Band leader, guitarist, singer
You were a vocalist in the Rock and Roll Hall Fame group The Coasters. How did you get chosen to be a part of the group? Luck. I was working with the Drifters in the early eighties on a tour called Yesterday Today and Forever which consisted of about ten different 50’s and 60’s groups like The Shirrells, The Coasters, Gary US Bond, Bowser and others. It was a three-week tour with lots of shows and lots of friendly rivalry. Long story short, we talked, an opening occurred and I was hired.
Lately you’ve been touring in Russia. Tell us about how that came about and a little bit about your experiences there? I was performing in a musical called The Ascension of the Blues in San Francisco. There was an agent from Russia in the audience who had come to see another member of the cast. In this production I was playing multiple parts and I guess the agent was impressed. The rest is history. As a baby boomer I had preconceived notions about what Russia would be like. I have found Russia to be a great place for entertainers and I am excited about returning.
You’re known for your sense of humor on stage, have you ever considered doing standup comedy? Standup comedy is very difficult. I considered it at one point, because I was surrounded by the art. My son, BJ Johnson is a comedian. He is very funny. I used to work with the late great Robin Harris every Wednesday night at a nightclub in Los Angeles called the Page Four. He would perform and of course all the young lions would come out to show their skills. Now HE was funny. Every Monday night I would work with another great comedian at a different club called Freddie Jetts Pied Piper. His name was Renaldo Rey. Renaldo was funny clean or dirty. He could tell the same joke every night and it would ALWAYS be funny. Renaldo and Robin would have us play music behind them sometimes to accent a punch line, sometimes just for the intermission. I got a chance to watch great comedians up close.
You and your daughter were part of a public health advertising campaign urging people to get tested for AIDS. You spoke up early on in the epidemic, when there was ignorance and prejudice, what moved you to do the ads? I still have a picture of that ad. It was on most of the buses in Vallejo for a long time. My daughter was a part of that campaign and for me it was a great honor to play a small part in the war against such a terrible disease. There were so many people suffering at that time. A very dark time. When asked to participate I jumped at the opportunity. Any negative comments that were said about my participation never reached my ears.
How did you make your first dollar as a professional musician? Wow!!!!! Too long ago for me to remember.
What was your strangest day job? While attending the University of Oregon I worked, very briefly, for animal control. Let’s just say that I got an up close and personal opportunity to see another side of things that I had previously taken for granted.
What’s your best moment on stage? My musical life is made up of many moments. I can speak of any number of them as great and special. I will say that Budapest was a big deal. Too many people to count. I was so anxious to share the love. New Zealand at midnight, 1999—another big deal. Singapore, my first overseas tour. The Empress Theatre 2009 Hope for Haiti Concert. A very special moment. Vallejo came together that night and showed the world that it cared in a big way.
What’s the first music you remember hearing? Classical music was the first music I am aware of listening to as a child. My older sister, Angelie, was into the music and played it all the time. All the cartoons played it. Our school went on field trips to the symphony pretty frequently.
What did you listen to as a teenager and what do you listen to now? Everything!! R&B, Country, Jazz, and anything I could get my hands, or ears, on.
How many guitars do you have? I haven’t counted lately. I can never have enough.