The Daily Hampshire Gazette’s Editor in Chief, Steve Pfarrer sat down with Alex for an interview that touches on his creative process, his journey through ten years of recovery, and more.
Photos by Jerrey Roberts and Jodi Nicholas.
When you talk about great guitarists in the Valley, Alex Johnson’s name is always in the mix. Whether he’s playing meaty and melodic hooks with his rock trio, Colorway, gigging solo or handling myriad riffs as part of the backing band for the Young@Heart Chorus, Johnson’s in complete command of the fretboard.
He’s also a longtime singer and songwriter who has been involved with music since he was six, when he started violin lessons in his native Fall River (he picked up the guitar at age 10). Now 47, Johnson, of Florence, has logged time with many other bands over the years, including a longtime Valley favorite, the Drunk Stuntmen.
That band’s name might have hit a little too close to home in some ways: Johnson says he went through “a twenty-year romance with drugs and booze” starting in his teens but has been clean and sober since 2008. This has enabled him to expand his work, from giving guitar lessons to hosting a regular open mic at Brew Practitioners in Florence.
Hampshire Life: Talk about your music. What will the audience experience?
Alex Johnson: At any Colorway show, you should expect to see a performance by three people who love music with all their heart and soul. We are always striving to break new ground with the songs and lift up the collective crowd.
H.L.: What is your creative process like? Does it start with a “eureka!” moment?
A.J.: Many of my songs begin at 6 a.m. when I wake up with a melody from the soundtrack of my last dream. I’ll tiptoe out to the living room, so as not to wake my fiancée, Jodi, and huskily hum into my iPhone voice memo. From there I’ll flesh it out with an acoustic guitar and get a good structure.
H.L.: What to you do when you get stuck?
A.J.: I’ll take a long shower or bike ride. Anything to get away from my phone.
H.L: How do you know you’re on the right track?
A.J.: I really don’t know until the song is being played live. That’s the real test. If it can survive everything up to that point, it’s probably a keeper … for a while.
H.L.: What did you do recently that relates to your art?
A.J.: Rehearsed with my band; woke up with a melody that I think will make for a great summertime anthem; saw the David Crosby show at the Academy of Music; and gave a guitar lesson to one of my teenage students who’s coming along nicely, opening for bands at the Iron Horse and all that. I’m pretty proud of how far he’s come.
H.L.: What keeps you sober?
A.J.: Love, music, guitars, great television, a well-fitted jacket and the fact that I almost lost the ability to enjoy any of those things from use and abuse — that we might not be talking right now because I needed one more shot of vodka.
— Steve Pfarrer
Alex Johnson and Colorway will play the Sierra Grille in Northampton on Thursday at 9 p.m. with The Demographic and The Electric Eyes (featuring “rock professor” Steve Waksman). Colorway’s website is www.colorwaymusic.com. Johnson also maintains a blog (www.fearlessbydefault.com) about his past struggles with alcohol — it’s for anyone, he says, “who might need to know that you don’t need to get lit to light up a stage.”