Jaugernaut - 2003 Interview with Jim Johnston


Richard Baldwyn chats with Jim Johnston. From out of the eighties comes the band Jaugernaut. Originally from the Washington state area. like many of the acts which were have thought to have died out with the Dinosaurs, some of these acts still live on.

From out of the 80's comes the band Jaugernaut. Originally from the Washington state area (Olympia if you want to be specific on the compass), the band put out two pomp/AOR flavoured albums between 1980 and 1983.

Now to be pefectly honest, neither set the world on fire commercially, probably because they were private label releases, and the scene was not as homely for this style of music, considering Michael Jackson, Sheena Easton, Phil Collins and Prince were trawling the charts at the time!

On the second album, Jim Johnston joined the band on bass. He has since become a bit of a crusader for Jaugernaut's music, and like many of the acts which were have thought to have died out with the Dinosaurs, some of these acts still live on.

The website is up, the second album 'Take Em There' has just been released on CD, and Jim's feeling chatty! Richard Baldwyn takes the opportunity to find out more about Jim in particular, and of course Jaugernaut.

Tell us a bit about your background, who were your influences when you were first starting out?
I grew up with two older brothers. My oldest brother was 5 years older than me, and he gave me an early start on Rock and Roll. He used to bring home albums, and I'd wait until he was gone and then I'd sneak into his room and listen to them. The earliest bands I listened to were The Beatles, Cream and Jefferson Airplane.

I'd been exposed to and enjoyed almost all types of music, but Led Zeppelin 2 was probably my first exposure to real rock music, and I just couldn't get enough of it. When I was really little, my mother tried to teach me the piano, then she forced me to try the violin, then the alto saxophone. We didn't have much money and the alto sax cost $360, which was a fortune to my family.

That amount has been forever tattooed in my brain, because she would constantly remind me of how much it was costing to educate me. I wasn't a very good Sax player, but it was music, and for me anything that had to do with music, was better than just about anything else.

In my early teens I was swept up in the wave of great progressive music like Yes, Zeppelin and Tull. I remember that it was 'The Lemon Song' that made me think I wanted to play the bass.

How did you come to hook up with Jim Valentine, and the rest of the guys in Jaugernaut?
I was 21, newly married and looking for some way to make a living. I had just gotten out of college, I had majored in Information Technology and there were no computer jobs anywhere, so out of necessity, I went back to what had put me through college - Music.

I had played in a band called the Warheadz to help pay my way through school. We were a three-piece band, drums, bass and guitar. We played in the worst clubs imaginable. If there is an exact opposite of an A-circuit for bands to play on, we played on it.

We also wrote and recorded a kind of punk version of 'On Top Of The World', and Warheadz guitarist, Mark VonBeck, who was a really great guitarist and did a lot of session work, played it for Jim Valentine, who had mentioned that Jaugernaut was looking for a bassist who could sing, one thing led to another and that's how I hooked up with Jaugernaut.

Your recollections of the long lost eighties? Must have been a frustrating time for bands like Jaugernaut? I mean, how bad must it have been trying to deal with no-hoper record labels and A&R blokes who would've been better off selling used cars?
We wrote and played music, with little or no regard for what was cool, or what was selling at the time. Some people would say we were stupid, looking back, I'm genuinely thankful that we weren't a part of the 'Men Without Hats' movement in America.


To be honest, the band really had it's roots in the seventies rather than the eighties. Is that a fair summation?
That's absolutely true, we were really going for the 'sound' (though we really were unaware of what that term meant) that we liked, and with what we were most familiar with. We all graduated High school in the late 70's, which meant bands like, Aerosmith, Rush, Yes and ELP.

Did the band do any shows with any notable acts?
Do you remember Head East? Rail? Or perhaps the Fabulous Thunderbirds? - I don't know if you would consider any one of them a 'major' or 'notable' act. I can tell you that for a while Goldy McJohn - the keyboardist from Steppenwolf hung around the band and tried to get us to hire him, but we were all pretty close, and that was never considered as a serious thought.

How many vinyl copies were pressed for both albums do you recall?
I think there were originally about 2000 of the first LP, and 2500 of 'Take Em There' manufactured, also 500 copies of the 'Take Em There' were manufactured on cassette.

They'd fetch a good price on the open market, though sort of offset now by the ready availability of the CD. That would piss some vinyl traders off for sure?
I haven't heard anything from the collectors that would indicate that they were upset about the release on CD. I certainly hope they would understand that we have the right, and in fact the responsibility to release our material however, and whenever we want. I doubt that there are many collectors with any significant stash of the albums anyway.

What sort of interest has been generated because of this long lost recording?

Well, it started with quite a few emails out of the blue back in 1997, which took me by surprise, apparently there were quite a few people who had been looking for someone associated with the band for some time.

We were, of course unaware that there was anything happening at all with the Jaugernaut material, and in fact, I had almost forgotten about the albums. I had not heard the songs for over a decade myself. I had never told my kids about it.

They were stunned when they finally saw the L.P. and asked me, 'Dad, what is this?' I said 'it's a record'. They thought I was kidding, the only records they had ever seen were used by hip-hop musicians, so until I took the album out and set up my turntable and played it for them, they had thought the turntable was an actual musical instrument, not what people used to listen to music on.

Is the debut album coming out on CD as well?
I expect to start remastering the album in the next few weeks, I am waiting for Jim Valentine to send me the artwork and the digital master. After that, we'll have it manufactured within a month.

After all these years, and considering we're in a new century now, does the Jaugernaut sound still stack up? Does it have that 'timeless' quality about it?
Last week I got an email from Jim Valentine, and he had not listened to 'Take Em There' for over 15 years! His wife had never heard it, neither had his daughter. They both loved the album, and now he says they're always playing it. He, like me was surprised at the quality of songs we had put together, and then had just walked away from and forgotten.

For me, this has been a huge labor of love, which has reinstilled in me a love for this style of music. I've gone back and purchased all my old favourites 70's bands again on CD, and that's almost exclusively what I listen to now, - when I'm not thinking about and writing my own music that is.

There is talk of some new material Jim. What can you tell us about that? I understand that it's likely to be a concept album, and your adopting a slightly heavier approach than previous Jaugernaut material?
I am planning on releasing a double CD with a bunch of new material, a concept album under the name of 'Hardwatter', hopefully around Christmas. Storywise it will deal with what philosophers have called 'The Problem of Evil'. Musically speaking a good portion of it will be heavier than the overall 'Take Em There' album, but some will be a bit more on the symphonic and classical rock side.

I have always enjoyed a wide variety of music. Its funny how the two songs I wrote on 'Take Em There', turned out to be the heaviest of the album, though I actually do have a soft spot in my heart for a good ballad.

I love just straight acoustic guitar songs, But who doesn't love the old heavy crunch of a cranked Marshall Amp. The only thing better, in my opinion is to hear both, perfectly blended and complimenting each other emotionally.

Actually what I am trying to achieve with the new material is an album that entertains without being predictable, instructs without being preachy, and surprises and broadens the mind of the listener, that's what Led Zeppelin 4 did for me. That's also the one thing I love about classical music, is that it used to be about something other than getting laid, or being messed up.

I would like my music to be remembered as a positive thing, I really loved Queensryche's Operation Mindcrime album, but I can't take the whole thing in one sitting, its just too much of a downer for me.

Who else is likely to be playing on the album?, I understand there's talk of former Jaugernaut members being involved?
Yes, Jeff Wade has already laid down some of the drums, and I'm scheduled to travel to Seattle to have him record more. I have not gotten a commitment from Jim or Geoff yet, but I would love to have them help me out with some final tracks. I have some very good musical talents assisting me with the project as well, including my 17 year old son Tyler, who is getting to be quite the little Stevie Vai in his own right.

You must be sorta chuffed that positive responses, particularly out of Europe is putting the J back into Jaugernaut again?
I'm glad to see that there is a huge world out there that still loves music, without selling out to Brittany Spears, or the Backstreet Boys. To listen to the press in America, you'd swear that all the old great rock musicians have died - except Aerosmith, and they're now fronting for Eminem.

Yes, there is still life for the rocker! I have not been able to completely convince Jim, Geoff and Jeff that there are people who still remember and revere the Jaugernaut band. By the way, the old singer for Jaugernaut (from the first album) John DeBernardo has joined up with ex-Metal Church guitarist Kurt Vanderhoof and his band, and they are doing AOR/Progressive/pomp music as well.

Apart from a third album, anything else happening in the Jaugernaut camp?
I'm just trying to get Jim and the others to contribute something to the website. People are interested in what the band has been up to, and I don't feel that its my place to represent everyone.

Hopefully Jimmy will send me some things he and Geoff have been working on over the past decade, I do know that Jim lives near John McVie (A.K.A.Fleetwood Mac), and he's played a few times with John informally, I don't know that I can speak much to what that's all about, but there it is.

Jim also runs his own Telecom business in the L.A. area. Geoff Woodhouse plays piano regularly in the L.A. area, and Jeff Wade is teaching drumming, as well as playing in the great Seattle band 'Nitecrew' (www.nitecrew.net).

Jim and I, and Jeff Wade and I have been talking about doing a third album, and we're currently putting together a demo/proposal to send to some labels. Because of the fact that we all are scattered half way across America, we feel that we will need some kind of backing in order to make it work.

If my personal project does well, I may be willing to fund album number three myself, but my priority for the moment is finishing up Hardwatter.

Thanks for your time Jim, from the guys at Glory Daze!
Thank you both so much [Richard and George] for this! I have enjoyed the opportunity immensely, if there is anything else I can get to you please let me know. Jim Johnston, Jaugernaut.

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