Ace Von Johnson of Faster Pussycat
What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you think of the glam rock era iconic band Faster Pussycat? I would say that most people’s answer would be the mayor of Hollywood himself, Mr. Taime Downe. These days, Faster Pussycat has a completely different line up from the original in 1987. And in late 2010, replacing Michael Thomas on lead guitar, came along Ace Von Johnson. This guy is a force to be reckoned with. He has the skills, the look and the energy that brings a whole new life to Faster Pussycat. If you haven’t had the chance to see them live…I promise it will be an affair that will not be forgotten.
I know you’ve toured with all different genres from The U.S. Bombs to Unwritten Law, just to name a few. What was the first band to give you your break into touring? And how did that all fall into place?
I was around sixteen and living in San Diego, and like pretty much everyone, I got my start doing the little local band thing. I was really involved in the punk rock scene down there at the time and I fronted a band called P.B.R., and then later in my teens, I started a group the called Cheap Sex. So between the two acts, I was really beginning to network with all sorts of bands from all sides of the “punk” genre. I promoted a lot via the internet, which was still in its infancy at the time and with old school tactics. I would design posters and hand make flyers, and print them all in bulk and pass them out all over, at all the shows and at record stores. Within a short time, my bands were often outdrawing the “national acts” we were supporting and It wasn’t long before I was being asked to book more and more. Eventually, I was asked to join or audition for several groups from out of town that were what I considered to be well known. The one that did end up working out, was a group from Los Angeles called Madcap. They played a similar style of music, a la The Clash meets The Bouncing Souls, and they had a record deal. I officially joined them when I was 19, dropped out of college and headed out on my first national tour, supporting a pop group called Simple Plan. That was kind of my initial break. I toured almost nonstop with that group for about 2 years straight, only stopping to record an album. Eventually I started working with other people, which led to other gigs, and so on. After a few years I started finding myself drawn to more straight forward rock music, which I’m probably more known for now, and made a conscious effort to get away from the punk stuff I had been doing previously. What I was craving was a little less Johnny Thunders, and a lot more Thin Lizzy.
Coming from a different sort of music scene how did playing for FP all come into play?
Maybe out of my own naivety, or just from having a different musical background genre-wise, I half expected the band to be much more like their original incarnation – a bit more dated. Often times with these bands, it ends up being mostly about “bringing back the glory days”, being some cliche hair band nostalgia act more than anything else. But not Taime, and not this band. It grew and became its own thing. Even back then, the band was way more “street” than their contemporaries, and changed a bit from album to album. But to be honest, it wasn’t until about a year or so in that I noticed how Faster Pussycat is probably way more punk rock than most of the bands out there that attempt to use that moniker, and here’s why: if you look at our influences, especially Taime’s even early on, and most of the stuff we tend to cover… Hell, If you come on our bus, you are most likely to hear Turbonegro or The Dead Boys being blasted. So if you were expecting to hear Motley, Guns N Roses or something like that, you would be sadly mistaken. Even Danny was a roadie for The Ramones as a kid and his first real gig was playing bass for Stiv Bators! All of that combined with our love for Aerosmith, 60’s garage rock, 70’s glam rock, heavy metal, and all things evil… It pretty much makes up our musical backbone. But getting back on topic, It was sometime around 2007 when I was playing with Duane Peters in The U.S. Bombs. Our agent was a guy named Charlie Overbey, who’s well known in both the rock and punk scenes, asked me to join his somewhat of an all-star band called Charlie & The Valentine Killers. The band was sort of a good time Americana-rock-n-roll act. Social Distortion meets Tom Petty with some Springsteen thrown in. It was a lot of fun right off the bat. And when I joined, Chad & Danny (from Faster Pussycat) were in the band. We played together for over a year and at some point during 2009 it was clear that Michael Thomas, Faster’s guitarist at the time, was going to be leaving to focus on other projects. At some point, we did a show with Reverend Horton Heat in Hollywood at the House of Blues. It was definitely a ‘who’s who’ type of scenario and there was this guy backstage helping himself to our booze and I remember thinking, ‘this fucking guy is going to drink All of our Jack Daniels!’. This was my introduction to Taime. Side note; I have a great photo of Danny, myself and Lemmy in the bathroom from this show. But that’s another story. So we played the show, and within a month or so Danny asked me to come over to Taime’s. I showed up and sat on his couch, plucking on one of his guitars and I remember him saying something like, “Yeah, looks like you can play”. He then burned me a CD of the songs that were in their repertoire, told me, “Don’t suck”, and off I went. I learned the 15 songs or so, rehearsed with the guys a few times and at some point or another, Michael decided he wasn’t going to be leaving, which was definitely a bit of a let down. But after the false start, a few months later the same scenario came up again and they offered me the gig. Reluctantly, I agreed and we hit the road with Tracii Guns’ now defunct version of L.A. Guns and the rest is history.
Since it’s been 4 years now, do you feel as you are more part of the band now than the “hired gun”?
Absolutely. I really only felt the “hired gun” vibe for the first several tours. At some point, they mentioned that I was “in” the band and I suppose the rest just kind of fell into place. At this point, I definitely consider it My band. It’s the band I’m in, and I’m working on new music with Taime. And more recently, I’ve even been known to sing a song or two. These guys are family, albeit a crazy dysfunctional one, I love them all.
You just got off from the Bang Your Head tour with Quiet Riot, Gilby Clarke and Bulletboys. How was that experience? There seemed to be a lot of small pranks going on with all you boys. What was the best one? What was the biggest crowd you guys played in front of on that tour?
Oh wow. The overall experience was awesome. All of these bands collectively, have So much history, it could fill a book. Everyone got along really well, and we had some great turn outs. I would venture to say the biggest crowds we had were in Columbia. The two shows we did with Quiet Riot down there had a few thousand people per night. Most of the U.S. dates averaged around 500-1,000 people if I had to guess. My favorite of them all was probably Medellin, Columbia and one of the earlier shows we did, in Pharr, TX. A large room packed full of enthusiastic fans is obviously the best way for me to really get into a show. I guess that’s kind of a no brainer but if the people are all just standing around, then its hard for me to give a fuck.
As far as the pranks go, they were almost all limited to Quiet Riot’s new frontman, Jizzy Pearl. Chad and I for some reason, made it our goal to try to crack that guy up at least once per gig. Nothing we did was ever malicious, because Frankie, Jizzy, Alex and Chuck are like family. But Jizzo is without a doubt, the crazy overly-intelligent uncle figure, or something like that. We just had to try to get him to crack a smile here and there. Lots of silly things that most people would not pick up on, unless they were looking for it. A lot middle fingers thrown in on the sly by Jizzy, who would try to pull some stunts here or there, but they were never as involved as ours. For example, In New Hampshire I bought a large vintage Quiet Riot patch at a local headshop, and for their gig, I safety pinned it to the front of my underwear. It was intended for me to walk out onstage with nothing but my underwear on, but at the last minute I chickened out. So instead, I just did sort of a strip tease from each side of the stage and would pull my pants halfway down, revealing the patch. It was dumb, but it worked. Kevin, their crew guy & stage manager was often involved too. He’d flick guitar picks or bottle tops at me during the gig. At the last show we did together, Chad and I offered up a plate of cookies to Jizzy, and sang lyrics the lyrics to Love/Hate’s “Rock Queen” to him, “Let me touch your cookies, let me eat your cookies” etc. He lost his mind and forgot the words. It was all in good fun. Those guys are a force to be reckoned with, and if you haven’t seen them in this formation, you should definitely catch a show. I think we are actually talking about doing another leg of that tour soon, but who’s to say. It was a lot of fun.
You recorded on a Michael Jackson album but the song was never released?
Yes, this is the story that all my friends are tired of hearing. In 2010, I was invited by my dear friend, engineer James Murray, to come check out some of the MJ mixes he was working on with Grammy-winning producer Ron “Neff-U” Feemster. After a few drinks, we decided I should jam along just to see if I could come up with anything that might compliment the track. The next day, Neff-U came in, liked what he heard and I was on my way, to what I thought was going to be a cool break in my career. I came back again to rework the guitar solo, as the project manager was looking for a “Beat It” vibe solo-wise. Neff-U was hearing something else, maybe a Santana flavor, and then James told me to go in a completely different direction. I did my best to accommodate them all. My version of the track “Hollywood Tonight” was intended for the first posthumous Michael Jackson album; Michael. I’ll spare you all the details but the finished version that we did was cut at the last minute, in favor of a less rock, more pop version of the same song, by a different producer. It’s now fairly sought after by some die hard MJ fans. It was kind of a bummer at the time, but more recently seeing some of his fans become interested in myself, generated by that alternate mix has been pretty interesting. Maybe it’ll see the light of day eventually, but if you look for it hard enough, you can find it online. Either way, it was a big deal for me and still a highlight in my career.
I hear through the grapevine that you do voice-over work when not on tour?
That may be a stretch. Have I done some voice-over work? Yes. Would I like to do more? Absolutely. Am I currently doing anything with it? No. Haha. It’s just something that I’ve heard from people my entire life, probably because I have a deep voice that carries well, combined with the fact that I was always doing impressions and voices growing up. Eventually my mother persuaded me into doing something with it a few years back, and I took some courses. The teacher liked me, and I cut a few reels from some demos we did. I got a few gigs here and there and that was it. But if anyone out there would like to hear my reels, please get in touch. I would love to do cartoons or video games, character stuff. Maybe that’ll pan out over the next few years. I have a few things lined up soon, so who knows. But that’s definitely my dream gig, outside of music.
So. Can we talk about the Danny Nordahl incident? That seemed to have caused quite a stir around the internet. Has that done any damage to the reputation to the band?
Oh, you mean Slim Tender? America’s best friend? He walks… he talks… he crawls on his belly like a reptile… The man needs no introduction. He is a myth, a legend, an enigma and a walking train wreck all at the same time. He’s probably my closest friend within the band, and when he isn’t busy being totally awesome, he is probably drinking a Budweiser. Most of the time, those two things overlap. And lets just say that earlier this year, Danny was having a hard time. I mean, we’re all only human right? So Tender had a little too much to drink. All day. He was wasted before we even got to soundcheck. Add some strange Georgian bikers with questionable substances and you have a whole new scenario. The whole thing was caught on film, and if you’re a fan of the band, or the internet in general and you have Not seen the video, well then… shame on you. It has 100,000 views and growing, and was featured on CNN and countless other web-based programs, etc. At the time, it was anything but amusing, as I had family in attendance, but all things considered it ended up being a great gig. And in hindsight, it was quite funny. Now that the incident has grown legs, its definitely garnered us some unexpected press. Can’t be mad at that. As far as damage to the bands reputation? Impossible. All press is good press. We drink, we fight, we fuck, we fall down. We’re Faster Pussycat. What did you expect?
What was the first band you ever listened to that made you feel like music was the path you wanted to take?
I’m not really sure. The first band I can recall hearing was the Eagles, and Hotel California still gives me the chills to this day. But that’s just one of those timeless songs. It wasn’t really just one band that made that happen though. I can’t give anyone that much credit. Probably just originated from teenage angst and that urge to “be someone”. Maybe watching a myriad of bands play live when I was younger. I do remember that as a child, I had wanted to be a singer. The guitar came later, and to be honest, I didn’t want to play music. I didn’t pursue this career, it literally just happened. It was something I did as a kid, and one gig led to the next and so on. I guess I am gonna just have to collectively blame Rock ’N Roll.
If you could be a stand in guitarist for any band past or present what band would you choose?
Oh that’s easy. Alice Cooper. That’s my dream gig. I’ve been a fan of his for ages, and probably own more of his music threefold than any other artist, aside from maybe Glenn Danzig’s discography. Danzig would also be a band that’s up there for me. Or hell, if I’m shooting for the moon, then The Rolling Stones. It doesn’t get any more legitimate than that.
Everyone has one that they may be embarrassed to admit to….. Musically, what is your biggest guilty pleasure?
I don’t have anything I’m blatantly embarrassed of in my vast musical collection. I will name some stuff that you may find surprising though. Enya, Vivaldi, 30 Seconds to Mars, Dean Martin, Mozart, Billie Joel, U2, Radiohead, George Michael, and so on. But my biggest guilty pleasure that might not be expected is that I am a huge Johnny Cash fan. I have a ton of his records, new and old, and even a portrait of him tattooed on my leg. It’s him flipping the bird, of course. Haha.
What was the best piece of advice you’ve ever been given by a fellow musician?
Get up there and own it. And, Never take yourself too seriously.
What piece of advice would you give to young aspiring musicians?
Play hard and network the hell out of yourself. Make yourself known. By the end of my teens, my favorite bands either had my CD or I was playing shows with them. You can do that. Just don’t be an idiot. Don’t spend too much time worrying about your fuckin’ hair or whatever so many of these bands today are concerned with, instead focus on your craft. Write. Write better. Write more. If you’re a singer, try singing other things, outside of what you’re comfortable with. If you’re a guitar player, or drummer, etc – practice all the time. Practice until your hands ache and then keep going. Find your favorite players, and steal from them. “Creative borrowing” – everyone does it. No one did it “first”. And once you’ve gotten the hang of that, then move on and find something else. I wish I had my own advice earlier on. I can honestly say I didn’t start becoming what I consider to be a Real guitar player until more recently. I was just stagnant and only knew so much. With YouTube, and technology at your disposal, you can learn & do almost Anything. It just takes time and effort. Find some like minded people, start a band, and take over the world.
Thanks Janeé! Be sure to check out the Rock & Shock convention in Worcester, MA, the weekend of October 17-19 where I’ll be appearing as part of the Rocking Dead panel of guests alongside Doyle from The Misfits, Wednesday 13 & others. Catch me on tour in a town near you with Faster Pussycat!