Johnny Depp Rocks! Blog

August 31, 2010

Voices For Justice

Long Time, No Write– partly because I’ve had a super busy summer at work, partly because admittedly, there isn’t a huge amount of traffic here, and partly because after the Depp music news-heavy first few months of 2010, there hasn’t been anything new to talk about lately.

That changed on Saturday, August 28, when Johnny made his first live concert appearance in 2 years, as a participant in the Voices For Justice show in Little Rock, Arkansas.  Joining him were such rock icons as Eddie Vedder, Patti Smith, Ben Harper, Dhani Harrison, Joseph Arthur, Natalie Maines, Bill Carter, Will Sexton, and Lisa Blount.  The show was a rally in support of the West Memphis Three:  Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, who were convicted of the murder of three young boys in 1993.  Baldwin and Misskelley were sentenced to life in prison, while Echols was given the death sentence.  Many believe that the three were wrongfully accused, with no real evidence against them, other than that they were misfits who enjoyed heavy metal music.   No matter what one’s opinion might be of what actually occurred the terrible day the three children, Steve Branch, Christopher Byers, and Michael Moore, were killed, the trial was fraught with inconsistencies, evidence was lost or tampered with, some leads were not followed, and testimonies were later recanted.  Many close to the case who initially assumed the West Memphis Three’s guilt now believe in their innocence.  New DNA and forensic evidence has failed to show a link to the suspects and rather points to other possible suspects, but requests for a retrial have so far been denied.  The Arkansas Supreme Court will hear the evidence on September 30.  You can read more about the case on Wikipedia.

As far as the concert itself, it sounded like a unique and amazing event.  Johnny and Eddie both read from Echols’ journal, and there was a video message from Echols himself and a greeting from his wife, Lorri Davis.  Johnny’s former P bandmate Bill Carter performed a song called Something Made Of Paper (or Anything Made Of Paper) that he and his wife Ruth Ellsworth wrote specifically for Damien Echols.   Eddie performed covers by Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Tom Waits, as well as originals, and Natalie Maines and Ben Harper’s band Fistful of Justice (featuring Joseph Arthur and Dhani Harrison) perfomed several songs apiece.

Then, it was time for Johnny the musician to become involved.  He joined Vedder for an outstanding performance of Jerry Hannan’s song Society, from the motion picture Into The Wild.  Johnny took the acoustic lead part, and the audience’s surprise and appreciation when they realized that Johnny was playing the solo was audible.  By many accounts from the Pearl Jam community, this performance was the highlight of the evening.  See the performance here!

Then, Patti Smith was called on stage.  Eddie and Johnny remained on stage, but did not play while Patti performed My Blakean Year solo.  Then, they joined her for Wing and Dancing Barefoot.  The show ended with a great performance of Patti’s People Have The Power, with all of the musicians joining her on stage.

I’ve gotta give a big hand to the fantastic folks who attended the show, especially from the Pearl Jam community, who have been unbelievably generous with photos and YouTubes of the performances, as well as great stories and reviews of the event.  From what I could tell from visiting various forums, the audience gave total respect to Johnny as a musician and did not even question his presence as a guitarist.  He was described as a “Cool MoFo” and playing a “great solo”.  For my part, it’s wonderful to see non-Depp fans appreciating his guitar chops.  I’m also thrilled to see Bill Carter and Johnny playing together again, and hope that someday maybe they’ll consider a mini-P reunion.

I can’t let this blog go by without at least acknowledging that it’s almost exactly the Two Year Anniversary of the 2008 Sheila Witkin Benefits (August 29 and 30, 2008).  I have the fondest memories of those two nights, sharing them with several good friends, and getting my brief moment on the 29th to shake Johnny’s hand and thank him and The Kids for playing for us. What fantastic shows– The Kids, you’re the best!!


Johnny Depp Rocks!


August 15, 2009

In defense of “film star music projects”

This morning, a blog post appeared on the website of the revered indie music magazine, Paste, in which Austin L. Ray gives faint praise to Ryan Gosling’s band, Dead Man’s Bones, stating that even if the music is “just kind of there”, at least 10 other actors have had music projects that were “way worse” than Ryan’s.  The very first piece of evidence on the list is P’s 1993 SXSW performance of Mumble.  This is followed by YouTubes of Russell Crowe, Jared Leto, Keanu Reeves, Joey Lawrence, Kevin Bacon, Kevin Costner, Billy Bob Thornton, Steven Seagal, and David Hasselhoff.  I suppose the point in this exercise is to prove that nobody can be creative enough to both act and play music, or at least they’d better not bring both to the public eye.  If you go to Paste’s About Paste page, they state that the magazine is “for people who still enjoy discovering new music, prize substance and songcraft over fads and manufactured attitude.”  The blog’s implication seems to be that if an actor makes music, it must be a gimmick– it’s artificial, it’s a manufactured product intended to make a quick buck and capitalize on the star’s fame.  Even if that’s not what they’re saying (though it sure as heck seems it is), we’ve all heard this argument before.  A True Music Fan wouldn’t consider an actor’s music worthy.

I dunno.  Okay, I can’t really say I’m a particular fan of all these actors’ music. Barring Johnny, I’m not even all that familiar with most of it.  But except for David Hasselhoff, who I believe has been wildly popular in Germany, I don’t think any of these guys have had a whole lot of commercial success.  I had to look up Steven Seagal on Wikipedia because I honestly didn’t know he was a musician, but for him and certainly for all the others, their musical turns have not just been some fly-by-night thing.  They’ve all been at it for some time, and yet it doesn’t seem like any of them have been hawking their CDs very much in the mainstream.  I know the Bacon Brothers have played quite often in my area, in a little club without too much hoopla. And didn’t Joey Lawrence pretty much grow up singing and dancing?

So is this music just a fad?  Is it just something manufactured by the film studios?  Or does it just show that these guys need music in their lives, just like so many of us do?  Is it wrong for them to find a creative outlet?  Isn’t the very notion of rock ‘n’ roll to sing and play your heart out, no matter whether your music is accepted by the Establishment or not?  Does Paste now become the Establishment?  Assuming that an actor will suck at music is the same as assuming that a musician will suck at acting; maybe there isn’t a great deal of awe for David Bowie’s or Tom Waits’ acting abilities, but that doesn’t stop me from enjoying a number of their performances on film.  It is possible to keep an open mind.

The blog’s inclusion of P’s Mumble as one of their arguments for “way worse” music is amusing on many levels.  First and foremost, Mr. Ray makes a point of Gosling’s music being influenced by today’s indie rock, yet he doesn’t mention, or doesn’t realize, that Mumble is a clear tribute (or ripoff, depending on your point of view!) of one of rock’s great legends, Link Wray.  For better or for worse, Gibby Haynes added some lyrics, irreverence, and attitude, and made the song P’s own; at least they should get credit for sheer rock ‘n’ roll chutzpah.  Second, P never appeared to be primarily Johnny’s band– Gibby was pretty much the one in the spotlight.

But mainly, P never tried to take themselves too seriously.  By all accounts, P was born out of a love for cooking:  while Johnny was filming What’s Eating Gilbert Grape in the Austin area, he and his childhood buddy Sal Jenco hung out with Gibby (of the Butthole Surfers) and roots rocker/songwriter Bill Carter to prepare gourmet meals.  But when the SXSW organizers approached Gibby about booking the Butthole Surfers for their festival, Gibby suggested his “other band.”  In an Austin Chronicle article, Bill Carter explains:  “It wasn’t a band. [Sal Jenco] wasn’t particularly a drummer — he’d played years ago or whatever. And I’m a songwriter, not a guitar player’s guitarist. Johnny [Depp] can actually play guitar better than I can, but he didn’t want to feature it at all and be the actor-turned-rock-star for the evening. So just the fact that we actually did it was kind of amazing to me. We weren’t really good, it was just fun.” You only have to give a quick listen to their songs to know that it’s at once just tongue-in-cheek, while also giving a tip of the hat to a variety of musical genres.

As for P’s studio album, which was released in 1995, Johnny’s 2008 interview in Rolling Stone tells his version of the story:  “P was a group of friends who were given the opportunity to make a bunch of noise together and document it.  For some reason, Capitol Records wanted to do it, and that was the most surreal part.  We said, ‘There will be no photographs, there will be no tour, there will be no videos, there will be no bios, there will be nothing.’ And they agreed to it!  We didn’t let them in the studio when we were recording the record. There’s a lot of really funny shit on it. Gibby was on fire. He’s a genius.  And so after Capitol Records listened to the record, they just went, ‘What is this?’ and buried it. Which was not even the slightest disappointment.”  Doesn’t seem like they were aiming for a marketable product to me; seems more like an example of good old rock ‘n’ roll brazenness.  The original release went nowhere on the charts, and a 2007 re-release on Caroline records didn’t have any promotion whatsoever, despite the fact that Johnny is a much more bankable star now than he was in 1995.

So what’s my point?  I guess that as long as Johnny, Ryan Gosling, Kevin Costner and Billy Bob Thornton aren’t constantly barraging me with their music, I celebrate the fact that they could create some fun music that could be enjoyed by their fans. If it’s not your cup of tea, that’s fair, but don’t begrudge them, or anyone, the chance to make music.  For me, I would be thrilled if Johnny were to play again with P, or with The Kids, or with any group of musicians.  Nothing wrong with making music, even if you’re a film star who might be a target of some ridicule from True Music Fans.


Johnny Depp Rocks!

P.S. While I was a little turned off by the arrogance of the blog I wrote about, I do have tons of respect for Paste Magazine, and I have them listed in the Credits and Fine Print section of my website.  They are currently running a campaign to save their mag, which like many print publications is in financial trouble in this day of the Internet.  Even a small contribution will help, and will also allow you to download some great tracks as a thank you for your support.  So, if you love music and want to support a great music magazine, check out Paste’s campaign page to find out how you can donate!

April 18, 2009

(No Depp Content) – I pulled into Nazareth…

Filed under: Uncategorized — Tags: , , — madscntst @ 10:45 pm

Actually, I pulled in… or rather, I flew in, to Austin, TX, a couple of weeks ago.  I was there for a Bruce Springsteen concert (#97; yes, I’m a lifelong fan) and to enjoy a nice weekend with a friend.  I’d only been to Austin once before, in 2002, for SXSW.  That trip had been a wonderful (but exhausting!) blur of waking up at noon, Waterloo Records in-stores, day parties and barbecues, and memorable showcases all night long, not to mention the excellent food and drink.  As I’m not getting any younger, this would be a considerably more relaxed trip, other than, of course, the concert that I was there for.  Still, there was no reason not to still take advantage of the fine city’s offerings: a trip to Waterloo, some more shopping, and some excellent food and drink.  But it wouldn’t be a proper trip to Austin without hearing some good Austin music, and so my friend and I went to catch an acoustic gig by Johnny’s former P bandmate, Bill Carter.

Carter was playing with another area songwriter/musician named Stephen Doster.  I wasn’t familiar with Doster but later learned that he has worked with Nanci Griffith and put out at least one album.  Due to having taken our time with a delicious steak dinner and a longer-than-expected drive to the venue, and the gig ending earlier than we thought, we only got to hear them play for half an hour.  But it was well worth the trip!  Besides a couple of songs I didn’t recognize, they played Carter’s Cocktail Waitress (At The Poodle Dog Lounge), The Band’s The Weight, The Beatles’ Two Of Us, and The Rolling Stones’ Honky Tonk Women.  What a treat to hear such first class guitar work and wonderfully blended vocals in such an informal, relaxed setting, while sipping on some delicious locally-brewed pale ale.  A perfect, if short, evening.

My friend brought up a tip from us as they were packing up their gear, and shook their hands and had some nice words with them. I was in one of my silly shy modes and chose to hang back.  But she said they were both gracious and lovely, and very appreciative that we came to hear them.

A night later, Bruce Springsteen put on a typically amazing performance:  3 hours of non-stop passion and energy.  It was probably the best I’d seen Bruce in the last several years, and definitely reaffirmed my fanhood.  Even so, I can’t help but think back to the night before, listening to two guys with acoustic guitars with no huge backing band, no fancy lights or stage effects, and no huge crowds, but just playing music because they love to play music.   Two completely different experiences, but then again, maybe not.  When it comes down to it, it’s the music that matters.


Johnny Depp Rocks!

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