In Session: Johnny Morse
COHOES – Crafting a career in music is no easy task – the industry has a way of chewing people up and spitting them out regularly – but that’s exactly what local musician Johnny Morse has done. Getting his start in the 1980s, Morse has made quite the name for himself in this area, as well as forged a seemingly endless list of connections and memories. Playing alongside some of his musical idols, such as Pat Travers and Robin Trower, serve as just a few examples of what he’s been through along the way. Now, this all comes to a close on June 4th, as Johnny Morse and his band take to the stage one last time at Cohoes Music Hall. That night, the band will be performing with other acts Harmony Rocks, and Mike and the Monsters. For more information, please click here.
What is sure to be a fantastic bookend in a wild and storied career in music, I had the chance to sit down with Morse ahead of the show to discuss his life in music, as well as several other topics.
Lucas Garrett: Thank you, Johnny, for sitting down with us today! How are you doing?
Johnny Morse: I’m doing great, brother. I hope you are as well! How’s everything going?
LG: Pretty good, man. I can’t complain.
JM: Does no good, anyway!
LG: Yeah, right! So, I hear that you are retiring? And, you’re doing one last show.
JM: Yes. The last show will be Cohoes Music Hall, June 4th. The doors are at 6:00 pm. The first band will be Harmony Rocks at 6:30 pm, followed by Mike and the Monsters. Then, I have my Allstar Band going up, which will be: me, my bass player, Paul Fraim; my drummer, Stormin’ Norman Gray; Paul Zarvis on keyboards; Rockin’ Rob Carson on sax; Ron Toth on guitar; Kristen Capolino on guitar. And, I’ve got Johnny Clifford coming to do some songs and Tommy Love coming to do some songs. It’ll be a full night of music at Cohoes Music Hall. It’s going to be the last hurrah, so call for your tickets now at (518)434-0776!
LG: That sounds awesome, man. The lineup you just mentioned has some of the bigger names in the area. It’s certainly a testament to what you’ve done throughout the years. You’ve been at this for quite a while now, right?
JM: Yeah, I started playing pubs when I was 12 or 13 years old. So, 45 years! A pretty long run.
LG: What got you started?
JM: I had older friends that were musicians and I was kind of like the young punk, hotshot guitar kid. I ended up joining a few bands with older guys and started playing in pubs. Around the 80s, I was in a couple hard-rock, metal bands and I decided I wanted to go a more blues-route, so I started my own band, The John Morse Band. The original band was with Jay Ayotte on bass and Joey Pucci on drums. I’ve had many members over the years, but that’s kind of where it started. We started playing pubs and never stopped.
LG: You’ve seen quite a lot throughout the years. What are some of the more memorable things that stick out in your mind as you look back on all that time?
JM: Well, I got to meet and hang out with a lot of my idols. I got to open up for a lot of big acts. I had another band called Star Struck, which was mostly original, hard-rock, in the vein of Thin Lizzy; bluesy-rock. We did shows with Blue Oyster Cult, UFO, Michael Schenker, Brett Michaels, Blackfoot, Rick Derringer, Molly Hatchet, and on-and-on – I can’t remember them all. That was pretty cool getting to do shows with people like that. Pat Travers, I must have did at least a dozen shows with him over the years.
LG: That sounds awesome.
JM: Yeah, I was very fortunate. I got to play with a lot of my guitar idols; Robin Trower I got to open up for when I was 20 years. But yeah, I was pretty lucky with that. You stick around and you’re thrown a few bones, I guess. I’m looking forward to the Cohoes Music Hall show; it’s in my home town and it’s a beautiful theater. Tickets are only $15 for three bands.
LG: Who are some of your favorite players?
JM: I’m definitely a huge Stevie Ray Vaughn fan. Jimi Hendrix, of course. Robin Trower, Pat Travers, Ritchie Blackmore. Those are the guitar player for me. When it comes to metal, Randy Rhoads was always a favorite.
LG: Those are some great players. As you put the final pin in your career, how would you say – in your eyes – the music industry changed since you first became involved?
JM: Well, we didn’t have the internet when I was starting out! We didn’t have Facebook, or YouTube, or any of that type of thing. I will say there’s a lot going on in the internet these days. It was just a whole different scene; the drinking age was 18. You could play every night of the week and the place was always crowded. It was a different time.
LG: Do you think the internet is hindering or helping the industry?
JM: It’s a good way to get your stuff out there. The first recording I was on was a 45. You weren’t able to have access to people who just put your music out where people can see it.
LG: That’s definitely a plus.
JM: Yeah, there’s a lot of plusses. You know, you’ve made albums and stuff. You know you can get it out there and kind of bypass a record label.
LG: There’s also an oversaturation that is happening, though. I think there’s good and bad things from the technology aspect.
JM: Yeah, it’s like any tool. There’s good and bad. As far as oversaturation, well, that was going on in the 80s. When metal started being big in the 80s, all these knockoff metal bands cropped up and saturated the market.
LG: I hadn’t thought about that. That’s a very good point.
JM: It seems like whatever the record industry thinks is going to sell; if there’s one selling they want to duplicate it.
LG: So, you’re quite the collector of guitars, aren’t you?
JM: Yeah! I love guitars. I think I have about 40 guitars laying around the house right now.
LG: Do you think you have enough yet, or are you still looking for more?
JM: It’s never enough, Lucas! There’s always one that catches your eye. I have slowed down, though. I haven’t bought one in almost a year now! But that’s because now it’s more of an investment. Back in the day when I was playing all the time, you could buy one and pay that off by doing gigs. Now that I’m not going to be doing that, I’m slowing down on buying more.
You can actually get some pretty decent guitars for reasonable prices these days. All of my guitars aren’t top notch. There’s some reasonably cheap guitars out there; you can always buy a cheap guitar and modify it. If you put new pickups in it, or whatever, you can still end up with a great guitar for a decent price.
LG: I’m not sure a lot of people know that. It’s definitely a way to go.
JM: That being said, my prized possession and main axe is a 1988 Paul Reed Smith Blue MultiFoil.
LG: What advice do you have, if any, for those that are thinking they might want to try out the whole music thing?
JM: Well, I think it’s something where you have to follow your heart, if you feel you want to do it. It’s definitely not an easy thing to do if you want to make a living – I lived off it for years. I was literally singing for my supper, you know? After a while it becomes a job and you lose your fire and your passion. What happens is you have to take whatever you can get in order to keep your lights on and pay your rent.
LG: What would you recommend to those that are losing that passion and fire?
JM: I’d say to just step away from it for a while. That’s really all you can do. If you’re forced to play when you don’t want to, it’ll make the situation worse. You have to step back and re-evaluate. Maybe learn a new style, or new genre. Find a way to make it more exciting for you. My thing was, Lucas, I was never big on practicing a lot. The John Morse Band was around for 40 years and we had maybe five practices. It all depends on the individual. I have friends that play guitar all day long. That’s the way I was ‘til I became an old, miserable f*cker.
LG: Hahaha. It’s no easy feat to have done what you did for so long; a lot of people burn out a lot quicker. You’ve been at this for forty years now. Looking back on your career, would you have done anything differently or are you happy with how things turned out?
JM: If I could do it again, I’d get a good manager. I did everything myself. Always. I was never in any cliques or in with the cool crowd. I always had to make my own way. Starting out, it’s good to have a good agent or a good manager.
LG: Yeah, it can be really hard out there.
JM: It’s not an easy thing to do, brother. But if you really love it, you do it.
LG: Is there anything else you’d like to talk about today that we may not have covered?
JM: I hope everybody comes to the last show. I’m hoping we get a big crowd for this. It’s June 4th at Cohoes Music Hall. Call for your tickets, now at (518)434-0776. I want to thank you for taking the time to do this with me today, brother.
LG: No problem, man. It’s always nice to talk to you.
JM: You too, man. You keep plugging along. Cheers mate.
LG: I’ll talk to you later, man!