Van Life – Johnny Dowd

Ithaca NY’s Johnny Dowd has been patrolling the dark, uneasy, unclassified byways and B-roads of the American heartlands for over two decades. A blistering, uncompromising guitar slinger and songwriter, Dowd is set to release his new album ‘Family Picnic’ this month, an ‘americana’ gem that returns to the topics and themes that inspired his legendary debut, ‘Wrong Side Of Memphis‘ and once again underlines Dowd as one of America’s true musical explorers. Americana-UK catches up with him as he prepares to embark on another European tour and asks him about the music that accompanies any such road trip.

So Johnny, how’s life on the road for you and what’s in that glovebox?

There comes a time on every tour when the next drive is too far, your emotional tank is nearly empty, and you can think of nothing but your mortality. At that point, you pull out ZZ Top’s ‘Greatest Hits,’ and you are again ready to conquer the world.

After a gig I want to hear something as far away from the music I played as possible. Sun Ra fits the bill. Any Sun Ra album. It doesn’t matter. He is the tallest giant in a universe of giants.

Today is an easy drive. You feel like you are not a day over 60. In other words, all is groovy. It’s time for Grant Green’s ‘Ain’t it Funky Now.’ Funky and sophisticated.

One of the first albums I bought was James Brown, Live at the Apollo. The very first album I bought was by Percy Faith. I don’t know what that was about. I do love a string section. So many great James Brown albums, but I guess James Brown Live at Paris Olympia 1971 has got to be high on the list. Speaking of high, I don’t know what the band was on, but some of those tempos are ridiculous.

This is another album that’s good after a greasy English breakfast. Incredible playing, uber funky, socially interesting. Of course I’m talking about ‘Headhunters,’ Herbie Hancock. Anything you can do, he can do better.

It’s that boring time after sound check and dinner. You really have nothing left to say to your band mates, let alone strangers. I might go to the van for some alone time and listen to Mary Wells, ‘All the Best.’ This album is like a time machine for me. I can usually only listen to a couple of songs before I start getting too emotional. Then it’s time for a brewski.

Any time is a perfect time to play this record. You could listen to it before your greasy English breakfast, just to get your mind and belly in alignment. ‘Paid in Full,’ Eric B. and Rakim. (Have I mentioned Betty Davis, the woman who put the funk in Miles?) ( Yes, MANY times…. ed.)

Late night. Trying to find the hotel. Lost. Twenty minute drive turns into an hour-and-a-half. No problem. ‘The Very Best of ‘ Johnny Guitar Watson (Rhino Records) will keep you focussed, relaxed, and alert. I just love his guitar playing.

You have a day off. You would prefer to stay in your motel room and watch tv. But your band mates want to drive somewhere to see ancient ruins. What can you do? Dial up some Sonny Sharrock, ‘Ask the Ages.’ This album affects me the way The Dark Side of the Moon affects hippies.

Sometimes, hopefully only once per tour, you are lying in bed in your motel room, it’s 3 AM, and sleep is impossible. You are engulfed in an ocean of loneliness and regret, and there is only one album that really captures that feeling: ‘Only the Lonely,’ Frank Sinatra. But if it’s the last day of the tour, and you are headed to the airport, then the only album to play is his ‘Songs for Swinging Lovers.’ Boundless swinging optimism. So that is touring. Hours of great music in the van. Followed by a gig, motel, breakfast. Repeat.

‘Family Picnic’ is out March 1st on Mother Jinx

UK DATES

APR 8 The 100 Club, LONDON
APR 10  Launderette Sessions DURHAM
APR 11  The Thunderbolt, BRISTOL
APR 12  Foxlowe Arts Centre, LEEK
APR 13   The Dolphin BOVEY TRACEY
APR 14 Running Horse, NOTTINGHAM
APR 15  Greystones, SHEFFIELD
APR 17  Lewes Con Club, LEWES
APR 18  81 Renshaw/81 Records, LIVERPOOL

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