Archive for March 2012

Sinatra, concept albums and Watertown   Leave a comment

Think of concept albums and which album springs to mind first?  Sgt. Peppers? The Who’s Tommy?  Stan Tracey’s musical interpretation of Dylan Thomas’ Under Milk Wood?  Pet Sounds? S.F. Sorrow by the Pretty Things?  The Kinks?

There are of course many, the idea became popular in the late sixties into the seventies but the concept album was actually born in the fifties.  Woody Guthrie and Johnny Cash being two artists who released albums that had a central theme.  It was though Frank Sinatra who took the concept to another level.  His classic Capitol albums of the fifties included In the Wee Small Hours and Sinatra Sings Only for the Lonely.  In 1968 he recorded A Man Alone, an album of songs by Rod McKuen but it was a year later in 1969 that Sinatra recorded what is a long forgotten gem, Watertown.

Written by the Four Seasons’ Bob Gaudio and songwriter Jake Holmes it follows the story of a middle aged man, whose wife has left him.  The man lives in Watertown, New York.

It was a hugely ambitious album for an artist such as Sinatra but not only has it stood the test of time, like the finest wine, it has improved with age.

Sinatra of course owned Reprise, home to many fine artists – Jimi Hendrix, Dean Martin, Neil Young and many many more, many signed after Sinatra sold the label, but the label retained Sinatra’s idea for founding the label in that every artist would have full creative freedom, and complete ownership of their work, including publishing! Imagine that today!

This premise was due to the relationship Sinatra had had with Capitol and he vowed no-one would ‘own’ him again.  Legend has it he stood on the corner of Hollywood and Vine with Martin, looking at the Capitol Tower and said, “Let’s go and build one of those of our own”.

Watertown as an album was apparently recorded mainly over two days in July 1969 and is a major departure in style and format for Sinatra, and yet, is it?  Listen to Elizabeth, the link below; unmistakably Sinatra.

Elizabeth –

Rumour has it Sinatra sent a demo of the song to Elizabeth Taylor with whom he had had an affair.

I have loved this album for so many years and it more than deserves being rediscovered today.

Watertown also happens to be one of my favourite small towns, about ten miles from our property in Tennessee.

It is so typical of an American small town – the square, quirky shops and stores, a cafe, with a train line running right through it and of course a city hall.



(In Telegraph Road I use Watertown and Hartsville as the fictitious town Waterville, home of the Waterville Post).


Posted March 30, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

While the Cath’s Away ….; Recording and songwriting; Love is only Dawning;   Leave a comment

I often see status updates or tweets by people saying that they are really busy – but they still find the time to tweet!

I have a busy few weeks.  CJ is at our home in Tennessee so while she’s away ……… I’m playing, recording that is.  The living room is getting a bit crowded, dogs banned, kids dare not venture in!  Captain Tim is coming over tomorrow for the audio, bringing in the Powermac from the studio, and also using my Macbook and even the iPad – do Apple sponsor artists?  

When I first started writing I used a small portable cassette recorder; these days for ideas and new songs I use Garageband, on the iPAD, and the quality is surprisingly good, using the iPad mic.

I’ve also got to adapt the three plays from stage to audio, shouldn’t take that long, and then the Summer Trilogy book needs to get written, (by the summer obviously!), and its not going to write itself.

So I am sitting here at my HQ writing this before the few weeks start properly, the cliched JD and pepsi max next to me.  

I want to go back to recording how I first started really, seems and feels so much more real.  When I first started using music recording software in LA I got lost from the actual writing of songs.  That’s what its all about for me, always has been, always will be; expressing an emotion – pain, longing, anger, betrayal, love, beliefs and faith.  I am too much of a romantic sometimes, again always have been.  I have always been totally open with my emotions, show affection easily.  I do realise though that I am more complex than I would like to think I am, as I put it – an open book, with every chapter in a different language, and this can show in my songs and books I think.

So these recordings are going to be very acoustic, very basic instrumental wise, very honest, mainly me on guitar and piano – (don’t want anyone to play those for me, thanks! – how do you know which key for example; how do you know how I want it to sound?  Dangerous to presume, don’t you think? – sorry, little rant there).  

If you can’t be honest with yourself, when you lay your head on your pillow in the dark every night, and close your eyes so it is only you, your own private movie show, your dreams and thoughts, well I think that that is sad.  I’m going to visit some old songs and introduce quite a few new ones.

I still have exercise books from school filled with lyrics, lyrics of a fourteen/fifteen year old kid from Cardiff, most of them embarrassingly awful, but never moon in June at least;  I was always writing even then, and one of the songs, Love is Only Dawning, I’m going to record.

Tim and I are planning on wrapping the e.p. The Rodeo too, which is more produced.  Again this is for the summer and Nashville.  I’ve got until June which seems ages away but I know its going to come pretty fast and I need and want everything ready to take.

Sitting here during the day when I writing I have a couple of radio stations I listen to.  WSM in Nashville is one – – The Wolf is a country station.  If you think Nashville is just country, you’re wrong – listen to Lightning 100, a great indie station –

I also listen to Radio Wales a lot and another great station, Asian Star –

Heard Marcus Collins’ new single today, Innocence, really surprised, good track –


So now my glass is empty, not half full or half empty, totally empty!  Just saw a status update from John Batdorf who was one of many songwriters who influenced me early on – this is a truly great pop song, nothing more, nothing less, from his band in the 70’s Silver.  Wham Bam, Shang a lang – enjoy!!!!

Posted March 26, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Mothers, parents and Budgie   Leave a comment

Yesterday, in the UK, it was Mother’s Day, (in the US its in May, meaning mothers get two ‘days’, fathers one?!?! sounds right!).

It struck me though that with both my parents having passed, I am an orphan; an older one yes, but one all the same.  I’m of course not making light of young children who are left alone after losing their parents; I lost my father fairly young and know the devastating effect it has.

Since my father’s death my Mum and I had several run-ins, until she herself passed the reason now seems unimportant but it did put a major strain on our relationship but time is indeed a healer and as the years go by the wounds heal and the bad memories fade, leaving only the good ones, like the one above.

When I see how some mothers are with their grown up children it makes me miss her more.

My mum, and my father, encouraged me in my music and writing tremendously, but not to the point of forcing their own ‘dreams’ on to me, far from it.  I’m very aware of this with my own children.  A old friend of mine got all three of his sons to play guitar because he did, to some success I must add, but it never seemed natural for some reason.

We have guitars and pianos in both homes and at one time or another through their lives the kids have picked one up and sat down and played.  Bailey did and then stopped but has for some reason just started picking up and playing the guitar again – I’ve told him, its the best way still to get girls!

Music and films are a major part of our lives as is child care through CJ.  It’s been a natural progression though that Taylor now works with her and Courtney is now working in music in Nashville.  Taylor has inherited CJ’s amazing ability with children (not her own though!!!); he’s a natural with them and they love him at the nurseries.

I have supported Cardiff City of course, since a kid, but mainly Manchester City – the glory days of Colin Bell and Francis Lee, Mike Summerbee.  Taylor supports Liverpool, bit of a bromance with Steven Gerrard I think, but that’s the way it should be, isn’t it, that they make up their own minds, find their own passions?

After having experience of stage mothers at the theatre, seeing them pushing their untalented, unhappy kid onto the stage, it made me all the more certain not to impose my dreams on to my children, perhaps to the point of too much so?  Finding a balance as a parent is the hardest thing I think, different methods for everyone.

Here’s a great, apt song, from one of Cardiff’s finest, Budgie with Burke Shelly, Tony Bourge and Ray Phillips, and a track from the album Never Turn Your Back on a Friend, called Parents.  (A couple of years ago Burke tried to get the blue baseball shoes I was wearing that night from me, after liking them!  Glad he seems to be much better after a bad illness)

Posted March 19, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Amber alerts; Dirk Bogarde; Julie Christie; Katy Perry]   Leave a comment

Last night we were in bed; TV was on, I think CJ was reading and I was on my iPad, when two notifications from two Nashville television stations came up on the iPad, an amber alert about some children who were apparently missing, with their mother.

The amber alert is an amazing system, named after a nine year old girl from Texas, Amber Hagerman, who went missing in 1996 and was murdered.  Today the Amber Alert is spread across the media and via the internet, even on the freeways as above, in the hope that early notice will save the lives of children who are missing or have been abducted.  There isn’t one yet in the UK, not on those lines, but hopefully it is just a matter of time.

Before that happened last night I was going through the Nashville Craigslist looking for a pickup truck which we’re buying in a few weeks time (Craigslist is a bit like Gumtree in the UK).  It struck me how incredible it was that I was in bed in Kent, going through trucks for sale in Nashville, four thousand miles away.  Do we already take all this for granted?

When I first moved to the States I remember having to wait over two weeks for a copy of the LA Times to arrive, via air mail.  Now I read it online, and get updates throughout the day, as with a few other publications.  Television is another thing that we simply take for granted.

Radio listeners are on the up.  I listen to the radio during the day when I’m writing, usually the Wolf in Nashville or Radio Four is there’s a play on.  Radio is good company, as is Annie, our African grey, although she can be very embarrassing when I’m on the phone.  A quick story – last week Taylor was in the house in his bedroom.  When he heard CJ calling him, he ran downstairs – to find the house empty, and Annie laughing; it had been her who had been calling him, in CJ’s voice.  Annie then told him to go to bed!

There’s an article out today about loneliness, especially with the elderly.  I think a parrot would be a great idea – every time someone walks out of the door Annie says “Goodbye’, “I Love You” “I’m going” “Bye”, or first thing every day will say “good morning” when you come down, and then throughout the day she doesn’t shut up – as I’m typing this she’s just told me to “go away”, in my voice!  (I’m always telling the dogs to go away when they want too much affection, which is pretty much all of the time; even Sushi the cat is in on it!).  Parrots though are very expensive but a pet is certainly one answer I think, a budgie, a small dog, something that is company but doesn’t require much looking after.

Loneliness is an awful thing, and can be very depressing.  You can be lonely by yourself or in a big city – cities can be very lonely places, watch Steve Martin’s classic A Lonely Guy – he has cardboard cutouts of people, which he places by the windows, pretending to his neighbours he is having a party!

You can be lonely in a relationship too.  I think only children deal with being alone better, we’re used to being alone, amusing ourselves.  Being an only child definitely made my imagination grow.  Today I am still comfortable in my own space, and indeed need my own space.

What is hard I imagine is when you have lived with someone for many many years, and they pass, leaving you alone.  Who do you talk to?  Who do you laugh with?  If getting out and about is hard, many people are left by themselves in their home for most of the day, and I think this is a silent threat and danger.

We shouldn’t rely on our children.  I don’t want to be a burden to anyone, which raises another issue, euthanasia, which also is in the news at the moment, with a case going to the Courts.


One of my heroes, Dirk Bogarde, was a staunch advocator of euthanasia, after witnessing the death of his friend and alleged partner Anthony Forwood.

Bogarde is one of the finest actors ever to grace our screens.  After the commercial films like Richard Gordon’s Doctor in the House series (one in which he starred opposite a young Bridget Bardot) he started to appear in more intelligent films including The Servant, and Victim, in which he played a gay lawyer, (at a time homosexuality was still illegal in the UK!) and one of his finest, The Night Porter, apparently one of Madonna’s favourite films – he is simply stunning as the former SS Nazi officer, who is hiding and working in an Austrian hotel when a guest, one of the many women who were tortured and raped in the prison camp he was stationed in, recognises him.  The woman is played by Charlotte Rampling.  Another favourite is Darling, although mainly because it stars the gorgeous Julie Christie.


(any excuse to show a photo of her;  I 

have this photograph hanging on my studio wall, signed by her).

It’s said that Bogarde never became the Hollywood star he deserved to be because he refused to have a marriage of convenience, like a couple of other actors, allegedly (I feel like Ian Hislop on Have I Got News For You –  incidentally Bogarde used to be a share owner of Private Eye), anyway I digress, allegedly actors include Rock Hudson and Cary Grant, who both got married to kill rumours of their sexuality.

There are two of the biggest box office male stars today who are gay, or bisexual, but are afraid to ‘come out’, one of them if it was widely known would devastate many women all around the world.  Does it matter, should it matter?  It shouldn’t of course, but the reality is it does, especially in say the Bible belt of America where huge audiences go to the cinema – there is so much money at stake and also careers.  


It certainly hurt Ellen deGeneres , who ‘came out’ actually through her sit com, which had been successful up until she did, her character changing from a young woman who had a few boyfriends to someone who started seeing women.  The ratings nose dived faster than any other show.  I think actually though more because I think the audience possibly felt it had been deceived, rather than because of her sexuality but it’s an interesting point – does a director cast say an acknowledged gay male lead for a romantic comedy?  Will the audience buy it, believe it, believe the character?  Hence the need to hide the truth I guess, but it is sad when people can’t be simply who they are; what does that say about us, our society?

Here’s a great song (I love this song) about just being who we are, who you are, listen to the words.  Surprise surprise, it’s Katy Perry and Firework

Forget all the hype and media exposure, she’s a great artist, and I hope her talent isn’t getting lost in all the crap.


Posted March 16, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Parenting   Leave a comment

As I write this the main headline is the awful coach crash that happened yesterday in Switzerland, killing over twenty eleven/twelve year old children and six adults.  Many others remain critical in hospital.

It’s another reminder of just how precious life is, regardless of religion and whether you believe in reincarnation and life after life, or Heaven, which as a Christian I do, but that doesn’t mean I’m actually in any hurry to get there, as I love life down here too much – this is what my song God’s Country is about.

There’s a well known saying, “If I knew then what I know now.” As we get older we’re supposed to get wiser, and most people do.  I’m very spontaneous though, always have been, always will be; live for the moment, worry about tomorrow when it comes.  As we have children though we allegedly become more responsible.  I’ve always thought that, due to the spontaneity I’m irresponsible but was surprised when someone who worked for me told me she thought I was the most responsible person she knew!?!

There’s a wonderful Todd Rundgren song by his band Nazz, It’s Not That Easy –  I’m only trying to see myself through your eyes…And put myself where I belong.

Would we like ourselves if we met us?  If we could see us as others see us?

I think it is having children that changes our whole outlook in life, it can’t fail to really.  When I hear about children being injured, abused, hurt and killed, it makes me shudder and think of my kids, all six of them, and I hope and pray at that moment that they are all okay.

When I see a parent shout and swear at their young child in the street makes me so angry.  CJ gives them ‘the look’ – scary!  What hope does that child have if they think that that is the normal way to behave, and yet, what is the normal way to behave?

When children don’t ring when they are supposed to, or get in late, or going somewhere new, by themselves for the first time, it’s awful.  Who would be a parent?  No manuals, learn by mistakes, or at least most people do.  We start to say the things we promised ourselves we would never say when we were parents, things our parents said to us!

When children stand up to you, argue with you, half of you wants to lock them away and throw away the key, the other half admires them for believing in themselves and for standing up for themselves!

At the same time they can get you mad, frustrated but then they’ll say one thing, perhaps one word, and that makes it all worthwhile.

A parent’s love should be unconditional; it’s an unspoken bond, a blood thing, I do believe that.  It doesn’t matter if you don’t speak for ages, it shouldn’t matter,  they don’t owe you anything, you don’t own them, they have to live their life for themselves, you can only guide them, advice them, never preach, just love.


Here’s a video with Diana Ross doing the Billie Holiday classic, God Bless the Child, from the film Lady Sings the Blues, in which Ross is truly amazing.

Hug your child, even though they may be miles away, a cyberspace hug!

My prayers, thoughts and heart goes out to all the parents of the children lost in the crash.

Posted March 15, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Singing in what rain?; Planet Thanet;   Leave a comment

There is a shortage of water, hosepipe bans due to be imposed, all due to obviously a lack of rain.  Global warming?  Climate change? 

The climate is changing, no doubt, but as many of you Brits, I can remember as a kid my parents having to fill the bath so we had water due to a severe water shortage then, but it definitely does seem to rain less, especially in the south east of the UK.

What is a bit frightening is that there is no real rain forecast and unless we have torrential April showers, we’re going to be in trouble this year.

There is talk of bringing water in from Scotland, that’s a long way, although in California our water came from a different state, thousands of miles away.

It does seem barmy weather, (great word barmy).  Temperatures high for March, in Nashville today it’s forecast 80F, (25C).  

Blott on the landscape?

Over the weekend we went to the planet that is Thanet.

In particular we went to the Turner Centre in Margate, one of the biggest waste of public funding I’ve experienced.   I love Margate, for exactly what it is.  It’s like Rhyl and of course Barry Island, run down, seaside town, with penny arcades, and now with so many empty shops, it is a ghost town as far as the high street is concerned, all having moved to the nearby out of town shopping mall.

I know one of the people from the local council who was behind the Turner Centre – he has since left.  It has cost millions, and whilst I do agree of course in protecting our culture, what about investing in the future instead, future artists?   I understand the relationship between Turner and Margate, and also the need to revitalise Margate but there are many many empty buildings that could have been utilised at a fraction of the money.  And yes, I do like Turner, he inspired many great painters that came after him.

We had crayfish tails, and cockles and prawns, had an ice cream on the beach at Broadstairs, under the shadow of Dickens’ Bleak House and had a lovely day.  Bailey has discovered photography so was snapping pictures all day – just put David in front of his name!

He did actually take some great shots, especially enhanced with Instagram.  At the moment Jupiter and Venus are both visible, close to the moon, and he took a great photo the other night.

I also enjoyed Cliftonville too.  So many second hand shops and charity shops, like Weston super Mare.  I love thrift stores.  A quick story – we were looking for a second sofa for out home in Mount Juliet.  One Saturday we went to the local small shopping centre and outside the Goodwill store was this four seater sofa, in amazing condition, for ten dollars I think, if that.  However we have a normal car, so no way of getting it back, so CJ noticed a Mexican family about to drive away in their large pickup, went up to them and asked them if we could put it on their truck for a few bucks.  They didn’t speak much English and I think the shock of them being approached by this obviously deranged English woman left them speechless anyhow, so they agreed!  They obviously were in fear of their lives!  So Mom, Dad, granny and the kids were in the pickup, lovely people actually, and followed us back to our home!  Only in America! 


Talking of which starting to gear up for going back.  CJ goes in a few weeks time for three weeks, she’s going to catch Snow Patrol, with Ed Sheeran opening for them, at the Ryman, which promises to be a great show.  Before I go I’ve got audio plays to record, with Tim; finish off the vocals for the Rodeo CD; write the Summer Trilogy book; cast Weekend Break for performances in January; record the poetry CD; and sort out the finance for the film through Kickstarter!  No pressure then!

Going back to the rain, here are two favourite videos; the first is a Florida based band from the 80’s, Nucleaur Valdez, and Summer, without doubt one of the best cruising tracks ever –


and of course had to finish with this, a great video of Gene Kelly (I was going to put the Morecambe and Wise version but thought better of it!) and Usher, who is amazing in this, faithfully recreating Kelly’s dance steps – the best of both worlds – Singing in the Rain –

Posted March 13, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized

Judge Judy; Gary Kemp; Daryl Hall; Paul Young;   Leave a comment

There’s a saying – “You can pick your friends, you can’t pick your family”  As many will testify after weddings or funerals, that’s true, or of course in laws!  Another saying, – “Look at the mother and that’s how your wife will turn out!  No comment.

We’ve often talked about how we will be if we ever get rid of the kids and they get married.  I think men with daughters is the hardest.  I’ve always said I don’t care what my daughter’s partners do – accountant, drug dealer, whatever, or what background, race or religion they are, as long as they treat her properly and with respect and I mean that; it’s not a parent’s place to interfere with their children’s partners, it will only lead to heartache and arguments.

What amazes me is on my guilty pleasure, Judge Judy; the number of people who sue family members – mothers suing children, siblings suing each other and of course exes suing each other, usually for revenge!

Their partner has moved on, got someone new, and suddenly they remember the ten dollars they owe them from five years ago!

Bands become like family and families do fall out.  A recent example of this was a couple of years ago when three members of Spandau Ballet sued Gary Kemp, claiming that they deserved a share of the songwriting publishing, which is where the real money is.  Martin Kemp did not get involved, supporting his brother.

Gary is a fine songwriter, True will always be a classic, and quite simply the other three did not deserve a penny from his talent.  He was the songwriter, what they did was help with the arrangement and production, and that’s different, but again the songwriting is where the real money is.

McCartney is said to have earned $30 million dollars from Yesterday alone, there are over five thousand covers of it.

In a documentary a few years ago VH-1 I think it was tracked down the members of East 17.  Two of them had gone back to their normal jobs, and Brian Harvey was busy running himself over with his own car, playing at small clubs and living in a small flat, but the group’s talent, the songwriter Tony Mortimer was sitting nicely in his mansion with his garage full of classic cars.

That’s why so many artists demand writing their own songs or at least a credit on the song.  Elvis never wrote a note or a word of Heartbreak Hotel, Mae Axton wrote it with Tommy Durden but gave Elvis a third of the royalties if he released it as the first single for RCA.

This practice continues in Nashville and music today, songwriters giving percentages away to big artists if they record their song.  It’s a dilemma – do you hold on to your song, for it never to be recorded, or get your name noticed by giving away ‘points’ on your song?

I know of one person who sold the rights to his song a few years after it had been a big hit.  It got twenty five thousand for it, thinking it had lived it’s life and that he’d got a great deal.  The song has since been covered by many artists, featured in films and is played continuously on television and radio – he has probably lost five million pounds – but is he bitter?!?  Damn right he is, but it was his doing, no one else’s fault.

I know of another artist, one of the finest singers in the business, who insisted on writing his own songs after having massive success with a number of covers.  Now, a great singer he was, and is, but a songwriter he wasn’t, or isn’t, and his career nosedived, dropped by his record company and he now goes out for a thousand pounds.  The moral? know what your talent is.  An old friend was a great drummer, I mean a great drummer, but he insisted on being the front man, the singer, and twenty five years on he still plays at local bars.

When it comes to covers I always prefer the original, even the demo sometimes by the original writer, they know why they wrote it, what inspired them, so they can put the true emotion in, rather than technique perhaps.  My favourite example of this is the Carpenters and Paul Williams.  Karen Carpenter possessed a God given voice and their records, so well produced and arranged by her brother Richard, are of course excellent and successful, but listen to Paul Williams’ versions of We’ve Only Just Begun, or I Won’t Last A Day Without You, even the theme song from A Star Is Born, Streisand of course is the best, but when his voice gives out, breaks, in the song, wow!

Paul Young had a massive hit with a Daryl Hall song, Every Time You Go Away.  Paul’s version is great but listen to Hall and Oates version.  The first time I heard this song was in a different life when my band and I opened up for Hall and Oates in Santa Barbara.  I was standing in the wings.  They had just released Voices, a big hit for them.  I remember we were specifically told by their tour manager we had forty minutes, and one encore.  Well the problem was we used to finish with a song of mine, Santa Barbara – “Every morning I wake up to the sound of the sea, Santa Barbara is the place for me and there’s no place I’d rather be”  Now, sing that to a few thousand Santa Barbarians and you’re going to get another encore!  Their road manager was mad with us, literally shouting at me in the wings, but Daryl Hall stepped in and told us to get back on for another encore.

So I am biased, but he does possess the finest white, soul voice in the business.  Here’s a great video from their performance at the Apollo, backed by the Temptations, of Every Time.

And to be fair, here, for me, is Paul at his finest, Ann Peebles Gonna Tear Your Playhouse Down –  Love the hair and clothes! But listen to the voice!

Paul now plays with his Tex Mex band Los Pacaminos but just imagine, a Paul Young solo album recorded in Nashville? We’ve actually just approached him and he’s apparently interested so watch this space.

Finally back to Daryl.  This is why he blows people away, Someone Like You – and featuring superb guitar solos.

Posted March 8, 2012 by Jon Johanson in Uncategorized