At one point in the middle of this career-spanning collection, Ross Johnson describes himself as “the king of middle-aged garage-band losers.”
If only things were that simple. Then Johnson might actually be marketable.
But for the uninitiated (which covers everyone not conversant with the Sugar Ditch Records catalog, or the recorded work of Monsieur Jeffrey Evans and Tav Falco), Johnson is a 54-year-old Memphis-by-way-of-Little-Rock drummer who bluffed and drank his way into a side career as a vocalist/musical storyteller. Johnson can’t sing, and doesn’t try to, nor does he rap in the conventionally accepted manner. Rather, he talks, pleads, exhorts, and bellows over whatever ramshackle three-chord accompaniment happens to be handy. Kind of like a self-loathing, Southern Big Bopper on crazy pills.
This drunken, Foster-Brooks-of-rock-and-roll shtick would quickly grate if Johnson were not such a witty, self-aware buffoon. “Wet Bar” finds him admitting to a drinking problem, before begging, “Couldn’t we work it out?/Couldn’t we have a drink or something?”
“Nudist Camp” is a hilariously terrifying sexual-coming-of-age saga with Johnson slipping into his best wrecked-preacher’s voice (“I HAD DREAMS! I HAD DREAMS!) as he relays the story of a 12-year-old neighbor girl who exposed herself to him when he was 10-years-old. Predictably, he responded to this realized fantasy by running down the stairs in fear “like a chihuahua,” adding: “I hate chihuahuas/I wanna smother a chihuahua.”
Johnson’s rants are best appreciated in small doses, and some tracks here, such as an instrumental version of Manfred Mann’s “Pretty Flamingo,” skirt the edges of pointlessness. But Johnson is a true original: a glorious wreck who didn’t let a little tone-deafness get in the way of his musical kicks.