An interview with Thin Lizzy guitarist
by Tommy Rage
Ever imagine attending a concert and thinking to yourself: “Someday I’m going to be in that band.” Well, it happened to one guitarist who has kept the band alive and well all these years. Thin Lizzy guitarist, Damon Johnson has not only streamed a live video concert in tribute to Thin Lizzy, but also debuted an up-coming song from his forthcoming solo release schedule for later this fall.
On September 25th, Johnson teamed up with Judas Priest guitarist Richie Faulkner for an on-line tribute show for Thin Lizzy. “I’m proud to say that playing at 11:00 P.M. back in the bar days, with people throwing drinks around, I’m proud of those days. I certainly loved those days, and I would not hesitate to play those places again; but the live stream is nice for us to get the music out and play music together. It’s nice for us to be able to get music out to the fans that are looking for something of quality to enjoy; but brother, make no mistake, there’s no substitute for live music in the real day. We’re having fun doing these live streams, and in the last two years, we’ve done three or four this summer, and this one is going to be the best one yet, without a doubt. We’re jonesing to get back out there, but we’re gonna make the best of what we got to work with. We’re going to play our new song as well, “Battle Lessons” for the first time, so I’m pumped, brother.”
The joy that Johnson gets from writing, singing and playing guitar goes as far back to his early days when he found success in the 90’s with his post-grunge band Brother Cane. With two #1 U.S. Mainstream Rock Hits and a half dozen more radio friendly tunes, the band toured extensively throughout the 90’s until coming to an end in 1998. Reuniting for live shows and brief reunion tours, Johnson reflects on where his music career began, back in the 90’s. “In 1998, Brother Cain, was on our third record; me and three of my friends. We had some success on rock radio, and we got to do some tours, and open for some of our heroes. But, in 1998, we were really passionate about our third record. However, at that time, everything from rock radio to MTV, everything had changed. Sadly, we just kind of felt like we weren’t getting the support from our label that we needed, forget about deserve, we had already proven ourselves. We had worked our tails off. It was a revolving door of figure-heads at the company we were on which was Virgin Records. With every record we put out, we felt like we were just starting over, so we decided to call it quits. We had been on the road for seven years, and at that point everybody’s marriages were in the toilet. It was the close of an amazing chapter; a somewhat frustrating chapter. The next thing for me was to embrace being a sideman for the next decade to come. I continued to write, and Stevie Nicks recorded one of my songs. I toured with Alice Cooper for about 5 years, before I joined Thin Lizzy. That morphed into Black Star Riders, and we made three fantastic records with that band. Then I just started thinking about getting back behind the microphone and writing my own songs again and have more control over my career and calendar again. So that’s what I did. I put out a quality record last year, and here we are. We’re navigating this pandemic with you and everyone else.”
Johnson’s long time associations with Thin Lizzy has been reflected in his solo material, including 2019’s Memoirs of an Uprising. Now, with a new single “Battle Lessons”, Johnson isn’t afraid to share where his passion comes from when writing his own music. “There’s no question that I am shameless about wearing my influences on my sleeve. I think in the past, as a younger songwriter, sometimes you put all this energy into trying to reinvent the wheel and this, “Let me come up with this totally fresh and original idea”, but it’s too hard. It’s not possible. I think that’s another thing that I reflect back on with the Black Star Riders- was that it was so much fun to write songs, and we just listen to the music that we did when we were kids. We would have a cup of coffee and listen to AC/DC or The Clash, and we pick up a guitar and whatever popped out, we would start working on that. That’s what I’m doing here with myself as a musician. If I’m out doing something, I still listen to “Highway To Hell”, Aerosmith “Toys In The Attic”, Black Sabbath, all that stuff. It’s my task, my duty as an artist to take the love of that influence, and come up with something that is my own. It’s kind of simple, you just pull into that passion, plug into that enthusiasm for that music, pick up your guitar, and paper and just see what pops out. I’ve been amazed at what I can come up with sitting in solitude for a couple of hours, and focusing on writing these songs. With a new album almost completely done; when it comes out, I can assure you that there has never been an album’s worth of more focused and full realized hard rock that I’ve ever done in my career.”
Putting the finish touches on his solo album, highlighted with the first single “Battle Lessons” (available now via various media outlets), Johnson celebrates his up-coming release, as well as his recruitment into Thin Lizzy. “Back in the mid-80’s, back in the bars, and back in high school, when I was playing Thin Lizzy songs, that joy has never left me. I’ve been standing next to Scott Gorham in Thin Lizzy since 2011. So there’s definitely something special about those songs and how it affects me. Not only [did] I play the amazing guitar parts of Brian Robertson, Gary Moore, Snowy White, Eric Bell, John Sykes, but I’m singing the songs as well. I‘m grateful for the last two years touring with Thin Lizzy getting ready for my solo band, which I’m calling ‘Damon Johnson & The Get Ready’. I still remember the very first Thin Lizzy song I learned, it was “Jailbreak”. It’s one of those fat, simple, timeless riffs. It’s pretty much in the same category of “Smoke On The Water” or “Paranoid” by Black Sabbath, or “Heartbreaker” by Led Zeppelin. It wasn’t really that hard to figure out. So when you play that with your friends, and someone counts it off, and everyone starts playing it together, it just seems life changing. I saw Thin Lizzy in concert when I was 15; and if you told me that 30 years later I would get a call from Scott Gorham asking me to fill a vacancy they had – there’s no way under the sun that I would have believed it. It’s just not possible [laughter].
Fulfilling his childhood dream and joining a band one that inspired him from an early age, Johnson has been able to take his skills as a singer and a guitarist to the next level. From the Thin Lizzy “Jailbreak” riffs in his new single “Battle Lessons” to the post-grunge grooves of his earlier works in Brother Cane, Johnson still brings a complete and full rock sound to his up-coming album. Never has a childhood dream ever sounded so real and so grown-up at the same time. Perhaps that’s the true “Battle Lesson” that Johnson is sharing with all fans of rock.(1818) Page Views Damon Johnson Online:
CD: Battle Lessons Record Label: Double Dragon Records
• Purchase Battle Lessons on Amazon
• Download Battle Lessons on Amazon