Next week, on April 2, Black Star Riders will take the stage as the support band for Judas Priest at The Armory. The majority of the band is made up of members of the current line-up for the legendary band Thin Lizzy. A few tickets are still available HERE
Black Star Riders just released their 3rd studio album “Heavy Fire”. This is the longest and one of the first North American tours they have ever done. I got the opportunity to speak with guitarist Damon Johnson about what this tour means, influences and the creation of Black Star Riders. His answers were beyond generous. As I begin the interview the formal introductions took place and we jumped right into it.
Cameron Campbell (TCM): You guys are playing the brand new venue in downtown Minneapolis, “The Armory”.
Damon Johnson: Yeah, we’ve been hearing some good stuff about it. We have some friends in Minneapolis and it has come up in discussion. I think it will be fun for everyone off and on the stage
TCM: The capacity is something like 8,000 there, so it is almost like a huge festival.
DJ: Perfect! I love it!
TCM: Growing up in Minnesota you learn that there is so much music and inspiration here. Is there any MN musician or band that had an impact on you?
DJ: Without a doubt it would be Prince. Maximum love, maximum respect. Ironically, last May I took my wife to Minnesota to have the full Prince experience. He was much an influence to so many artists like me. There’s some Prince music in this house getting played at some point every day. We love Prince, our kids love Prince! That’s a cool thing for Minneapolis and for the state. To have such a huge artist to stay there and say I’m going to stay here, this is where I’m from, I grew up here.
TCM: I know for me I was really into the punk scene. Was there anybody from that genre that you and your band mates have taken inspiration from?
DJ: Our singer Ricky (Warwick) is a huge Husker Du fan. We have been listening to a lot of their music lately. We listen to a lot of music together when we start writing new songs for a new album. Certainly the Replacements, there influence is very wide. Paul Westerberg is such a talented song writer. Even the stuff he’s done post Replacements is really really special. We always feel like we have to step up our game when we come to Minneapolis
TCM: What was the drive to create Black Star Riders?
DJ: We were having a really great time in Thin Lizzy, everyone just had great chemistry. Scott Gorham rose his hand and said he wanted to start making new material. But as we got closer to the studio we had second thoughts of recording it as a Thin Lizzy album. As you know Phil Lynott the originally singer for Thin Lizzy passed away about thirty years ago. His influence was so substantial, his style was so unique and special and just the thought of there being an new Thin Lizzy album put out into the world without Phil Lynott on it is literal sacrilege. It’s just not right. I was a huge Thin Lizzy band even before I caught wind of ever being asked to join the band. And If someone called me and said “Hey Damon Thin Lizzy is going to put out a new record, I can tell you honestly I just would not have been interested, I wouldn’t even want to hear it. And I know a lot of fans feel the same way. It’s nothing against us, it’s just the love and admiration they have for Phil (Lynott). We did the right thing, we did the smart thing, and we did the correct thing. Come up with a new name, love the songs, we knew there were some good songs. What have we got to lose, we can always go back and play Thin Lizzy if everything else fails and we can just say it was an experiment that didn’t work out. But the opposite happened. The first album was well received and we have continued on an upwards trajectory since then
TCM: How do you think the Thin Lizzy fans have reacted?
DJ: The diehard fans have been very supportive of Black Star Riders. Whenever we perform over in Europe, there are plenty of Thin Lizzy shirts out there. We still play Thin Lizzy songs out of respect for Scott (Gorham) and for the legacy from where we came from.
TCM: I know listening to the Thin Lizzy album “Jail-break, there is this unique sounding groove. So, it isn’t just this balls to the wall heavy rock album but rather an album that has this relax but driving feel that you can’t find anywhere else. How did coming from this background effect Black Star Riders’ sound?
DJ: When people say “Oh I really like the new Black Star Riders album, it reminds me of Thin Lizzy.” We always take it as a compliment. I don’t know what it means to sound like Thin Lizzy, but they mean it in a very positive way so we can continue in that direction.
TCM: You guys just put your third album “Heavy Fire”. What does it mean to you that you have the third one done and out? And what does it mean to you that you guys are getting the play these venues and tour with bands like Judas Priest?
DJ: Well this is a big deal for us because this is the first time North America is going to have an opportunity to experience Black Star Riders in some bigger venues. We have only been able to come over here and play a couple of times. And when I say come over here, Scott Gorham still lives in London and 95% of our touring has only been in Europe and we have been to Japan a couple of times, but we have done very little in North America. Partly because we have been very busy over there. So this Judas Priest tour is an incredible moment for us. We are so grateful for the guys of Priest because they have been very supportive of us since the beginning. We have so much gratitude and respect for them.
TCM: I know we talked about the MN scene and Prince but is there anybody of the modern era that you have been listening to and grabbing inspiration from?
DJ: I’m a big fan of the band Clutch. They’ve been around for 20 years and I think they get better with every record they put out. I’m also a big fan of some younger singer songwriters, like Jason Isbell, who is also an Alabama native, as am I. It goes beyond just Alabama, his songwriting is incredible. He is kind of a modern day Springsteen of Kristofferson. There are not too many people writing songs of that caliber, at least not at his age. You know, I got young kids, I have a nine year old daughter who is a pop music junkie. So I get a little taste of everything I know all about Harry Style’s and he put out a great solo record last year. I am truly impressed. I even said to my wife multiple times “Wow, I can’t believe how good that Harry Styles record is!” There’s guitar on it and there isn’t ever guitar on pop records these days, so kudos to Harry. We listen to it all. We’re all about Seether, Kendrick Lamar and even Beyoncé. There is never a shortage of stuff to get excited about. On a side note, Brandi Carlile just dropped an incredible record last month, which I have been totally consumed with. I just got that thing on repeat.
TCM: What comes next for Black Star Riders?
DJ: Ricky (Warwick) and I are fully loaded with ideas for the fourth album. For the seven weeks we are on the road with Priest we are going to have guitars in our hands, kicking things around. I’m sure Scott Gorham is going to deliver some great riffs like he always does. Our goal, we have a few festival dates we are going to do this summer, but really the goal is to get back in the studio this August and knock out this fourth album. We would love to get it out maybe the first part of next year. We are really hoping that this tour with Priest is going to grow our opportunity to work more in North America. I would love to come to Minneapolis on our own to play a club show somewhere.
TCM: Well after the Judas Priest tour, I hope to see you guys at First Avenue.
DJ: Black Star Riders at First Avenue. That would be rad!
TCM: Have a great show, and I hope to see you guys soon.
DJ: Thank you for your time man, I hope I get to talk to you real soon.