Gordie Johnson abandons T.O. for Texas

MIKE ROSS - Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 12:35 AM ET

Someone must've slipped Gordie Johnson some sugar - 'cause his new band Grady is mean.

See it Friday at Cowboys. How appropriate.

Johnson boasts like a carnival barker, "It's just stomp and steer. You hit the nitrous can and hang on for dear life."

Fans will recognize the "sugar makes me mean" reference above from his previous band, Big Sugar, which was dissolved last year.

Johnson abandoned Toronto for Austin, Texas, mothballed his Hugo Boss suits for ragged dungarees, got rid of the slick reggae sound and instead embraced a Southern good ol' punk attitude, ditched the highfalutin ideas, got more elemental, down to earth - hot, sun-baked, Texas dirt, that is. His voice even sports a twang now, y'all.

You know how some people just need to clean the slate every now and then and start over? Johnson is one of those guys. He's always been a bit of an ornery cuss. His tinkering with the membership with Big Sugar is legendary, as was his extensive "undercover" work, as likely to appear with a banjo at the folk festival as on stage rocking out with the Moffatts. (Yes, it happened.) To those who complained Big Sugar was too loud, he'd reply, "It's too loud enough."

Grady is louder.

Ironically, the same Canadian music industry that made him a star drove him south. While his family still has a ranch in Alberta, Johnson now lives on an acreage near Austin, overlooking an oak forest, just down the road from Willie Nelson's private golf course and recording studio. Nice.

Johnson says, "It's not dissimilar to Alberta for someone who's used to Alberta ways. The weather's a lot nicer for a lot more of the year - and it has the most amazing music scene ever! And it's not a music industry place.

"I got bulls----ed to death in the music industry - all my friends in bands, all my friends who worked at record labels, all my friends who were lawyers. It was the constant, never-ending chatter of how to get ahead in the business.

"And I was like, has anybody stopped to think of how you might make your music? Are you really saying what you mean to say or are you trying to twist yourself around and jump through a bunch of hoops to make yourself appealing to somebody who's not going to care 15 minutes from now?

"God damn, the tail's wagging the dog and people are running around in a circle chasing after this thing that I never in my career had to do. I always made the records I wanted to make and people liked it. Invariably, I'd have people from the label or the manager say, 'Oh, I wish you wouldn't start your show with your big single - you're supposed to save it for the encore.'

"And I say, 'Well, you start a band and you save your big single for the encore, motherf---er. I want to start my show with it. I don't want to wait all night to hear the big single.' I think it's just courteous. Make your audience happy."

Big Sugar's contract was coming to an end anyway.

"I gave them my last commitment," the rant continues. "I had a dozen or so new songs and the record label was like, 'Well, we need to hear more songs.' I said, 'You never needed to hear songs before and now you want to put out a greatest hits? How about letting me go home and write some more hits and we'll just start there.'

"And they said, 'No, that's not how it works for Jann Arden and Nelly Furtado and Bryan Adams. You know what? I ain't f---ing Jann Arden, motherf---er, pardon the cuss words, but why does that make sense to you?

"Do you see a similarity there? I don't. Having those kinds of discussions just drove me out of the country, drove me out of that music business."

After hooking up with his associates Big Ben and Whipper Layton - the former a Big Sugar roadie Johnson would sometimes play incognito gigs with, the latter Stevie Ray Vaughan's drummer - Grady didn't so much form as "happen."

There were no goals beyond fun, no business plan, no "people," not even any roadies. These guys hump their own gear.

Johnson says, "I didn't start the band as a project. It's not a side project. I'm not going sideways. I'm going forward. A project makes it sound like it's due Monday morning and I'm going to get marked on it."

So I guess he'll have no use for this "A" we were about to give Grady. Keep up with that high-test sugar now, y'all.


Videos

Photos