Rick Visits . . . David Johansen

Who the heck is this guy? Is he David Johansen, the lipstick-wearing front man of the seminal glam-rock, proto-punk New York Dolls? Is he Buster Poindexter, the pompadoured and tuxedoed "Hot, Hot, Hot" soca stylist? Is he a lounge singer? A Latin artist? Johansen is all of the above, having achieved success in each incarnation.

David Johansen is a traditional blues singer. His latest project, David Johansen and the Harry Smiths, focuses on acoustic American roots music, and it's perfectly complemented by Chesky Records' natural-sounding, audiophile-quality recording. I joined Johansen at Chesky HQ, where we listened to a few cuts from the new CD and talked about the sound...

"When I first heard this, I was thinking, 'This sounds like a Big Bill Broonzy record or something from the '50s.' I didn't know you could get that sound or create that sound. It sounds just like it did on that day. I had no idea people made records the way [the Chesky brothers] do. But you know, that kismet kind of stuff is the best thing."

"Were you listening to a lot of blues when you got the bug to do this record?"

"This is the music I started out singing, when I was 13 or 15 in the mid-'60s. The first album I ever bought was a Lightnin' Hopkins record, about 1963. Last year, Allan Pepper had asked me to put a show together for the 25th anniversary of The Bottom Line, and this is what I've always wanted to do. This music was just in there. So it wasn't something I had to research or do anything. It just was like falling off a log."

"How often do you listen to music?"

"I'll go through phases. A couple of years ago, when I decided to do the Latin record, I really got into Latin music and went all the way back to the roots. I must have bought 300 CDs or something. It was really a good exercise for me, because it really refreshed me as far as music is concerned. Sometimes you just get to the point, 'Oh, if I ever hear another blues song it'll be too soon.' It all starts to sound generic. That's when I take an excursion. I'd done it 10 years ago or so with soca music. With the Latin, I really went back to early Cuban stuff and really primitive Dominican stuff. And it kind of washed my brain out. It washed my ears out so I could come out of that and listen to things with a fresh perspective."

"Where do you listen, mostly?"

"I listen right here at Chesky! I live just around the corner. They let me walk around here in my socks, drink my tea, and listen to CDs. It's perfect. [laughs] Unfortunately, all my own equipment's on the fritz. It all just collapsed simultaneously."

"How do you like the system here?"

"It's shocking! These cats here at Chesky are all talking to me about equipment. I wouldn't know where to start, but supposedly some of the people around here are going to steer me in the right direction. The seed has been planted."

"So you might want to get a rig like this at home?"

"I don't know, man. It certainly exposes all the warts."

"Does that depend on what you play? What have you been listening to?"