Guitars rocking down the Old Dixie Highway, wailing feedback bouncing off
the sky, bringing yesterday into tomorrow...
"Good times and nasty habits
Johnny Salton's guitar first kicked my ass in about 1982 or '83, I taped my best friend's copy of Live at the Button on my Aunt Karen's big wooden, console stereo. I was lucky enough to see both the Eggs and the Daisies at the height of their powers. And I was unlucky enough to miss Charlie and Johnny opening for Moe Tucker and Jad Fair (dammit all to hell!!!). I also attended gigs by both bands, where my party were the only paying customers. These guys from Miami were mean-looking, lived the life, played hard on and offstage. I remember drunkenly wandering around the fire escape of the Cuban Club in the pitch black night, wanting to "hang out" with the Eggs, but it was too dark, and nobody was saying a word. Ten minutes later they hit the stage, and showed all the Tampa pseudo-liberals why they were the headliners that night. I searched in vain for 15 years for a copy of Sonicly Speaking. Now I've slept on Jill and Johnny's living room floor. I played the records on the radio for years and years, wondering about these great musicians and songwriters, who took the Son House/Albert King/Stones/Velvets/Yardbirds/Groovies they heard to a whole new place. (Dave Froshnider, please contact us at firstname.lastname@example.org)
This interview is part harrowing, part hilarious. Johnny is a nice guy, a generous guy, an honest guy. He answered every question with unswerving directness, and told some incredible stories. Whatever you think about his chosen lifestyle (and really, people, judge not lest ye be judged, everybody has their own proclivities). He made Pushin Up Daisies, Sonicly Speaking, and 30 Milligrams Of Your Love, and you didn't. Those three records are classics that will continue to be passed down through the generations. And he survived, while his bandmates burned out, went straight, and some of 'em died. There is NO other guitar player on earth like Johnny Salton.
Jeff--You were born in 1958?
Johnny--Miami Beach. Actually, the place where I was born, they broke down and they're making fancy condominiums there, which is a real drag.
Jeff--So the place where you were born, is no longer there.
Johnny--...Is now a yuppie condominium.
Jeff--And you were raised by your mom?
Jeff--Did your mom and dad get divorced?
Johnny--No, my mom got pregnant up in Cleveland, and my real father didn't wanna have me. He wanted her to have an abortion. So she took a knife to him, and stabbed him. And when the police came and saw what happened, that she wanted to have the baby, my father got sent to jail.
So I really never met my father. My mother scrammed down here to Miami Beach, and she had me over here at the hospital that (they) broke down. She had me down here, and I grew up down here. And lemme tell you man, it was swingin' (talks like Austin Powers), SWINGIN' BABY down here in the 60s and 70s, the early 70s, it was swingin'.
Jeff--Jill (Kahn, let's see....started out as Johnny's girlfriend, once sacrificed her own personal car to Charlie and the Eggs for a tour vehicle, left Johnny and took up with Marco, later took Johnny in when he was homeless, current Daisies' bassist and a kick-ass photographer. She helps make this ENTIRE web site possible...) said your mom raised you to be a rock star.
Johnny--Absolutely, my mom was so cool. (As a) matter of fact, my uncle was a promotions guy for a bunch of (record) labels, and his job was to push their records, and call the radio stations, and beat them into playing their records.
Jeff--So did he turn you on to a lot of cool music?
Johnny--Oh yeah. What he would do was, every six months or so he would let me come over to his house, and he had, like wall-to-wall promo stuff (advance copies of records, copies given to radio stations). So not only would I get records, but I'd get them three months in advance.
But his deal was, he hated all white bands, especially white bands playing blues. So I would get to pick five records, and he would get to pick five records, to give to me. So I would pick my Allman Brothers, my crazy psychedelic stuff. Because he had ABC (records), he had Dunhill (records), Steppenwolf was on Dunhill. He had the (13th Floor) Elevators' label, it was owned by Kenny Rogers' brother, Lelan Rogers.
Jeff--International Artists (records).
Johnny--Right! He distributed for them. So, sure enough, one day, I was about 10 or 11, 1966, I see this album, The Psychedelic Sounds of the 13th Floor Elevators. I say, "Wow, that's cool, psychedelic." 'Cause it was just starting to come over on the radio. AM radio was playing all kinds of music. Spirit's "Mechanical World" was number one on AM in Miami. There was no FM then. That was kinda weird.
So my uncle, I would get all my psychedelic stuff, and he would give me (jazz saxophonist) Eddie Harris live at the Newport Jazz Festival, he would give me (jazz legend John) Coltrane, so it was a trade-off. And I didn't know how important he was in the record business, until he died in the late '70s, I think. His obituary was in Rolling Stone (magazine). He discovered Otis Redding, when he played on the b-side of some gospel group, I can't think of the name. (legendary producer) Jerry Wexler was there, my uncle was there, and my uncle just flipped at this guy who sang the b-side. And he took him under his wing, paid for his single, and the rest is history. He was crying, a grown man crying, when he (Otis Redding) crashed in the plane.
That's what got me into good music so early in life, it was basically him. My mother would go over there with me all the time, she was really into Aretha Franklin, she was into the same thing, a lot more black music, just as much as my uncle. She went out with (jazz pianist) Art Tatum when she was a young lady.
So, as I grew up, she wasn't like other mothers, and when she married my stepfather, he was just as cool, you know? She wanted me to be a musician. She died in '93, she was very cool, very cool.
Jeff--OK, so you were childhood friends with Dave Froshnider (Eggs' bassist/vocalist, then Psycho Daisies guitarist/vocalist). When did you meet him?
Johnny--Kindergarten. We were in different bands, up until the punk thing came out. He was doing Cream covers, power trio stuff.
Jeff--What about the first time you got high? How old were you, what was it?
Johnny--Oh yeah. It was LSD, and it was Owsley (the first 'underground' chemist to mass-produce high-quality LSD in the 1960s) LSD.
Jeff--Your first time?
Johnny--And I was 12 years old.
Jeff--Oh my god.
Johnny--(laughs) Actually, it changed my life. I saw what bullshit everything was in this life. Just from that one trip. And I went and saw Led Zeppelin on their first tour, for their first album. And that changed my life too. First of all, I never saw a guitar player playing his guitar down by his knees.
Jeff--Jimmy Page likes to wear his guitar really low...
Johnny--...And this commune from San Francisco, like four girls, and this guy, took me under their wing. And I went in their VW bus to that show. And for some reason, in their bus, I found shaving cream. And in the middle of the show, I was in such a state of ecstasy, that I got up and started spraying shaving cream all around me. And in my tripped-out state, I thought everybody was laughing, and having a really good time. Meanwhile, my friend grabbed me by the arm and pulled me down, and he says "What are you doing? These people are ready to kill you!"
"No they're not! Look at the smile on their face!"
Jeff--They didn't kick you out?
Johnny--No, they didn't do nothin'. This was '68 or '69. It wasn't like today. Today you'd get the shit beat out of you.
Jeff--...And then get thrown out.
Johnny--Anyway, I saw sights and sounds, and made great epiphanies, all that night. And I swore to myself, that night, that I was only gonna do it (LSD) once. But then I started doing it at least once a week, sometimes twice a week, sometimes three times a week, for about 10 years. The next week after the Led Zeppelin gig I saw the Jeff Beck Group, with Rod Stewart and Ron Wood on bass. I wanna emphasize how much I got out of seeing these bands live while tripping.
Jeff--And have you done LSD since then?
Johnny--No. The reason why is because, with LSD you need a set setting, in other words you need a place to do it that's gonna be safe...
Johnny--Yeah, and you're gonna need to be with people, if you want. I usually tripped alone, I loved tripping alone. But if you're with people, you gotta make sure that they're in the right state of mind too...
Jeff--...It's gotta be controlled...
Johnny--Yeah, heavily controlled. I've done a lot of uncontrolled ones, too, which was really trippy.
Jeff--Is that why you stopped?
Johnny--No, I never had a bad trip, just really weird trips. Like Timothy Leary (1960s LSD guru) always thought that it should be in a controlled setting, a clinical setting. And Ken Kesey (author, LSD volunteer in the early 60s, among a million other things...) thought it should be uncontrolled, just take it, and just go off! (laughs) Buzz across the nation.
Jeff--Get the Hell's Angels and Hunter S. Thompson in there (a few of the notable attendees of Kesey's 'acid tests), and...
Johnny--And that's why they had a big feud their whole life, Timothy Leary and Kesey. But I started doing LSD every weekend, and you know what I would do? What a lot of other people would do with LSD, they would not use it for what it was supposed to be used for. Jumpin' around and...(imitates somebody tripping, swirling his arms toward me) "I'm gonna bum you out!"...That whole thing. Me, it was music. I would either be listening to music, going to a show, or playing music when I was tripping. No matter where I was, or what I was doing, well, I had my settings, set already, before I even tripped. So, it was usually me playing. That's where I got all my feedback stuff from, you know, sitting there for hours. 'Cause everywhere you bend the guitar, you get a different harmonic in feedback. I didn't learn it, but I noticed it. (Jimi) Hendrix did that a lot. LSD helped me see all that.
The last time I tripped, actually. Well, it (his trips) got further and further and further and further apart, but I think the last time I tripped was in '79, maybe '78.
Jeff--You just lost interest in it? You took it as far as you could go?
Johnny--No, I saw the times were changing. It just wasn't the time to do that.
Jeff--Did you take any music lessons when you were growing up?
Johnny--Yes, I took Jazz Improv, and I took Music Theory, but I took the stuff I could use, in the kind of stuff I wanted to play, and disregarded all the other stuff.
And I had a private guitar lesson once a week with this guy named Vincent Bredice. Vincent Bredice was the terror of the Miami-Dade (college?) campus. What he did to me was, I walked in there one morning, and I didn't do one of my scales (right). I hit a bum note or something. And he was playing golf, while I was playing him a scale. And he sat down at his desk, and he had a newspaper, the employment classifieds, you know? And he goes, "Mr. Salton? C'mere for a second."
And I go, "Yeah?" And he goes, "Listen. See that mark right there? I got it marked for you. It says 'painters wanted'." And I go, "Yeah?" I'm like, where is this guy coming from?
"Well, that's the job I think you're cut out for, because you're never gonna be a guitar player."
Jeff--Because you missed a note on a scale...
Johnny--...And you know what I did? I walked out of the school, and I had an acoustic guitar, a Miami-Dade acoustic guitar, I threw that thing SO far up in the air, it splattered into 20 million pieces, on the parking lot. And I never went to him again, but I got a lot of good things from him. Like there sure are a lot of snobby goddamn asshole teachers, especially music teachers.
Jeff--So you went to Miami Beach high school?
Johnny--Nah. I went to Treasure Island Elementary (North Bay Village), then I went to Nautilus (Junior High School, Miami Beach), then I took a short detour to state school. (laughs). Again, I got everything I needed to know, from junior high and elementary school. You know, reading/ writing/arithmetic, stuff that I could use out in the world. And history, I liked a lot too, but anyway. And I would go to school tripping, that's when I was really heavy into tripping. And I was a real juvenile delinquent, I used to break into houses...
Jeff--I heard you kicked some kid in the face.
Johnny--Yeah, and knocked his eyeball out.
Jeff--And that's when you went to, was it the Florida School for boys?
Johnny--No, it was called Lancaster Youth Development Center (now Lancaster Correctional Institute, Trenton, FL). Actually, I went to Okeechobee--state school (now Okeechobee Correctional Institute), and that was like...beatings, and guys ass-fucking you, and like the whole nine, really nasty, like you saw in the James Cagney movies. And I was there for about a week, just flipping out. Also, the judge sentenced me to state school on my birthday, June 15th.
So I was at Okeechobee for a month or two, and all of a sudden this big black guy came up to me, and he goes, "Are you willing to get out of here?"
I go, "Yeah, I'm willing to get out off here."
He goes, "We have an experimental school, which is co-ed (I told him I was a musician). There's music (instruments) there that are donated by the Gainesville (music) store." Like a Sam Ash (store), they donated like, all these fucking Ampeg V-4's and SVT's (amps), and see-through guitars...
Jeff--The Dan Armstrong (guitar, with a Plexiglas body)?
Johnny--...That Keith (Richards) played (in 1969). One bass and one guitar. And they said go to town on it, so I had that. As long as I went to school for about 2 hours.(laughs) And they had a library, and I got in good with the librarian, he bought me a little weed. And then I got in good with the head of the school.
Johnny--Yeah, the headmaster. And the vice-headmaster. And Reubin Askew was the governor then, and they needed someone who will get them through this, you know, a student. So they said to me...Mr. Hart was the main guy, and Mr. Crockett was the vice guy, and they go, "Listen John, you do us a favor, and we'll do you a favor."
I go, "Really? Great, what?"
"Well, come have dinner over at our house." They lived right on the grounds, the main guy had a beautiful house. And the people who worked there, if you wanted to, had a really nice apartment building. So, I kissed ass like a motherfucker.
Jeff--You did some publicity for them, took pictures and stuff?
Jeff--I would love to do that.
Johnny--So everything went so smoothly, I was their star student. Reubin Askew goes, "You're very mature for your age." I was like 15.
Jeff--You got to meet the governor, and get your picture taken...
Johnny--So anyway, I'm ready to go back to the cottage, so Mr. Hart goes, "Listen, for doing this, come have dinner over at our house, my wife's making a great dinner, come on over there." So I go over there, and they're drinking wine.
So I ask him, I said, "Mr. Hart, can I get some wine? It's been eight months now, since I haven't had nothing."
"Of course, go ahead." So, with us talking back and forth, I musta had, you know, five. So by the time I'm ready to go home...
Johnny--(Laughs) Mr. Hart goes, "We can't take you back to the cottage like this. We could all get busted." So he goes, "Listen, you stay over at Mr. Crockett's house, 'cause he's not staying there tonight."
So I said, "Ah, great! OK, sure."
So Mr. Crockett takes me over there. He says, "There's a bed, there's food in there if you want it." He goes, "Oh, and by the way, the weed? It's up in that cupboard up there.(laughs) So don't go crashing through my apartment, tearing everything up, you know where it is." So, of course the SECOND he leaves, I go up there and take like a handful of buds. (laughs) From then on I was like buddy-buddy with these two. And they didn't know how to roll a joint, so every time they needed to roll a joint, they'd call me, and I'd get my own joint. This is towards the end of my stay, though.
Jeff--That's the best kinda school to go to. In a way, it straightened you out, right?
Johnny--Yeah, it sure did. Because I was really, really, really an asshole juvenile delinquent (before that). Look what an upstanding citizen I am.
Jeff--That's right. And you met a janitor named Sampson.
Johnny--Now I had all this (musical) equipment, and I found one guy, a black guy, who played everything. I wish I could think of his name. And you know that Wilson Pickett did a version of (the Free song) Fire and Water. And that's the first thing that came to my mind, that he would know, and I would know. I said, "How 'bout Fire and Water?"
"Yeah man, that's a badass song."
"I know man. Wilson Pickett's version, right?"
He goes, "Yeah." It's a real Muscle Shoals (legendary Alabama recording studio) version, great version. So he goes, "Whaddya want me to play, drums?"
(Sarcastically) "You gonna play guitar?" Finally, he got on the drums, and he showed me the three chords to Fire and Water. And we played every day. And then, the janitor there, his name was Sampson, he musta heard us one day. And we did a show for the school. We were ahead of our time, guitar and drums.
Jeff--Like the Black Keys.
Johnny--Yeah, I was doing this stuff when I was 15 years old, OK? I love the Black Keys.
Jeff--So Sampson brought you in tablatures (showing chord fingering for songs) to learn?
Johnny--Yeah, every week he would bring me tablature.
Johnny--Yeah. See, Sampson, in his other life, his name was Honeyboy Edwards (90-year-old blues legend, was with Robert Johnson the night he died). He had (temporarily) retired. What he did, he didn't give me any white boy licks. He gave me the low-down, swamp-kickin', TOUGH...licks. OK? And from there, from listening to Hendrix for four years before that, and really being into music, with the LSD and all that. I took it from there, what he gave me. And I REALLY took off, man.
And, I finally got out of there (Lancaster).
Jeff--How old were you, 18?
Johnny--No, I'm trying to think. I was 16 when I got there, and I stayed about a year and a half, so about 17 1/2. And everybody was here (Miami) waiting for me, the same old gang. (laughs)
Jeff--But you weren't the juvenile delinquent anymore, you were the kick-ass guitar player.
Johnny--Right. And everybody was saying, "Where'd you learn that lick from?"
"Well, that's an (legendary blues guitarist) Albert King lick."
"Who's Albert King?"
"Well, listen to Hendrix. Listen to (Jimmy) Page a little bit. You'll see who Albert King is."
Jeff--You like Joy Division. When did you get into them?
Johnny--I got into them when they were still (called) Warsaw. I had a girlfriend who would go up to New York every couple of months. This was around '77. (actually '78)
Jeff--What do you like best about 'em.? I like how they play as a band, as a whole ensemble. And the songs are timeless.
Johnny--Yeah, the songs are incredible. They didn't really rip off from nobody, it's their own music. I really can't think of another band that sounds like them.
Jeff--Alright. Was The Girls your first band?
Jeff--And was that right after you got out of Lancaster?
Johnny--Nah, that was a couple years later. I was just playing around, just 'cause there was nowhere to play. You know what we used to do? We used to hook up at the beach across the street, and run an extension cord into the bathroom.
Jeff--And play out on the beach?
Johnny--They had a big wooden boardwalk. And we'd play there on the weekends. The cops were cool and everything. That was still The Girls.
Jeff--What kind of music did The Girls play?
Johnny--The Mothers of Invention. The only cover we did by them was Dog Breath, but our original music was Zappa/Beefheart (inspired).
Jeff--And you were playing guitar with The Girls?
Jeff--And how long did The Girls stay together?
Johnny--A long time.
Jeff--Did you play any gigs, or just down at the beach?
Johnny--Down at the beach. Once in awhile we played, there was a place on Miami Beach called the Blue Waters.
Jeff--Yeah, I heard about this place. The Reactions played there.
Johnny--A lot of people played there. Well I started the place, believe it or not. 'Cause it's my neighborhood. And I walked in there, and me and The Girls played a couple of shows there.
Jeff--So The Reactions was after that?
Johnny--I was still in The Girls. This is (at) the Blue Waters now. And I was really into punk rock. I was getting away from the herky-jerky, Zappa stuff. Isaac (Baruch, Reactions' guitarist), after a Girls' show, he came up to me. He said, "Hey, you wanna play in a punk rock band?"
I said, "Yeah, sure. You got a guitar player?"
"Yeah, I'm the guitar player. I need a bass player." And, you know what? I was so fed up with the fucking guitar, this is when Van Halen first came out, and the shredding thing. You know what? Lucky I didn't break that guitar I had in my hand then. So, I became their bass player.
Jeff--The Reactions played a lot of different kinds of music. Punk, power-pop, reggae, ska.
Johnny--That was towards the end.
Jeff--Who decided what you were gonna play? Was it a group thing?
Johnny--Well, if it was something someone wrote, we'd play it. If it was a cover, it was my decision.
Jeff--I haven't seen any songwriting credits for The Reactions, did you write any stuff for them?
Johnny--Yeah. It was a three-way thing.
Jeff--And you released the Official Release EP, then the Love You EP. How do you look back on the recording?
Johnny--I thought the recording was damn good for the horrible zombie engineers we had.
Jeff--Was it your first time in a recording studio?
Johnny--Not me, but the other guys.
Jeff--So they were kinda learning as they went along?
Johnny--Yeah, and so was I.
Jeff--Can you still listen to them?
Johnny--Yeah, I've been listening to them lately.
Jeff--You have pleasant memories of the band?
Johnny--Yeah, it was great. You know why? 'Cause we used to...Isaac's mother put up a band room for us, we didn't have to go anywhere to practice. So we practiced every day. Lemme tell you something, back then, that period of time, there was three or four places to play. And we'd have at least two gigs every week. I mean, the scene was really happening. Not like these piss-ass people down here saying, "I love the scene. The scene's really, really good." They don't know what a scene is. A scene is when you go out to a club, just to go out and check whatever band it is. Or, if you've seen the band before, to give 'em support. Or if you don't like the band, just to come hang out, to show that there is a scene. You know, Jeff, how the punks are now.
Jeff--Yeah, it's not about the scene, it's about the dollars.
Johnny--Yeah, and I used to get beat up, when I had a skinhead back then, with The Reactions. You know, you'd have to walk with a pack of friends. Or you'd get the shit beat outta ya. And I see those same people now, going to gigs, with rings through their lips, and through their nose, and wearing bondage pants. The same people who used to beat us up because we had short hair and bondage pants. So, the scene back then was like, I hate to say it, it was like love, peace and happiness. It really was. It may be a hippie thing to say, but it was true. All the bands supported each other. One band had a gig, they'd invite two more bands, you know? And it always moved from place to place, but there were always gigs.
So, The Reactions would practice every day for five hours, sometimes six. Our intention was to have a new song every week, and two new covers every week. We really wouldn't practice our songs, we already knew 'em.
Jeff--So every time you went to play a gig, you'd have new material. Smart.
Johnny--So that's why everybody liked us, too. Because we'd always have some surprise. With Charlie (now), I feel like I'm in Chuck Berry's band. How long has it been since Chuck Berry put out a new record? He's coasting on his laurels, and that's what Charlie's doing. We finally got into a studio, we did a Fred Neil cover ('60s singer/songwriter, now deceased).
Jeff--Yeah, I heard that, it sounds really good.
Johnny--It sounds like a real swampy thing, he finally got that swamp rhythm. You know, we went out with The Reactions one time, in a Mustang with 6 people in the car, from here to Los Angeles.
Jeff--You played in LA with The Reactions?
Johnny--No, we didn't play, we just went, and took a bunch of copies of the single. We knew some people out there who worked for the tabloids.
Jeff--Did you see any bands while you were out there?
Johnny--No, you know what I did though? This friend of mine, he was friends with this guy Don Snowden, who was the original bass player in The Gun Club. And one night, we had nothing to do, my friend Earl goes, "Hey, my friend's playing in a band down the street, you wanna go see 'em?"
I go, "Yeah? What's the name of 'em?"
"The Gun Club."
"The Gun Club? Never heard of 'em. I'm gonna stay in, smoke some pot." (laughs)
Jeff--You missed a chance to go see The Gun Club. Right at their start, probably. Aw, man, you missed it. But you got to see 'em later.
Johnny--Yeah, I got to hang out with 'em later. I even shot heroin with him! (Jeffrey Lee Pierce, frontman of The Gun Club, now deceased)
Jeff--So what happened to The Reactions? How did you break up?
Johnny--Very quickly, and very fast.
Jeff--You put out the Love You EP, and then...
Johnny--Right, and then Tony Supa, the singer, his father said that once he gets married, he has the family business to take care of. So he gave him another month, and that's the last I've heard of him.
Jeff--It was not one of those optional things, he had to do it.
Jeff--Charlie said you had a bad reputation when you were in The Reactions.
Johnny--That was his impression. Then he found out..."He's like a wet pea," or something like that. (Charlie said that Johnny was not a fighter in HIS interview) No, I didn't like that, Charlie.
Jeff--That's too bad, the Reactions were a good band.
Johnny--Yes we were. Unfortunately, we sounded like Green Day 25 years before Green Day. Especially their very first single.
Jeff--Charlie talked about seeing you playing blues with the O'Brien brothers (of The Eat), at the Balkan Rock Club. And that's when he discovered what a great guitar player you were, and that he wanted you to play in The Eggs. Do you remember that night?
Johnny--Yeah, I think it was The Eat, and The Normal Young Americans, that was another band I was in.
Jeff--The Normal Young Americans? What kind of music did they play?
Johnny--Ohhhh...how can I explain it to you? Cowpunk...sort of.
Jeff--And they played with The Eat, and then afterwards you played blues with the O'Brien brothers?
Johnny--Yeah, I don't know...what made me do it. It's not like I was, like I wanted to show Charlie I played guitar or something, it wasn't anything like that. I think there was a nice guitar that I saw sitting there, and I wanted to play it. And I picked up a slide, and started playing. And it turned into (Stones' song) Dead Flowers, we started playing Dead Flowers. And Charlie was flipping, everybody in the whole place was flipping out. Everybody thought I was a bass player.
Jeff--Yeah, they hadn't seen you play guitar. What did you play in The Normal Young Americans?
Johnny--That band switched (instruments) back and forth.
Jeff--Then Charlie asked you to join The Eggs. Eddie O'Brien played guitar with The Eggs at the beginning?
Johnny--No, when he played with us, he played bass, 'cause we didn't have a bass player.
Jeff--OK, I gotta get these things straight.
Johnny--Yeah, you do.
Jeff--Charlie also said that you lived with him for a year. What was that like?
Johnny--It was great, he treated me really good. If wasn't for him, I'd have been out in the street. He was really, really good to me. Why, what did he say?
Jeff--The only thing he said was that one night, you got really out of it on...something, and you were in the bathroom throwing up, and the light was off. And Charlie came in the bathroom to take a pee, and he didn't know you were there. And you said, "Charlie, don't pee."
Jeff--So you did Live At The Button. Do you remember the gigs?
Johnny--Yeah, we did it with Sync (Studio), and for some reason, we thought that small amps, even if it's a big stage, and you close-mike the amps (putting the microphones right next to the guitar amplifier), you're gonna get a great tone, even though you have a little (Fender) Princeton amp. Well, it didn't work out like that, I don't like the (guitar) tones on it at all. The playing is incredible, the tunes are incredible, the tones suck a big one.
Jeff--You weren't happy with your guitar sound?
Johnny--No, the band sound, the whole thing.
Jeff--Alright, let's talk about heroin, your first time. Did Sticks (Galway, Eggs' drummer) initiate you? Do you remember the first time you did it?
Johnny--Boy, you got a lot of information. I was very, very, VERY against heroin my whole life. Pot and LSD was my thing, nothing else. I used to hate junkies. I used to look down on Keith Richards. Not on his music, but on his junkie-dom. And any other musician that I found out was a junkie. Johnny Thunders. Then I fell into doing quaaludes, everybody was doing 'em. OK? And, I got into doing those, and like a jerk that I am, I started doing quaaludes before the gig. Which is not good, 'cause quaaludes are a muscle relaxer. And I had to play sixteenth notes, when I was in The Reactions. So that didn't help too much. So after I got into Charlie's band, I was doing the same thing, with the quaaludes. Finally one night, John Sticks threw a ride cymbal at me, and I just happened to turn, and it hit the guitar instead of me. Took a big chunk out of this SG (Gibson guitar, Charlie played one as well, made famous by Angus Young of AC-DC). And I looked over at him, he just smiled at me, as Sticks usually did. About a week later, they outlawed quaaludes everywhere. So, at the same time, Sticks comes up to me, and he goes "Maayaan", 'cause he was from Greenville (hence the southern accent). He said "Maaan, why don't you do a maaan's drug?" Gay John asks me why I dont do a man's drug. "Do a man's drug. I mean, you gotta do some dope, man, that's what you play on. You know, heroin." I said, "Yeah, yeah, whatever." So, I was with Denise (his girlfriend at the time), and she was giving me hell, and I...got the dope, with Denise and this other guy she was hanging out with. And I did it, that first time, and, I'm telling you, not to brag about heroin or nothing, but I mean, it was another epiphany. Like, THAT'S WHY Keith (Richards) plays the way he does, that's why Coltrane played the way he did, at certain times. That's the way this person played, because of dope, ah-ha, I get it now, I get it. So, me, as the addict I am, I started doing it, from that day on, every weekend. You know, before the show I could do it, it was great. I mean, seriously, don't ever do it, I'm not telling you to do it. 'Cause it's, it's opium, it's...god's own medicine, that's what they use to call it. And they've been using it for thousands of years. This is what went through my mind.
And the second time I did it, I was with Sticks. And...no way did I know how to shoot up. I mean I just did it two times before, and they showed me. Sticks looked up at me and he goes, "Maaan, if you're gonna do dope, you're gonna shoot up yourself. I'm not gonna shoot you up every time."
I said, "Fine." So, one or two times later, I got it. But no, Sticks didn't turn me on, but he did say those words about it's a man's drug, and if you're gonna do dope, you should do that. And Charlie was so aesthetic (I think Johnny meant ecstatic, but who knows?) that we were all doing dope, and he didn't have to do any of that, but experience all of it, and so he was really... pushing our junkie-dom, you know. As you can see on that album Cowboy Junkie Au-Go-Go. And things were real rosy as long as we had our dope.
Jeff--Charlie said Sticks could pick it (heroin) up and put it down.
Jeff--But once you started on it, you fell in love, and...
Johnny--Yeah, it was like a miracle.
Jeff--How long were you a junkie?
Johnny--Well, I started late, I was about 24, so it was about '82, '83, I dunno. And, sure enough, I started doing it every day instead of every weekend.
Jeff--When did you kick?
Johnny--I didn't kick. I never kicked. I haven't been straight, in the last 20 years, maybe...
Jeff--No, I mean when did you stop using heroin?
Johnny--Up until...about five years ago.
Jeff--And then you went on methadone.
Johnny--No, then I went on oxycontin, for two years. And then I went on methadone.
Jeff--So you quit heroin around 2000, you took it for 18 years. Overall, how do you think it affected your playing, one way or the other?
Johnny--Well, like I said. If I had my shot, and dope for the morning, 'cause that's always in your head, you're worrying about that too. As long as I had my dope for the morning, and I did my shot that night, it was incredible to play on. 'Cause you know what it does? This is the most I can figure out, why it does that to you while you're playing. It seems to me that, when you're not doing dope, you're worrying about, "Is Jeff gonna like that lick I did?" or "I hope Charlie's not looking at that." That all erases, there's like a cloud around you, and it just puts you in the moment of playing the best licks you can play. And there's no muscle relaxer to it, so you can rip. Like I said, I'm not condoning it, and I'm not saying every musician should run out and do dope. And I'm sure a lot of people that see this are gonna call me a real asshole. Which won't be the first time someone's called me an asshole. But, it (heroin) really does get old after awhile.
Jeff--Right, and that's why you went off of it?
Johnny--Yeah. First of all, I got busted two times in the same month, for possession of heroin. That was about five, six years ago. And also everybody was dying around me. Not just my friends, but famous people too. Robert Quine (guitarist for Lou Reed and Richard Hell), Greg Shaw (founder of Bomp! records). And since I've been on methadone, I've been the best I've ever... Plus I've got emphysema, and I can't be doing...I've got all this medicine I've gotta do...I can't... But I'm not gonna be a martyr either and be abstinent, I'm not gonna be a martyr for anybody. I'm gonna do my methadone, which keeps me comfortable, and that's it, that's how the heroin thing goes.
Jeff--Do you think methadone effects your playing?
Johnny--No. Methadone does nothing except keep you from getting sick from withdrawal. That's all it does.
Jeff--Keith Richards described methadone as "a dopey non-dope," and said he would only take it when he couldn't get anything else.
Johnny--Really? Yeah, but he's rich, and...
Jeff--He could get a better grade of heroin.
Johnny--Yeah, and he could get people coming to him, not going out into Overtown (to score).
Jeff--What about xanax? Does that have a negative effect on your playing?
Johnny--Yes. Those two drugs are like night and day. Methadone is an opiate, that doesn't get you high. That blocks any other kinda opiate that gets in your body. And, like I said, takes away your sickness (withdrawal). You don't get no euphoria from it. Xanax is a benzodiazepine, OK? That's an anxiety tranquilizer.
Jeff--You have a lot of anxiety?
Johnny--Since I found out what's happening with me (emphysema).
Jeff--Well, that's a natural reaction.
Johnny--But people are really abusing that (xanax). As a matter of fact, it's like the #1 abused drug in the country. You black out on those things, I mean they're really bad for ya. I was doing a lot at one time, and I'd just black out! I'm lucky I never got busted on that stuff. And you can't just quit, supposedly the withdrawals are even worse than heroin. You go into seizures.
So Charlie was right about the xanax, you can't play on those things.
Jeff--And you're in the process of getting off xanax.
Johnny--Yeah, I was doing a lot, and now I've gotten down to one a day.
Jeff--And your playing was getting better at the last Alligator Alley (Mothers of Immersion) gig.
Johnny--Yeah, that's what everybody said. It doesn't do what it used to do for me. It used to give me energy, especially with the methadone.
Jeff--You developed a tolerance, and it doesn't get you high any more. That happened to me when I used to smoke a lot of pot.
Johnny--You know something? You're right.
Jeff--The thing that Charlie said about your playing live, was that everybody else in the band was locked in to their part, but that you were constantly changing yours. Was that something that you did consciously, or you just played around...?
Johnny--No, actually, I played around until I got the right part, and then I kept it.
Jeff--But even then you varied it, right?
Jeff--'Cause the gig I saw in Tampa in '84 was totally different from Live At The Button.
Johnny--Yeah, well, I think it kinda gets boring, for me and for the listener. You know, unless you're one of those kinda guys who..."I wanna hear exactly that solo, or that little thing he did on the record."
Jeff--That's not what listening to live music's about.
Johnny--Right, well, you're hip to that, but a million other people aren't.
Jeff--So sometime after Cowboy Junkie, the Eggs go to New York City. You and Charlie are doing Eggs' gigs and Daisies' gigs around the area, right? You were based in New York.
Johnny--Yeah, but we weren't doing that many Daisies' gigs. I think we did one or two. We had a loft we were living at -- Dave (Froshnider), his girlfriend, and me and Jill. This huge loft, we (the Daisies) practiced there. But we're up in New York, heroin capital of the world. I think this was my heaviest dope thing, was up there. 'Cause you know, you can walk out of your bedroom, and there's the dealer right there. (laughs)
Jeff--There's the dopeman, right. Not a good place for you.
Johnny--It's really, really not a good place for me. So, it ended up, we were leaving in three days, to go on the rest of the tour, and then we were gonna end up at Twin-Tone (records, in Minneapolis), and make (what became the) Route 33 album. And Charlie decided that he did not wanna, now that he sees the bad side of dope, he doesn't wanna let me stay at his house for three days. The girlfriend that he had at the time, she didn't want me staying there, with her. So Charlie told me I couldn't stay with him, and I wasn't gonna stay out in the street in New York. So I said, "Goodbye" and left with Jill. And what basically happened was, he went to Twin-Tone, and they wanted to know what happened to me, I guess. But he got Dave to play guitar, and he got Jim Duckworth from Panther Burns, you know, he got some really good people. But the songs still didn't come out, for my taste. Then, the rest of the band (Froshnider/Sticks/Marco) quit, and came down here (Miami), and we started up the Daisies.
Jeff--What was the inception of the Daisies? Whose idea was it?
Johnny--It was my idea, just to keep Dave in Charlie's band, 'cause he's a guitar player too, and he didn't wanna play bass. So I said, "Let's start our own band, we'll have a two-guitar thing, we'll name it after a Yardbirds' song, with the two guitar players."
Jeff--When did Jill come into the picture?
Johnny--It was right around the time Cowboy Junkie came out.
Jeff--Did you hook up with her right away?
Jeff--When did you meet Marco? (Pettit, Daisies' original bassist, now deceased)
Johnny--Marco I'd known for a long time, way before the Daisies.
Jeff--Did he play in other bands?
Johnny--Actually no, he just practiced in his room, and this Jamaican guy wanted to make him into an American Idol-type thing. (laughs)
Jeff--Let's talk about Pushin' Up Daisies. (first EP) You did that in five days, in June of '85. You already had some of the songs.
Johnny--We might've had one or two songs.
Jeff--How did you and Dave write together?
Johnny--It was cool, either I came up with the chorus and he came up with the verse, or I came up with the verse and he came up with the chorus, it was a real collaborative thing.
Jeff--You wrote the lyrics together?
Johnny--Everything, yeah. If he didn't have a line, that rhymed with, or fit in with the...or he didn't have a bridge, or something.
Jeff--And it features your first lead vocal, on In Doubt.
Johnny--My first lead vocal, yeah.
Jeff--Was that difficult?
Jeff--You wrote the song, right?
Jeff--How did you come to sing that?
Johnny--Everybody said, "John, we think you should sing at least one song."
Jeff--And it came out on Sublapse (records). That guy Barry Soltz (Sublapse honcho), how'd you get hooked up with him? Was he a fan?
Johnny--Fan, friend, he put out a magazine called Suburban Relapse. And he really liked our band a lot. He was a really great guy. Then he moved up to New York, and started working for Jem, and Venus, all those record distributors.
Jeff--And that was also the first time you worked with Bob Wlos (the sixth Daisy, Johnny has called him), and you've been working with him ever since. What does he do for you in the studio?
Johnny--Nothing, that's what's so great about him. He sets up the mikes really nice, how I like 'em. Some ambient mikes, and some close-miking, just a certain way I like stuff miked. He does it perfect for me every time.
Jeff--He plays a mean lap-steel (guitar) too.
Johnny--Yeah, incredible. So we go in there and do the rhythm tracks. On that one we did the basic rhythm tracks with the whole band. And the next day we did all the overdubs. Then the next day we did the vocal overdubs. And the next day we mixed it all down to two tracks.
Jeff--And you did some dates opening up for Husker Du. How was that?
Johnny--(laughs) That was pretty cool, but how it started was, they needed some extra amps on the road.
Jeff--Because live they were all about power and volume...
Johnny--Yeah. So they said, "Listen, you guys wanna lend us your amps, so we can get stacks, and you can come on the road with us, you know, the rest of the tour.
"Sure." And they were very cool. Actually, Grant (Hart, Husker Du drummer/vocalist) was hooked on Dilaudids, which I didn't find out until after the tour. It's a synthetic opiate -- real strong. And he was doin' it right in front of me, and I didn't grasp what he was doing. I'm usually smart that way, you know? Yeah, that's why they split up. I'm glad he didn't tell me, because I would've wanted some. But, they were really cool, I really liked them after that too.
Jeff--Yeah, I'm a Grant Hart guy, I prefer him over Bob Mould (Husker Du guitarist/vocalist).
Johnny--Yeah, Grant Hart has much better songs.
Jeff--How'd you go over with the Husker Du fans? Did they like you?
Johnny--Great! Yeah, it was really good.
Jeff--That would've been a great double bill to see. Any other bands you played with, were you mostly headlining?
Johnny--We were mostly headlining.
Jeff--And Marco had to take some time off from the band, he got an abscess, from shooting up?
Johnny--Yeah, we were about to take one of our trips up to New York, and the day that we were leaving, I called Marco up, and he wasn't there. His father said, "Call the hospital."
I said, "Oh no, I know what it is already."
So I called him up, and he goes "John, John, I fucking shot up, and I missed, in my hand. And my hand's..." What they do is, they cut it open, drain the thing...you don't wanna know, nasty. He said, "Is there any way I can go?"
I said, "Is there any way you can play?"
He goes, "No." I said, "Marco, I can't believe you did this the day we were leaving. You knew we were leaving last night." (heavy sigh)
Jeff--So Dave K sat in temporarily. He was a friend?
Johnny--Yeah, David Kanovsky. He was one person we knew that we could show him the songs...
Jeff--And play adequate bass.
Johnny--Adequate is the word, yeah.
Jeff--So you had a fight on the road, and the original Daisies broke up. What happened with that?
Johnny--Sticks was tired of stopping at all the methadone clinics every time we had to go out (on tour). So he went up to New York, with one of his sugar daddies. And me and Frosh were continuing on with a drum machine.
Jeff--Yeah, you told me about the time you got stranded somewhere, because of a snowstorm, and you couldn't get any methadone, so you had to go to a hospital emergency room, and beg them to give you some methadone.
Jeff--And then Dave Froshnider left the Daisies, left the business, left the state. Why?
Johnny--You know what? No one knows. Everybody had left us, me and Dave. And we started doing stuff with a drum machine, me and him, still working out songs. And then all of a sudden he just disappeared. We found out he went to LA.
Jeff--He never talked to you before he left, he just took off?
Jeff--You never found out why?
Johnny--No. As a matter of fact, one of the songs we did with two guitars and a drum machine was called Santa Claus Is Coming Down Again. It's on a Midnight records compilation. But he left, and no one knows why. But he's doing good in LA. He's got his own business.
Jeff--He just took off?
Jeff--And you haven't talked to him since?
Jeff--You think maybe it had to do with the heroin?
Johnny--No, he was more into it than I was, at that point in time.
Jeff--And you also had a hardcore band called Crank if you want a taste of some Crank, they have a couple songs available on compilations available at the Pete Moss record shop.)
Johnny--That's more towards the beginning of all that, 'cause Crank broke up very quickly.
Jeff--You recorded those two songs, and that was it?
Jeff--Why did Crank break up?
Johnny--Well, Billy Weasel, he was in the band. And he went out to LA too. And that was the end of it.
Jeff--So when Dave left, you went on the road with Charlie.
Johnny--Yeah, we did what we call a southeast gig. Up through the Panhandle, into Alabama, New Orleans, Baton Rouge, then we went to Texas. We played Austin, Houston...By that time we had Bobby Tak on drums. And this guy Pat...
Johnny--Thank you (laughs). He used to play for Run Westy Run, an SST (records) band.
Jeff--Yeah, he sent me an e-mail, he found the website.
Johnny--Really? So, we hit Baton Rouge and Tak tried to get $75 from Pat. And Pat didn't wanna give it to him, or whatever. So he says he's gonna kick his ass, and Charlie just gave him an airline ticket. He told him to get outta here. Just so happens that the person we were staying with was his friend F. Clarke Martty. He was living in Baton Rouge. And he says, "I play drums", so we finished the tour with him. And we did the album in Athens (The Wilderness). We did that with Clarke. He played drums on that.
Jeff--What do you remember about recording The Wilderness? Was (REM guitarist and Wilderness producer) Peter Buck cool to work with?
"Sure, I can get you a joint." He gets me a purple bud, Kentucky fucking purple weed, that was about this big (holds hands 2 feet apart), one bud.
And then, they advertised a gig as them (REM) headlining, and us opening up. What'd they do? They let us headline, and they opened up, and they gave us the money.
Jeff--Charlie was talking about, REM was in Miami doing a gig, and they came to Churchill's and watched the Daisies play, and Charlie was doing the sound, and he said it was one of the best Daisies' gigs he ever saw.
Johnny--Yeah, Peter came, he really liked it.
Jeff--And you had a song on the Wilderness, Religion Or Pleasure, one of my favorite Johnny Salton songs, you later re-did it for the 30 Milligrams album.
Johnny--Well, do you like the remake?
Jeff--No, I like the original.
Johnny--'Cause you see what I did, I sung it on Charlie's record, and he sung it on mine.
Jeff--Charlie talked about a gig in Richmond, Virginia in '88, when you played this coffin-bottomed Marshall (amp). Do you remember that?
Johnny--OHHH, do I remember that night. I'd always heard about the coffin-bottomed Marshall. I never saw one though.
Jeff--And you really got off.
Johnny--The weird thing was, it wasn't a Marshall top. It was a Marshall bottom, but the top was an Ampeg V-4. And plugged that into a Boss overdrive (effects foot switch), and that's the tones I was getting. Everybody thinks it was a Marshall top, with no boxes (effects) or nothing. No, untrue. It was an Ampeg V-4, through an overdrive box. And I was playing, I'm sure it was some kind of Junior (Gibson Les Paul Junior guitar) with P-90s (guitar pickups).
Jeff--And some time after that tour, Charlie decided to quit music. Did he talk to you about it at all?
Johnny--He just said he was checking around for colleges, is basically what he said. If we'd have just hung in there a little bit longer...damn.
Jeff--Then you made Sonicly Speaking. How did you decide to go on with the Daisies?
Johnny--That's an interesting story. Sonicly Speaking came about when I was playing with Charlie and I wanted to do some of my songs. And Charlie all of a sudden just walked off the stage in the middle of a gig. We were doing one of my songs, and he yelled out, "Your songs sound like Tucky Buzzard" (early 70s band) or something like that.
I said, "That's it, I'm gonna get the Daisies back together or something." Get my own deal. I wrote (music writer) Byron Coley 'cause Byron was really into the Daisies. In the early part of the Daisies I made a live cassette, and I sent it to him. 'Cause I really thought, he was the best writer ever. (laughs) Not ever, but since Lester Bangs.
Then, our first or second tour with Charlie, we played The Rat in Boston. And this guy came up to me and said, "So when are Psycho Daisies playing?"
I looked at him. I hadn't sent it to anybody else. I said, "How do you know about Psycho Daisies?"
He goes, "I'm Byron Coley, man, how you doing?"
"Oh, you're my idol!"
He goes "Man! C'mon! Psycho Daisies! We want Psycho Daisies to play tonight." So, here I had a friend, a very important friend.
So, as time goes by...a year, year and a half goes by. I write Byron a letter, telling him my predicament (Johnny wants to continue the Daisies, but there is no label interest in the USA). "I wanna make my own records. Do you have any suggestions?"
He goes, "Matter of fact, I'm good friends with the guy at Amphetamine Reptile (records). Better yet, there's this label in Germany (actually the Netherlands) called Resonance (records), they really, really, really like American bands. They'd love you guys." So, I did a demo, I did this in someone's garage. I think I used Cory (Cortland Joyce, Charlie's drummer), and Marco, and me, just to do this. It was a four track, and it was like an old Fostex (tape deck). I did the basic tracks, and then I overdubbed vocals and guitars, and sent it out.
Sure enough, two weeks later, I get a call from the fucking Netherlands. "This is Rory, from Resonance. Man, your stuff is just kick-ass, but the recording's terrible!" (laughs)
I said, "Well, I can make a better one if you send me some money."
So he goes, "Well, how much you want?"
I don't know what to say..."How about $1300?" (laughs)
He says, "Alright, I'll write the check right now, it'll be there in a week."
Jeff--Then you went and made the record.
Johnny--Well, this is the good part of the story. I spent about $1000 (on "other things"), and made that record on $300. And then, at the end of '89, Byron was writing for Spin (magazine), and he had the 80 best albums of the '80s. And who was there with Black Flag, and Gun Club, and X, and all the important records? Sonicly Speaking.
Jeff--Rightfully so. How did Roger Deering end up doing vocals on the album?
Johnny--I really liked his voice. He sounded like Chris D from the Flesheaters. Plus he loved the band, so...
Jeff--How long did it take to make?
Johnny--Three days. I'm a one-take person, I don't need more than one or two takes.
Jeff--Did you tour after Sonically Speaking?
Johnny--Yeah, that was our prime there. We played a lot.
Jeff--Just you, Marco, and Sticks?
Johnny--Yeah. We went out and did the east coast route.
Jeff--And then a couple years later, you made the 30 Milligrams Of Your Love album. And Sticks was gone. Had he started to get sick by then? (Sticks died of aids)
Jeff--So you got Pete Moss on drums.
Johnny--Yeah. I knew he was the only one who played like Sticks.
Jeff--Marco told Charlie he preferred Pete Moss, and Charlie said he preferred Sticks. Which one did you prefer? I preferred Sticks too.
Johnny--Yeah, I preferred Sticks too. You can't beat Sticks.
Jeff--So 30 Milligrams comes out, and it was you, Marco, and Pete Moss. Did you do any gigs?
Johnny--We might have done a few, but not much.
Jeff--And somewhere in here, you broke up with Jill, and she started seeing Marco.
Johnny--She left me.
Jeff--I find it amazing that you and Marco were still able to play together. You wanna talk about that at all?
Johnny--See, when she was with me, I wouldn't let her do dope. Maybe once a year, or once a month. So she was basically straight, except for smoking pot and stuff. And she thought it was a big novelty for awhile. And then one day, she just couldn't take it anymore. And she moved me out to a hotel, or apartment. And she got together with Marco.
Jeff--Did that cause any strain with you and Marco?
Johnny--It did, for maybe a week or two.
Jeff--But you worked it out.
Johnny--Aahh, there was nothing to work out.
Jeff--Later on Resonance records went out of business. Did they pay you?
Johnny--No. They actually had me sign, and like an idiot I did, signed a paper saying that they... they said they had money in a trust account for me, for the (songwriting) publishing.
Jeff--And that turned out to be bullshit?
Johnny--No, it wasn't bullshit, they kept the money themselves. It was 800 bucks.
Jeff--Did they give you an advance for 30 Milligrams, like they had for Sonicly Speaking?
Johnny--Yeah, they gave me $1600.
Jeff--And that's the only money you ever got from them?
Jeff--Did you get back the master tapes when they went out of business?
Jeff--They're gone, you don't know where they are?
Johnny--Yeah, I know exactly where they are. They changed their name, or they got bought. It's a distributor/record label, they have a couple record labels. And they're called Semaphore. That's who's selling 'em. If you go on the web, they're selling 'em.
You know what? I wrote 'em a letter when the It's No Fun To Be Paranoid album first came out saying, "It's the Daisies here, we've put out a new record. Would you like to distribute some of 'em, buy some of 'em?"
The guy wrote back, "Yeah, we'll take some."
And I said, "He took some last time, and he didn't pay me back. I would want some money this time."
"Yeah, I'll talk it over with my partner, I'll call you back." They never called me back. And then, to top the cake, I turned on the webcast, maybe a week later, and they had the album listed.
Jeff--So, I'm not a lawyer or anything, but I would think that if they didn't pay you your songwriting royalties, you would have some recourse as far as getting your master tapes back. Have you ever thought about pursuing it?
Johnny--Yeah, but I heard it's a real pain in the ass, because it's foreign. Semaphore's still selling 'em on the web, on cd. (Note: A somewhat exhaustive internet search failed to turn up a Semaphore records website, or anyplace selling 30 Milligrams on cd. However, I did find a cd copy of Sonicly Speaking for sale on Amazon's UK website, on the Melodie label. But no website for Melodie records either.)
Jeff--But you should order it from Psychodaisies.com, right? That way the money goes straight to the artist. Not some money-grubbing record company swine.
Johnny--Yeah, that's right. Anyway, that was the end of it, and I got so disgusted that I just didn't do anything musically, except for privately, until Billy (Ritchie, current Daisies keyboardist) came along, and started pushing me into getting a band together.
Jeff--You were homeless for a period of time in the '90s.
Johnny--Yeah, like I said, I gave up music. My mother and father died. I had no place to live. I had no more living relatives. I was still addicted to heroin. Before I got the idea of getting a job and making money, a friend of mine, a hippie friend of mine, actually, had a mission (i.e,. a place that helps the needy). And it wasn't like one of these huge missions, it was a very small mission. And my friend was very cool, and he let me stay there, for months and months. For a good 6-7 months, two different times. The first time, I just didn't have any place to stay, so I stayed there, until some girl picked me up, and let me stay at her house, for a couple months. And then I got kicked outta there and went back to the mission, and finally realized that I had to get a job to...no one's gonna hand me nothin'. And all this time, I guess it was about four years, I didn't play at all.
By the way, I forget to tell you. Right before that happened, right before I was homeless, a friend of mine came back from Amsterdam. And he had some really good heroin. And he swore he was not gonna cut it (dilute it, to make it a larger amount). And I was in a real bummer mood 'cause my mom had just died, maybe two days before. Meanwhile, I started selling everything in the house, and got $35 bucks up, and went over and got a quarter gram, or a half gram, I don't remember. And, since he said it wasn't cut, I figured I was gonna get nice and high. I cooked it up, but I had no veins left at all. This is before I found out about shooting up in my neck. I would try everything. I was so freaked out this time that I took a needle, and I tried to get a capillary in my finger. And all it did was go into the flesh, and started rotting, and smelling bad (shows me the scars on his fingers). And so I ended up in the hospital with gangrene, they said if I'd have waited another 24 hours I'd have lost a finger. And I got a doctor that was really against giving junkies like me anything, 'cause when I first walked in there I was sick as a dog, and I kept telling the surgeon, "Please can I have some methadone, please, please, please, please, 'cause I'm sick, and you're taking me into surgery, and you're not gonna be able to knock me out. I know what I'm talking about."
This guy looks down at me, he was a young punk, too. He looks down at me, "You know what? You're right. I need my cup of coffee too. I really need my coffee."
I said, "No, I'm serious, man."
He goes, "Well, I'm serious too. You need your dose to get up in the morning, I need my 2 cups of coffee. You want me to do a good job, don'tcha?" I gave up on him.
So when I got in there, I talked to the anesthesiologist. I said, "What are you giving me, and I wanna know how many milligrams." She's giving me fetinol, which is hospital heroin, basically, you can't get it out in the pharmacies or anything. It is heroin basically.
She goes, "A milligram, or a half a milligram of fetinol, some ativan..."
I said, "Ma'am, listen, I'm a junkie, I have a HUGE tolerance. 1 milligram of fetinol ain't gonna do nothing."
She goes, "Believe me, we got stuff here that will knock you out." At that point I'm wide awake, still wide awake. They've given me...I don't know how many milligrams of fetinol, and I'm still wide awake, still talking. And the nurse goes to the doctor, "We're not gonna be able to put this guy out unless we hit him with a baseball bat."
He goes, "We're not gonna be able to put you out." So, they take a fucking needle this big (holds hands a foot apart), and they stick it under both armpits, until they hit the artery. And they shoot a...what it does, it makes you feel like your arms are cut off. You can't feel anything. It was so weird, I'm still talking my brains out, these guys are...
Jeff--So you were conscious while they were doing the surgery?
Johnny--Yes. What they did, they call a debreavement. They clamp it open, and they debreave all the pus and crap that's in there. And I'm still talking. I think they gave me enough ativan or xanax, to make me relax, but other than that, I was wide awake. So I was sick as a dog. I'm doing major surgery, at the trauma center, a major surgery, with no painkiller. And going through withdrawal (from heroin). So it took me about five years, to get this...this is a very important finger for guitar, especially your vibrato (bending notes). It took me a good five years for this finger to come back, and to be able to play right.
Jeff--So they wouldn't give you anything after the surgery.
Johnny--Naah. See, I didn't have Medicaid, or what I have now.
Jeff--So you had to quit (heroin) cold turkey after the surgery?
Jeff--During the bad times you were having, Sticks died of aids in February '95. Did you talk to him at all, any communication with him?
Johnny--No, he started getting dementia. He came down here for one night, and stayed here (Jill's house). And he was out of his...he really had big-time dementia. He was telling me he was gonna sue NBC, and Howard Stern, because they were using all his...lines on the TV. It was really, really sad.
Jeff--And Marco went shortly after that, he od'ed. Was Jill still with him?
Johnny--He was always looking for that ultimate high. He OD'd on coke, not heroin.
Jeff--What was your feeling at the time, were you way out of it too?
Johnny--Are you kidding? I was crying my brains out, I couldn't stop crying.
Jeff--Pete Moss committed suicide around that time also.
Jeff--Were you still working with him at that time? Were you in touch with him at all?
Johnny--No, he had gone on to do other things. We weren't really in touch, we were just 'scene buddies'.
Jeff--And then you started working with Billy. From what he told me, you were still homeless when he first came around. And you did some gigs as a duo.
Jeff--Were you enthused to get back into music again?
Johnny--At first no, because we didn't have a whole band. But he kept pushin' me, to his credit. He wouldn't let it go. (yells into microphone) THANK YOU BILLY!
Jeff--And when does Jill come back into the picture?
Johnny--She was always in the picture.
Jeff--She said you used to sleep on her porch.
Jeff--And she eventually took you in?
Johnny--Yeah, that's after a long time, though. I went back to telemarketing, and I was squatting in some apartment over here.
Jeff--So you went out and got a day job?
Johnny--Yeah, believe it or not, I was telemarketing.
Jeff--How long did you do that?
Johnny--About four years.
Jeff--And did you despise it?
Johnny--Yes. And the only way I could do it was if I did drugs, so I could get my 'larcenous self' out. I can't do it straight.
Jeff--And when did you find out you had emphysema?
Johnny--One day I was walking to work. As a matter of fact, I was living for a while, right down the street (from here). A good friend of mine I've known for 30 years, Bobby Gianeshi, took me in. Went to walk to work, and all of a sudden I just fucking...I'm gasping for breath, you know? Couldn't breathe. So I went right to the hospital, I staggered over to Jill's house and said, "Take me to the hospital." So they took me to Parkway (Regional Medical Center, North Miami Beach).
Jeff--Did they run a bunch of tests?
Johnny--Well, they kept me there like two weeks.
Jeff--What'd it feel like when they told you?
Johnny--You know, I thought of my mother, 'cause she died of emphysema too.
Jeff--And was this before the Daisies re-started?
Johnny--No, it was November 2001. I've been in and out of the hospital since then a buncha times.
Jeff--Have you seen a lot of different doctors?
Johnny--No, the same doctor.
Jeff--What's the long-term prognosis, are you gonna have a lung transplant?
Johnny--No. I mean, one doctor said I should get a lung transplant. Then another guy said, "You could live another 30 years if you take all this medicine, use a nebulizer."
Jeff--So, (official-sounding) no plans for a lung transplant at this time.
Jeff--So you got Billy and Jill, and you get Bobby "Boom-boom" Gold to replace Pete Moss on drums, and you make a record, It's No Fun To Be Paranoid. How did you get together with Bobby?
Johnny--Boom-boom I've known for a long time.
Jeff--And you started playing gigs again. Were the gigs well-received?
Jeff--How did you come up with the idea of putting out Paranoid yourselves?
Johnny--Well, what else was I gonna do? (laughs)
Jeff--Well, it's like the whole punk DIY (do it yourself) thing, but 25 years later.
Johnny--Well, DIY is a centuries-old tradition.
Jeff--So who came up with the idea (to release Paranoid themselves)?
Jeff--And Jill helped write some of the songs, how do you two write together?
Johnny--She was in a particularly...maybe it was Marco's anniversary, or maybe she was writing that during the whole time up until then, she was writing these lyrics. I don't know, but they were great lyrics, and I wanted lyrics for a buncha new songs I wrote.
Jeff--So how long did it take to make Paranoid?
Johnny--Ah, we took our time this time. 'Cause we didn't do it all in a row, we did like one weekend, we did the rhythm tracks. Next weekend we did the overdubs, vocals and guitars and keyboards. Probably eight days total.
Jeff--So if you're doing it all yourself, and putting out your own cds, who's paying for the studio time, who's paying to have the cds pressed?
Johnny--Jill and Billy.
Jeff--What's Billy do for a day job?
Johnny--He's an ad salesman for the Sun-Sentinel.
Jeff--He's a helluva nice guy too.
Jeff--He gave me a lot of the facts for this interview, when you guys played up in Tampa (to give credit when it's due). And you also started your own webpage, Psychodaisies.com. Whose idea was that?
Jeff--And he is Puffywhiteclouds.com? (the company that does the Daisies' site)
Jeff--And your latest record is Snowflakes Falling On The International Dateline. Another album, another drummer. Why did "Boom-boom" leave?
Johnny--How it started was, we had a gig at that Revolver (concert series) thing that they have once a week. You know, Pop Life (another weekly concert series), whatever, it's like, all 60s stuff, and all that stuff. We'd been going over fucking killer there. Well, the night we're playing, he calls up, or, I don't think he even called. He just didn't show up. We found out he left that night for New York.
Jeff--And you bring in Scotty Upton to play on Snowflakes. How did you get hooked up with him?
Johnny--He answered our ad, we had put out an ad in the paper.
Jeff--And from the one gig I saw with Scotty at Alligator Alley, it seemed like Scotty was a very sympathetic drummer to you, he played very much with you. And he helped out with background vocals, he was a good drummer.
Jeff--So how long did it take to make Snowflakes?
Johnny--Same thing. About eight days.
Jeff--And your distribution's getting better. You can get Snowflakes on Amazon.com, Towerrecords.com, CDBaby.com. And you won some local awards (Florida Music Awards best pop/rock band, Miami New Times best local rock band, Broward-Palm Beach New Times best of 2003)
Jeff--Hey, it helped you get gigs.
Jeff--OK, it helped you get a gig in Tampa.
Jeff--And then after Snowflakes came out, Scotty left the band. What happened there?
Johnny--My fault. Well, I don't have the energy that I used to have, and he had to drive all the way from Kendall, and he just couldn't do that. This is when I was still eating the wrong foods, and my medication wasn't right. So that's why.
Jeff--And the next drummer is Neil, for a few months.
Johnny--We met at Alligator Alley. He was outside getting high, and I talked to him.
Jeff--And you participated in the Little Steven garage band competition. How did that go?
Jeff--You thought the Daisies should have won?
Johnny--Um, no, I just don't think the Heatseekers should've (won).
Jeff--But it was nice to be invited.
Jeff--And Charlie's coming out and playing occasional gigs now (Johnny plays in Charlie Pickett and the Mothers of Immersion). Is that enjoyable for you to play with him again?
Jeff--I agree, he greatly underestimates his guitar playing.
Johnny--I know. I don't know why he does that.
Jeff--He tells me the songs on The Wilderness aren't good, and I'm like, "What are you saying?" Do you agree he underestimates his own talent?
Johnny--Yes, very much so. That's what I'm saying, we were SO close (to making it big).
Jeff--None of the records you made were distributed worth a damn, except maybe Route 33.
Johnny--And that's the worst record we did.
Jeff--I remember you said the Twin-Tone (records) people were scared of you. Why?
Johnny--I don't know who they heard it from, that I was this desperate junkie, who'll stab you in the back and take all your money. (laughs)
Jeff--But this is all second-hand, you never talked to anybody there.
Johnny--Right. No, I walked in there that one time we went up there, and they gave me the cold feet.
Jeff--OK, next Neil leaves the band. We're getting up to Psycho Daisies Mach 8 or 9 now.
Jeff--Why did he leave?
Johnny--I think he was on crack (laughs). So we just said we broke up the band.
Jeff--And Mike Vullo (drummer for Charlie, the Dillengers, and more) came in briefly. How was that? Very energetic drummer, has a lot of different things going on, plays in a lot of different bands. He's a good drummer.
Johnny--I think he's great. He's like Sticks.
Jeff--But he only stayed for a brief period, was there a falling out with him?
Johnny--Not at all, the only reason is he moved further north, he lives in Palm Beach County, so...
Jeff--And you have Lisa Nash singing with you now, she used to be in the Screaming Sneakers. Were you friends with her back then?
Johnny--Yeah, somewhat. I knew her through the scene.
Jeff--Whose idea was it to have her sing with the Daisies?
Johnny--All of us. Actually, she came to a gig at Alligator Alley, and me and Jill kind of had the idea to give it a shot. And she really knows the songs. She can sing really sweetly, but then she can belt it out, like Cynthia from the Remnants (they're from Miami, and they ROCK.)
Jeff--And you have a new drummer named Bobby.
Jeff--He's doing a good job?
Johnny--Yeah, but what's really weird is, he was a drummer until he was 19, and then he put the drums down, and became a lead singer, in all these punk bands.
Jeff--Jill said he came up to you at a gig?
Johnny--Yeah. He says, "You know, I play drums."
I go "Really?"
Jeff--And you knew him as a singer.
Johnny--Yeah. But I believed him when he said he was a drummer.
Jeff--Who did he sing with?
Johnny--They were really popular for a while, they were called Load. But as a drummer, he kills.
Jeff--OK, so psychedelia and garage rock are your favorite types of music, right?
Jeff--So when are you gonna make a new record? Are you writing songs?
Johnny--Yeah. Probably gonna start at the end of June. The Psycho Daisies will saunter on.
Jeff--What's your philosophy on life?
Johnny--Just taking it day by day. Don't wear brown shoes, they don't make it.
Jeff--Are you surprised to still be around?
©2005 Jeff Schwier