in conversation....December 2001
Hey John, how are you going?
I'm very good thanks, how have you been?
Fantastic mate. I don't know if you remembered but I did interview you about 18 months ago... two years maybe.
Well I do actually have a vague recollection, but it's a while ago.
It was a while ago; in fact, it was when
just before When You Were Mine came out.
Oh God, that is a while ago.
So how have you been?
Very good thanks. Very busy, thank God.
Yeah, OK. Absolutely.
Where are you calling from actually?
From Tasmania, Australia.
Oh you're calling from Australia, great. Fantastic.
Any excuse to cover you, basically.
God bless you.
I've been trying to get a hold of you for an interview for about 3-4 months, I reckon. You're a busy man.
Well it's all picked up recently. I've been doing the Journey thing, the Peter Frampton thing. The tour went on
It's been so busy, it's been like the old days, like knocking out an album and getting right back on the road. It's been very enjoyable.
Fantastic. How did you find the experience with Journey?
Well I didn't see much of them. I mean, Neal came out after the show on the last song and played with us most nights, but we were traveling on a different time schedule. We'd get there fairly early in the day and we would be the first on stage and then we'd be gone, you know. And then Frampton would go on, and then Journey would go on, but we were on a whole different schedule and we traveled in a whole different way.
I had a lot of feedback, and they basically said that you blew Peter Frampton off the stage
you should've had more time. But that's just your dedicated fans getting excited, isn't it?
I like that. Well, you know, we were good. We had a tremendous band. Damon Johnson's on the guitar, the guy from Brother Cane, Buck Johnson, no relation, was on the keyboards. Jonathan was playing the drums as usual. We had a couple of bass players move through the band, but it was a sensational live band, really sensational. We played half the set was new songs. We didn't just stick to the Greatest Hits thing.
Everyone was on their feet from the word go
it was very intense. I think the other bands might have been a little bit more relaxed, but we were going for it you know.
Put on your show, sure. Any plans for a solo tour?
Well we're looking for some days between now and Christmas and we're going to definitely do as much as we can. We just got back from Holland, we played live in Holland and then I went on to London to do some press and then back home to LA. It's pretty thoroughly busy
Now you've just cancelled a London date haven't you?
I'm afraid I just got the news yesterday. I'm unhappy about that but
Yeah, somebody posted on my message board this morning, this is the 4th refund he's had in 4 weeks due to bands pulling out, but it sounds like you didn't pull out
It's nothing to do with the trouble in the East. It's purely that we had the 1 date and the record company won't underwrite us going for one date, but I would go for one date myself; I think it's London, it's Britain, it's my home. I can't believe we cancelled it, I mean, really
it's not sitting well with me at all.
Good idea mate, I'll put that
There's a reschedule though, I think we're going to try to put it back in in late January.
And, you know, put a whole string of European dates together and not just do the one. Maybe do like 10 dates, major cities throughout Germany, Holland, France and obviously Britain. I couldn't believe it. I was a little roused about that one, but apparently the powers that be - they control the cards.
Yep. Well I'll put that up on my site.
Would you? That'd be great, because I feel very weird about the whole thing.
At least that way they'll know that you're not personally responsible, and they can just relax and, there's a few artists that've pulled out, unfortunately, that have sort of annoyed some people.
Well this whole terrorist thing doesn't have any affect on me. I refuse to
you know, we fly a lot at the moment, we're doing all these one-off dates and we just got off doing one of those big benefit dates in Dallas. You know, that's how it is. I absolutely will not let it affect where and how I play. It's purely about having 1 date instead of 10, you know.
Yeah, I'm exactly the same. You can't let stuff like that rule your life.
Oh, absolutely not.
You'd never do anything would you? How did the Dallas dates go - the big show?
Fantastic. I mean it was a gigantic show it was like 17,000 a night and we did the electric set in broad daylight and went out later on and did a couple of songs unplugged. We did Missing You and Fly back to back and took on huge meaning with the crowd I think with it being such a poignant moment really, but it was great really. I had a great time. I met Paul Rodgers.
He's a great singer isn't he?
Yeah, so that
I've never met him before, so that was a big deal for me. It was nice to say hello. But all of the bands were very much about doing a great job and the crowd was on its feet from the word go, it was a big, big show.
Yeah, I would've liked to have been there, but it's hard for me to get away for a weekend flying from here <laughs>.
There's a couple of people who got the big expectations for a Bad English sort of set. Was that ever sort of on the cards?
Not really. I think the fact that Neal and I played together at the end of our set every night was sort of a sign that me and Neal are very good, you know, we always have been, and Deen actually bought me a guitar for my birthday, but I just don't get on with Jon.
You don't do you
John's got his own thing that he does and we've never really
it's just been the weirdest experience for me actually, but yeah, you know, what can you say?
I heard you were working with Neal in some way?
Actually, I'm working on Neal's solo record. We're working on doing a track for Neal's compilation, live solo record that he's doing.
We're working on the song for that right now.
Tell me more about that.
Well, he comes to me and said, Will I come and sing on a song and write and sing on a song and write with him for his solo
he's got a greatest hits sort of compilation record coming out and he wants me to sing on it and be part of it and write a song with him. I met him last week and we've been hashing out ideas and hopefully that'll be a really great thing.
Excellent. Well, I look forward to that. John, I'm going through a couple of records, and obviously you've got one main record out on the market and a couple of other things that you probably don't have much to do with.
But we'll go with Figure in the Landscape, how do you rank it as far as
I mean, you've had two sort of styles with your solo career your last 3 albums and then probably your first three. How do you rate this?
Well, it's an extension of Temple Bar and When You Were Mine, it's like it's when I started writing songs in the '90s I think it's very personal. I think there's some beautiful songs on it like Touch, Always Be Your Man, and New York City Girl are beautiful songs.
I'm still obviously it's got nothing at all to do with arena rock. I think it's got real value, and it's got depth and I'm very pleased with it. It's just like the last 3 albums, including this one, have been watershed moments for me, and I've felt the work has been very good indeed. Hopefully the next one will be a departure from these 3 and maybe go move back into a slightly more rock thing.
You think so?
Yeah. I'm looking at it. I'm missing
we come out on stage and we do like, what's the 3rd song on the record
Thinking 'Bout You
Yes, we do that - it's like The Who version of that. It's pretty rock, you know. The rock songs on the record that I like the most they're great to play, they're great to play live but New York City Girl, for instance, we sing every night
I think I'm writing for the stage more now, because I'm only trying from the best part of the last album to play live. I mean, I love playing live so much, that I'll probably write the next album more around playing live.
I'm a huge fan of your career, - believe me. Every record, I love it, I really do.
God bless you.
Thank you. And Temple Bar, to me in particular is absolutely, as you said, watershed to me that album is intimate perfection; I love it.
I will say
I'll be absolutely honest with you; I didn't rate Figure [in a Landscape] as much as I did the last two.
I hope you don't mind me saying so.
No. That's all right.
But I thought I'd be honest with you, because you can look at my website and see the review and go, He was full of shit; he told me he loved it.
But, I do think there are moments on there that
you picked out my two favorite songs actually, Thinking 'Bout You
I can't understand why that wasn't a single, the first song
Well, it might be.
I hope so.
After what was done in Europe, it might be the final choice for the single. These songs were written over the three year period when the Mercury album went down.
I was writing songs for other people, and I think it got more and more abstract; I wasn't really concerned so much with making a giant big personal statement as much as just writing great songs. Even though some of them were extremely personal. And I was looking for writing great three minute songs and it's the first album I've made that I've put out, that I wrote songs for other people as well as songs I wrote for myself. I never write for other people. I only write for myself. So that's the difference I think you're feeling and I understand where you're coming from.
I think you've nailed it. Absolutely.
Yeah, but it's a freer thing in some ways. When You Were Mine and Temple Bar were intensely, intensely personal.
Yes, very much so.
It was so dark, so dark that I didn't want to stay there. You don't want to stay there unless you're going to off yourself, you know <laughs>. I wanted to do things like Keys To Your Heart which were like great live songs. Thinking 'Bout You is a great live, up song. They have an edge to them. And I was trying to move out of that very quiet moody thing and do something a bit more universal.
Yeah. In fact, I noticed
I actually had a couple of your unreleased tracks in my collection which I'm very proud to have and one of them was the original version of Special One.
And to me, that was like part of the Temple Bar, moody, very dark, and it sounds like you tried to rock it up a little on this album.
Yeah. I think I was very conscious of playing live and I was sick of being a miserable bastard. I was so dark, I cut Masterpiece of Loneliness, listened to it, and I was so rattled by it, it was so dark. I thought, man, you've said this, and you can't say it any better than Masterpiece of Loneliness
That is an intense song, yes.
Yeah, and that's why it's last on the album. It's so
that could be on Temple Bar, it could be on When You Were Mine.
Yes it could.
It's a beautiful, beautiful song, and I could not have made that at any other time that when I cut it, you know. So the album has
you know what, this album is faulted. It was made so quickly, and I wasn't sure what anybody thought I was going to do, I just sort of had fun with it and it's the first time I made an album where I didn't take the microscope out. I thought, well, it's a small label, it won't go anywhere, have fun, put it out, don't torture yourself. And some of it was so perfect I couldn't believe it, and some of it wasn't quite what I thought I was going to do, but I like that almost it's like a sketchbook. It's like a sketchbook along with like 4 or 5 really finished pieces, and I like the fact that it is a sketchbook.
I really appreciate what you're telling me there...
Yeah, but I appreciate
you're the only person that's brought it up, and I agree with you. I've got to tell you, I really respect what you said, because I agree with you completely.
Oh well thank you. I mean, I'm a completely anal fan that idolizes everything that you do <both laugh>. What can I say?
I don't know, but I understand why you said it, and I take you seriously because I feel the same way, I honestly do.
OK, OK. And of course, like I said, it's not putting down any individual tracks, it's just the way it flows.
Yeah, I know.
You've nailed it, you're exactly right. But then listen, you and Glen Burtnick, what a magical team you make.
Is there any other songs apart from that...
No, I saw him last week in the dressing room at the gigs in Dallas and Atlanta, and I said Jesus Christ man, the 2 songs we wrote together - they're my favorite songs. And I said, how can we possibly only write 2 songs when I've known you for 10 years?" And he said, "Johnny... he calls me Johnny Long... he says Long Johnny Long... he always calls me Long Johnny Long, I have no idea why, and he says, "We only finish the ones we know are good." And I thought, well, how articulate can you get.
"Down Town" and "New York City Girl" are two of my absolute favorite songs.
They are awesome!
Glen Burtnick man, he's a genius.
He's a great guy isn't he? I talk to him every now and then and I e-mail him. A great songwriter and if it took you 10 years to do that and it takes another 5 to do 1 more song then that would probably be worth the wait as well.
Well, I always thought "Bluebird Cafe", even though I didn't write it with Glen, "Bluebird Cafe" off When You Were Mine was Glen's sort of style; it was very deep.
Very much so.
Very much like a novel.
Very much so. I actually like that song a lot; that's one of my favorites off of the album.
Well, I think those 3 were probably the direction I would, if I do get a big budget to work on the next time, it would probably be those kind of songs I'd turn to and the other half will be that white soul... I think I'm going to go more towards rock and soul, but I can't let go of that kind of songwriting because it's significant to me.
It's too good, isn't it?
Well I'm looking forward to you rocking it up a bit again.
Yeah, well if you saw the live show, we only had 40 minutes with the Journey thing, they wouldn't let us do any more, but by the time we got like 20 minutes in to it, the entire audience was on its feet, and by the time we finished the set, it was like manic, you know, it was great.
And I think that the shape of things to come. With a backbeat, I'm almost a black singer. And without the backbeat, it's singer/songwriter. There's a definite choice to be made there, every time. And I love the sex of singing with a beat; I like the sexiness of it. I think it's really where I'm from.
I must be really nice to have the talent to be so diverse.
Oh, yeah. Damon, man, brought so much to the table.
Did you record any shows?
No. We didn't have the budget to do it. We were doing it on a shoe string, you know, we didn't get paid enough money to do it and make it
I could only pay the lads a certain amount of money because.... we were a last minute addition, so we only just kind of broke even, but, you know, it was a very successful tour, but it wasn't our show really, we were just the first band on.
But next time around... this is such a good, good, band. It's absolutely the band that should be in the studio right now, really, but we've got to wait until we really get a chance to finish this cycle of gigs, you know?
So you think you might take Damon in the studio next time?
Oh yeah. I've had a really great time with Damon. Damon's this Southern gentleman; he's like a tremendously hard-edged, thinking melodic guitar player. This modern and young, you know, he's only 35, and most of the guitar players I've played with have been in the 40s, you know, they've been my age. But Damon brings an extra 5, 6, or 7 years of different... but we have an enormous amount in common, and he's a great guy - one of my better friends. If I could look across the stage and see Damon on there, I know we're doing all right.
I'm pleased to hear that. There's, of course, a couple other releases in stores at the moment, one of which, well, you're probably about as impressed about it as I am, what do you think of the Live and Rare tracks release?
Well, I saw it in the shop, in Atlanta; I was buying some sneakers in Atlanta before the show...
Yeah, and I went into a record store, and I saw it, and I couldn't remember half the tracks from the "rare" part of it, but I was so disgusted that I didn't even buy it, I mean for like $12 I could've bought it, but I thought, "Fuck you," you know? I mean, this One Way thing has been so bad for me. They release all of these albums, and they don't pay me for any of it. They repackage it, remaster it, and to add insult to injury, they've actually put together an album of live tracks and stuff that I never intended to be released and I think it's all very substandard and One Way can kiss my ass.
I think they're just crap, they're scum.
I'm going to be e-mailing them because I couldn't believe, you obviously haven't read it, but the inside liner notes are just taken from some generic site off the net and they're inaccurate and they're absolutely wrong. They're just crap!
Well, they obviously don't care, they bought the masters or licensed the masters from EMI and they're just doing it for the money and it's substandard stuff. I just concentrate on the... I think Bad English was great and I think the three albums since then have been great, and I'm focusing on that. I have to let go of it, because it's such a mess, you know.
I will make the comment that I love your version of "I Drove All Night".
Oh, I haven't heard it for about 10 years, so I wouldn't know really.
Yeah, well I thought that was really good. It actually stands the test of time, it sounds really good still.
But the other tracks were, well, they're OK, you know.
Well they didn't make the album. I think it was Rover's Return they were cut for.
Yeah, some of them sound... a couple of them sound like they may have been even earlier than that, Mask of Smiles even.
No, I think Mask of Smiles they used the best stuff and we never overcut on Mask of Smiles.
But there's some doodles that I did... you know, it's just embarrassing for me, you know, I did all these really high profile... the standard is always very important to me.
I mean, The Babys you know, I always fought for the best stuff, and Bad English and Temple Bar and When You Were Mine it's just really incredible to have somebody that you've never even met take your work over and release it sounding inferior. I'm just beyond disgusted and if anybody reads this out there I recommend strongly that you don't get this crap, just move on to the new stuff and stick with what's current.
Absolutely. I was absolutely mortally offended... the guy in the liner notes was just referring to how good the unreleased tracks are - obviously this is self-promoting kind of trying to get people to buy it - but he was saying any one of these tracks could've fit into Rover's Return and made it... he sort of insinuated it would've made it a better, stronger album. And I'm just like...
Yeah!! Rover's Return was an absolute track-by-track masterpiece.
Oh God bless you; thank you very much.
Oh it was. It's just a strong rock record.
Thank you. Thank you so much. You know what, I remembered talking to you about 10 minutes ago.
Yeah. It all came back to me. I remember doing an interview with you from Madison Avenue.
That's right, yeah.
I was in my new apartment in Madison Avenue.
That's right, it was a couple of years back now.
But God bless you.
Thank you John. It was a lot of fun talking to you then, and I was so looking forward to it ever since. It was great. Tracks like.... just albums like Rover's Return have been like 15 years now and I'm just like, love it to death and I can't...
It means a lot to me.
Yeah, well that's great, that's great. With any luck there will be another 15 years to come.
Well, yeah. I feel like I've got it in me. I really do feel that this last tour has been an education for me. I've never had such a great time on the road, and like I say, the band was phenomenal and the audience was the surprise of my life. I mean, to get that kind of acceptance without having a hit single in the stores - the album hadn't come out, you know.
We'd walk out with this gigantic Union Jack behind the stage, like a 20x30 Union Jack and the band were like... they call themselves The White Trash Mods because they're all from the Southern states and stuff.
So it's like just an incredible hard-edged thing going on in the middle of what would've been like a very arena rock kind of greatest hits evening and we went for it with all this new stuff and I think it was very sincere, very fiery, and the guys played it very, very well, and I think I sang the best I've ever sung, so...
Oh fantastic. Well, I'll tell you, I had numerous people e-mail me to say the show was phenomenal, so it wasn't just you feeling that positive vibe.
There's' been a couple of labels in Europe interested in releasing some of your old demos but it never did quite came together did it?
Well I actually put an album together with about 15 tracks on it. I remixed a lot of stuff, took stuff out of the vaults and there was an agreement, a handshake that they'd release it and.... I was dealing with somebody that wasn't really very cool and it just all fell apart at the last minute. I was very surprised, very surprised that people would be that unprofessional so... it was just something for the fans anyway. It was stuff I wouldn't normally release, but it was stuff that was very good, and me and Shane Fontayne had written two new songs which we put on that record. They were getting a huge amount of stuff, for almost no money. I was doing it just for the fans to keep the name alive while I made this new record. This guy was just the worst, so I withdrew the album; I just pulled it back.
Yeah, OK. Well, is there still a chance that someone else could come along?
No. I couldn't do it now. I'm under contract to release songs for this new company so the chance has come and gone completely.
That's a shame because I'm sure there's some great songs there
Well, you know, all he had to do was pay for the expenses of it and he would've got like this original album and he... it's kind of cheap, you know. A shithead really. What are you going to do man? I wanted to make it a very high quality album and he didn't see it that way.
OK. What about some of the old Bad English stuff that's still unreleased?
Well that's out. You can get that bootleg I guess. You can get that if you just go to a bootleg store and find stuff that's been written. There's one that's called "World Gone Wild" that's quite good.
Yeah, I know that song.
And there's one called "Hard Rain" that's quite good.
It's a shame the bootleggers get to make a buck on you.
It doesn't matter to me. I mean, it'll only sell about 5,000-10,000 because it's just for the hard, hardcore fans and with my blessing, you know. Have it. It's from me; it's only music. It's not like a major release, it's just songs that I've written and if somebody gets off on it, then they're welcome to it.
I'm sure they would. So your new contract is basically... who's your new contract with? Is it with Gold Circle? Or was that a one-off?
Yes. It's Gold Circle.
OK. So how many albums have you signed up with?
I've got two more to make and we're looking at doing something in the New Year, fairly soon like February run back in. But it depends, if this tour takes off. We're getting heavy airplay now in England on BBC2 and, which is really unfortunate because the garage gig pissed me off even more, but we have a hit in Holland and Germany.
What song have they lifted?
"Keys To Your Heard" is the big single in Britain. Jerry Walken - BBC2. So we're thrilled about that, so hopefully we'll be there in January, February, and do a European tour. At least do one European tour.
But there is now a real.... we just got back from Holland, we played one gig and did a ton of live broadcasts, we're supposedly bootlegged if we can say.
I've got one here.
Oh have you? <laughs>
Yeah, somebody sent me a bootleg of all the live... we did about 7 live broadcasts - unplugged - and somebody sent me a recording of all of them. So I expect any second that they'll be bootlegged too, but that's good. As I say, it's for the fans, you know.
Is it nice for you to have such dedicated fans?
Yeah. Where would I be without them? Between Temple Bar and When You Were Mine and between When You Were Mine and Figure in a Landscape where would I be without them? They've been with me through thick and thin, you know. They're like my family really.
Yeah, you're one of the few, well not one of the few, one of the main artists with a really strong fan base and especially on the net. A good following that started gathering on the net.
Yeah, it's pretty worldwide right now.
Fantastic. And your next trip to Australia is when?!
Ah, the magical question. But actually Gold Circle are very keen on me doing stuff outside America. They're very keen. It's the first record company that I've had that are very keen about that. So who knows?
There's this radio station here that keeps playing "Missing You" and I keep ringing them up and saying, "Look, I'll bring you the new song if you just play it." And they go, "I'll get back to you."
Well, if you make it a hit, maybe I can just come with Damon and do an acoustic set.
I'll keep ringing it, I'll keep hounding them. Every time they play "Missing You" I'll ring them up <laughs>
I'll say, he's still alive, you know, you guys.
Yeah. I know. It's one of my bigger regrets Australia. There are times that I wanted to get down there and then the record company saying, "We can't do it know, we can't afford to send you, and there's no records in the stores, it's only an import and all this stuff and other bands have done it but people like Phil Collins did it because they had enough money to leapfrog the gear because it's a shit big country but God I would love to come to Australia.
Well I'm getting married January 5 and...
God bless ya!
We still haven't got a wedding singer! <laughs>
Hey. You make me a number 1 single and I'll come down there and sing at your wedding.
That sounds good, sounds good <laughs>. Anything else John?
No, man, I think we covered everything. And you were very right about what you said and I appreciate all the details of what you said, and I completely agree with you.
Well, I appreciate it.
Onwards and upwards man.
Onwards and upwards, absolutely. And, you know, anything I can do.
God bless you.
Thank you John.
Well God bless.
You too. I do appreciate your time and your words and everything you've said, I really do.
God bless you.
I'll see you soon, man.