photo: Don Perry
What do Alex Chilton, Jim Dickinson, Tav Falco, Peter Buck, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans and Jon Spencer have in common? They’ve all lent their talents to the skewed genius that is Memphis drummer/ranter/raconteur extraordinaire Ross Johnson.
Johnson’s name may only be familiar to a cult of faithful followers, but he’s one of the true heroes of the Southern alt and punk rock underground. From his days riding shotgun with Chilton, to his efforts helping found the Panther Burns to his work with outfits like the Gibson Bros. and ’68 Comeback, Ross has been a dedicated soldier in the trash rock trenches for four decades – while creating a catalog of truly brilliant and bizarre solo recordings on the side.
This January, Goner Records, will release Make It Stop!: The Most of Ross Johnson. This career-spanning collection includes 20-plus tracks, covering Ross’s solo sides and numerous all-star collaborations from 1979 to 2006. It’s a wild, wooly, sonic and lyrical journey that’s sure to take its place among the more outré anthologies in your CD collection.
Ross' mostly spontaneously composed songs – which concern his fraught relations with women, booze, and the very nature of being a Southerner -- are part deconstructionist roots music, part absurdist comedy. Imagine a cross between Hasil Adkins and Sam Kinison, or Charlie Feathers and Albert Brooks, or Kim Fowley and Jerry Clower, and you’ll get the picture (please forgive the groping hybrid comparisons, but as you’ll find out, Ross is rather hard to define). Call it southern fried outsider art or rockabilly psychosis, but once you get a glimpse of Ross’ twisted vision, you’ll never look at the world the same way again.
But Johnson’s story is more than that of just an unhinged rock and roll hellion. An Arkansas native and son of a respected newspaper editor, he moved to Memphis as a teen, just in time for the city’s mid-60s garage band boom. He got his foot in the music scene as a one of the few original and enthusiastic fans of hometown pop group Big Star. Johnson then went on to write for the legendary Lester Bangs at Creem, under the memorable alias of Chester the Conger Eel. He soon befriended Alex Chilton, helped introduce punk rock to Memphis, and later became a notorious imbiber/MC/ringleader as a founding member of Tav Falco’s Panther Burns. Since then he’s spent time thumping the tubs for a variety of wild outfits from the Gibson Bros. to the Ron Franklin Entertainers --- all the while maintaining his alter-ego as a mild mannered librarian at the University of Memphis.
Make It Stop! is a treasure trove of material that collects a variety of out-of-print, hard-to-find, and previously unreleased selections from Ross’ colorful career, including singles, album and comp appearances for labels like Peabody, Sympathy for the Record Industry, Sugar Ditch, and Loverly.
There is of course his legendary vocal debut, “Baron of Love Pt. II,” one of the highlights of Alex Chilton’s famed Like Flies on Sherbert album. Also, included are solo tracks ranging from 1982’s infamous “Wet Bar” – which was featured on the companion CD to Robert Gordon’s book It Came from Memphis – to early-‘90s cult classics like “It Never Happened” and “Nudist Camp,” down to the recent acoustic nugget “Signify,” a ridiculously raw self-confessional that will have you laughing and crying simultaneously.
The disc also unearths some never before heard (and suitably insane) tracks Ross recorded with R.E.M.’s Peter Buck amid a drunken haze sometime in early 1983. Credited to Our Favorite Band, songs like “Rockabilly Monkey-Faced Girl” and “My Slobbering Decline” represent some of Buck's first work outside of R.E.M. (Amazingly, when the tapes were discovered in late 2007, Buck had total recall of the sessions and the songs; Ross has no recollection of recordings whatsoever).
Also included is Ross’ work with a couple mid-‘90s groups he fronted like Adolescent Music Fantasy – dig the band’s twisted take on “Theme From ‘A Summer Place’”. Ross and multi-instrumentalist Tim Farr stir things up as The Young Seniors – check their brilliant cover of Bobby Lee Trammell’s “If You Ever Get It Once” and a revamp of The Gentrys’ hit “Keep on Dancing,” which Ross mutates into a meditation on the embarrassing nature of “ass whoopings.”
Further highlights include a handful of team-ups between Ross and fellow garage cult icon, Monsieur Jeffrey Evans (Gibson Bros., ’68 Comeback). The duo essays everything from the freaky holiday anthem “Mr. Blue (Cut Your Head on X-Mas)” to a souped-up take on “Farmer John,” with equal parts guitar distortion and manic glee.
Make It Stop! comes packaged with a handsome 16-page color booklet, featuring Ross' own hilarious biographical essay, as well as tributes from acclaimed author Robert Gordon ("It Came From Memphis," the Muddy Waters bio "Can’t Be Satisfied"), MOJO writer Andria Lisle, and pop culture critic John Floyd.
Once the proverbial needle drops on this collection you’ll be – as Gordon notes in his liners – “seduced then debauched” by Ross’s “rivulets of rage, humor, and words words words.”
Don’t say we didn’t warn ya’.
Ross Johnson: Drums, Ranting
Alex Chilton, Peter Buck, Richard Hite, Jeffrey Evans, Don Howland, Jon Spencer, Jim Duckworth, Jared McStay, Jim Spake, John McCluree, Rick Ivy, Tim Farr, Bob Elcrecht, Randy Chertow, Lorette Velvette, George Cartwright, Ron Franklin, Alex Greene, Ilene Markell, Ben Lewis, and Billy Gibson.
Produced by Jim Dickinson, Don Spicer, Doug Easley & David McCain, Hans Faulhaber, Ron Franklin, Ed Porter, and J.D. Reager.
Mastered by Jay Reatard.
Baron Of Love Pt II
2. Wet Bar
3. Wetter & Hotter
4. My Slobbering Decline
5. Last Date
6. Rockabilly Monkey-Faced Girl
7. Naked Party
8. It Never Happened
9. Nudist Camp
10. Mr. Blue (Cut Your Head On X-Mas)
11. A Southern Sissy
12. Theme From 'A Summer's Place'
13. Don't Let The Sun Catch You Crying
14. When The Saints Go Marchin' In Dixie
15. Keep On Dancing
If You Ever Get It Once
17. Senior Stroll
18. Pretty Flamingo
19. Shall We Pop-A-Top?
20. You talk I Listen (Goin' To the Get High Shack)
21. Hash House Pallor
22. Farmer John
23. My Mission
Catalog # 37GONE
2152 Young Ave.
Memphis, TN 38104
Release Date: January, 2008