Johnny, by Rodney Gitzel

Go Johnny, Go Go Go...

East Van's own Johnny Ferreira

Interview by Michele Martin
Photography by Rodney Gitzel

42-second excerpt from "Rock On" (various formats)

Local sax man and long time Colin James bandmember Johnny Ferreira has just released Crazy 'Bout a Saxophone, his new self-produced CD with his band, the Swing Machine. Having gone to high school with John, I thought it would be fun seeing what he's been doing musically ever since.

Although born in Portugal, John is an East-Ender through and through, having attended Templeton High School and experienced first hand the pressures of being expected to conform to a particular way of life.

"Everybody was supposed to be a welder or a mechanic or a plumber.... They didn't give you much choice. If you told your [guidance] counsellor you wanted to be a dancer or a musician or a singer, they had that attitude, 'Well, that's fine, but what are you going to fall back on?' I hate that line, because you only need something to fall back on if you plan on falling back. I never thought of getting into something and 'falling back.' I always go forward."

Michele and Johnny's grad photo... After graduation, John attended Cap College. "I hooked up with some musicians there that were sort of in my headspace, doing what basically I wanted to do. We got together during the summer to do some gigs to make money while school was out and when September came along, we were having such a good time and making not big money but steady money, we didn't want to go back to school."

John ended up back in school at U.B.C. to get his degree in music in the mid-80's. He hooked up with Colin James, who was playing clubs around town at the time. "I had another year to go, and Colin said, 'Let's go on the road,' and I figured I'd go on the road till September. Then I was on the road and September came along I didn't even... I mean, school? What for? This is school!"

While touring, John had the opportunity to make music with some of the greats, and it was inevitable that those experiences would have an effect. "As the years went by we did a tour with Keith Richards and that influenced the band a lot and we started rocking the set up more. Keith was basically a lot of people's rock mentor, a God-like figure. The first time we walked into the Fox Theatre in Boston, and Keith was on stage... as soon as we walked by Keith and went upstairs to the dressing room and closed the door we went, 'Aahh, did you see him, man?!' It was pretty exciting."

'Crazy Bout a Saxophone' CD cover With those kinds of influences, what type of music is John choosing to focus on these days? "The stuff I'm doing now is kind of like what I was doing before I met Colin and what we did when Colin got his first band together, which I was in on, that swinging R&B stuff."

How does John define his brand of swing? "Swing is not just swing. I hate to use that word, actually, even though my band is called 'The Swing Machine,' but definitely not as in Benny Goodman type swing, not big band swing. That's not what I'm doing at all with this stuff. It's the sort of raw, edgy roots of rock and roll swing, R&B -- rock and roll in its infancy, really, the late 40's, early 50's with the black musicians."

"The first white rockers... they'd be listening to this stuff, and that's who their idols were. Long before some DJ pegged it 'rock and roll,' those black bands were singing about rocking and rolling all night long and they never called it rock and roll, they called it rhythm and blues, because it wasn't blues. Blues is more like the Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf thing, which I also love, but that was 'blues.' When they started doing that heavy swinging stuff, that became rhythm and blues... Then rock and roll came along, the late 50's, and that was it, see ya! The saxes went in the background or disappeared, and the guitars came up front. Now I'm bringing the saxes [back] up front."

Johnny, by Rodney Gitzel Well known in studio session circles, John was able to bring in some pretty amazing musicians to work on his album. "We've got Linda Rhyne... she's probably my favourite singer I've seen in a while. When you hear the old original stuff and then hear Linda do it... Wow! It's like she was there or something. The Websters, Al [drums] and Eric [keyboard], do a lot of work together with this band... and then there's Norm Fisher on bass [electric and acoustic] but mostly standup, and Elmar Spanier [acoustic bass], who is a long time associate with Billy Cowsill's band."

"Elmar's got a real swing, blues, rockabilly thing going. He's got the old roots. He's actually into the same era of music I'm into. It's not like I don't buy a record past 1950, but that's the stuff that gets me the most. My favourite people still to listen to are the people who are sort of doing what I'm doing, which is recreating in their own way, like the Roomful of Blues, who would have to be one of my favourites. They really nail that stuff."

What lies ahead? Future plans include promoting his CD and continuing to work on his own music, "just getting deeper into this whole genre of music and keeping my head above water." So keep your eyes and your ears open for Johnny Ferreira and the Swing Machine, because this Johnny B. damned Goode.

First published in Drop-D Magazine on August 30, 1996

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