If the mission statement at Grooveyard Records of "The Guitar Is King In The Grooveyard!" doesn't give you some indication of where Jay Jesse Johnson's music might focus, then calling his third album Play That Damn Guitar should remove any lingering doubts you may have that the plank he carries with six strings may well take center stage.
With a deep, sharp and at times downright dirty blues style Tripe J, as his friends call him, is a guitarist with tremendous touch and tone who manages to convey emotion through his guitar like it was the first language he learned as a child. Every riff that rages from his fret board and every solo that drips from his fingers lets you know that this is a modern day Blues master who is keeping the spirit of the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Stevie Ray Vaughn alive and well.
Johnson first came to prominence in 1983 as the guitarist of cult melodic rockers Arc Angel who featured the vocal talents of Jeff Cannata and went on to play on most of Cannata's subsequent solo work through the 90's and 2000's. Triple J also was the guitar slinger in the minor super group DeadRinger who also featured drummer Neal Smith and bassist Dennis Dunaway from the original Alice Cooper Band alongside Blue Oyster Cult keyboard player Joe Bouchard and former Ted Nugent singer Charlie Huhn and released their only album Electrocution Of The Heart in 1989.
Releasing his first solo effort Strange Imagination in 2006 and following it up with 2008's I've Got An Ax To Grind, Johnson was now following a far earthier, bluesier sound than his previous band work and Play That Damn Guitar continues in that direction.
Kicking in with the atmospheric swirling "Inner Sanctum" before the mighty drum break and riff of "Hear No Evil" really begins the blues groove that casts it's spell through every song on the album, this is one disc that grasps your coat lapels and gives you a damn hard shake from beginning to end. Whether it's the strut of "Dream Away", the slow deliberate stomp of "Salt of the Earth" or the Stevie Ray Vaughn infused call and response of "Bad Voodoo" you are struck by the ebb and flow of Johnson's playing and his deftness of touch during the fine solos.
Vocally JJJ combines the smooth richness of Clapton with the relaxed drawl of Hendrix and the cocky confidence of David Lee Roth and his singing style sits perfectly with the music. This is never better proved than on the stunning title track. Adding a dirty and grimy swagger to his sound that evokes the mighty Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top at his strutting best, it's the strongest song on the album with an unforgettable riff, sublime solo, and an audacious groove that defies you not move to the music.
Closing track "Six String Angel", which is a tribute to Hendrix and is obviously influenced by the legend himself, never falls into the trap of mimicking the great man whilst managing to retain the feel of his playing. It show a completely different side to Johnson's style as he and his band bring things right down with a beautifully paced slower track than elsewhere on the album. The guitar solo is a powerful and emotional statement that cements the stunning prowess that is displayed throughout Play That Damn Guitar.
Whilst his Damn Guitar is the main focus of the songs, Triple J's band mates are determined not to be left in the shadows. All blues maestros need a rock solid rhythm to work off and with Steve Shore on bass, who sadly passed away not long after the album was finished, and Joe Aparo on drums, the foundations on Play That Damn Guitar are soundly built. The pair lay down the law with their accomplished performances, both matching Johnson's every twist and turn and providing the base from which he can fire off his stunning solos and lead breaks.
I don't think I have come across a more aptly titled album than Play That Damn Guitar, as it basically tells you all you need to know about one of the best heavy blues rock albums I have heard in quite some time.
I advise you to do as Grooveyard's mission statement ends "Dig Deep And Smell The Riffage".
1. Inner Sanctum
2. Hear No Evil
3. Dream Away
4. Bad Voodoo
5. Blues For The Devil
6. Play That Damn Guitar
7. Bad Blood
8. Rattlesnake Stomp
9. Salt Of The Earth
10. Shine On
11. Six String Angel