Posts Tagged ‘Damage’

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Just Sitting Here Missing Michael

January 23, 2012

On Wednesday January 25 it will be three years since many of us here in north-central Ohio lost a good friend, who also happened to be perhaps the most natural-born talented bass player ever. Michael Ervin Johnson, only 48, passed on thanks to heart failure.

Still pisses me off.
 
Back in the 70’s Michael first picked up a bass and was a natural, instantly. He could listen to a tune once and play the bass lines perfectly. Many musicians back in the day remarked how proficient, how effortlessly, how quick to adapt and learn songs he was. A truly gifted musician. And although he didn’t do it often enough, Michael was one hell of a singer, a talent that he shared with his family.

Michael played in a number of bands in the 70’s in our little region of Ohio. He was also a ready substitute and fill in for various bands and while he shown brightly as a full time member of assorted bands and permutations he probably had the most fun and most recognition as a founding member of Damage, a hard rock band out of Wayne County (primarily Orrville & Wooster musicians) that built a solid and popular reputation during the latter years of the 70’s throughout the Wayne County – Canton – Akron – Mansfield region.

In Damage Michael, a black man, played the heaviest, funkiest, sweatiest, crunchiest rock ‘n roll bass riffs around. He was untouchable, as numerous musicians have stated over the years. Talented, gifted, he could play any style of music proficiently, whether it was rock ‘n roll, R & B, funk, soul, gospel, you name it, if Michael liked it, he could play it. He was the USA answer to Phil Lynott of Thin Lizzy.

In Damage Michael was often times ‘the show’. Meaning, if the vibe wasn’t quite right, if the crowd was moody or cranky, Michael would slap the crap out of that bass even more and start working his ‘moves’ on stage that nearly always got the crowd in a more festive, and dancing, mood.  Yes, Michael knew all about ‘the show’ part of show business and the others did their best to emulate him.

                                          DAMAGE taking no prisoners!

Besides Michael, who also contributed back up vocals, Damage consisted of Jerry Kirven and Mark Good on guitars, drummer Tom ‘Bones’ Morrison and singer Rick Thistlethwaite. Rick Gidley joined the band as the light & sound tech (and many other duties).

Beyond the music, just as a person, Michael Johnson was one hell of a good guy. Have so many good and fun memories of him from back in the day, through high school and just beyond a bit. Michael was cool in a variety of ways, chief among his ‘cools’ was he never showed any pressure, anxiety or worry. He was cool, calm & collected.

And funny as hell!

Damn, we had some good times. (And no, I’m not going to share them with you. Unless you were with us at the time! Since the whole band was involved, I may tell the story of the $2,000 bar tab sometime….)

I’ve lost quite a number of friends over the years and it will likely continue, but sitting here tonight planning my week, it just hit me why January 25 was significant. Michael! Too young.

This website owner (far right), Michael & Castle Theatre manager watch Rick Gidley do all the heavy lifting prior to a gig at the Castle Theatre.

I remember going to the services for Michael and the place was absolutely packed, wall to wall people, standing room only! I had to smile. Of course, everyone loved Michael! The hardest part was watching his family, his siblings, send him off. The wonderful Bishop Lottie Smith handled the services with his brother Rev. Jimmy Johnson reading scriptures while his brother Rufus sang. Oh yeah, can Rufus ever sing. Ask around. As good as Michael was on a bass, Rufus is that good with his voice. Another generation of pure talent who performed was Michael’s niece, Tiffany Johnson.

And of course sister Ruth, a friend from high school, was there to comfort their Mother, Mrs. Gertrude Johnson-Howard, a precious, sweet lady who, over the years, never knew a stranger and welcomed any stray (like myself) who wandered into their home with one of her kids. A beautiful lady (and who graciously sent me one of the sweetiest, most cherished letters afterwards).

Michael left behind his wife, Pamela, and children Erica Johnson, Nathan & Nikolas Johnson. And lots and lots of memories that hundreds of people who knew him will not likely forget.

How good was Michael Johnson as a bass player? No less than Kim Simmonds, legendary lead guitarist of the British Blues Band, Savoy Brown, once commented about Michael after watching him perform with Damage: “Why the hell isn’t he in the big time? He’s amazing! That kid can go far, he feels the music. He’s bloody damn well good, he is.”


Yeah, Michael was that good.

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SOILY/JOHNNY MIRAGE: Ohio 70’s Bands

July 1, 2010

Mike Sommers

Back in the 1970’s Wayne County, Ohio in general, and Orrville specifically, had an abundance of talented musicians and bands and one of the more memorable groupings was a band called Soily, who soon evolved into Johnny Mirage. Both entities were basically the same musicians and their gigs were very memorable although unfortunately both incarnations didn’t last as long as one would have hoped.

One mainstay in both bands was guitarist Mike Sommers. Sommers was one of the most talented axemen to play back in the day (and still is) and the first time I recall meeting Mike, sometime in the summer of 1972, he had his guitar in hand playing some wicked, right-on Santana licks.

“My first guitar was at age 10 (1964) after being inspired by the Beatles on Ed Sullivan,” recalled Sommers recently. “Played with Bruce Saurer in the south end of Orrville eventually after a junior high band with Bobby Good on drums, Denny Dalessandro on the other guitar with Bob Amstutz on bass, called the KATZ (1967). We played Gloria and Wipeout…that’s it!”

Then the Cavemen (1968) with Mike Wagner on drums and Randy Yoder on bass, that only lasted two weeks. Got my first official lesson from senior Mark Roup in 9th grade while working at KC’s (Rootbeer Stand).”

“Acoustically and vocally inspired by Johnny Cash and Bob Dylan, I finally landed on Arlo Guthrie and played the Orrville High School talent shows with great success.  Bruce and I played Down By The River after my version of Coming Into Los Angeles our junior year (1971) and were disqualified for saying the word ‘marijuana’, to open the song like they did on the Woodstock album.  Then our senior year (1972), we were disqualified for volume with Dave Evans singing a Uriah Heap song for us!”

“Then Bruce and I moved to Columbus for a few months in ‘73 after my return from KSU on daddy’s dime with a terrible grade card but many, many memories. The concerts and the weed!”

Around 1974 Sommers and a few others got together and Soily was born.

“Soily began slightly after the Band On The Run album was released and I got a hold of a songbook of same name and took it to Rick Thistlethwaite’s apartment behind Buehler’s.  We jokingly recorded all the songs with friends singing and me alone strumming guitar. This is what developed into Soily which was an actual title of a Wings song at the time that Rick loved. We completed the cast with Billy Forrer on bass, Bobby Wenger on drums and Jeff Osborne on guitar. We only played a few private parties until the team was reshuffled into another lineup with Dave Stephens replacing Osborne on guitar.”

Sommers also squeezed in additional gigs with another band at that time.

“In ‘75, Daimon, the band featuring friends Bruce Saurer and Scott Daniels, was also reshuffling their lineup and I was asked to learn 37 songs in 2 weeks for a gig at the Hitching Post as their next second guitar man. I jumped at the chance and played with both bands for a while until eventually let go by the Daimon club who decided to downsize and take to the road!”

“Soily then replaced Dave Stevens with Steve Hanna on guitar and Bones Morrison on drums! Off we were again conquering local watering holes like Tally’s in Navarre, the Hitching Post in Creston, the Castle in Millersburg and many private parties which included Mary McGrew’s class’s After Prom at OHS!”

Bass player BILL FORRER

One interesting gig happened in June 1977 when myself and Rick Gidley rented the Sportsman Club and held a ‘party’ for my brother who was graduating from Orrville High School and all his friends. Actually, I think we let all 1977 OHS graduates in free and charged $2 at the door for everyone else (we had to pay the rent, band and buy beer you know!).

Regardless, Soily was smoking that night and had the huge crowd rocking! We even had the honor of Wayne County Sheriff Deputies and other law enforcement officials make an appearance.

“I do remember the party at the Sportsmen’s Cabin when the fuzz showed up and demanded that we cease before all the underage folks were hauled away. It actually hit the Daily Record and we had the article proudly on display at the time clock at the Orrville Post Office where I worked at the time. I challenge you to find that article, Doc!”

(Challenge accepted & met: see below! Click to enlarge)

 

What happened was the noise level got a bit too loud and with a H-U-G-E crowd the law showed up to try and quiet things down.. However, we had good ‘ol Bug Jones manning the door collecting the $2 entrance fee and when the Deputies showed up Bug tried to collect $2 from each of them before he would allow them entrance. They didn’t see the humor in Bug’s demand, and Bug Jones being Bug Jones, well……The article speaks for itself.

One memory of that incident was once they put Bug in the back of the Deputy’s car I went to the other side and let him out. As he was sneaking off to the woods another deputy stopped him, handcuffed him this time, and put him back in the cruiser.  Hey, I tried!

About 3:00 Am we bailed him out!
“Hanna was eventually replaced with Barry Jenkins on guitar and we morphed into Johnny Mirage.  Bones actually came up with the name in an early morning card game where he had exceptional luck and boasted, “Don’t F**K with Johnny Mirage! It stuck and although none of us were actually Johnny Mirage, Johnny Mirage did actually exist as the whole of our players!   The name just rocked!”
”I loved playing with those guys and was always having a great time until finally we fired Barry Jenkins. We tried to put things back together with Mark Good but I became too cranky to try to do it all over again and left the band in ‘77.  I sat in a few times at Groucho’s with the new lineup, now featuring Jerry Kervin and Mike Johnson.

This line-up/incarnation became Damage. (For more on Damage CLICK HERE).

“Rick (Thistlethwaite) did an incredible Jagger and Bones always pumped out a great solo during the Johnny Mirage gigs. Both of them were a thrill to play with and they really got the crowd rockin’! Favorite tunes from back then were all Stones, Tie Your Mother Down and White Punks On Dope along with the Jailbreak/Tush/Let Me Roll It staples of our day!”

“The Castle was a great place to play and I took Bones on the ride of his life home one night from there in the black ‘78 Special Edition Trans Am (BANDIT STYLE) and he swears we were airborne most of the way!”

Another Johnny Mirage gig that Sommers fondly remembers was a night at the Hitchin’ Post in Creston, OH when the place was jam packed and a group of us from Orrville we politely asked by the local law enforcement to leave town and never return. About ten of us barely made it out of town without being arrested.

“I got busted with an open container of beer loading equipment in the back alley the night all you guys were thrown out of Creston but was taken to jail across the street and somehow escaped, never to return, in that band anyway! No charges filed and no beer spilt!”

“Loved playing the Hitching Post in Creston with the stage actually in the balcony over the bar with Daimon but was a real bitch getting Scott’s 400 pound Hammond B3 Organ up those stairs.”

“Then Mouse (Roger Greegor), Ed Marthey, Dave Morrison, Steve Barkey and Danny Saurers came calling and we were soon putting together the Winged Spaniel Threat which became CONTRABAND.”

Sommers is quick to admit that the Orrville, Ohio area back in the late 60’s & 70’s had an abundance of talented musicians.  “I always admired Chris Conway and Jack Schantz as local jazz experts and have recorded with both over the years,” related Sommers. “They are quite exceptional players!”

I always really respected the Conway/Schantz/Greegor jazz legends trained by Perry Hosmer and was actually asked by Perry to join that troupe at OHS just before they went to Europe but I could not read music. I just felt it and didn’t think I would fit in with those younger guys , who were a year younger (laughs)!”

“So I have always been very, very jealous of those guys including Danny & Bernie & Marthey of that era that learned the right way, opposed to playing by ear, like me, or by heart!”

Since those Soily/Johnny Mirage days Sommers kept jamming.

”A few years in a row at the park for the July 4th gig with Eric Tipton, Scott Daniels, Bones, Jimmy Williams and The Barkey Brothers on saxes for a Blues Brother style band called the BluesBusters. The Theatrical lounge was a favorite place of ours back then!”

“Then finally an all Beatles band called the Traveling Pillsburys for the July 4th gig one year only. Then just about four Christmases in a row at Jerry’s with Gary Bays from Wayne College and Scottie Daniels on keys for a 3 piece-oldies show.”

“Now just many memories!”
These days?
”Now fat & sassy with two new Gibsons from the Tennessee shop bought five years ago on vacation!”

NOTE: If anyone has any SOILY or JOHNNY MIRAGE photos, or photos from any Orrville or Wayne County bands from the 60’s or 70’s please email them and we’ll post ‘em!

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My Last Rock Concert Promotion

February 14, 2008

Way back in the early to mid-1970’s local and regional bands were plentiful here in north central and northeast Ohio as were the venues for them to ply their trades. Having known about such successful and famed concert promoters like Bill (Fillmore) Graham and others the thought would come across my mind (and some of my buddies) that it would be a cool way to make money.

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Hell, the Belkin brothers with their Belkin Productions were getting rich in the Cleveland-Akron area.

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My first experience in ‘promoting’ a ‘concert’ was very, very basic. In the spring of 1977 as my kid brother and then-girlfriend were about to graduate I thought a celebration would be in order. Enlisting the help of my pal Rick G. we rented out the Sportsman Club that is located several miles outside of town, hired a local band (named ‘Soily’) and proceeded to sell tickets for the graduation ‘party’.

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It was a hit!

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The people turned out in big numbers and hell, we paid the band more than they ever received and we even had money left over after the rent was paid. Of course we took our profits from that night and sent someone on a beer run and spent the few hundred we made buying beer for everyone but hey, it was fun and it could work.

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We did a couple more ‘shows’ at the Sportsman Club until one night when the Sheriff’s Department showed up to tell us to turn it down. The one ‘mistake’ we made was having good friend Bug Jones, already fairly liquored up, work the door to take everyone’s $2.00 admission. When the deputies showed up Bug refused admission until they each paid $2.00 and needless to say, it took some real talking and sweating from me to get them to take off the cuffs and let Bug go.

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They did.

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After that on one or two occasions myself and others would rent a farmer’s field (or just show up unannounced) and bring in a couple bands and party all night for a small fee from everyone. We could always get the best bands from a two or three county area (there were a lot of bands back then) and have our own mini-Woodstock for a weekend.

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The last concert I was involved in took place at Wayne County Speedway in Orrville, OH. A couple years prior someone rented the track and held a concert and it flopped due to the concert promoters acting like the Gestapo and…gasp…not allowing anyone to bring in beer! People were pissed for a long time over that deal and maybe we should have re-thought the location but myself, my kid brother and a fellow named Doug M., from Wooster, calling our ‘company’ Stone Valley Productions, plowed ahead and hired a ‘big name’ band for the show, Savoy Brown.

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Now Savoy Brown was and is an awesome band.

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Fronted by the great Kim Simmonds the British band started in the mid-1960’s as an excellent blues-rock band and over the years various members went on to other things, including three of the four founding members of Foghat (yep, ‘ol Lonesome Dave, God rest his soul, was part of Savoy Brown). I had nearly all of their records and they had name recognition.

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The details are too fuzzy to remember but at the time for several months there was some type of legal wrangling going on with Simmonds and either management or his record company and when we were about to start advertising the concert we were informed that we had to use the name Kim Simmons Band instead of Savoy Brown, although we could use the term: Formerly Savoy Brown in the advertising.

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So we went ahead, did all the work, took care of a million logistics and finally had the concert on September 1, 1979 at Wayne County Speedway.

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We hauled in two semi-truck trailers for a stage, brought in Rodney Ray as security (he did a fine job!) and had us a concert with a big name star.

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We had a pretty decent crowd although we lost a few bucks due to two of our ticket takers stealing us blind (we still remember their names!) but what a weekend! I had never been so exhausted and wore out as the three days of non-stop work and no-sleep kicked my ass.

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But it was fun!

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And Kim Simmonds was one bad ass on that guitar. What a show! He was simply amazing and put on an hour and a half show that rocked the speedway and everyone there. He also had one hell of a crew of roadies and if I didn’t have kids and grandkids I’d write more about them but I don’t want to ‘admit’ anything.

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Simmonds was amazing. He could rock your ass off and lay down some of the thickest, coolest blues licks you could ever hope to hear. And what he did to that guitar with that bottle of beer….what a show!

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We brought in two of the better local bands to play support. One was called Broke and they were very professional. I don’t remember any members of Broke other than band leader Craig Walton who was one of the most gifted and talented guitarists to come out of Wayne County.

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The band Damage was a great hard rock band that I spent time with. They had a great following and all of the members knew their stuff.

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Damage consisted of guitarists Jerry Kirven and Mark Good, drummer Tom ‘Bones’ Morrison, bassist Michael Johnson and singer Rick Thistlethwaite. These guys were always damn good and Simmonds even expressed positive comments on them, especially the talent and potential of bass player Michael Johnson. (Simmonds commented that Johnson in particular could go to the ‘big time’.)

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I’ll never forget how exhausting that weekend was when I finally made it home to my apartment. After a shower and a cup of coffee I could barely move. But what a blast!

 

 

 

 

We thought about doing another concert and had even gotten a contract from the book agency that represented some new band called The Cars. Now there was an idea: have a concert with he Cars at the speedway! A natural. But life, wives, babies and everything else took precedence and that show never got passed the preliminary planning stages.

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A couple years ago I made contact with Kim Simmonds and it was pretty cool that he remembered that gig at the speedway.

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We even had T-Shirts made up and my brother still has one or two left. Unfortunately I never got any photos from that day and one girl who was taking photos, Pam W., I haven’t seen since then. Would be great if she still had those photos and I could find her!

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(You can find more about Kim Simmonds/Savoy Brown by visiting: http://www.savoybrown.com)

 

Below is a copy of the flyer/poster that we used. (I made up the poster/flyers by using those infernal rub-off lettering you could find in office supply stores. This was made one-letter-at-a-time! Remember, this was before the age of computers!)

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Welcome To The Club

February 14, 2008

Welcome to my time traveling adventures.

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