wear or don’t wear and if you’re into the clothing optional thing, Key West can accommodate you.

Mile 0 Music Highlights

We started Mile 0 by catching a Cody Canada and Mike McClure acoustic gig at the San Carlos Theater on Duval. Chip and Ray’s on-stage chemistry was fully engaged, swapping stories and jokes in between songs. Cody’s sons, Dierks and Willie, each did a number and we even heard “Carney Man” which Cody had once vowed to never play again. Overall, both seem to be in good places in life with McClure’s The Great Divide getting back together and Canada finally at peace with what went down with Cross Canadian Ragweed. I got to talk at length with both of them and we’ll post those chats in the coming weeks.

The main stage lineups definitely ramped up as the week progressed. Jason Eady, Ray Wylie Hubbard, Stoney LaRue and Wade Bowen all did their parts to kick it off on Wednesday in good form. Wade played most of his popular stuff while mixing a few of the new songs off his new record  “Solid Ground”, which happened to drop during the festival. It was a huge week for Bowen.

Thursday’s lunchtime trifecta of Jamie Lin Wilson, Tina and Walt Wilkins doing an acoustic gig at the Smokin’ Tuna was a songwriter’s dream. The legendary husband-wife duo next to an artist at the top of her game in Jamie Lin. It was church on Thursday. Kylie Rae Harris, Kaitlin Butts, and Jason Eady all looked on, mostly in wonder but with a dash of terror mixed in for KRH who had to follow up that act with her own set.

Speaking of Jamie Lin Wilson, she’s without a doubt the biggest female act in our scene right now and you could easily argue to extend that title to most popular singer-songwriter overall. I’ll again reference a tweet made during the festival that pretty much sums up her week.

Her “Jamie Lin Jamboree” shows that occurred at the local Duval establishments were big hits, with various artists jumping on stage to jam. She even made some new fans who mistakenly thought her last name was “Jamboree”.

Thursday upped the intensity as Kevin Russell and the rest of the Shinyribs clan brought their swamp rock grooves to the big stage. Watching a Shinyribs show is like trying to catch a knuckleball, you have to stay on your toes because you have no idea where it’s going. This particular adventure ended with a Russell led conga line which included a giant inflatable duck and one William Clark Green.

Following up we got one of the biggest treats of the festival, the “Unleashed” show featuring Jack Ingram, Charlie Robison, and Bruce Robison. All icons in their own right, it’s hard to imagine how the greatness of their set snuck up on me the way it did. It was fantastic to watch these “old dogs” elevate the night and energize the crowd with their classic tunes.

Thursday ended with Pat Green, our gateway drug into this scene. He played all the hits while channeling his best Kevin Russell, lots of twirling and hand gestures. People ate it up, including some of the younger artists who idolized Pat growing up and were out in the crowd losing it like everyone else. William Clark Green got so excited he derailed Pat’s set by running onstage too early to sing “Wrapped” which he’s covered on the upcoming Pat Green tribute album.

For me, the coolest part of Pat’s show was when he played Galleywinter, our namesake. It was the first time I had heard the song since joining the Galleywinter team just over a year ago and I got goosebumps.  This site has been rolling for almost 20 years and although my stint here as a writer covers a fraction of that, I felt proud to be a part of something that’s been a staple in this scene for so long.

Friday’s line up was monster, starting with Dalton Domino who happily embraced the island spirit.

Mike and The Moonpies continued to awaken people to their old school honky-tonk jams. We’ve been on The Moonpie train and think “Steak Night at the Prairie Rose” will likely make our Best of 2018 list in a year that’s gonna be packed with great new records. For those in the crowd who hadn’t heard of them, whipping out some Rusty Wier made them quick friends.

The Departed followed, then Jason Boland and The Stragglers. Both announced their new records coming out this year and I’m sure we’ll be covering them.

The penultimate act of the night was the Old 97’s. A little bit country and a lot of rock ‘n’ roll, these guys can still bring it after 25 years.

Finally, there was Turnpike. What’s there to say about Turnpike that hasn’t been already said? They are bad ass and consummate professionals. Ryan Engleman’s son crashed the stage and gave everyone a chuckle.

Saturday closed out strong. It was my first and likely only time I’ll see Uncle Lucius since the band is soon calling it quits. The Great Divide’s new stuff is rock solid, in particular, “Spacebrain” and John Moreland’s take on “You Wreck Me”  was one of many kickass homages to Tom Petty.

Shooter Jennings brought a different vibe compared to everyone else, it was like a bunch of bikers temporarily invaded the crowd and it got visibly rowdier. Nothing scary but definitely rougher.

It all ended with Cody Jinks and the more I hear him the bigger fan I become. Again, a Twitter thought to summarize:

Jinks’ final song to wrap it up: “Hippies and Cowboys” which seemed fitting for a hippie town that was invaded by a bunch of Texans and Okies.

Quick Riffs:

  • By the time this hits the web, you’ll know Jamie Lin Wilson flew straight out of Key West and into the studio to record her next record. She didn’t need a plane, she just strapped on her cape.
  • The Great Divide is officially back together and slated to put out a new record this spring. Again, keep your eyes peeled for that McClure interview.
  • Many of the artists went full Cory Morrow and played the big stage barefoot. It ended up costing Pat Green, who probably broke his toe when he stubbed it on a piece of stage equipment. He fought through it with beer and eventually limped off stage.
  • PG has traded songwriting for painting and sculpting. He told us all about his new art venture, Galleywinter Galleries. Set to open soon in Fort Worth, it’ll feature all of his work plus work from other local artists.
  • Many lamented that Brandon Jenkins, who is about to undergo major surgery to replace a genetically defective heart valve, had to back out of Mile 0. It was cool to see the artists rally around their brother.
  • There were several items auctioned to raise money for charities like The Red Dirt Relief Fund. People dropping 5-6K on signed guitars isn’t something you are going to get from a broke college crowd.
  • Ran into Stoney one morning biking along Higgs Beach. Unlike his stage appearance, he was in full uniform this time – jeans, bandana and tight shirt so you could spot him a half mile away.
  • I’ll second Brad’s comment on Frita’s Cuban burgers, you need to check out that hole in the wall when you are in KW.
  • We tried as many key lime pies as we could. Kermit’s was the worst, the best was a toss up between Blue Heaven’s meringue monster and Matthesen’s.
  • Our secret to getting into Blue Heaven without a dinner wait… get there at 5:30pm
  • My cholesterol went up 50 points just listening to hostess Elizabeth Cook’s intoxicated southern drawl. It was like eating a stick of butter and chasing it with a mess of biscuits.
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