Evan Johns, one of the best unknown American guitarists

Evan Johns was one of the greatest guitarists the USA has given us, but despite being highly respected and admired among his fellow professionals, he didn’t achieve the fame and recognition he deserved. Johns was able to go from the most sophisticated Jazz, to the wildest and noisiest Punk Garage, going through Surf, Tex-Mex, Rockabilly, or any genre of traditional American music that he wanted at the time.

He was born in July 12, 1956 in McLean, Virginia. At the age of 17 he got his first electric guitar. With his guitar and hitchhiking he toured the country, playing with old bluesmen and soaking up music with American roots. In 1974 he was already active, acquiring experience as a musician in the bar bands of Washington D.C, where there were also a lot of great guitarists as Roy Buchanan, Link Wray, Danny Gatton, Roy Clark or Jimmy Thackery, all of them well known and admired by the young Johns. It was in Washington D.C, where Johns met the guitarist Danny Gatton, with whom he collaborated for a time writing three songs (including the title track) for Gatton’s 1978 album, “Redneck Jazz”. Between 1978 and 1983 we can find Johns collaborating with Johnny Seaton, Billy Hancock, Bob E. Rock or The Dootz, either playing guitar, organ or bass. After a time with the Gatton band, Johns founded his own band called «The H-Bombs», in 1980 he recorded his first self-produced Ep titled “Giddy Up Girl”. The band became very popular in the DC area. In 1982 they were chosen to open for Dave Edmunds. Among the group’s fans was Jello Biafra, founder of Dead Kennedys, who even wrote the notes for one of his albums, the great “Rollin’ Through the Night”. This album was recorded on the Biafra Alternative Tentacles Records label in 1982, although it didn’t go on sale until 1986, The song that gives the album’s title was recorded by Crazy Cavan & The Rhythm Rockers in 1984. When Johns was touring Europe, he coincided with Cavan and his band, and this led him to collaborate with some songs for the Welsh’s album, with which they developed a good friendship.

In 1984 Johns moved to Austin, Texas, to join the band The LeRoi Brothers with whom he recorded the wonderful Lp “Lucky, Lucky Me”. In Austin, Johns also recorded on the 1985 compilation album Trash, Twang and Thunder, with various Austin guitarists who called themselves Big Guitars from Texas; The album earned a Grammy Award nomination in the instrumental rock category.

In 1985 Johns leaves the LeRoi Brothers, or they leave him, his fondness for alcohol begins to trouble him, he’s reputed to be as wild off stage as he is on the stage. Johns reforms his old band, the H-Bombs, who move to Austin. The band Works very well, and despite Johns’ growing addiction to alcohol, the band regularly recorded and toured the USA, Canada and Europa, until the late 1990’s. Their repertoire was very electric, a mix of Cajun, Rockabilly, Garage-Punk, Tex-Mex, Surf, Blues, Country, and even influences from Spaghetti Westerns soundtracks. One reviewer said about him “He can play instrumental Rockabilly masterpieces or wonderful Western Swing songs, in which Bob Wills seems to have replaced his Texas Playboys with Megadeth”. They were years in which everything pointed to Johns becoming famous, he had the collaboration and support of musicians such as Danny Federici (E. Street Band) who played the accordion and the organ in his 1986 LP and Gary Tallent (E. Street Band) produced the Lp «Bombs Away» from 1989, but still didn’t achieve the expected success.
In the mid-1990’s, Johns began to experience serious alcohol-related and other health problems, stopped playing regularly in 1998, but continued to write and record music until his death. During his career he collaborated with quite a few bands, the Dutch Tuxedo Buck, with whom he recorded the album “Texas Twang Volº1”, with Young Fresh Fellows, with whom he recorded the magnificent song “Miniskirt” on his album “Gleich Jetzt”, with Eugene Chadbourne, with whom he recorded a pair of Lp’s, the Finns Bad Sign, with whom he collaborated on one of his albums, or Jello Biafra and Mojo Nixon, among others.

In 2001, already without his H-Bombs, he recorded a magnificent instrumental Lp supported by the Hillbilly Soul Surfers. In 2016, despite being seriously ill, he recorded 3 masterful albums that were his swan song before his death, «Panoramic Life», “The Great American Songbook Volº 1” and “Somewhere Over The Skyline”.

Johns died on March 11, 2017, of complications after surgery. His friends, who were many, described him as a wonderful madman and a great genius of American music, whose greatest enemy was himself.

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