The handsome devil playing bass guitar on the right hand side of the above picture is no stranger to these parts, although this will be the first confirmed sighting. As you may have gathered from the title of today’s posting it is an image of Jonny the Friendly Lawyer (JTFL) who has been a long-time friend of this and many other quality blogs offering his thoughts, wisdom and opinions all the way from the West Coast of the USA. But he could soon be coming close by your own ‘hood and thus offering the chance to meet in person while listening to live music. I’ll lrt the great man himself tell you all about it:-
THE PONDEROSA ACES
A GUEST ADMISSION BY JONNY THE FRIENDLY LAWYER
My name is Johnny Bottoms and I am an Outlaw Country musician. I play bass for The Ponderosa Aces. I wasn’t always this way. In fact, only a few months ago I was just like anyone else. Here’s what happened…
Goldie The Friendly Psychologist (GTFP) and I have been empty nesting since last summer. Why not get a band together? I jammed with a few friends, singing and playing guitar, trying to sort some basic tunes by The Jam, Blondie, Pretenders, Bowie. But it just wasn’t happening and I got frustrated. I thought, Screw this — I play bass, I never pretended I was any good at guitar. So I went on the local musicians network and typed in “bassist.” The first ad that came up said “Bassist Needed for Established Country Band. Gigs Lined Up.” It could have been a reggae band, a power pop band, a death metal band — whatever. The operative word was established. They were up and running and already playing out.
I should say here that up to this point I didn’t know anything about country music. I didn’t listen to it often, didn’t have much in the library beyond Elvis Costello‘s country album (if that even counts). I sure as hell didn’t know how to play country music. So I called up the lead guitarist named, naturally, Hoss. Our conversation went like this:
Hoss: So, you’re a country music guy?
– Who’s your favorite country artist?
– Don’t know if I could name just one (which was true, since I didn’t know any).
– Well, you got some favorite country songs?
– Er, do you guys need a bass player or not?
– Oh, yeah, we do! You have played bass in a band before, right?
– Of course.
– When was that?
– 1988. In New York.
– Oh. Well, can you come to a rehearsal this Thursday?
That was a Monday. I downloaded the band’s album on iTunes and gave a listen. I was knocked out. The songs on Honky Tonkin’ My Life Away are all originals and they’re EXCELLENT. I practiced the bass parts until I felt like I might not completely disgrace myself. On the Thursday Hoss called to apologize that he couldn’t make the rehearsal and that I would just be meeting the drummer and singer. Okay. I drove down to Long Beach with the album on repeat, trying to ingrain my parts. The drummer, Art, was a good-natured and friendly guy. I was a bit leery of Mike, the singer. It wasn’t just that they guy is pure outlaw, with a formidable foot long beard. It was that Mike wrote all the songs on the album and I hoped I could do them justice. He handed me a book with the chord charts and off we went. It must have gone okay because when we finished I handed Mike the book back and he said “That’s yours — you keep that. We got a gig a week from tomorrow, can you sit in?” Sure I could.
I had a pair of cowboy boots I bought in 1983 somewhere in the closet. I found an embroidered western shirt that looked the part on eBay. I showed up for the gig and met Hoss and Steve, the pedal steel player. Fortunately for me, Steve plays sitting down with a handy music stand to keep the charts on. I stationed myself next to him and did the best I could, peeking over at the charts as discreetly as possible. After the show, the rest of the band were waiting for me in the parking lot. Christ, I wasn’t that bad, was I? Or maybe this was the part where they said, “Hey, thanks for filling in, but our real bassist will be back from his hernia operation next week.” But that didn’t happen. Instead, I got a round of handshakes and a question:
– Are you free to travel in February and April?
– Travel where?
– Texas in February and England in April.
– Sure I am.
I had been a country musician for 8 days. I hadn’t played bass in a band in 28 years. I was going to tour Texas and England. (I am not making any of this up, by the way).
Turns out the band’s criteria for a bassist depended on five critical questions, in roughly this order: (1) Are you a complete fucking maniac that no one can get along with? (2) Can you show up on time for gigs and rehearsals? (3) Are you going to bitch about money? (4) Is your wife going to be pissed off about you spending a lot of time doing band stuff? and (5) do you own a bass guitar and know where it is?
Honestly, that’s what they were thinking, having gone through a string of bassists that were overly ornery, complained about the cash, showed up erratically and not always sober, and whose wives didn’t approve of the band. I slotted in perfectly: I can get along with most anyone, I’m punctual, I’m not bothered about money, GTFP is glad to get me out of the house, and I know exactly where my bass is! My skills weren’t the prime concern for a simple reason: the band are all MONSTER players. The aptly named Aces are such superb musicians that everything they do sounds so professional I couldn’t screw it up if I tried. And we can’t have a rehearsal without Mike introducing at least two new classic outlaw tunes. (We’ll be recording a new album later this year.)
So, now I’m Johnny Bottoms. I play all over the coast a few times a month. The guys are typical southern Californians: laid back, quick to laugh, fun to be around. The Ponderosa Aces are nominated for awards as Best Pure Country Band by the Academy of Western Artists and Best Outlaw Band by Ameripolitan, a roots country foundation based in Austin. We’re going to the Ameripolitan awards show and will play five gigs while we’re in Texas. I’m over the moon about that, never having been to Texas once. We’re sponsored by a Whiskey company (Coldcock) and I got a new stage tuner from another sponsor, GoGo Tuners.
One of the nicest surprises about joining the Aces is the discovery that loads of people I wouldn’t have guessed LOVE country music. I knew my wife was a Patsy Cline devotee, but had no idea our own daughter was a huge Dolly Parton fan. My buddy Ronnie can do a perfect Bob Wills “Aaa-haah!” Driving down the coast a week ago my buddy Kevin — pure Malibu royalty that is such an OG surf punk that he actually drummed for The Surf Punks — amazed me by jumping in on the chorus of ‘Dang Me’, an obscure Roger Miller tune from 1964. I almost drove onto the beach! Nearly everyone I know has a favorite song by Willie, Tammy, Waylon, Merle, Loretta, EmmyLou, or Hank — and my own country library is growing all the time.
In my last NYC post with Echorich I wrote that my modest music career ended after I took the bar exam in July 1988. No longer true: now I’m playing regularly and WE ARE COMING TO TOUR ENGLAND! I wrote JC to tell him all about it in the hope that some of the formidable Vinyl Villain community will come out to see us and, of course, our man was happy to help out a friend. This is the tour schedule:
Sat. 22 APRIL – THE STABLES, Milton Keynes
Sun. 23 APRIL – GULLIVERS, Manchester
Mon. 24 APRIL – JUMPIN’ JACK’S, Newcastle
Tue. 25 APRIL – THE MUSICIAN, Leicester
Thu. 27 APRIL – THE BORDERLINE, London
Fri. 28 APRIL – FAT LIL’S, Witney
Sat. 29 APRIL – BILLY BOB’S SALOON, EuroDisney, Paris
Sun. 30 APRIL – THE HAUNT, Brighton
Mon. 1 MAY – THE PRIORY, Dover
And here are some songs from the album, Honky Tonkin’ My Life Away:
So, a surprising but happy story. I hope you’ll be able to come out and see The Ponderosa Aces in just a couple months’ time. This blog’s readers are an amazing crowd I like to think of as old friends, and it would be great to finally meet some of y’all in person.
Johnny Bottoms, the country bassist