Johnny Gammage
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Johnny Gammage

Band Rock Acoustic


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The best kept secret in music


Flagstaff - Johnny Gammage Band

By Matthew Ziegler

The Johnny Gammage Band is a rarity.

An all original rock band on Flagstaff’s music scene – they’re damn near unheard of.

Conceived only last year, the JGB has been steadily gaining attention in clubs all across Arizona’s high county – in Flagstaff, Sedona and Prescott. More recently in Tempe.

And why not? Their music is a rock and roll stewpot as diverse as the men who make it.

The JGB is a quartet combining the talent of Scott Shellings on guitar, Rafe Sweet on bass, Josh Maust on skins, and frontman Johnny on vocals and rhythm guitar.

What these musicians bring together is an eloquent portrait of American roots music. JGB is fundamental rock and roll. But certainly present are shades of funk, groove, blues and country.

Gammage sings with the passion of a real Texas cowboy - vocals full of sincerity and grit. At times Gammage lets out a yodel that would make Jimmy Reed proud -intermingled in the verse and saturating the music with unadulterated emotion.

The instrumental work is noteworthy as well, lending JGB a guitar based sound that few can rival. Two years ago Gammage moved to Flagstaff from Austin, Texas.

While in the Lone Star State, Johnny played with such notable bands as Soulhat, Sister 7, the Ugly Americans and Timbuk Three.

Shelling’s guitar is an integral part of JGB, devouring the empty spaces with bursts of electric brilliance. He draws on a wide array of classic guitarists - Garcia, Hendrix, Clapton and the like, but still integrates his own biting guitar licks and precocious stylings.

His solos rip and tear at the rhythmic flesh, but the remedy for these self-inflicted wounds is never far; one needs only to look to the rhythm section.

Sweet is the drive behind JGB. A seasoned studio player with serious jazz training (Sweet studied with former Tonight Show bassist Joel Dibartolo), Sweet’s combination of speed and soul creates the most tasteful of bass lines.

Able to hang back for the funk or drop the straight up bass bombs for the rock, Sweet is indeed sweet.

Maust is the most versatile drummer I’ve seen in Flagstaff.

He has been a studio musician, toured with a country and a bluegrass band and taken the JGB to new heights.

Maust seems as comfortable playing the slower songs as he does cranking out the hard and fast ones, even at times employing the use of his double bass pedal.

The interplay between Sweet and Maust is one of the choicest elements of JGB; to see two rhythm players who aren’t going through the motions, but genuinely enjoying themselves is quite a delight.

Sometimes the guitars will drop out completely leaving the freedom for these guys to generally go off, and improvise the deepest of beats before returning to the song with style and high velocity.

JGB is as bluesy as Stevie Ray Vaughn, rockin’ as Elvis, and incorporates some old time swing and country. Gammage’s lyrics are stories of past times, people and places-intertwined with self-reflection.

Whether Gammage is crooning about his civil war days or of his run-ins with a New Orleans Voodoo queen - you believe him.

The JGB’s greatest strength is their total originality. Every show includes innovations and explorations steeped in a delicious chemistry that few musicians can match.

These guys jam, but they’re not really a jam band. Every improvisation is contained within a broader structure, making it that much sweeter when JGB comes back into the heart of the tune.

The songs are tight and overflowing with energy and passion. And JGB’s musical appeal is wide because their roots come from so many different traditions.

That’s all for now from the high country. Come on up and see JGB on July 3 at Mogollon Brewing Company, July 17 at the Arizona Music Pro party, and July 31 at the Monte Vista Lounge. ‘Til then stay irie! --- M.Z.
- LINK Magazine


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