Johnny Clifford (and His Fans) are Happy
Written by Stephanie Bartik on October 22, 2019
Johnny Clifford is well-known in the area. He has ties in the Queensbury and Hudson Falls area, as well as Saratoga and Troy. He has been referred to as ‘that Tom Petty Dude’ and rightfully so. If you have ever caught The BrokenHearted- Tom Petty Tribute Band, you will understand why. When people speak of tribute artists, they usually say something like, “If you close your eyes, you can almost see the star”, but in Johnny’s’ case, you open your eyes and it is as if you were standing in front of Tom himself. Johnny has been very busy this summer, belting out the Petty tunes all over the capital region. His fan base is growing in leaps and bounds, packing venues with excited fans.
But this isn’t about the Tom Petty Dude, this is about Johnny Clifford. The real man.
It was after his first concert trying out his original songs that I got a chance to sit and talk with him about his first CD release of his songs. We’re meeting for a cup of coffee after his show- I wanted to hear more about the “Johnny Clifford” story. What brought him to the CD release? Where it all began and how he got to this moment .
As he walks in, heads turn. Johnny has a very relaxed way about him- friendly, smiling, and down to earth.
After he greeted some well wishers, we sipped our coffee and I began my questions:
RRX: What drew you to the music industry?
JC: My Dad was a fabulous jazz piano player, so there was his playing and he had all the great jazz records of the 50s. But what got me was seeing the Beatles on Ed Sullivan. Watching John Lennon with the Rickenbacker guitar and all those screaming fans was all I needed to see.
RRX: Who are you inspired by?
JC: For the most part late ‘60s and early ‘70s pop rock. I loved the Partridge Family and The Monkees. It was all about singles in those days, so there were a lot of one hit wonders. But that’s what I liked. It took a while for me to into groups like Led Zeppelin and the Stones. But when I did, I became a big Doobie Brothers as well as a Rolling Stones fan.
RRX: You have kept your toes in the music business for quite some time- why now? As in why are you releasing this CD at this point, and not before?
JC: I always wanted to do an album. But I felt if I was going to do one I’d like to have a reason for it. I also thought it would be nice to get into a recording studio and put a bunch on songs down that I have not recorded yet.
One day, Jonathan Newell from The Strand, in Hudson Falls, asked me if I wanted to be part of their Monday Coffee Shop Concert series. I jumped at the chance but didn’t want to play what I usually play so I thought maybe I’d do originals. But it would be a lot better if I had an album to release. I said, “I’m going to do the album now”. I already had the songs recorded and within two weeks I had the CDs in hand.
RRX: How long has this project been in the works?
JC: It’s my first CD/Album, so really I’ve been planning this my whole life. Right from the very beginning when I was first teaching myself guitar, I wrote a song. I only knew parts of two chords but that’s rock & roll for ya. I’ve always intended to do albums, whether it was a band or just myself. Unfortunately it never worked out that way. Until now. So I got some friends together who helped me and within a week my new CD was ordered.
RRX: Briefly, what is your creative process?
JC: Well, I don’t do briefly but that’s a great question. And I’d like to hear other songwriter’s answer to that. For me, they start as a thought. Often when I’m driving or doing some other idle task. Usually it starts with a vocal line and hopefully some musical context. It doesn’t take much. This next part will sound weird but. then I sit with my guitar and wait for it to come to me. I don’t so much “write” as I “write down” what flows out of the initial thought. I don’t try to force lyrics or musical parts. I just hope they come. Good songs don’t take long either. Some have been written in a very short amount of time. If it doesn’t come to me fairly quickly they tend to not get completed. I have catalogs of parts of songs that have no hope of being completed. I should hand them over to another writer, see if they can get something out of them.
RRX: How do you interact with and respond to fans?
JC: With a boatload of gratitude!. Any real confidence I have vanishes when I walk off the stage, so I don’t talk much. But I make it a point to greet people and say thank you. I listen a lot more than talk to people at the shows. I let them talk. I’m pretty shy really so social interaction can be awkward.
RRX: Have you ever dealt with performance anxiety?
JC: Yes, and I love that part. I do drive myself and anyone who plays with me nuts over details because I want everything perfect. But I love that anxiousness you get before a show. I don’t worry about the songs or playing the right notes. I worry about the audience, will they like us/me. I worry about tripping over the million chords that run all over the stage. But once you start that all goes away and it’s great. Off you go…
RRX: What obstacles have you dealt with to get you to this point?
JC: The biggest obstacle is knowing what to do. There’s no textbook. I’ve tried to watch successful people and learn from what they do. I’m am brutally honest with myself because I don’t want to convince myself how wonderful I am and fall flat on my face. I always look for ways to do things better. I want to be as good as I can be.
RRX: Have you always had a dream of being big?
JC: Honestly, I always thought it was a possibility. Big stars are just like us little guys. Get us in a room chatting it would be hard to tell us apart. You never know, people get “discovered” every day. Being a ‘big’ star is a combination of skill, luck, timing, who you know, etc. Anything can happen, always dream big, why not…
RRX: What do you feel is the best song you have ever written and why?
JC: I generally don’t think of them that way. I like the ones other people like. If pressed I’d say “That’s Why” off the new album “Happy” because it’s written from the heart and I really like the recording exactly how it came out. It’s a cute simple love song. Just the way they should be..
RRX: What is your favorite part about this line of work? Your least favorite? Why?
JC: I love being on stage. There’s is no better feeling in the world. Writing songs is a wonderful experience but it’s a lot of work to write and record a song. The best part is editing after all the tracks are done. That’s fun. Recording tracks is tricky. You want it to sound natural, but you can’t have mistakes, so you have find a good spot and hope you don’t make a mistake while recording the parts. My least favorite part is when there is a long time between shows. I only play part time now and sometimes it’s months between shows. I’m not happy if I don’t have a show pending soon.
RRX: This has certainly not been the case this year. 2019 has been a very busy year for you, So, I will run with you are “HAPPY”. Which, coincidentally enough, is the name of your CD. Tell me about your favorite performance venues.
JC: I like the ones that feature music. For The BrokenHearted Tom Petty Tribute gigs The Strand Theater in Hudson Falls is awesome. Rustic Barn in Troy is great. It’s all about music there. Dinosaur BBQ is great too, very intimate yet rocks like crazy. We were fortunate to play some big shows too like Rockin on The River and Powers Park in Troy. Putnam Place in Saratoga is a gas too. I mean, we have had a ton of help along the way. It’s a blast to be able to play at venues at this level. I feel honored indeed.
RRX: If you can have your fans remember one thing about you, what would it be?
JC:I will always bring my A game to every show I play. I may not be great or even good but you’re getting my best that day. To me there are no “small” gigs. I will never give you a lame experience. I promise.
RRX: What advice would you have for someone wanting to follow in your footsteps?
JC: Another great question. Learn. Learn everything. Pay attention to what works and why. Get vocal lessons, it’s an instrument too. Some people can naturally sing but everyone can learn from someone. No one is perfect, never stop learning.
RRX: Do you see yourself releasing another? If so, is there anything different you would do?
JC: I don’t know if I will do another one. If the interest is there yes. I have plenty of songs and new ones are only a thought away. I’d love to work in a studio. This one I recorded in my home. But I don’t know going forward what form that future CD would take. Hard to say at this point.
RRX: Your turn, is there anything else you want to ‘get out there’ at this point?
JC: Just to say thank you to all of you that support me continuously. It’s really incredible how much help I get from so many people. I’m a very lucky guy. For a more spiritual comment: Never stop believing in yourself and never stop learning. Keep pushing. Like they say “It’s the journey man, not the destination” Peace…
On Monday night, September 30, in The Coffee Shop at The Strand theater in Hudson Falls, additional chairs had to be put into the hall to accommodate the crowd.
The setting was intimate, almost as if you were sitting in a living room with friends. There were flickering candles placed around the room. People were milling about as Johnny was autographing HAPPY, his fresh-from-the-box CD.
As show time approached, Johnny was introduced by Marc Clayton.
Johnny whizzed by heading up to the single stool and side table, flashing a huge grin to anyone who noticed.
Before each song, he told a bit about what the audience would hear; the inspiration, a little story which connected the fans to the lyrics.
This made it feel more one-on-one. It added an interest you don’t get from a larger venue with the performer just playing the set list. The man, the guitar, the song- simple ingredients made for a great night.
The show ran about 2 hours, without a break. He interacted with the audience again, low key, friendly atmosphere.
Here With You, That’s Why, Been a Long Time, Boys in the Band, World, It’s All a Dream, Oh Sara, More Than This, Happy, In The Moment, Livin’ in Doubt, There He Goes Again
You can catch Johnny with The BrokenHearted- Tom Petty tribute:
November 2, 2019 Petty Solo acoustic Opening for The Otherside at Unihog in Hoosick Falls, 8PM
November 18, 2019 Heritage Hall @Cool Insuring Agency, Glens Falls (Come celebrate Tom Petty’s birthday with us!)
November 29, 2019 The BrokenHearted-Tom Petty Tribute Band Nanola, Ballston Spa