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Moxy - 2001 Interview with Earl Johnson

INTERVIEW: Moxy (Dec 2001)
Earl Johnson reveals the new improved Moxy!

In The Spotlight - Moxy
Interview with - Earl Johnson
Written by: Gdazegod (December, 2001)

Another band revered in the time honored tradition of Canadian hard rock are Moxy. Appearing first during the heyday of the hard rockin' seventies, the band released a handful of albums such as 'Moxy I', 'Moxy II' 'Under The Lights' and 'Ridin' High'. Moxy have had their ups and downs, even spawning a certain Mr Michael Rynoski, who later went on to fame as Mike Reno with melodic rockers Loverboy. Despite the typical issues of record label indifference, splitting up and reforming, some of the original members are now right back at the forefront, a reunion occuring years after their initial incarnation. These include guitarists Earl Johnson and Buddy Caine, and drummer Bill Wade.

Now, this reunion has not been an overnight thing. Some of the guys have been out of touch for years, so it was a bit of a shock that they could get back together after all this time. More importantly, they've just released a barnstorming new album 'Moxy V', which got a great review here at GLORY-DAZE. We asked original guitarist Earl Johnson about that 'seventies thing', and how the vibe of the new album shows through in that style. 'Well, I guess we show definite influences here and there and in some places maybe too much' says Earl. 'This was the first time we had gotten back together after twenty-five years and we did the album on a restricted budget and time frame. Everybody threw in demo tapes and songs that they had. I actually came into the project after Bill and Bud had already recorded five songs'. I enquired about the songs. Most of these were written last year, so did you all contribute equally to the process? 'Some of the songs are new and some over ten years old. In my case, I contributed three songs that were part of a project that never got off the ground about ten years ago, which was more of a late 80s metal hair band, but a lot of fun'.

The current lineup (circa 2001):
Back left to right: Kim Hunt - drums; Earl Johnson - guitars; Brian 'Max' Maxim - vocals; Jim Samson - bass
front: Buddy Caine - guitars

Perhaps one of the biggest instigators of the reunion was drummer Bill Wade. On the liner notes Bill has a lot of technical input into the album. Just how much? 'Bill engineered and produced the CD at his studio' explains Earl. 'And as such is responsible for the sound quality of the disc. It's got a lot of guitar attack and a pretty fat bottom end, kind of a throwback to our first album. The mix of songs is a result of three different writers each contributing their own songs'. Yes, from where I'm sitting, 'V' has definitely got a fat sound to it. It's awesome actually. How do you guys feel about the overall sound, now that the album is out? 'A lot of the fat comes from the extended bass range from drum machines that Bill used for the final mix. Bill laid down the rhythm tracks for most of the songs before we came in to put on the guitars, in order to save time and speed up the process. We had never done an 'indie' recording before and had to try to stay as cost effective as possible'.

Next, I move through to the songs on the album. 'Fire Down Below' was a real retro blast.. I thought I was listening to Led Zep IV'. What was the story on this one Earl? 'We came in one day and Bill had laid down the bass and drums himself and Buddy had already recorded the harp and rhythm guitars. We could hear right away that it was almost a tribute tune to Bob and Jim (Robert Plant and Jimmy Page) but we had too much fun recording it to scrap it'. You've written a few songs on 'V' as well. 'Burning In The Night', 'Candy Delight' and 'Walking On The Wildside'. Whats different about the way you put a song together say versus the way Bill or Buddy would do? 'Those songs were written on more of an interactive basis with a drummer and bass player where I had most of the song written. I still like to just jam a tune in the hall and see what we come up with. Buddy tends to come in with a fully finished song'. Any personal favourites, or tracks in particular that buyers of the CD should listen out for? 'You bet.. 'Yucatan Man', 'Candy Delight', 'Snakebite', 'Working Man', 'Nitro Love' and 'Walking On The Wild Side' I think best represent the band and where we are going in the future'.

From a musical perspective, I reckon you guys are pretty much untouched by what's topical out there. Would it be fair to say that some of the greatest heavy rock/blues outfits such as Zep and ZZ Top make up part of Moxy's style? Earl explains. 'If you go back to 'Moxy 1', Zeppelin was the main influence for which we recorded as a four piece, and when Bud came into the band it changed things. By 'Ridin' High' we had reached a direction we thought would work. Unfortunately radio got very soft and we didn't have a hit song to sustain the band. Had we been able to continue on I believe we would have ended up somewhere between Aerosmith and Guns n Roses with a harder edge'. So, after a 25 year vacation, what do you think the biggest difference is between Moxy back then, as opposed to now, apart from age?

'We really have just come back after a 25 year vacation as you point out' Earl says, 'and we are now looking at the next recording, which will be more of a band sound and will have a definite direction with less obvious influences. We have a glut of song ideas kicking around and hope to put together a CD with a lot of heavy kickers as well as some lighter acoustic oriented songs or parts thereof'.

Moxy V (2001 Record Heaven, Pacemaker)

Tell us about Moxy's love affair with the Mid-West and Texas? What's so special about those places for you guys? 'Texas is where the band broke out in the olds days and is still our second home away from Canada. When we played San Antonio last November with Saxon and Frank Marino, it was an amazing experience. We had 6,000 people and there were fans in the front rows with tears in their eyes. Some of the fans said we were such a major part of their youth and that our music had really touched them'. Even after twenty or so years does it seem like yesterday for some of those fans hearing you play again? 'Yes' agrees Earl.

Yourself and Buddy have been right through the Moxy career from the start. As guitarists, what sorts of things have you developed together as a duo regarding your playing styles? 'Actually Buddy and I had not been in touch much for the last five or six years with kids and wives and all that, and I had been out of the music business entirely. I only came back because there was a chance to record some new product and start again as opposed to just going out and playing all the old songs. Now there feels like there's some new life in the band. Our styles have changed with maybe a more bluesy feel to some solos and heavier chord changes. The next CD will be even heavier, as our writing is changing away from this one'.

For me, it's great to hear songs like these where you've got a singer who can do justice to them. You rate Max (vocalist Brian Maxim) then? 'Max has a great set of pipes and we are now trying to write material a little more suited to his vocal style'. The addition of Jim Samson and Kim Hunt adds a new dimension to Moxy's sound and approach? Did you know much about their previous work, particularly back in the seventies while they were both part of Zon? 'I don't believe I ever heard a Zon song before, we just thought they were another fairies and wizards band. But I did know Jim and Kim later from some mutual friends and really enjoy working with them especially now'. Ha ha, I'm sure some of our AOR and pomp fanatics will get a kick out of that remark! Fairies and wizards indeed. As it is, I'm quite partial to a lot of the Record Heaven material, as it seems to anchor into that seventies hard rock sound. How have you guys found it working in with RHCD and Pacemaker in Canada? And what about the classic hard rock genre in particular? 'The truth is, it's hell being a classic rock band and trying to fight for airplay without major label support' bemoans Earl. 'Both labels are doing as much as they possibly can for us and we have just signed with Bullseye Records here in Canada, who are going to re-release 'Moxy V' as well as put out a live CD next spring'.

There seems to be quite a lot of 'classic rock' activity going on around the world, and Moxy are right in the thick of it. Are we seeing some trend here do you think? What about the earlier Moxy material, I can't recall if these are available in CD format? 'Guitar rock is back but in a much simpler format. We just edited 'Moxy V' for the re-release on Bullseye and actually took out some guitar solos - something unheard of twenty years ago. The current trend is towards heavier power chords with strong melodies and more generic lyrics. We will be focusing on a wider range of material for the next CD with more acoustic or lighter texture guitars and heavier more dynamic chord structures'. Any chance to gather a new and younger audience as a result of this album? 'To reach a broader base of people we have to hit some common denominator listening buttons or we will never get played. There are some bands doing some great stuff in that area like Creed and 3 Doors Down'.

We had 6,000 people and there were fans in the front rows with tears in their eyes.
Some of the fans said we were such a major part of their youth
and that our music had really touched them'
Earl Johnson - remarking on some of Moxy's diehard Texan fans

On a personal note the band has experienced personal tragedies with both Buzz Sherman and Bill Wade passing away at different stages of the bands life. As long as Moxy are still playing, a lot of their fighting spirit still remains? I know Bill passed away during the middle of this year. Did he have a chance to listen to the final output before release? 'Honestly, I believe one of our old girlfriends must have taken a voodoo course or something, quite possibly any one of three or four of my own candidates I can think of, as the band is cursed in a way' reflects Earl. 'It was sad for Bill not to be able to go back out with us and tragic in the way he died. That said we are determined to give it one hell of a shot before anybody packs it in. We will not go quietly. One of the new songs I'm working on is 'Something Wicked This Way Comes' which about sums up my attitude'.

Moxy played a couple of gigs in October alongside some other great Canadian bands, including a Benefit Gig for Bill. How did those shows go? 'The shows we did with Goddo and A Foot In Coldwater were great as there was a competitive friendly spirit, which brought out the best in each band. We did not like each other much in the old days as we were all fighting for the top dog spot here in Toronto and didn't have anything nice to say about anybody, so we usually didn't say anything at all'. So, now that 'V' is out, are we going to see a lot of requests for Moxy to play outside of Canada again? Perhaps even Europe next spring and summer? 'George, we got a taste of Europe last summer at the Sweden Rock Festval and we hope to get to Germany and Sweden in 2002, as well as more U.S. dates. We are hopeful the live CD will add some fuel to the fire as we hope to record better versions of some of the tunes especially 'Through The Storm', 'Midnite Flite' and 'Set You On Fire' as well'. I know I'll be keeping an eye open with whats going on in the Moxy camp, and we can look forward to some riveting hard rock coming out of Canada. Pleasure to chat Earl, and we'll keep in touch yeah? 'Thanks and yes we'll talk again'.

A reunion of the rockiest kind. A blast from the past, and a pointer to the future. Moxy have a lot to catch up on, and though currently anchored with a seventies sound, you can take it from Earl Johnson that the band will move with the times, and show some of these young upstarts how to really rock. The re-edited version of 'Moxy V' will come out on the Vernon's Bullseye Records label, along with a live CD. If the power displayed on 'V' is anything to go by, then the latter will be a CD worth obtaining. In the meantime, go retro if you know whats good for you.

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