"Imagine the look on country superstar Alan Jackson’s face when he went to the iTunes Alternative Country chart this summer to check out the progress of his latest and saw that his album had slipped to #2 three week in a row. His rival? The acoustic duo Whiskeydick—two of the shrewdest shredders in the land--and their latest, Bastard Sons of Texas, which held onto the #1 album position long enough to get the attention of a lot of people in the industry who had not been paying attention. Well, they are now. In fact, during the interview Reverend Johnson heard the band will play the legendar Speedfest Festival. Epiphone spoke with the Reverend about his new Masterbilt, the origins of the duo’s musical partnership, his searing chops, and life on the road in the fast-spinning music world. Listen and be amazed.
Thanks for speaking with us Reverend. You’re about to head back on the road, right? Yeah! We’ve been on tour for the last month on the Heavy Metal Honky Tonk tour –it’s a four and a half month tour. We’re about to do two months in Europe—20 countries. We’re flying to the Netherlands and then Belgium, France, and then we’re in Spain for two weeks. It’s our third time over there. And we just got booked to play Speedfest.
How did you sound come together? Our first show was in 2005 but we were writing for fun together around 2003. I had never liked the clean sound of an electric. I always preferred an acoustic. And when I hit the distortion box playing on an acoustic for the first time, I was like that’s the sound I’ve been looking for. I had never thought about putting an acoustic through a Metal Pedal and that was pretty cool. At first I didn’t now how I was going to do leads. But I pretty much dug in and went for it. People think it’s a trick but I use 12 gauge strings and that’s what’s defined our sound for 10 years now. On electric, I used 11s and I already played hard as it is. With the acoustic, I found the tone I’ve always wanted and I’ve been using it ever since. And the Masterbilts are my favorite.
The new one I got the Epiphone Masterbilt EF-500RCCE has a C neck on it, which I’ve never played before. I play a bit unorthodox and because of that neck I’m playing smoother and tighter now. Epiphone is amazing. We have been told countless times: “Reverend Johnson, man you just blew my mind and changed everything I thought about the acoustic guitar. How do you shred on an acoustic guitar?” They have never seen anything like that and the tone of my distortion, they’re looking for a Les Paul up there on the stage and then see that I am playing an Epiphone Masterbilt.
They get even more shocked when they learn that I play on 12 gauge D'addario acoustic strings in standard tuning. I truly enjoy playing any Epiphone that has the e-Sonic2 pre-amp and Shadow Nanoflex under saddle pickup. I can rock them right out of the box. I would like to say that I am very excited to be a part of The Epiphone guitar family! I have always been a huge fan so it is a true honor for me.
We’re so glad to have you with us! How has the audience been on the tour? Oh, amazing. Totally amazing. Every time we play to new people, they’re just blown away. Most people’s mindset when they see an acoustic guitar is that it’s going to be laid back and soft. They just can’t believe the amount of energy we put into our live set and into our songs.
Are you able to write on the road? We like staying busy so when touring we always have ideas rolling. I don’t know where it comes from but we keep writing songs. We bring a little recorder with us so when we get ideas, we record it so we can remember it. And then over the years of touring we’ve invested in building a studio at our house in Texas. So now we’re able to record all our records. We’ve been pretty much done everything DIY with this band from recording our first record, learning how to mix and master our stuff. And with this last one, it was completely done ourselves.
How did the album come about? We recorded the new album in our studio that we built at our home in Texas called YeeHaw Sound. This is our decade year and we wanted to take things to the next level. While we were on a 6-month U.S.A. and European Tour with no breaks, we were shopping this record around to labels. We connected with the Rusty Knuckles label. They believed in us and our hard work. So in joining forces, we knew that we would be a great alliance and help each other.
The Bastards Sons of Texas was released on Rusty Knuckles August 1. The album got a new and noteworthy feature on the front page of iTunes Country New Releases right next to Alan Jackson. We have never been on the front page of anything, so this was a huge step for us. The Bastard Sons of Texas has been on the front page and has been the #1 iTunes Alternative Country Album Chart for 3 weeks running. For us to be breaking down some barriers, we feel there is hope for our music to be heard, and help get more DIY bands noticed and possibly even bring a whole new era of music to the world.
Has it been hard sometimes to find the right venue? A lot of club owners are tough characters—the margins are thin, and they don’t like to take chances. I can imagine they see a photo of you guys with acoustic guitars and might be skeptical.
Yeah, there’s that. When we did our first five shows, we didn’t have a band name (laughs). But we’ve not had a whole lot of trouble--but yeah, quite a bit trouble with people not talking you seriously or not putting your name on the marque. But we just keep pushing it and doing it. Our whole success has always been word of mouth. We figure if the music is good enough, people will share it and it will get around on its own.
Promotion these days is pretty cut-throat. Big time. What our fans love about us is that we’re regular guys. We hate backstages. When bands play, we’re right up front watching them play. We’re so grateful that people want to hear our music and a lot of that support inspires us, too.
What have you been listening to on tour? We’re really diggin’ that underground scene. Most really good bands are people no one knows who they are. They’re playing those small dive bars for people who know and love music. One of the best guitar players out there now is Dylan Rose of Archer who is with Epiphone. Dylan is a hell of a guitar player—he’s got it. He just wants to play music.
Do you find any difference in the audience reaction in—say—Europe as opposed to the U.S.? We had been trying to get over there to Europe for awhile because our merchandise has been selling. It’s a little bit scarier in Europe because if you break down, you’re not just short drive away like you are in the States for someone to come help you (laughs). So we’ve been trying to find the right people to work with. But we got really lucky. We found a management company that was really gung ho to make an investment to see what would happen with us. We book all the U.S.A. dates ourselves and have a great management company Red Rumour in Europe that books all of our overseas shows. They really believe in us and feel that we are paving the way for the acoustic music scene, changing folks’ mindset of relaxed and mellow, showing the world that the acoustic sound can be heartfelt and beautiful. And then we stomp the Metal Pedal and blow the roof off!
When was your first trip overseas? We went over there to put out foot in the door last year. At first, he was having trouble booking the tour because people were thinking “it’s just acoustic.” We played the first show and the owner of the club, who had kind of lost faith in music, he did a complete article on us in the local paper about how were bringing back good music. That first show we played in the Netherlands, we heard that people drove 6 hours from Germany to see us play. So the reaction has been amazing. Our last tour we were there for two months last spring. We did 44 shows and got 44 encores. Our management was in tears on our last show.
Tours can be long and punishing—even for just two people. It’s what we do, we love it. When we started building this thing, it took off on it’s own. Our first live performance was in 2005. The first 5 years, we played 250 shows annually around the Fort Worth, Texas area and the surrounding states as well. We wanted to tour for a long time but trying to figure out how to successfully book a tour in the U.S.A. was intimidating. In 2010, we had reached the point to where the only way to get further in our career and get our name out there was to book a tour and just go! In being a completely DIY band, our 1st tour was two months long and in that time period we sure learned a lot. It was a rough tour. You realize quickly when nobody knows who you are 1,000 miles away from home and if you love the touring life or if you don’t. Well we loved it!
There are not many nights with hotels for DIY bands, if you’re lucky a fan will offer you a place to stay the night and let you sleep on their floor and shower in the morning before you roll to the next town. For the last 5 years, we have toured 8 months out of the year. Our friends and peers tell us that we’re the hardest working band and they call us “Road Dogs.” We call it the relentless pursuit. The style of our songs and the way we play has been called “Metal Neck,” “Acoustic Hillbilly Country Metal,” and some say “Outlaw,” but we like to call it “Heavy Metal Honky Tonk!” Myself and Fritz have always felt that we’re searching for something and hopefully we’ll find it."