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CD REVIEW -- Rockin' Johnny
GLT blues radio


Neoprene Fedora

West Tone Records

Rockin' Johnny Neoprene Fedora CD

By Brian K. Read

It behooves one to know at least a little bit about the social “fabric” of the many societies, cultures and peoples of this world; things that bind a culture together, habits, loves, hates, and the many such threads that form the fabric of a tribe.

Rockin’ Johnny Burgin has a new CD out, called Neoprene Fedora.  Say what?  

“It sounds artificial but it’s fully natural…” goes his explanation in the liner notes.  I got ahold of a copy of Neoprene Fedora, and have some weaving of words I’d like to put down to you, reader, about the groovin’ sounds of Chicago’s loss, California’s gain, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin.

Full disclosure: I’ve known (and occasionally played with) Rockin’ Johnny for quite a while, from early days of jams at places like the old B.L.U.E.S. Etc. on Belmont, Buddy Guy’s Legends, or at Rosa’s Lounge.  Not only does he have the chops, from hanging out and playing with some of the best blues crews in Chicago, but he’s also about the hardest working, best self-promoting (and I mean that in a good way, a GREAT way!) musician I’ve ever known. 

Through the ups and the downs, the high times and the low, Johnny has maintained a presence on the music scene here in Chicago, growing his reputation as a guitar slinger, and growing the audiences to his shows as well!  Now, he’s moving his act west, to the California sun, and on his new CD, the sun-soaked SoCal influence hits  like a Santa Anna wind from the very first rockin’ note.  

The all-instrumental title track is more like an opening symphony in three acts.  “Neoprene Fedora” sets us up for the surf-blues-rockin’-zydeco-jazz-James-Bond stuff that is to come.  With a Peter Gun bounce, and a Dick Dale rippin’ lead way up high on the frets, then a nice little stab of Chuck Berry-style rock’n’roll, it could have been the soundtrack for the best ‘60s surf/spy-movie of all time, with Frankie Avalon and Annette Funicello, set in a beachfront blues nightclub.

Johnny gets down to blues business on the second track, “Guitar King,” a classic shuffle number that also shows off the harmonica talents of Aki Kumar, Vance Ehlers or Chris Matheos on bass, multi-talented musician/producer Kid Andersen on guitar, baritone guitar and piano, and June Core or Stephen Dougherty taking turns on drums.   

The whole band is groovy as corduroy cutoffs, including some guest vocals by Alabama Mike, Billy Wilson on rub board, Nancy Wright on sax, and Johnny Cat Soulbrand on guitar.  Elvin Bishop bandmates Steve Willis on accordion and Bob Welch on guitar add their significant talents as well. The result is a nice fat Chicago sound, with some beach sand in its dancing shoes!   

There is a “warp and woof” to music, taking things in unexpected directions, melding things together and finding new sounds.  I was a bit surprised at first by how easily Johnny turned his blues sensibilities into West Coast surf-inspired stuff.  Johnny has soaked up the best styles of the blues greats over his years spent playing in Chicago, and molded them into new creations.  His cover of Elvis’ “Teddy Bear” is one of the slickest arrangements I’ve heard in a long time!  

And, he is one of the hardest working cats I’ve ever met too, playing gig after gig, night after night, all over the country, and lately all over the world.  I ran into Johnny at a jam just off Lawrence a couple of years ago, on one of his rare nights off.  He handed me a postcard with over fifty gigs scheduled in the coming three months.  He’s paid his dues, and gotten his sound and his name out there.  That’s a formula for success!

Sometimes life warps into unexpected directions too; post-marriage Johnny went through a lot of changes and hard times before finding his feet again.  His tune “Won’t Get Married Again” is just one of several personal messages he shares, including “I Did The Best I Could,” the funky “Smoke And Mirrors,” and “Ain’t Gonna Be A Working Man No More.”  Just goes to show that a fully lived life is almost always the best raw material for stories that resonate. 

It never hurts to do your recording at a top-notch studio, like the up and coming Greaseland Studios out in sunny San Jose.  Give them a Google, and you’ll find nothing but accolades for the engineering and recording prowess of Kid Andersen.  Instruments like accordions, rub boards and baritone guitars aren’t easy to capture, but this CD is engineered with expertise, and all of the rich varieties of sounds are there.

Johnny sews together much of his life story throughout the succession of rock, surf, blues and zydeco tracks on Neoprene Fedora, enmeshing listeners in a gnarly gestalt.  The guitar is smooth as silk one minute, then rough as a bricklayer’s overalls the next.  Skillful mixing-in of harmonica, saxophone, and accordion give the music a unique texture, based on a solid groove.

The final track on the CD pretty much says it all:  “Goodbye Chicago.” Johnny “doesn’t want to live out the rest of his days in Chicago,” but he credits many of his elders who taught him the blues.  Pinetop Perkins, Sam Lay, Big Wheeler, Eddie Shaw, Willie Kent, Jimmy Dawkins, Big Mojo, Johnny B. Moore, Hubert Sumlin, Eddie C. Campbell all get mentions.  But he’s adamant.  “On the North Side, you’ll always be a white boy…I got to put you down, Chicago, I’m goin’ out to California!”      

Johnny makes the blues feel right at home, like a well-chosen hat, no matter where he lives, or wherever he plays.   He’s surfing off in new directions, trying on new outfits (hey man, is that a Speedo with that fedora, on the back cover?!)  “Whatever,” as the kids say…the results are tailor-made for blues audiences and beyond, coast to coast.  So go grab yourself a Neoprene Fedora.  Surf’s UP!!!  

For info or to buy the CD:



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