Johnny Morse – Around the Block
Written by Liam Sweeny on January 9, 2019
Johnny Morse is a rocker’s rocker. There isn’t a bar or roadhouse in the Capital Region he hasn’t been kicked out of (or wish he had.) A fiery left-hand and the charm of an alley cat, Johnny mixes the vibes of Stevie Ray and Tom Waits, with a little overdrive and a lot of moxie.
I met Johnny a long time ago and have been following his career through the osmosis of social media. Through the ups and downs, twists and turns, accolades and long weeks, Johnny’s kept his cool on life’s little hotplate.
I sit down with Johnny and we shoot the shit about life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
RRX: Johnny, you’ve been out a lot, asses kicked, names taken. You probably have a story about yourself and every musician we’ve had on here. When you first started out learning how to play, did you ever imagine that you’d still be playing now? And what do you think you would’ve been if you’d never picked up a guitar?
JM: I grew up in the projects of Cohoes, Always had a guitar, as long as I can remember. I never took a lesson and still have no clue what I am doing. I just try to play from the heart and with some passion. I will always be playing in some way.
RRX: You’re a fierce and fast player. I remember being shit-scared to have to jam with you at an open mic night one when I first met you, Kielty’s Emerald Isle in Waterford, I think. Who were your guitar heroes, growing up? Who were they when you were picking up your chops? And who were the ones who played different instruments?
JM: I’ve always been a fan of Jimi Hendrix, of course, and actually, Jose Feleciano was an early fave and Chuck Berry, Rory Gallagher, and a few of my idols I got to do shows with, like Robin Trower, Pat Travers, Micheal Schenker, etc.
RRX: I’ve heard you live more times than I can count, but I think I’ve only sampled bands like Starstruck and the John Morse Band on digital. What are your feelings about going into the studio and laying down tracks, putting out albums?
JM: I am looking to get in the studio in the coming year to do some new original music, and I’m also looking to resurrect Starstruck with some new members.
RRX: I think there are differences in the outlook between someone who plays every couple of months in a band and someone who books out multiple nights a week. You’ve been both over the years. If you had to pick doing a big show every three months or ‘working the circuit,’ which one would you pick, and why?
JM: The so-called ‘circuit’ is nothing like what it was back in the day. I used to play 6-7 nights a week. Now, I’m lucky to do that many a month. All the cool clubs from my day are long gone and people just don’t go out like they used to.
RRX: I know that you had, and maybe you still do, an impressive guitar collection. What are some of the treasures one would find in your house? Are there any six-stringed lost loves you’ve had to part with that you’re looking to snap up should you ever find them again?
JM: I got rid of a few guitars. I had a nice Korina Flying V signed by Pat Travers that I sold cheap to Himer T Morgan. I think I am down to about 13 guitars my PRS custom is my main guitar and its beat to shit. I don’t really play guitar; I just kind of beat them into submission somehow, so my guitars are beat up. I’ve got a couple of Strats, Les Pauls and an old Ibanez semi-hollow body I’ve had forever.
RRX: Your birthday bashes are legendary, and there’s one coming up April 13th at Chrome in Waterford. And Chrome has turned out to be a great venue for local music. What can people expect at your birthday bash this year?
JM: Yes, the Birthday Bash is always a blast, coming up again. Hopefully I will make it (hahaha.) April 13th, Chrome Food and Spirits. I am still working on the line up. So far I have the Collectors, a great acoustic duo, and also The Great Tom Atkins Band, working on a couple more. I also do my set, called Johnny’s Guitar Army, which is my band with a bunch of guitar guests. I’m still working on that line up, but it’s always a blast. We just get up and wing it an wail. It’s like a low-grade Generation Axe, only cheaper to see and none of us are Steve Vai or Yngwie (haha.)
RRX: I’ve mentioned the past a bit, but you’re still out here rocking houses. Is there anyone on the radio today, or someone you play with, that’s bringing something new to the blues/rock scene?
JM: I really don’t listen to new music much, still stuck in that past and discovering things there. There are some great upcoming bands out there. I saw the Marcus King Band a few weeks ago, very good. That Greta Van Fleet seem to have the spirit, if they can find their own voice and get a little away from the Zep’-clone stuff. There’s a twelve-year-old kid called Toby Lee who seems like he’s gonna do some great things. The young kids shredding on the internet are amazing but to me that just sounds like a bunch of mosquitos after a while. I am old, like, playing with feeling, not how many notes ya can rip, ya know, like BB King or Stevie Ray, not a big fan of the Yngwie stuff though. I do admire what he does, just not my bag. I just saw the Generation Axe show and it was amazing, but I think I went for a smoke during Ywngie’s set.