APRIL 2nd 2018

BLACK STAR RIDERS EXCLUSIVE

Metal Titans exclusive: ‘Bound For Glory’ with Black Star Riders’ Damon Johnson. Check out the interview below:

“This [tour] is going to change things for us, there's no other band you can name that embraces hard work like we do,” says an enthusiastic Damon Johnson speaking to Metal Titans on March 17th, 2018 about opening for Judas Priest across North America this spring. “This tour will absolutely bring Black Star Riders to the forefront and will get promoter’s attention and we will get some festival appearances.”  Black Star Riders issued their 3rd effort ‘Heavy Fire’ in February of 2017 [Nuclear Blast Records] and are bursting at the seams to play in America.

Johnson goes on to say, “I'm proud of this band, I'm proud that we have great people in this band and that we have mutual admiration and respect for one another. To break the band in the [United] States would simply be the icing on the cake.” Black Star Riders will be allotted a 40 minute set which will roughly be eight songs. Johnson adds “We haven't settled on a set yet. We have rehearsed 18-20 songs and we have been changing up the set every few days. I imagine at some point we’ll decide on what ‘the' set will be for the rest of the tour. I can tell you that for this tour we’re doing stuff that's heavier. You have to for the Judas Priest crowd.”

Interview By: Ruben Mosqueda

Metal Titans: Black Star Riders have released three albums; you've done great business around the world. Breaking Black Star Riders in North America has been challenging. This spring tour with [Judas] Priest and Saxon should help tremendously.

Damon Johnson:  Ruben, let me start by saying that we are jubilant and elated to be a part of this tour with Judas Priest and Saxon. This whole thing happened because the Priest guys are friends and they have been so supportive of Black Star Riders, as far back as when we were still Thin Lizzy. I guess it's great to have friends in high places, right? [laughs]

I won't kid you, but to your point; America has eluded us. There are many rock ‘n' roll avenues [rock radio] in America that have helped us, but the reality is Ruben, they don't reach enough people. Active radio nowadays only plays the same 12 bands and to get your band played on there is going to cost you more money than you can print. It's been a challenge, it's been really hard. There are people that want to hear Black Star Riders in America but we just can't afford to bring all the gear, fly Scotty [Gorham] in and then get into a van and pull a trailer and play to 40 people a night. There's just no awareness, that's just the way that it is. I don't want to sound like I'm complaining, I'm just looking at things realistically. That's the hard facts and the hard reality. I thought to myself, “Man, this just isn't going to happen for us in America,” then we got the call from Judas Priest in September [2017] about this tour. I can't even begin to tell you how stoked we are about this tour.

Metal Titans: In between Priest shows, Black Star Riders and Saxon are doing joint shows. That must be gratifying that there's interest from promoters to book the band?

Damon Johnson: Absolutely and in deed you're right Ruben. We've book 5-6 show Saxon and we've booked 5-6 shows on our own. We did one in Buffalo [New York] last week and we have one coming up in Montreal [Quebec, Canada] and we just announced Seattle [Washington] within the last 72 hours.

Metal Titans: Would you agree that this opportunity to open for Priest has breathed new life to the ‘Heavy Fire’ record? I was listening to the album over the last couple days and it's still fresh.

Damon Johnson: Thank you, thank you listening at all. I'm proud of that record in what we've been able to accomplish musically, sonically and creatively with Black Star Riders. Ricky [Warwick] and I were working in the hotel last night on 3 song ideas for album four. Ricky and I love this, we cherish the opportunities to write; we're career songwriters. We cut our teeth in the various bands that we were a part of and now we're in the same band. Who would have thought that? It’s surreal to have Scott Gorham look at Ricky and I and say “Hey guys, we should write some songs!” What he really means is “You guys should write some songs!” [bursts into laughter]

Metal Titans: Damon, but that's too far from the truth. In looking over the liners for the three records, it is Warwick and Johnson doing the ‘heavy lifting.’ You don't have to agree with that.

Damon Johnson: No, there's no doubt about it. We relish the opportunity to write. Ricky could come in with a chord progression and a lyric, then I will take that and add something to it and then Ricky will something over that and 10 minutes laters we have a song. That's an amazing feeling and we're junkies for that. I've always said that if you’re going to be a songwriter, you've got to love writing songs. I’ll be the first to admit that not all the songs I write have been as great as others, but I love the process writing and creating. A couple of those songs are pretty good and at least one is a Black Star Riders song! [bursts into laughter]

Metal Titans: Black Star Riders have become its own entity; there’s an evolution from ‘All Hell Breaks Loose’ to ‘Heavy Fire.’ I hear little less Thin Lizzy with each subsequent record.  

Damon Johnson: I never felt that we ever needed to deny or rid ourselves of our Lizzy origins or heritage. We absolutely wanted to grow the Black Star Riders name and allow it to grow it's own enthusiastic fanbase. The idea to write a song that sounds like Thin Lizzy, if I knew the formula for that I would tell you right now. You know what I mean? It's not like Scott Gorham will walk in wearing a particular suit, plug in and next thing you Ricky is sounding like Phil [Lynott] and the song sounds like Thin Lizzy circa ‘Johnny The Fox!’ [laughs]

Metal Titans: You guys did that though, the song that comes to mind immediately is “Bound For Glory.”

Damon Johnson: [laughs] Thank you, brother.  No surprise, that “Bound For Glory” was the second song that Ricky and I ever wrote together. At the time we wrote that song we had been given the order that we were working on a Thin Lizzy record; I’ve been listening to Thin Lizzy records all of my life. So for someone to say “Damon, you have carte blanche, you can go nuts write material that sounds as Thin Lizzy as you want it.” It was funny but Ricky and I took that song to Scott Gorham and Brian Downey [Thin Lizzy drummer] and Scott said “Uh, I don't like that one it sounds too much like Thin Lizzy!” [laughs] Ricky and I were like “Wasn't that the point guys?!” [laughs]

I want to touch on something you pointed out earlier; in deed our sound has evolved throughout our career, ‘Heavy Fire’ has the least ‘Lizzyizms’ out of the three. I've gotta tell you we wrote three songs this past month and any of them could have been on either ‘Renegade’ or ‘Bad Reputation’ or ‘Jailbreak' for that matter. It's really what the song evolves into, certainly once Scott lays down guitar on it and I lay down a guitar harmony and you have Ricky’s baritone vocal, like Phil had and it can’t help but sound like Lizzy. 

Ricky’s also a great storyteller like Phil, he's also Irish and he was grew up listening to the same records as Phil.

Metal Titans: How close are Black Star Riders to releasing some live material? You have more than enough material with three albums.

Damon Johnson: I’ll tell you this Ruben, we’ve discussed that for the upcoming record we issue a deluxe edition that would include a bonus disc of live material. We recorded a show in Japan this past October that just sounds amazing we could use that or the Sweden Rock Festival from last year was also recorded. We’re a solid live rock band, I'm sure the fans would love to have a live recording to listen to. I'd certainly embrace the idea, we’ll just have to wait and see what happens.

Metal Titans: I’m a huge fan of Slave To The System, can you give us a little something on that band?  

Damon Johnson: Oh, thank you Ruben. I love that one and only record we did. That came out of our relationship with [guitarist/producer] Kelly Gray who produced the 3rd and final Brother Cane album ‘Whirlpool' which we recorded in Seattle. I think for all of us in Brother Cane that was our favorite record because we had so much fun making it. Shortly after that Kelly joined Queensryche replacing Chris Degarmo and he talked to [Queensryche drummer] Scott Rockenfield about working with [Brother Cane bassist] Roman Glick and I on a side project. Scott was all about being a part of a cool side project, so we got together to work on a record. It was just a bonus that we got on so well. We all contributed to the creation of the album but Kelly and I definitely did all the heavy lifting on ‘Slave To The System’ as far s he songs go. I enjoy people either coming up and asking about that album or it coming up in interviews. I enjoy those songs to this day. I just released a live solo record last year and the guys in my solo band insisted that we cover a Slave To The System song, they're huge fans of thay record. Thank you for mentioning that record and the band; I'm really proud of that.

Metal Titans: You also were part of the Alice Cooper band. How did you hear about the gig? What was that experience like for you?

Damon Johnson: Man, that was some weird, destiny, happenstance, miracle kind of thing. Alice had this guitarist in his band for several years named Eric Dover and like me is originally from Alabama. Eric and I came up together in the club scene in Birmingham in the 80s. So he was getting ready to move on from Alice’s band and do something else; Eric recommended me to Alice and his tour manager. The funny thing about that they had one day that they were going to hold auditions. It wasn't going to be possible to do them on another day. The auditions were going to happen in L.A. and I was living in Birmingham at the time and my wife and I were expecting the birth of our youngest child. So, my son Gabriel was born in August of 2004. He was born on a Tuesday and Thursday morning I was on a plane to Los Angeles. I got out of the car and I saw all the guitarists that were there for the auditions. These guys looked like they were dressed to go to a Guns n’ Roses show, they had the clothes, the eyeliner, the whole banana, man. I stepped out of the car with just my Les Paul, jeans, my Chuck Taylors and a black t-shirt! [laughs] My first thought was “Oh, fuck! No one told me this was a dress audition?!” Not that I would have had anything like that to wear? [laughs] The good news is that all Alice cared about as my singing and my playing and a couple days after I got home he called me to tell me I got the gig. That was the first time that I had auditioned for a gig. What a great opportunity and learning experience that was. Alice’s family became my family as did all the other members’ families.

Metal Titans: You’re on tour with Priest and Saxon at the moment; what are your favorite albums by each of your tourmates?


Damon Johnson: I’m definitely familiar with both bands but I must admits Priest more so, than Saxon. I had one of my best friends playing drums in one of my high school bands. He was really up to date on all of the British metal bands; he turned me onto Saxon.  What was the record? “Wheels Of Steel?” Did that have “Princess Of The Night” on it?

Metal Titans: That would have been ‘Denim And Leather.”

Damon Johnson: I’ve always love that. We attempted to cover that in our band! [laughs]

The Priest catalog; I’m super familiar with. My favorite album from Priest from top to bottom is ‘Point Of Entry.’ It’s not one that people pick, that record just spoke to me. “Heading Out To The Highway” just spoke to me! And “Desert Plains?” Ruben, that song is my top 20 songs of all-time! I love that song so much, I wish they were doing that on this tour but I know it’s hard for them to fit everyone’s favorites in.

Metal Titans: And you have three records with Black Star Riders. If you had to turn to one of the three records to recommend to a new fan, which would it be and why?

Damon Johnson: [long pause]  I think it would be hard to deny that the new record; ‘Heavy Fire’ would be a good place to start. The record has so much diversity and great dynamics; in my opinion that is the most ‘Lizzyesque’ thing about the record, that it just covers so much ground. “Heavy Fire,” the title track is in your face and “Who Rides The Tiger” is one of my favorite songs that I have ever written. There’s some great melodic stuff on there that is ‘Motown’ influenced, which is something that Ricky and I are huge fans of, like; “Dancing With The Wrong Girl” and “Testify Or Say Goodbye.”

I have to add a footnote; there a song on our second album ‘The Killer Instinct’ [2015] it has a song on there titled “Blindsided” to date that is my favorite Black Star Riders song. I thank our producer Nick Raskulinecz for really pushing us to the limit. I think we delivered in spades on that one. I love that song so much and can’t say enough about Ricky’s lyrics and his ability to tell a story.
 


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