Boulder Valley, get ready to get down.
The blues are alive and kickin’ at local music scenes all spring and summer.
And when spiced with exceptional guitar solos, irresistible vocals and a jiving rhythm section laid on stage with more than 100 combined years of heartfelt angst and showmanship, it’s an enticing blues vibe you don’t want to miss.
Boulder’s Johnny O. Band – two-time winner of the Colorado Blues Society’s International Blues Challenge – is doing just that night after night, right here in Boulder Valley.
For those in the know, the Johnny O. Band is a danceable, high energy blues experience.
“It’s got vocal harmonies, it’s upbeat and it’s a party. Whether your seven years old or 80, people get out and enjoy it,” says John Ohnmacht, founder and band leader.
Formerly of Boulder’s well-loved Band du Jour, Johnny has been rolling out original and cover blues tunes spiced with hints of New Orleans funk and reggae for nearly 20 years.
A long-standing leader on the Colorado blues scene, the Johnny O. Band’s success is worldwide. Recently, Johnny toured in Europe with the Andy Irvine group when they were featured artists two years in a row at the annual Warwick Music Festival, put on by the German bass guitar maker, Framus &Warwick.
Brazil is another frequent tour destination, where the passion of the Brazilian people inspired Johnny to bring out his “flip side” – a Brazilian jazz style that can be heard in his instrumental album, “A Volta.”
“The people of Brazil are so enthusiastic, it was very inspirational. I played in Diamantina, a town of about 40,000 where my father lives. We were the first American band that ever played in that city, so people really came to the show,” says Johnny.
“It was the first time they were actually able to see anybody playing the guitar in that fashion and bending the strings the way a blues guy does,” adds Johnny.
The grandson of an accomplished New York Philharmonic bassoonist and teacher at the renowned Juilliard School of Music, Johnny spent his earliest years with perfect classical melodies lilting in over his crib, before he even learned to talk.
“Music came easy to me,” he says, adding that he was “exposed to the language of music as a baby, through his grandfather’s exhaustive practice of scales and melodies.”
Today, it’s clear that Johnny is doing just what he’s meant to do: Playing and singing the blues better than most.
The Boulder Source was lucky to catch up with Johnny recently. Following are excerpts of our conversation in which we learn what inspires a lifelong musician.
But first, take a look at the upcoming schedule and pick your date to see and be moved by the incomparable Johnny O. Band. And if you’ve got a special event coming up that needs an electric, cross-generational party atmosphere, you’re in luck. The JOB is comfortable on any size stage.
“I encourage people to come out and see the band. We’re doing a real job of playing a real genre that people experience when they come out to see us,” says Johnny O.
Boulder Source: The Johnny O. Band has stayed together for nearly 20 years. What made the three of you stick together?
JOB: I realized that if I put my name on the band, it’s always the Johnny O. Band. We’ve gone through a few changes, but the drummer, Marion, has been with me 17 years now – almost the whole time. I think he joined me the second year the band was around. And the bass player, Ian Anderson, joined us about seven years ago.
That’s a long time to be together – did you just hit it off?
JOB: Yeah, with Marion, I love that New Orleans style kind of funky music and blues music. In the later Band du Jour years we toured around the South and would spend about two weeks in New Orleans during Jazz Fest, so the music of New Orleans really got in my blood. When I hooked up with Marion, I was able to play the blues in a really authentic way because Marion is so good at it. Our bass player, Ian, is from Jamaica so we also put some reggae in.
What made you want to be a musician?
JOB: As a baby, before I could speak I was hearing my grandfather practice the bassoon. He used to practice many hours a day, playing scales and melodies with the perfect intonation and pitch of a bassoon player in one of the most famous orchestras in the world. So there I was lying in the crib, hearing this music played over and over again. That music really seeped into me at an early age. It’s another language that I became familiar with. So music always came real easy to me.
I started playing guitar at 12, and at 16 I had the opportunity to study with Howard Berkman. It really opened my eyes and I started playing all the time. Howard had played in a Chicago rock band called The Knaves. He ended up in Carbondale, where I lived with my mom and stepdad. My stepdad, Harry, was also a big influence on me, he played the drums in Howard’s band. Howard told me if I dedicated myself I could make my living playing guitar and that was that.
What is your most recent CD?
JOB: “Life’s Tough” is a live album that we recorded live at the Dickens Opera House in Longmont. It features half a dozen tunes by my late friend and mentor Howard Berkman. I put out a solo album called “Rosie” right around the same time. It’s an acoustic blues album that features a bunch of Howard’s songs.
Do you play mostly original music in concert?
JOB: We play a lot of original music but we put our own spin on classic blues music and New Orleans style funk music and Chicago blues and Texas blues. Our main music is blues but we mix it up and make a really good, dancy kind of scene.
Have you had any significant transition periods?
JOB: When Band du Jour broke up I had about two years of turmoil. My girlfriend and I broke up, we got kicked out of where I was living and I was kind of out on my elbow for a while. I wound up in Mexico for three months trying to regroup. I went through some kind of spiritual transformation I guess and I went back to Carbondale and played for almost a year with a blues band, The 12: Bar Flies. I was not my normal self and I found playing blues music was the one comfort I had. After a year, I moved back to Boulder and started the Johnny O. Band and the rest is history.
Check out upcoming concert dates here.
For more information about the band, albums, music lessons or scheduling a private event, visit www.johnnyoband.com.
Read blues reviewer Honey Sepeda’s article here.
Watch The Johnny O. Band’s “I’m Doing Fine” recorded live at Longmont’s Dickens Opera House.