Exclusive Feature Interview with IndiePulse Music Magazine
Americana Kitchen: Come And Get It is a celebration of American Heritage or Roots Music that has been so influential to music all over the world since it includes all of these “American Born Musical Styles”: Blues, Jazz, Rock n Roll, Bluegrass, Country & Western, Country Pop, American, Gospel Music, Zydeco, Delta Music, Boogie Woogie, Swing, Be Bop, Rhythm & Blues, and so much more. The two-disc album is a Studio Band Project featuring some of the finest musicians and singers from (Southern California’s) San Gabriel Valley and surrounding cities. The focus is American Roots Music and aims to showcase all the wonderful styles associated with Americana Music.
Indie Pulse Music recently interviewed AK curator/producer, Danny Johnson (DJ here in the article), who also wrote, arranged, and played guitar on all twenty tracks, as well as musicians Francesca Capasso (FC) and “Jumpin Jack” Benny Cortez (JJBC), the latter two who contribute their vocals to eight and five songs on the album, respectively.
IPM: What was the impetus that led you to release the Americana Kitchen project?
DJ: I had a variety of song ideas in my head that were all so powerful; I knew I wanted to record them very soon. My challenge was that the songs were also really diverse, and I wasn’t sure how to package so many different styles of music on a single CD. Then I realized they all fit into a very specific group called Americana (which is simply American Roots Music). Once I saw the significance and pattern, it was “full steam ahead” and I realized I could take some chances and write multiple arrangements of the “Key Songs” in different styles with completely different musicians and singers to get a completely different and unique arrangement in order to showcase many styles of American Roots Music.
Jumpin Jack Benny Cortez
IPM: When did you decide to make it a two-disc album?
DJ: Once I started all the re-writing of arrangements, I selected target artists in mind for specific songs. I hadn’t actually approached them yet (let alone secured them to record), so it was a bit of a nail-biter because I didn’t have a back-up plan if they said no. The original demo songs were all created (and sung terribly by me) so the “target singer” could get a feel for what I wanted. Once they heard about the project and that I would like to showcase the fantastic musicians’ pool of San Gabriel Valley (and greater Los Angeles areas), surprisingly, they all said yes and we eventually had more songs than one CD could hold. I also knew the styles from all these genres were going to need to be separated and organized. I put “electric-contemporary” arrangements on Side 1 and placed all the “unplugged or native sounding songs” on Side 2 so the listener could feel a story when listening to the respective sides.
IPM: How did you choose and curate the musicians that appear on Americana Kitchen?
DJ: I have played on stage with most of them over the years. I used to belong to the House Band at a club in Covina called Katie Jake a few years back and I got an idea to do “theme shows” like an All-Motown Show featuring cover songs by all the best Motown greats. Ray Aguilar was my bass player and Mike Leasure (Walter Trout band) was my first drummer (then later came Bernard Pershey who did nine albums with Walter Trout before Mike joined Trout’s band).
I invited Francesca Capasso and Big Mike Vasquez for those shows and the couple others too like (British Invasion and Americana). Sammy Avila (Walter Trout/keyboards) and Johnny Main (44’s founder) sat in here or there because we always loved having our friends sit in when they were not on tour. It was a logical choice of musicians for Americana Kitchen because we’ve already played live together enough that I knew what I could rely on and I was 100% right. Benny and I played together a couple times and really liked playing his songs from his own local show but also some Rock n Roll. I have another edgier “Rock-Inspired CD project” for 2019 I have been talking about with Benny so stay tuned…
DJ: Give us a brief synopsis of your own musical background?
DJ: I started my formal musical training in San Jose, CA. at age nine as a concert drummer and percussionist, and eventually learned to play in concert bands in school that competed against other schools for performance medals. (I can still read and write drum chart music faster than I can for piano or guitar). I was then a drummer in the Junior High School Concert Band & Jazz Band. Next, I was a drummer in the High School Marching Band doing field shows at out our football games and parades. During that same time, I was also in a drummer in a popular hard rock “originals only” band playing parties in high school. In the rock band, I became dissatisfied with my guitar player’s songs and solo note selections so I picked up guitar at seventeen so I could play what I heard in my head. At nineteen, I attended San Jose City College in 1978 as a guitarist instead of as a drummer. While there, I was blown away by a fellow student (twelve years older than me) who was simply too good for the beginning jazz class. He showed me how to play melodic lines by Charlie Christian and some incredible Bebop & II, V, I riffs on guitar, piano, as well as saxophone! I became a fast fan and student of his and I’ve copied used those same licks for nearly forty years now. That student-friend was Chris Cain, who is now an international blues legend. I moved from San Jose in 1980 to Southern California and played around in several bands and eventually clubs (once I was old enough), learning as much as I could about sound recording with every piece of equipment I could afford. I started Junk Records in 1989 and have recorded many CD’s, over 128 TV commercials, a few radio jingles, and more recently I’m working on a sound track for a reality TV show and documentary to be released in the Fall of 2019. Finally, as a former Board of Directors for The Los Angeles Blues Society, I networked with as many of my session player friends and singers I know from Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, Kentucky, and Nashville to contribute to making Americana Kitchen’s debut CD called: “Come And Get It” (released in October of 2018).
IPM: Can you foresee doing any Americana Kitchen-themed live shows in the days ahead?
DJ: I have spoken with Francesca, Benny, Michael and Michelle Sanchez (who were all featured with multiple tracks on Americana Kitchen) and they are ready whenever I throw the switch to perform live. I will start seeking out the right musicians sometime after the first of the year (2019). So, I guess if I put my feelers out there for the appropriate players needed, yes, I can see doing a live show sometime in 2019.
IPM: What do you ultimately hope to accomplish with this project?
DJ: First and foremost, I wanted to showcase the tremendous talent pool in San Gabriel Valley and feature my friends who are the real stars on this album. Next, was an even larger goal and responsibility. I wanted to show our listeners and fans how important American Roots Music is to the world. We have more styles of music around the world in the last seventy years because of the enormous contribution and impact from Blues, Gospel, Jazz, Rock & Roll, Country, Pop, Bluegrass, and Funk music. These American Roots styles have impacted music everywhere but probably more in Europe than anywhere else in the world. European music prior to 1950, was traditionally Classical, Celtic and Folk Pop styles. The influence from American Roots Artists like Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, John Lee Hooker, James Brown, BB King, Elvis Presley gave British kids a new sound and direction. That new direction and influence, in turn, gave us The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds, Eric Clapton, Cream, Jeff Beck, and on and on. American Roots Music gets the “Biggest Spotlight” for me on the Americana Kitchen CD and it was a three-and-a-half-year labor of love for me. I am honored to submit my own songwriting, as my contribution to the album, to show the world how important Americana Music is and why we should all be proud of our American Musical Heritage.
IPM: You sing both the Blues and Roots/Americana tunes on Americana Kitchen. Given your background as a blues artist, was performing a different genre of music difficult for you?
FC: I work as a session singer and have been singing many different genres for years.! I was born and raised in Texas, so I was exposed to lots of good ole Americana music as a kid! My father was from New York but loved Texas and Country music! I grew up listening to Country artists. Tanya Tucker, Loretta Lynn, John Denver, Glen Campbell, Lynn Anderson, Charlie Pride, Dolly Parton, and Buck Owens on the radio! The TV show Hee Haw was a big influence on me! As a teenager I used to sit in with The Bob Reece Country Band in Houston!
IPM: What are your favorite tracks you performed on the album?
FC: I love them ALL! Danny Johnson wrote some great tunes! I think the one I love most is, “All Dressed Up.” It has that Classic Country sound that reminds me of my childhood and I really connected personally, with the lyric! Also, “Run little Red, which was SO fun to sing! I love the “adult” take on classic nursery rhyme characters!
IPM: You’re no stranger to Southern California music fans. Besides this project, what else have you been up to, musically-speaking, in the last few years?
FC: Currently I am gearing up to start performing again with The Scorch Sisters, my blues band with guitarist Kimberly Allison and singer, keyboardist Alicia Morgan. I also sing in Paris Escovedo and The Truth Band, which is a Latin/Jazz/Soul Band. As well as with Larry “Fuzzy” Knight’s Blowin’ Smoke Revue and The Fabulous Smokettes a Blues and R’N’B band which plays once a month at Harvelles in Santa Monica.
Jumpin Jack Benny Cortez
IPM: Did you know Danny Johnson prior to your involvement with the Americana Kitchen project?
JJBC: I met Danny Johnson a few years before the Americana Kitchen project took off; we were playing out live at many of the same shows, then, onstage together. Danny told me he had me in mind to do a few tracks on this great project. I welcomed the opportunity!
IPM: Who have been some of the primary musical influences on both your career, and style of playing the blues?
JJBC: Growing up as a young man there was music that I thought was really hot by artists such as The Isley Bros., Jackie Wilson, James Brown, Sam Cooke, and of course, The Motown Sound. As of late, I sure loved (guitarists) Stevie Ray Vaughn, Koko Taylor, Albert King, Freddie King, Albert Collins, and on harmonica, Paul Butterfield and Mark Ford.
IPM: You’re a respected veteran of the Southern California blues/music community. What changes, for better or worse, have you seen take place throughout the last decade in the SoCal music scene?
JJBC: I’ve seen the Blues go from very hot to lukewarm…not too many blues clubs to go to anymore. We need a fresh outlook on this style of music, (musicians need to) bring a new Blues sound and showmanship when performing live, and that’s what I bring! It will, I believe, open more doors to this style of music and a greater audience.
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