Oh, sweet honky tonk … of bar fights and late nights, of pedal steel guitars and 12-bars, of scratchy throats and quarter notes, of love lost and cookies tossed, of depression and regression, of ass-shakin’ and love-makin’, of dirty boots and country music roots, from Nashville to Kentucky, the Carolinas to the Plains, on the jukebox or behind a draft ox … how we adore thou. Your powers are destructive, yet we’re drawn to you because you make us wiggle even against our most stringent desires. You tell stories to which we —Kentuckians taking pride in our ancestry — can relate, or at least like to pretend to. The pearl buttons on your plaid shirt are sexy in the context of your sideburns; you can hide a bottle of bourbon in your hat, and by that we are impressed to no end. Oh sweet honky tonk, goddamn you …
I thought of that with Johnny Berry & the Outliers’ new disc, Fegenbush Farm, playing in the headphones. I had to listen twice to get there, but I made it. And I’m better for it.
Johnny Berry is a badass, and that’s not some half-nostalgic “I’m from Kentucky and should know” kind of thing like you see in the bars here. It’s because he’s not afraid to bare his soul, even through a snarl. He told me at a party a few months ago that when Bill Monroe would tour, he’d pass the down time in certain cities by challenging people to fights and wrestling matches. He’d have a ring set up at the gig, and beat the shit out of the locals before going on stage. Monroe always won.
I knew I liked Johnny Berry because of the look of wonderment on his face while he told that story, particularly when he said he was planning something like that for his CD release show this Saturday at Headliners. Along with his magnificent band the Outliers — guitarist Steve Cooley, hater of all things stringed, and drummer Andy Brown (Roostar, anyone?) — Berry drops 11 pleasure-for-the-pain tunes that will surely blow the roof off any grungy watering hole with enough power not to blow a fuse.
LEO: If you were Mayor, what would you do to help promote people like you in this city?
Johnny Berry: I’d hire you for Summerscene or Winterscene, both longstanding programs for musicians in the city. They don’t pay much or take you to exotic locales, but hey, I’m Mayor, there’s a lot more pressing issues.
LEO: Which Louisville musician needs to get more attention?
JB: Andy Brown of El Roostars; he gets a lot of attention as it is, but he can handle more, much more, baby.
LEO: If music were food, what kind would yours be?
JB: Saucy gravy with biscuit buns.
LEO: Tell me about one of your favorite works of art aside from your medium.
JB: “The Foundation Trilogy” by Isaac Asimov takes you 12,000 years into the future, and people are still acting like monkeys.
LEO: What do you want to say that you know you shouldn’t?
JB: Reality TV isn’t real, MTV isn’t real and your TV isn’t real.