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 albumsDuval 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 Vernons
supposed offspring, Celeste (the subject of his 2014 CD). Continuing
the ongoing saga of Vernon McAllister, now theres two new people
that have come out of Richards vivid imaginationDuval
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 Friths 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 its 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
presents an interview with
RICHARD LEO JOHNSON
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? Its
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
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 Vernons 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
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.
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
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
it was a joy.
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
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
it is an inherently intrinsic relationship
has been from early on. Oh and yes
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 Duvals 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?
Leo Johnson: No not really
I just find it fascinating to
follow the elements of my invented characters and see where it takes
I love doing research about the time and place where the
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 1930s
era Ragtime to Harry Partch influenced experimental instrumental sounds.
Is that how would you describe it? Its so unique yet theres
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
Disc 2, Roscoe Houndstooths Listen To The Sky CD is a
relatively new album and for me is the most amazing sounding thing
youve done yet. How did you arrive with the idea to combine
the 1980s 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 1960s and was sold with a case,
with an amplifier built into the case. I dreamed of one when I was
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
I am pretty much finished with that and on to other
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 1980s multi band
radio special in your opinion?
Leo Johnson: I wasnt aware of the interest in vintage radios
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? Wasnt 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
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 theres 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 cant
make up his mind where he fits into the scheme of things!!
guitar has become less and less of an anchor point to my work. I think
any instrument, regardless of ones mastery of that instrument,
could serve as a catalyst for artistic expression.
mwe3: Can you cite any guitarists doing something / anything
similar to what youre doing today? Youve 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 dont
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?
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.