The Johnnys, Highlights Of A Dangerous Life (1986)
My good friend Matthew Couper gave me a dubbed cassette of The Johnnys when we were at high school. Man, I thrashed that album. It was this weird hybrid of tongue-in-cheek country and tongue-in-pint pub-rock and I loved it. Instantly. All it once it was like nothing I’d heard – and it was like Midnight Oil and Hoodoo Gurus and other Aussie bands of the time that I loved. Kinda. I kept that tape for years – round and round in the car, songs about Injun Joe and Marty Robbins. I found the LP in a store in Napier – most bizarre. It must have been Hawke’s Bay’s only copy. It was $2. An absolute bargain. I had the album on CD also – thanks to a friend from Australia bringing over a copy but now I just have the vinyl. And I still play this album a heap. When I saw that Spencer P. Jones was playing with Paul Kelly I remembered the name from The Johnnys. I even checked out some of Spencer’s solo albums, got one on CD for $1 and it was great. The Paul Kelly collaboration and the solo albums took me back, each time, to Highlights Of A Dangerous Life. Last year I was offered the chance to interview Spencer. He was coming over to do a couple of shows in Auckland. I wouldn’t get to the shows but I thought it would be great to chat with him. I was quite excited; more so than is often the case with interviews. It had been arranged that he would call me. This usually bodes well – it means they’re interested (the artist, I mean). So, yeah, Sunday afternoon and I give Highlights Of A Dangerous Life a spin – then an hour later the phone calls (slightly earlier than planned) and it’s a very chirpy Spencer, his mostly Aussie accent allowing just a little bit of the Kiwi to come in. Just a tiny bit. And he’s all friendly and says “hey man, I’m about to run out of credit so I’m just ringing to give you a number – can you call me in like an hour, please?” And so that’s fine. I go off to read my book and listen to some tunes and relax. I call back and it’s a disaster. He sounds like a totally different person (I did ask him his name and he confirmed it – so it wasn’t actually a totally different person). It seemed like he had called in early then gotten a fix in time for the phone-call; he made little sense, he gave one-word answers, he slurred and seemed like he was nodding off. He had nothing to say. It was so sad. He was also nervous and apologetic and really just seemed unwell. I told the publicist that out of respect for the work that I enjoyed (his music, I mean) and the fact that I was embarrassed for him and that he had given me practically nothing to work with I would not be running the interview. There was not gonna be a showdown. I asked if the publicist knew of any issues with Jones. Was he still using? “I was aware”, he replied, “that there were some, er, health issues”. Sad.
Sample Track: Green Back Dollar
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