Interview with Atlanta Singer/Songwriter Johnny Pride

by Alex Cosper

Conducted April 24, 2015 on Facebook

Ladies and gentlemen ... It's time for another INDIE rock interview here on Facebook that I can put on my site Playlist Research ... This time it's with Atlanta artist Johnny Pride, who spent many years in Sacramento with The Features then in Los Angeles with Pride In Peril, a band that ended up in The Doors movie .. Johnny, thanks for joining me.

Johnny Pride (JP): Hi, Alex! I'm so glad we can chat on this Friday afternoon.

Alex Cosper (AC): Yes ... Last time we hung was a few years ago in Sacramento when you did a reunion concert with The Features.

JP: Yep, in 2013, which seems like last week. You did us a wonderful, gracious service by introducing us again.

AC: Thanks, I'd love to do that again sometime. The Features were a very important band in the 80s in Sacramento. You guys outsold everyone before the city started having hit artists. Any chance of another Features reunion?

JP: Sure, I think we'll do it again. We might even mix it up a bit; I have new songs and there's an entire Pride In Peril catalog. The friends and fans who come out are so cool, they just want to reconnect. We can do that on multiple levels.

AC: Just to refresh some memories, what were some of the key highlights that made The Features a top band in Sacramento during the new wave era?

JP: I arrived having been a part of the B-52s, Athens Georgia madness. As a college deejay at WUOG FM in Athens, I was privy to all the new stuff that was so mind blowing from CBGB, plus The Sex Pistols played a tiny dive in Atlanta and I saw them. My band The WUOGGERZ had REM's future drummer and Pylon's singer. We played with The Police & The Brains. I went to Chicago from there and was submerged in all the New Wave tsunami of the time, in 1979.

When my pal Bill Berry said he had this band REM and wanted me to see them, I had the opportunity to hang with them and Bow Wow Wow in Atlanta in an historical old hotel, The Biltmore. They gave me a copy of they Hibtone single, "Radio Free Europe". When I got to Sacramento, it was a cover band town with a few punk bands who played Kin's Coloma or The Chicken Coops. Sac didn't have anything like the music I wanted to present, so I found some kindred spirits and the band-to-be listened to some records and drank some beers. I don't think we ever imagined we'd go beyond Greg Doughty's living room, but we really didn't care. I had written a lot of songs by then.

AC: In Sacramento you became closely connected with the band Steel Breeze, who had a few national hits in the 80s. I notice that their hit "You Don't Want Me Anymore" is usually on your set list. Briefly touch on how that connection created a near national breakthrough for The Features.

JP: We didn't like Steel Breeze as a band at first. They were just one of those cover bands who sneaked a few originals in the set. They seemed to be determined to "make it", and that was distasteful to us. Ironically, we got to know them because Waylin Carpenter liked us, and their manager started to notice the noise we were making around town. Eventually, Waylin started "wailing" away during our sets, which kind of set Steel Breeze on edge and eventually contributed to his leaving the band and joining The Features.

Since we were pretty popular, we acquired their management team and road crew. The usual rock and roll story applies here as to why the expected world domination did not happen. As for Vinnie, he was Way's best friend and we loved him. When Pride In Peril convened in Sac for a third album without a rhythm section, Waylin called Vinnie and Charlie McGimsey, both of whom had been in Steel Breeze. We made a great record called, Rootbag that will hopefully finally see the light of day soon. When I left Cali, Waylin, Charlie, Vinnie (all Steel Breeze) and Curtis Mick, who was also playing with them as The Atomic Kings, were a unit who had contacted me about helping with some production on some recordings.

Before you knew it, we were all together. I had actually always wanted to perform their hit "You Don't Want Me Anymore" (which Feature fans were not down with), so we did. Hey, it's our band! As a side note, we've all been friends, Features and Steel Breeze members, for many years now. It's amazing how the shared experience can bring us all so close together, even years later.

AC: Remember Tower Records? The only Features album ended up near the top of their sales chart, which was unheard of for local bands at that time. Briefly describe that vinyl LP. I'm curious if it's still available anywhere.

JP: I honestly don't know, Alex, if it is available. I have a box of them without the bonus tracks that were available online for a while. Maybe we'll trot those out again in the future. Tower Records figures prominently in our past; We literally brought them the LPs that were distributed and sold. I can't wait to see the Colin Hanks film.

AC: Up Up Side Side was that LP, which I guess can now be considered a rarity. Speaking of films, your follow-up band in LA, Pride In Peril, wound up in the Oliver Stone film The Doors. How many times have you watched that short clip?

JP: Oh, I rarely watch it these days, truthfully. My students find it and ask about it, so that's fun. Mostly, I like the version that we did independently of what was aired, because it's SO much better, our own arrangement and recording. Still, it's very cool to have had that experience. Here it is:

AC: That's actually one of my all time favorite films. At the same time I realize Oliver Stone may have exaggerated some things about Jim Morrison. As a Doors fan, what was your take on the movie?

JP: Well, I was in on the film before Val was even officially cast because my bassist Dan was Paul Rothchild's son. The research on the film was mind boggling, and fans weighed in daily with everything from death threats to the studio for having the audacity to make the film, to Jim's own father (whom Jim said was dead) sending snoops and Pam Courson's family complaining. It seemed that everyone who ever knew Jim Morrison, including the band members that we all worked with, had a different take on who he was. So, Oliver Stone translated the myths into the film.

AC: Lots of mythology surrounds rock and roll, for sure. Yet you managed to not get sucked into its black hole of death n' destruction. Instead you wound up as a school teacher in Atlanta. There's a good argument that teachers do more for society than rock stars, so congrats.

JP: Thanks! Weirdly, I really enjoyed my stint as a college student at the University of GA. At the time, it was one of two prime destinations for people who were interested in journalism. I wanted to write and was already an obscure music fan, so I got on board as a student. While there, I became even further submerged into music via college radio. After being sidetracked by the most wonderfully musical and familial experience a person could ever have in Sacramento, I decided to fulfill my dream as a real teacher, so I did that. Now, I have used music to teach math (not my strong suit, but I'd rather rap it than map it), language arts ("The Seven Syllables Song", "The Barrier Islands Song," "Let's Do The Blues" (middle schoolers love to complain!), singing and playing with my students and, ... well, let's just say we'll soon be having to contact Colgems over a rewriting of The Monkees Theme!

AC: I know you've always been a big fan of college radio and not so much a fan of commercial radio. As a guy who came from commercial radio and saw it become way too commercial, I'd have to go along with your tastes that college radio usually has more credibility. But what about the disruption going on in Atlanta college radio right now?

JP: I have never really come from commercial radio, although I must say, it was fun for a moment. I helped create GA Southern University's radio station WVGS, then was Chief Announcer at UGA's WUOG FM. To pay the rent, I was a commercial deejay at WAGQ FM and finally resigned because there was only a handful (Aerosmith, Stones) of songs I wanted to play. It was the disco era, 1978 - 1979, and I already was playing in a band that parodied all of it.

Anyway, Atlanta's WRAS FM is GA State University's college station. It has been around for over 43 years. It was the first and only station I listened to growing up in Atlanta. Money behemoth GA Public Broadcasting engineered a sleazy $$$ backdoor deal with GSU's Prez to virtually wipe the student run station with their own stuff. It's beyond atrocious behavior. If you keep up, you'll see that, just yesterday, GPB erased the mandatory student voice hearing so they could sneak in more diabolical corporate dealings. This is EXACTLY the kind of underhanded shenanigans that provoked me to form The Features way back when - underhanded, corporate radio bullsh*t.

AC: If you did your own show today on public radio what would you be playing?

JP: Exactly what I post every week on FB; Young Rival, Ex Hex, Courtney Barnett, Waxahatchee, The Dahlmanns. Anything that makes us feel alive, any young band that I think folks should hear. I love to hear bands just out of the gate, before that "fourth, more mature album" happens.

AC: As far as your own songwriting, what kind of music have you been writing lately?

JP: Great question, Alex. I hum and strum all the time. I finished a few, started a few and made Frankenstein monsters of some that I finally felt were cut from the same cloth, or were the same song, just born on different days. My songs seem to go from power pop to the ones that make me cry a bit. I'm not a young bird, but I fly as much as I can. The kid inside still embraces the occasional Cheap Trick, Who or Big Star record along with Neil Young or Terry Reid's stuff.

AC: How important are lyrics to you? I know that with The Features you did some socially conscious music and as a teacher I imagine you must enjoy the educational aspect of more literate music than today's shallow pop songs on the charts ...

JP: Great video, Alex ... one of my faves! I'll be honest in saying that a chord sequence that makes your spine quiver is, to me, rock and roll. I used to write it all at once, because the music would inform the lyrical sounds that simply had to be the yin to the yang. I'm not a believer of "poetry to song." I think great rock songs and great poetry are mutually exclusive unless you are The Doors or Jim Carroll. The earliest rock songs that truly set the world on its ears were called "Hound Dog" and "I Want To Hold Your Hand." Feel free to toss "I Feel Good" in there. That said, Bob Pollard's "Picture Me Bigtime" is, for me, the story of rock and roll, and sheer poetry.

AC: What about music as a tool for teaching? Do you use music in any way when you teach history?

JP: Alex, The Features were and are a shared experience for a lot of people who were experiencing the same thing at the same time. For these people, we were their band, the same as other bands were for us. We has vinyl in the bins, and that was cool enough for most of us at the time.

AC: I understand, Johnny, as we get ready to wrap this up. Here's a narrative you did a few years back about the early history of The Features for people who want to explore their music more ... What in your opinion is the most powerful thing music can do that other forms of communication may not be able to do as well?

JP: I'll follow that question up because I was posting at the same time as Alex was. I posted already quite extensively about using music to teach, and the research shows that it works. In review, I'd refer to the reply a few tiers up that answers this question as eloquently as I can. BTW, Alex, I'm not sure that the musical community is fortunate enough to have an Alex Cosper as much as it needs!

AC: Thank you, Johnny ... Btw, here's the second 1/2 of your musical journey that gets into Pride In Peril.

JP: You da' man, Alex. People like me appreciate people like you keeping the dialogue of rock & roll alive! Love you, my brother!

AC: Ah, that's so nice. Love you, too, Johnny. Anymore thoughts before we kick off a rock and roll weekend?

JP: Yes; We are all the conduit to the shared experiences that make life so abundantly amazing. I love you, all of you. And that, my friends, is only the beginning!! To my friend Alex, thank you all the more, for carrying this rock and roll torch with us.

AC: Johnny, thanks for this fun conversation on Facebook .. Have a great weekend !!!

JP: Have a great night, my friend.

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