text by Ruxandra Stoian
photos Johnny’s Dowd personal archive
More and more we are conscious that the best works from literature, painting and acting have been done in the early ages. The same story is with music. Ray Charles once said: “my music has roots dug even from my childhood, musical roots buried in the darkest soil.”
This soil is the hard working time on our souls. It’s about going down, where the only friend is solitude. This way, the roots will lead the man higher, to the crown. The road to self knowledge through art is actually the story of every man’s life. The deepest the fall, the higher he rises.
One of the best old school music is country music, having its roots in the bluegrass, gospel, blues, in native american’s chants and later in the rock’n roll music. It’s the perfect combination that covers many feelings, beliefs or randomn thoughts on life and death.
Johnny Dowd is the gentle reminder that good country music combined with rock’n roll, can still shake some bodies in 2015.
His musical influences are very various. Growing up in Texas, listening to artists such as Hank Williams, Elvis Presley, Ray Charles and James Brown, made him a defender of the good faith.
Starting with the album “Wrong Side of Memphis” from 1997, Johnny released other 13 more albums, in a beautiful melange between old and new.
His latest album, “That’s your wife on the back of my horse” from march 2015, brings a new psychedelic sound.
The distorted guitar and Johnny’s pleasent voice bond into a punk experimental sound, but keeping the blues and soul together.
Singing about philosophical themes, such as the afterlife or the the smallness of human existence, or even about women and booze, Johnny’s songs have became an intriguing artwork.
Sophisticart: – Hey, Johnny! I know you’ve been collaborating with other musicians over the years and also had a band called Neon Baptist, yet you chose to sing alone. Is this an image that defines you, a lone cowboy?
J.D: My first band was called Neon Baptist. My sister played drums, my brother-in-law played bass, and my nephew and I played guitar. Eventually, that band dissolved and I continued on. I grew up on cowboy movies, so I guess I do think of myself that way. But in reality, I prefer cats to horses.
Sophisticart: – What are the advantages and the drawbacks you’ve encountered in these years with your solo projects?
J.D: For years after Neon Baptist, I did play with a band. Mike Stark on organ and Willie B on drums. Two very accomplished musicians. A couple of years ago, I decided to downsize and do more things on my own. The advantages to doing music this way? I guess it’s more personal and less filtered. The disadvantage — it can be lonely.
Sophisticart: – You’ve managed to pass over a lot of trends in music, yet you’ve kept your style. How do you feel your audience? Is there a difference in the way people received your previous albums back then and now?
J.D: I appreciate having an audience. It amazes me. My music does not have universal appeal, but for some people it does seem to resonate.
Sophisticart: – In march 2015 you’ve launched a new album “That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse.” What is the story behind those lyrics?
J.D: “That’s Your Wife on the Back of My Horse” is a line from the song “Gangster of Love” by Johnny “Guitar” Watson. I chose the title of the album and then wrote the songs I felt fit the title. The lyrics are intended to be words from the mouth of God.
Sophisticart: – Your music combines a lot of rock n’roll influences with dark country and even psychedelic, noisy rock. How did you end up mixing these genres?
J.D: I love all kinds of music, from Caruso to Sun Ra. And I have a short attention span.
Sophisticart: – What kind of music do you listen to? Any favorite musicians you empathize with?
J.D: I don’t listen to a lot of music anymore. But if I did, it would be soul music from the 1960’s. James Carr, Otis Redding, Esther Phillips, etc.
Sophisticart: – The dark humor seems to be an American feature, from what I’ve seen in this kind of music. Are there any writers that inspired you in the way you see life?
J.D: Flannery O’Connor, Louis-Ferdinand Céline, Charles Bukowski.
Sophisticart: – Talking about a philosophical approach in the way you write, I’ve noticed some powerful lyrics:
“There hang pictures of youth and of beauty
Of old age and the blushing young bride
They all hang on the wall but the saddest of all
Are the pictures from Life’s other side.”
What’s your opinion on this afterlife?
J.D: Hank Williams wrote those lyrics. I’m not sure if I can answer your question. But, yes, I suppose there is an afterlife.
Sophisticart: – I couldn’t help laughing at this accurate description of the women: “God created a woman/ But she’s the devil’s next of kin”. Beside the religious content of your lyrics, I see that women have been an important subject as well. What are the lyrics you’ve written that describe her the way she is?
J.D: I changed the lyrics to that song to “God created woman / to be a man’s best friend.” I wrote a song called “John Deere Yeller”: “John Deere Yeller was the color of her hair, caterpillar green was the color of her eyes. All the wisdom of the world was between that woman’s thighs.” I guess this describes HER.
Sophisticart: – I’ve seen you in the movie Searching for the Wrong Eyed Jesus, among other artists trying to explain life and the beauty of creation in country music. Is there an actual place where you can find the Right Eyed Jesus?
J.D: Pauls Valley, Oklahoma.
Sophisticart: – You have any quotes or sayings that follow you around?
J.D: “Don’t complain. Don’t explain.” “Yo”
Sophisticart: – What do you do when your mind is worried?
J.D: Watch television and write a song. At the same time.
Sophisticart: – And when you’re calm, are you planning any tours in Europe? How about singing in Romania?
J.D: I’ll be touring Europe next year after I finish my next record. I would love to play in Romania. Hopefully this interview will make me famous there so that will be possible.
Sophisticart: – How did the people from Europe receive your albums? Do you feel a difference between the European and the American audience?
J.D: The only difference is that Europeans speak English with an unfamiliar accent. People are people.
Sophisticart: – And one last question: what are you working on now? Any new projects?
J.D: I’m working on several new projects. I’m recording a 32-minute track of a techno-jazz-blues song as yet untitled. Brightsparks is the record company which is putting it out. I’m doing a Mark Lotterman (Dutch songwriter) tune that he is using as the soundtrack to a video. I’m working with Mike Edmondson (drummer/guitarist) preparing for some U.S. gigs. I’m also writing songs for my new record.