RICHARD LEO JOHNSON
Duval Rey – Same Place New Day
Roscoe Houndstooth – Listen To The Sky

(Soft Science Records)

 

In 2013 guitarist Richard Leo Johnson released his Celeste album to great acclaim. Taking a completely different tact, Richard is back in 2015 with a double CD set which features two completely different albums—Duval Rey – Same Place New Day and Roscoe Houndstooth – Listen To The Sky. As he has done before, Richard Leo Johnson has applied different pseudonyms on his albums, highlighting names such as Vernon McAlister and Vernon’s supposed offspring, Celeste (the subject of his 2014 CD). Continuing the ongoing saga of Vernon McAllister, now there’s two new people that have come out of Richard’s vivid imagination—Duval Rey and Roscoe Houndstooth. Calling Richard's music adventurous would be an understatement, as both of these CDs encapsulate a wildly inventive, near avant garde sound and a form of music that ranges from the amusing to the completely disconcerting. Commenting on the ongoing saga of Vernon, Richard tells mwe3, "Thanks to folks like you the story and saga of Vernon is staying alive… the most recent release of Duval and Roscoe is a healthy dose of extremes. I felt like the juxtaposition of the two characters and recordings helps to bookend my broad sonic interests. All of the subsequent recordings came after Vernon, who was a springboard and a catalyst, for the other characters and their music." The enclosed CD booklet and accompanying artwork goes to lengths to provide insights into Richard's two mythological subjects. The closest thing I can think of when describing both the Roscoe and Duval CDs would be to compare it to Fred Frith’s wild guitaresque instrumentals and even Harry Partch, the avant gard American neoclassical composer of the 1950s and ‘60s. Just the list of all the instruments Richard plays on both of these CDs is quite interesting and even hysterical too! The Duval Rey CD was actually recorded in 2009 while the Roscoe Houndstooth CD was recorded in the Fall of 2014, so it’s the more recent of the two CDs. Fans of Richard Leo Johnson and his multi, guitar-centric personalities will love the adventurous spirit of this strange and wonderful double CD set. www.DuvalReyOneManBand.com / www.RoscoeHoundstooth.com

 

 


 

 

mwe3.com presents an interview with
RICHARD LEO JOHNSON


mwe3
: How do you feel that your new double CD set Duval Rey – Same Place New Day and Roscoe Houndstooth – Listen To The Sky reflects two distinct sides of your musical personality? It’s quite intriguing, in the CD liner notes, to find out that both Duval and Roscoe are connected to Vernon McAlister. In fact, all the characters on your albums, Charlie Shoe and Celeste, and now Roscoe and Duval, are connected to Vernon. Vernon has become a hero in the guitar world these past few years!

Richard Leo Johnson: Thanks to folks like you the story and saga of Vernon is staying alive… the most recent release of Duval and Roscoe is a healthy dose of extremes. I felt like the juxtaposition of the two characters and recordings helps to bookend my broad sonic interests. All of the subsequent recordings came after Vernon, who was a springboard and a catalyst, for the other characters and their music.

mwe3: Are the musical characters mentioned in your albums sometimes autobiographical? I guess it all started with your album The Legend Of Vernon McAlister… With these new albums from Duval Rey and Roscoe Houndstooth is Vernon’s story near complete or will there be new chapters yet to emerge? Did you tell us what ultimately became of Vernon?

Richard Leo Johnson: My obsession with the guitar started very early on…when I was about 10-12. Eventually I got recognition and grabbed the tail of the donkey… My constant touring and the accolades, presented me with the ultimate dilemma - my personal life with family and the attention I received as well as a vehicle to pursue my exploration of the guitar. In a weird way, Vernon and his obsession serve as a metaphor for that period of my life.

The Vernon saga is complete…He went with the lawyer (Roscoe story) to live in a commune in Oregon. He lost his prized guitar at a hobo camp and decided to cast all things aside and live in complete obscurity.

mwe3: On Same Place New Day, the Duval Rey half of the set, you play a 1936 4 string banjo and prepared guitars among other instruments. Tell us about that banjo and how you added prepared guitars, concertina and something called “Akonting” on the track? And what was it like working with co-producer Greg Ward on the Duval Rey CD?

Richard Leo Johnson: I found a 1930s tenor banjo on ebay and snatched it up… the name on the headstock is “Bruno”. It is an open back and has a wonderful, hypnotic tone.

I created a series of tunings for the record, as usual… Typically the tenor banjo is played with a plectrum, but I found it more comfortable to use my fingers.

The other sounds are from bowed guitars, an old lard bucket, concertina and others things.

The Akonting was a gift from a friend, it is a homemade version of the original fretless cousin of the banjo from Africa.

I love working with Greg…he helped me record and engineer Who Knew Charlie Shoe as well. We spent many hours mixing Duval Rey… it was a joy.

mwe3: The artwork of the double Duval Rey / Roscoe Houndstooth CD is very unique to say the least. Where did you get the “Mo Beauty” picture that is featured on the Duval Rey half of the CD set? That is strange indeed. How much of your role as a photographer crosses over into your album releases? Would you say that your eclectic approach as a photographer goes hand in hand with your equally eclectic musical output? You always seem to be inspired by the paranormal!

Richard Leo Johnson: The cover portraits were done by my friend and amazing artist Michael Hafftka. The photo of the “Mo Beauty” sign and the St. Charles photo on the inside of the jacket, were done by another friend, Charles Franklin. He has lived in New Orleans for many years.

Lastly, the other inside jacket photo of the light streaks and the mountain landscape, was done by an old friend who lives in Boulder Colorado. I do have to say there is no separating my interest in photography and music… it is an inherently intrinsic relationship… and has been from early on. Oh and yes… Paranormal!

mwe3: Same Place New Day was recorded way back in the spring of 2009, when everything was kind of raw. You put “That World” from the past (in the booklet) saying Duval’s album was made on September 27, 1962 - which I took to mean that you imagined or wished it was. Do you look back at music as representing period pieces in your life?

Richard Leo Johnson: No not really… I just find it fascinating to follow the elements of my invented characters and see where it takes me… I love doing research about the time and place where the events occurred… so to speak!

mwe3: I thought the Duval Rey - Same Place New Day album had so many different genres of music on it - everything from 1930’s era Ragtime to Harry Partch influenced experimental instrumental sounds. Is that how would you describe it? It’s so unique yet there’s a kind of déjà vu vibe too!

Richard Leo Johnson: You nailed it… My Dad was a big fan of New Orleans music and played it at home all the time. I think in some ways I just assimilated the music and allocated the influence to some place in my subconscious. Harry Partch was introduced to me much later on, but has been in my head for many years…

mwe3: Disc 2, Roscoe Houndstooth’s Listen To The Sky CD is a relatively new album and for me is the most amazing sounding thing you’ve done yet. How did you arrive with the idea to combine the 1980’s multi-band radio with the vintage Silvertone electric guitar and what kind of devices did you use to process all of this music? What else can you tell us about the Silvertone guitar and how vintage is it?

Richard Leo Johnson: The story of how Roscoe was introduced to the guitar and his resulting fascination, lends itself to the mixing of the radio and the guitar itself, in a seamless way.

The sounds on the recording are really just those two things. The Silvertone is from the early 1960’s and was sold with a case, with an amplifier built into the case. I dreamed of one when I was a kid… now I have one.

mwe3: Can you contrast playing the Silvertone on the Roscoe Houndstooth album to working with the Martin Theremin guitar you used on the Celeste CD from 2014? What became of the Theremin guitar and would you consider using it again at some point?

Richard Leo Johnson: The Martin guitar is back in the collections department… I am pretty much finished with that and on to other things.

I became very fond of the Theremin. I have a stand alone Theremin and will probably use it for future projects…

mwe3: Are radios making a comeback? I was always amazed by the inter band noises you could get from them. How much of sound of Listen To The Sky CD are the radio sounds and how did you get the sounds off the radio? Also what makes the 1980’s multi band radio special in your opinion?

Richard Leo Johnson: I wasn’t aware of the interest in vintage radios…just thought it would fit with the recording. I just fell in love with the pulses and frequencies in the crazy higher bandwidth…

mwe3: Tell us about working with Gabe Herman and what did Gabe bring to the Roscoe Houndstooth album sessions? Wasn’t Gabe also involved in writing the story lines for these albums and how did you meet him in the first place?

Richard Leo Johnson: I jokingly refer to Gabe as my 5th Beatle! He has been patient and insightful on several projects for me. He helped turn The Legend Of Vernon McAlister, Charlie Shoe and Celeste into listenable, accessible and well-balanced listening experiences.

mwe3: I like a description I read about you on Amazon.com calling you a cross between Harry Partch and John Fahey which I thought was interesting. I think Harry would like Roscoe Houndstooth probably more than John Fahey! Do you feel there’s enough “guitar” on your two new albums to please early fans?

Richard Leo Johnson: That is really funny… I kind of think of Harry and John as perfect role models for someone who can’t make up his mind where he fits into the scheme of things!!

The guitar has become less and less of an anchor point to my work. I think any instrument, regardless of one’s mastery of that instrument, could serve as a catalyst for artistic expression.

mwe3: Can you cite any guitarists doing something / anything similar to what you’re doing today? You’ve taken so many musical chances, have broken the rules and succeeded in reinventing yourself with each new album. Would you say that you were always happy breaking the musical rules and in doing so coming up with a whole new set of musical rules?

Richard Leo Johnson: No… not really. I honestly don’t keep up much with what others are doing… not to be dismissive or snobby but I am sincerely interested in so many other areas of artistic expression, which the guitar and guitarist are on the periphery of my interest.
Rules are not a significant aspect of my vernacular (lol).. as revealed in my catalogue of recordings.

mwe3: How about looking ahead to new projects in the coming year? Can you fill us in on any future plans or projects you might be considering or already have in the works relating to guitars, music, videos, soundtracks, box sets or compilations, photography and more?

Richard Leo Johnson: Well, I just bought a Koto, so that is shaping up to be real fun project. Expect that will be done by this time next year. I am always looking for opportunities for collaborations with film and television… love the marriage of the mediums.

A box set of the “Vernon McAlister” influences would be a dream of mine… having everything in one place for listeners to experience, might really drive the story home.



 

 
   
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