“Grateful” to Ratdog
Today would have been Johnnie Johnson’s 82nd birthday, so I hosted a birthday party at my home in suburban St. Louis and it was a blast because two Rock and Roll Hall of Famers were in the house! Bob Weir of Grateful Dead fame brought several members of his current band Ratdog and hung out for about an hour before they left for their performance at the Fox Theater.
Ratdog drummer Jay Lane walked in and asked if I was the guy who was doing the documentary on Johnnie and when I said yeah, he said Then I need to give you a hug, man! and proceeded to crack one of my ribs. Just kidding. Jay told me that when Johnnie used to tour with Ratdog he used to spend a lot of time with Johnnie and really cared about him a lot.The other hall of famer is less well known than Weir, but has played a major role in music history. Bob Heil now has an exhibit in the hall of fame because of his ground-breaking sound production in the 60’s and 70’s with performers like The Who, ZZ Top, The Grateful Dead, Joe Walsh, The Eagles, Peter Frampton, Humble Pie, The James Gang, and Jeff Beck. Remember the talkbox made famous by Peter Frampton on Frampton Comes Alive? Bob Heil invented that. Bob got excited about the project and has promised to use his connections to help me out. Thanks, Bob.Frances Johnson, Johnnie’s wife was the guest of honor and she was accompanied by children and grandchildren. Dona Oxford, a former student of Johnnie’s, flew in from LA to perform and she made some new fans. Dona (pronounced doan-yah)always quotes Keith Richards, who says Aren’t we all? students of Johnnie. Dona and I collaborated on a song for the documentary, Goodbye, Johnnie, Goodbye and there were some tears shed when she sang that. Later that night, Dona sat in with the Johnnie Johnson band at BB’s Jazz, Blues, and Soups and rocked the roof off during her short set If you haven’t checked out Dona, go to her website http://www.donaoxford.com. Girlfriend can seriously play!The purpose of the luncheon was to tell people about the progress of the documentary and encourage people to help in whatever way they can: host a fundraising party, tell their friends about the website, assist in securing interviews with famous musicians, and in the case of the media members who attended, write stories about the project. Kevin Johnson of the St. Louis Post-Dispatch said he was going to write an article on Thursday, so I’m looking forward to that. Kevin wrote several nice pieces about Johnnie in the days following his death.There was a great turnout with about eighty people at my house. Several people volunteered to host fund-raising parties. My best friend from college, Larry Gendler flew in from Omaha to help and lend support. As always, we laughed a lot and had a great time hanging out. Thanks, Larry! And thanks to his wife Tami for letting Larry come out and play. Speaking of wives, my wife Linda did her usual amazing job getting the house ready and was a great hostess. Thanks, Lin.The Ratdog concert Saturday night was amazing; got to go backstage to see the band after the concert, and they kept thanking me for doing the documentary about Johnnie. Bottom line: it was a damn good day for the Johnnie Johnson documentary! The journey continues and it’s all good. Art HollidayDirector, JOHNNIE BE GOOD