Johnny Morse – Playing in Shades of Purple Haze
Written by Liam Sweeny on October 24, 2019
When we talk about music, we talk about genres, and grooves, and what story it tells, and what feeling it imparts. It’s as if we can somehow separate it from the people that perform it. That’s a relatively new way of thinking about it, as new as phonographs, anyway. For most of human existence, the performer was a part of the musical experience; all music was live music.
There are few people that can release energy on stage the way Johnny Morse does. Flamboyant clothing and memorable axes are matched with a stage present that reminds one of a captain charging into battle. A fixture in the Capital Region, Johnny will survive the war.
We sit down with Johnny and discuss cigarette burn scars on guitar headstocks.
RRX: You easily have enough nickel-wound string to tie down a Mastodon, just a huge guitar collection. It lines the walls of your spot. And I know that you have at least two double-neck guitars. Are they all in use at some point or another, or do you stick to a select few axes when you gig out?
JM: I try to get them all out at some point. My main guitar is a Paul Reed Smith worth about five thousand, but I’ve been mixing up, bringing two or more to shows lately. I will have to bring a double-neck to our show November 15th at Chrome Food and Spirits with our guest 5 Daze Out and Harmony Rocks, I will also be joined by Kristen Capolino, the Energizer Bunny, Johnny Clifford, Luke McNamee, Tom Atkins, Jim Robinson, and of Course, Paul Fraim and Stormin’ Norman.
RRX: You’re a Local Legend; you even have a placard with your likeness on it in your hometown of Cohoes. And you can pack the downtown of that city when there’s a Rock the Block going on. But everyone that knows you knows that you’re a pretty easygoing guy. How much does mindset and attitude help during, and between gigs?
JM: Mindset and attitude is everything, not just in music, but in life. I am always thinking of the next adventure, and I’m starting to write songs for a new CD to do later this year. As far as band practice, we never had one the guys just follow me, and I don’t know what I am gonna do next myself, the old ‘Key of E – follow me’ routine.
RRX: As much as we all want to think our music exists in a vacuum, it doesn’t. We have to present ourselves as well as we project our sound. And you really master that. I always see you’re latest getups and I’m thinking, ‘okay, now where in the hell did he pick that up?’ They say dress for success. What’s success looking like for Johnny Morse?
JM: I think I am going through a midlife crisis with the clothes and guitars lately, I always liked fashion and not afraid to take chance wearing crazy get ups, I was the kid putting on his mom’s jackets and standing in front of a mirror with a guitar, I will tell you this; when I go out decked out I get asked for photos by people who don’t even know me. ‘Cause you know if ya look like someone famous they want to know you, I guess it’s the old ‘fake it till you make it?’ But my days of making it are long past, Very content with my life and how things are going.
RRX: I don’t always ask questions about influences; I’ve always felt that it doesn’t help show where someone’s music is going; rather, where it’s been. But I know that you have such a deep love of iconic players like Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughan, and they’re ever-present in what you do. But who are some of your background influences?
JM: Well of course, Stevie and Jimi, but there are many. I was always a huge Jim Morrison fan, and Jose Feliciano when I was young. Chuck Berry, of course, Rory Gallagher, Pat Travers, and Robin Trower. Lately, I’ve been listening to singer-songwriters to get inspired for the new CD, Warren Zevon, Tom Waites, Rufus Wainright and his dad, Loudon. All the old blues greats. There are just so many; I guess it depends on the day and your mood.
RRX: You’ve recorded your own work on labels like EMI and Sony BMG. You front a band called Starstruck, and you’ve played acoustic covers. So, the standard residency of playing guitar. I know that there’s what we do for the love of the music, and what we do for the love of the rent. How do we stay happy with those two lovers?
JM: Well first off, who the fug loves rent? We all have bills and have to survive, I just do whatever I can to get through like everyone else. I have played many shit gigs to not many people just to keep the lights on, and after a while, that started hurting me as I was losing my passion for music, and it just became a means to stay alive. Lately I have been lucky enough to pick and choose my gigs and put together my own shows. So if they go well, I can do a few of them a month rather than 3-4 nights a week for peanuts in a small club for no people, I see the videos of bands all the time and know what it takes to go do a gig, Humping equipment, setting up lights, etc. to play to twenty drunks then have the owner say it was a slow night and screw ya for money, too old for that. I have been doing this a very long time, and I’m just not into that anymore; in other words, I try not to take a gig just for monetary reasons but of course sometimes you have to.
RRX: The biggest part of your performance is the energy you put out. I don’t even have to have the volume up on a YouTube video to see you’re giving it your all. I know that for a lot of players starting out, they have a tough time opening up, especially to a live audience. You thrive on it. So what can you tell them that would help?
JM: To me, energy and performance is everything. I am certainly not a good singer and can get around on a guitar a bit. I don’t know about you, but when I go see a show I want to see a SHOW, key word. And this only comes from experience; the more you play in front of people the more comfortable you get. I love it when you have a great crowd rocking with you, nothing like it, and I will and always did try to play from my heart and with as much energy as possible.
RRX: This is where you answer the question I didn’t ask. Which guitar won’t you touch unless you’re stone sober? What strings can survive the zombie apocalypse? Enlighten, educate, emote – the floor is yours.
JM: Is this a “loaded” question? My guitars wouldn’t know me if I picked them up stone sober. So answer is none of them. Truth be told, when all is said and done they are just tools to convey emotion, although they are also like art to me, As far as the strings go let me know when you find them. I do have an endorsement deal with Sfarzo strings and my own line, they seem to hold up pretty well. I’ve also got endorsements with Intex cables, Clayton guitar picks and Flying V Leather. I am working on an endorsement for Busch beer?
I would just like to thank the many supporters over all these years, and I hope to see you all for a kick-ass show Nov.15th at Chrome Food and Spirits. Tickets will be available from any of the musicians or online. Thank You for the interview, you guys rock!
Coming to jam with me November 15th Chrome, Kristen Capolino, and Ron Toth, Tom Atkins, Johnny Clifford, Bob Esposito on percussion and harps,Luke McNamee on sax, Jim Robinson on keys, Stormin Norman on drums, and Paul Fraim on bass.