Richie Johnson Interview
P- Where do you come from; did you grow up around here?
P- So you're in Burlington and where does Rock'n'Roll
start? Where does drumming start?
R- Hmmm, let's see…I started on trumpet in high school and they yelled at me
that I was wasting the tax payers' money. I wasn't learning the notes properly.
Then I went to guitar, I think I smashed it. I learned Secret Agent Man and
then, like they always say "What's a band? Three musicians and a drummer."
P- So you didn't look up to John Bonham or someone?
R- Naw, to be honest I saw the Beatles getting chased by girls in Hard Day's
Night and I figured I wanted to do that too and guitar was too hard to learn.
ML- Drumming is hard to learn!
R- Well people say that but I can't see it. I think it's easy.
P- How did you learn?
R- Myself. But actually if you look at it, my best friend, David
Robinson was a drummer… and his brother Paul was in the Boize before me. David
is my oldest friend; he lived in the next town over. He was in a band that a
friend of mine's brother was in and they played at the high schools in the area.
Not many people had long hair back then and we used to get beat up by the jocks
so you got to know your friends and Dave was really cool. I knew he was cool
because he put this aluminized paisley stick-on stuff on his station wagon and
people used to flip out back then over it. Now you think of the Partridge Family
but it was really radical back then!
P- You know it's easy to do crazy stuff now or say
be into The Dolls or The Stooges now but to like them THEN!
From the set of
Boston Rock Cards.
R- Dave and I went to see The Stooges at the first gig they had
at The Boston Tea Party. They were on the bill with Ten Years After. Iggy jumped
off stage and all the people just backed away from him! We were speechless;
I just couldn't believe this was happening. It was like a life changing event
for us. I just saw it on Iggy's MySpace page, he wrote a blog about how like
twelve people clapped and we were two of them! Like you said I used to put the
Stooges on and people would flip out they'd say "Shut that off! That's horrible!"
P- Did you do a lot of clubbing, like the early Tea
Party and stuff?
R- Yeah, I saw some awesome shows there: Jeff Beck Group with Ron
Wood and Rod Stewart, that like just floored me. I saw the Who, the best show
I ever saw, I was with David. We saw Alice Cooper, the first time they ever
played in Boston. They were un-freaking-believable! They were in like aluminum
jumpsuits, Neil Smith ( drummer of the Alice Cooper group) is like 6'10" or something with hair down to his waist
and Alice stuck his head through this broken door singing "Nobody loves me!"
and the band's like "We do , we do!!" and the hippies are freaking out and everybody
left. There was me and Dave and like two other people! And then we saw them
play again at the Cambridge Common that Sunday and again the hippies are like
running away from them!
P- Did you hang out a lot at the Cambridge Common?
Ritchie pulls out a photo album……
R- Oh yeah, here's a pic of the first band,
Ozone Shirley. We played at The Cambridge Common… there's Fred Pinneau and John
Havorka. John Havorka's got the cowboy shirt on. McGregor McGee was our bass
P- Oh that's Havorka with the LONG blonde hair!!!
Ozone Shirley on the Cambridge Common
Richee, Pineau and Havorka
McGregor McGee, Richee, Pineau and Havorka.
For the uncropped pictures and some commentary
by Fred Pineau and John Havorka....CLICK HERE
We can't help but keep looking at the pics, they lead the conversation…..
P- Who's this?
R- That's The Knobs, that's me with Ken Scales, Dave Godbey and
Kurt Naihersy. We used to be really into glitter and stuff, this was in the
very early 70's and one time Ken showed up complete head shaved with a leotard
and platform sandals and scarves around his waist….I mean that's just normal
now…but this was like 1971 or something! I had never even seen a person with
is head shaved! I was completely floored and we played this church and the people
were afraid of us!!! And Ken is such a sweet guy!
Dave Godbey, Richee, Ken Scales, and Kurt Naihersy.
Ken Scales, Kurt Naihersy, Dave Godbey and Richee
Two more pictures of the Knobs...CLICK ONE.....CLICK TWO
P- I can't believe The Knobs were that early…
R- Yeah, there was no Rat, there was no place to play. So we ended
up being the house band at this place called The Blue Mirror. It was in Charlestown
across the street from the Navy yard and it was off limits to sailors cause
some sailors got murdered in there. We were the house band for two months. I
remembered driving in the van with Dave Godbey, Curt and Ken Scales and we had
a flat black van so of course the cops pull us over and they asked where
we were going. We told them The Blue Mirror and one cop pulls out his billy club
and plops it down in front of us and says "Here you're gonna need this." They
had strippers, it was crazy, it was like a job…I was sitting there drumming
and watching Forbidden Planet on the television and this guy is sitting at the
bar and another guy comes in and wham hits him, he goes down, they drag him
out and we just go on playing like its nothing. But the pinnacle of our career
was, as far as I'm concerned, when we played a blues festival in Mansfield.
Remember I'm, all into Alice Cooper at this time and here we are, there's people
sitting around with "wine-skins" all day, like "groovin' to the sounds". It
was perfect. We come out with these huge amps and we had like sparkles and glitter
on us and it was getting dark so the lights came on and I remember sitting down
behind the drums and all I could see was a sea of people. But they all stood
up and started yelling!
P- Do you mean good or bad?
R- Oh they hated us…and we hadn't even played yet! I'm still proud
of Ken Scales to this day..they all had like windbreakers on and stuff and they
started moving toward the stage. Someone threw a beer can and Ken caught it
in mid-air, threw it down and smashed it with his platform sandals and as soon
as he did that we went into a song and they backed away. All I remember is at
the end we threw our stuff in the van and as we're driving off the guys are
banging on the van screaming "We're gonna kill ya!" and the girls are screaming
"We love Alice Cooper!!" It was great! You can't do that now.
P- What kind of music are you playing at this point.
R- Curt's stuff, originals. There was no place to play original
music so we used to say "We're gonna play a new song by the Rolling Stones that
only came out in France on a B Side" but it was an original! That was the only
way you could do it!
P- But when you're at gigs and other bands are playing
all covers and they are getting gigs and doing well with the audience, you are
there and you're playing originals and you struggle a little because of it…what
makes you think you're gonna get ahead by playing originals and not pandering to the
R- I don't know if that's the way you do it…I mean I had friends like
Jonathan Richman, that's what I saw. I mean here's Jonathan playing a concert
at The YMCA in Cambridge and singing "I'm Straight!" and hippies are screamin'
at him and throwing joints at him…that's when I knew there was something goin'
on with that kind of thing.
P- So Jonathan was going against the tide?
R- Completely. He had short hair..everything about him…he's like
no one else.
P- How did you know Jonathan Richman?
Through David. My cousin Rolf Anderson was the Modern Lovers first bass player, he went on to be in the Human Sexual Response and co-wrote Jackie Onassis.
When I was still in The Knobs we used to rehearse in a house
that Ernie and Jerry had. Because they went to Harvard they always cleaned up.
So they rented this huge house in Winchester and there were two bands playing
in there. The Modern Lovers and The Knobs. The place had a gigantic basement
with 15 foot high ceiling and a stage in it.
P- OK, so what happened after the Knobs?
R- Me and Ken Scales were in a band with Ernie Brooks and Jerry
Harrison. And we were called the Sea Monkeys. They had just come back from L.A.
coz the Modern Lovers had broken up. And we did a gig with Marc Thor and JD
Skye who was in the Infliktors. That was The Mystery Men but then that morphed
into the Sea Monkeys because Ken wasn't in it.
P- What was Thor playing at this time?
R- Electric harpsichord!
P- We went to that show Marc Thor did at Krezge Auditorium
and he had to do new arrangements of songs. He did an arrangement of Holiday
Fire with horns. Marc Thor is now teaching music in New York City somewhere
and he won the John Cage award or something like that.
ML- Ritchie told me he is now married to
Nola and they have a kid!!!
R- Here's a picture of me and Marc on a German destroyer. Marc wanted
to go down there and I had a fascination with their uniforms and they told us
they wanted to trade stuff so we would go down there with jeans and records
and there'd be lines of tourists trying to get on this destroyer and we'd come
up and they'd wave us right in!! Marc had a real fascination with sailors.
Flyer selling Thor's first 45.
Mark Thor with Russian sailors.
Before the internet this was communication.
P- I want to do a page on Thor at some point soon.
He is a fascinating guy!
R- I remember we played at Norfolk Prison. I remember that because
they searched us and everything. I had to go through the metal detector a bunch
P- That was a gig bands used to have back then, prisons!
The Neighborhoods played a prison.
ML- Yeah and bands used to play at that mental hospital Furnald.
P- Oh yeah!! I almost did a show there
with the Count!
R- I played Danvers Mental Institution!
P- Those were the gigs you got back then!
R- Yeah Churches, schools, YMCAs.
P- So you went from Marc Thor
R- The Boize. I ended up in the Boize 'cause I was playing with Marc Thor and
I did that record with Marc. It was John Kelly and Billy Connors and Walter
Powers and I played with them and then they had to replace Paul Robinson. You
know, when we played with Blondie at The Club they had just released their first
single Ex Offender. They wanted the Boize to go to New York and stay
in their loft and open for Blondie in New York but someone wanted to go for
Jimmy Harold's Live At The Rat thing instead.
P- The funny thing is though that when they played
with you at the Club they opened for you! And that opportunity did good things
for that band…I don't' know if you heard but she went on to bigger things after
that you know. HA HA HA! When the Boize did "Live At The Rat", were you in the
R- No I had already left.
Blondie opens for the Boize
P- So what was it like in The Boize, punk was starting to rev up, were the audiences different?
Were the gigs different?
R- Yeah, I mean I never felt like I had to stroke my ego I just wanted
to party and it was really starting to feel like a party. More and more people
were showing up, there were good bands to play with and it was a lot of fun.
P- That was a great time in Boston, that time before
1978. Before punk really took hold. Its funny back then those songs, that music
seemed so outrageous but hearing it now it's just….
R- Straight ahead power pop. It's funny they are the same songs
but they seem so different now. We were very much into The Who and Billy has
that Townsend power chord thing happening. You know at some point Pete Townsend
actually reviewed Boize Town Boize and commented that it had a very Townsend-esque
P- That must have made Billy very happy!
R- Oh yeah! He wrote "Ecstasy" too, for the Paley Brothers, then
Lesley Gore covered it! I left the Boize because of a couple things that happened.
You know, they wanted to do The Live at The Rat and I wanted to go with Blondie
then besides that Columbia were talking to The Boize too and that didn't happened
so I left. I always felt like I was under pressure to make it.
P- So after The Boize you went right to Baby's Arm?
Did Frank scoop you right up or what?
R- For a while I was in a band called The Vandalls. It was Frank
Rowe, Peter Vallis, he used to wear the piano like a guitar…it was kinda goofy!
We played Danvers Mental Institution and Billerica House of Corrections!! That band didn't last too long.
know I looked at the Gig Listing you have on your website and I couldn't believe
how much we played out!! I don't know how I did it!
P- So somehow you ended up leaving that band and
starting Baby's Arm with Frank?
R- Yeah, (me, Frank and Billy Cole) I can't really remember all the details…but you know how we got the name?
It was Willie and Matthew MacKensie. Every time they were asked what their favorite
band was they would say Baby's Arm. It was just a name they made up and they
had a story that the bass players would always catch on fire and they have to
get new bass players all the time. So we were playing and didn't really have
a name yet and Willie said we could use that name.
And it was funny coz we never
could keep a bass player either! We had Stephen Lovelace, Randall, John Schreiber,
Kit Denis, Carmen Monoxide as bass players. But with Baby's Arm I really thought
we had a shot. And that was right around the time when the Cars were taking
off so as Dave was my closest peer and he was making it so I wanted that too.
(Click for flyer of Baby's Arm.)
P- That band, they rose so fast! The minute they
changed their name from Captain Swing to The Cars they just sky rocketed.
R- I remember David and I were driving somewhere once and he had a tape of Captain
Swing. They wanted him to join. So he played it and he said "I think "I'm gonna
join this band." And he was saying "This is gonna be my last band, after this
I'm gonna get a real job." I've known him to have two jobs in his whole life!
He worked at NE Music City in Kenmore Square, that's where he met Jonathan Richman.
P- Did you work much during all this time?
R- Truck driver and stuff like that but eventually I thought I didn't
want to be a 50 year old rocker being a cab driver so I went back to school
P- After Baby's Arm it looks like the next band was
the Last Ones. Anything in between them?
R-I played in a bunch of different projects, some blues, a couple of rockabilly bands, David Hull's (of Farrenhight) brothers band "The Dollars" but most of these bands moved here, they didn't grow up here, I didn't feel that total connection. There were some times when I wasn't
playing at all.
P- Now what is your recorded history like?
R- I 'm on a Knobs single and Baby's Arm's Throbbing Lobster record….The
Last Ones' CD and EP I think. It's funny the EP is a collector's item in Europe.
Rick told me that the Lyres played in Trondheim, Norway and this kid came up
to him and wanted him to sign it. There were like 500 of them made! HA HA.
P- Hey you're also on the Marc Thor record!
R- There was a bunch of stuff in studios that never got to a disc.
P- What about your drums? Are you particular about
anything when you play?
R- They should be round. No, I have about 5 sets of drums. I have
a set of 1944 Radio Kings that are collectibles. They were made during World
War Two so all the lugs are made of rosewood because of a metal shortage. I
saw Jonathan play at The Paradise with Dee Sharp as his drummer and I thought
the set was really cool. I thought what I was seeing was that the metal was
rusted. I went back stage and asked why they were so rusted. And I realized
they were wood! I said to him then, "If you ever sell these please call me!"
and I did get a call from him and he sold them to me for what he originally
paid for them , which was cheap! I love those drums.
P- So let's talk about nowadays. Let me ask you this…if
you look back to '78, you're in the Boize and you're playing a small club. Now
here you are in 2007, you're in The Boize and your playing a small club. That
must be what you like doing, right?
R- Its frustrating some gigs can be kind of frustrating. But at
the end of the night when the bartender or the booker says "Hey give us a call",
you know, the stuff is still viable and that's why I do it. People want to hear
it. Plus I like Billy and Kelly...and Rick, I mean I've known him so long he's a part
of my life.
P- The most unlikely reunion I can think of is The Boize
getting back together.
ML- I heard that Billy had vowed never to play in that band again!
R- Reddy Teddy asked us to play a gig with them so we did it, we got
back together for that.
ML- When you did that one gig with Reddy Teddy did
you think it would continue or did you go into it thinking it was a one time thing?
R- No, I guess I didn't think past the first show. All of a sudden it started snow balling..
ML- It seems to be what happens these days, bands
go for it for one gig but then they see there is an audience, or it just feels
so good and next thing you know they are gigging out all over the place.
R- Well you know, someone's got to do it. And like Rick Corraccio
said in one of his journals on your site, it keeps him young.
ML- Sometimes I'm out at a club and I question why
I am still doing this though.
R- Well that's why I want to play though, people that we know come
out to hear us and have a good time and it's a party. It's not an ego thing,
I'm not gonna make money. But the thing I feel might be missing is the community
we used to have. But people still want to hear the music so I'll keep doing it.
The Boize MYSPACE page.
The Center For Downward Mobility...this is a very funny 2:53 minute short that Richee has a part in.
Top Ten Fave Songs
- NY DOLLS - TRASH
- STOOGES - LOOSE
- BLUE CHEER -JUST A LITTLE BIT
- MUSIC MACHINE - TALK TALK
- MC5 - AMERICAN RUSE
- ALICE COOPER - UNDER MY WHEELS
- YARDBIRDS - I'M NOT TALKING
- THE WHO - I CAN SEE FOR MILES
- SEX PISTOLS - PUSHIN TO HARD
Some Drum Related Influences
- CHARLIE WATTS
- MITCH MITCHELL
- GEAN KRUPA
- PAUL WHALEY
- JERRY NOLAN
- ROGER TRIPP
- DENNIS THOMPSON
- TONY WILLIAMS
- GARY COOK
- KEITH MOON
- DAVE ROBINSON
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