Damon Johnson Of BROTHER CANE, Aerosmith & Lynyrd Skynyrd On The Five Things You Need To Create A Highly Successful Career In The Music Industry
…For me, the message of rock and roll is freedom, freedom to express anything you want to express. I wish I had more experience in the nineties to recognize and understand that because I had a ton of experience as a guitar player but not as a songwriter. Now I have that and I just feel so confident. I feel that freedom, and I wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for rock and roll. Rock and roll has given me that. All the masters, legends, and great artists that have gone before me set the path, and if you take the time to listen, read, and study, you’ll find everything you need right in front of you. You just gotta put in the time. I had a lot of distractions when I was a young man, and I’m grateful to still be here doing it. I’m grateful for my family who’ve emotionally supported me continuing to follow my bliss. I just feel like I have tapped into the freedom that music in general, rock specifically gives you. I have finally tapped into that, man, probably the third quarter of my life. It took me a minute, but I’m grateful to have gotten it, and that’s definitely what I feel is the message of the music…
I had the pleasure to talk to Damon Johnson. Damon is a talented musician best known as the lead singer and guitarist of the iconic rock band, BROTHER CANE. Originally hailing from Birmingham, AL, Damon, along with co-founding member Glenn Maxey, launched the band in 1991, rapidly gaining recognition with the release of their self-titled debut album in 1993. This album produced chart-topping singles such as “Got No Shame,” positioning Brother Cane at the forefront of the rock music scene. With Damon’s signature guitar playing, vocals, and unmatched stage presence, the band went on to share the stage with renowned groups like Aerosmith, Robert Plant, and Lynyrd Skynyrd.
Damon’s dedication to music extended beyond Brother Cane, having performed with legendary band Lynyrd Skynyrd among other endeavors. In 2023, marking the 30th anniversary of BROTHER CANE, Damon rejoined the band for a celebratory U.S. tour, promising fans both classic hits and exciting new material. This includes two freshly recorded tracks, “Blinded By the Sun” and “Are You In There Anymore,” produced in collaboration with the multi-platinum producer, Marti Frederiksen.
Currently, Damon and the band are set to perform at various venues across the U.S., including a highly-anticipated show at Rams Head in Annapolis on November 2nd. Alongside Damon and Glenn, the reunion lineup comprises long-time friends and esteemed musicians including Jarred Pope, Buck Johnson, and Tony Higbee. With a rich musical legacy and a passion that has stood the test of time, Damon Johnson continues to captivate audiences with his remarkable talent and dedication to his craft.
Yitzi: Hey, Damon it’s a delight to meet you. Before we dive in, our readers would love to learn about your origin story. Can you please share the story of your childhood and how you grew up?
Damon: I was born in Macon, Georgia, the home of Southern Rock, and my dad’s from Georgia. So he and my mom lived there for a few years, and then I moved to Alabama. I lived in a couple of small towns in Alabama all the way through high school and junior college. I started playing music when I was 14 or 15 in garage bands and all of that. I got my first real band job. I was in a house band with some older guys who were really talented and taught me a lot. It kind of gave me a leap forward in terms of getting into shape, learning about my gear, performing, writing, and all that kind of stuff. Then I moved to Birmingham in 1987, which was a pivotal moment for me because that was when another established band asked me to join. These guys had a lot more going on. They toured regionally, and had a song on the radio all around Middle Alabama, so people knew who they were. That was when I met my first manager, Conrad Rayfield, and he was pivotal in helping me put my first original band together, encouraging my songwriting, recording, and all that kind of stuff. So, that relationship led to me putting together a band that started shopping for a record deal. That band was called Child, and I was the guitar player. We had a drummer, a singer, and a bass player, Glenn Maxey. We showcased for everybody, but everyone passed. The last showcase we did was for Virgin Records, and the guy there liked our songs a lot, liked my guitar playing, and was impressed with my manager and his team. Well, that was Virgin Records, and that’s what led us to look for another singer for a while. Out of impatience, I was like, “Well, how hard can it be?” So I became the singer, and then Child turned into Brother Cane. That’s the origin of my journey. I don’t think I’ve ever told the whole story like that. So, thank you.
Yitzi: I appreciate you sharing that. That was great. When I hear the term, Brother Cane, I think of Cain from the Bible. What was your thought process when you chose that name? Where did it come from?
Damon: Yeah. So when we came up with the name Brother Cane, we knew we didn’t want to use Cain and Abel because there was another band at that time with the name Abel in it. I liked the idea of a walking cane or a candy cane. To me, it made it look unique and specific to us. Little did I know that Cane would get misspelled. It still gets misspelled, even 30 years later. People spell it with a K, with a Y, and all sorts of ways. But I’m sure other bands have had it worse than that, so no complaints.
Yitzi: What was it that first drew you to rock and roll in particular?
Damon: You know, man, it was my friends in school. I’m probably a little older than you, so I was in middle school in the late ’70s, the mid to late ’70s. That was when rock music was in its second phase. The Beatles, the Stones, the Who, Pink Floyd, had already conquered the world. Then there was that next wave of bands that came after that, all those classic rock bands from around ’72 to ’78, including everything from Alice Cooper, the Doobie Brothers, Bad Company, Zeppelin, Aerosmith, and Van Halen when they came out in ’78, man, it just changed our lives. Lynyrd Skynyrd, Thin Lizzy, Rush, a lot of Rush. So, you know, I love sports, but I wasn’t big enough or tough enough to play football or anything like that. So I had a circle of friends, and we really were unified around music. One guy would buy this record, another guy would buy that one, and then we just shared it and talked about it. We became obsessed, so that’s really what drew me to it.
Yitzi: It’s amazing. You probably have so many fascinating stories and memories. Can you, from your experiences and touring, from creating a band, share with our readers one or two of your favorite memories and stories?
Damon: Wow, man, I got a lot. There’s no question. For you to just ask me right at this moment, one thing that jumps in my mind is I had this incredible experience in 2011. I’d been in the Alice Cooper band for about five years cumulatively, and it was incredible. And I had just gotten the offer to join Thin Lizzy. I mentioned them earlier. It was one of my huge influences as a kid, really. When I got into high school and I really started playing and starting to figure it out, I was obsessed with Thin Lizzy. So I had just left Alice. I was about to start that Lizzie tour. My old friend Marty Fredrickson called me. Marty and I co-wrote all those Brother Cane songs that became radio hits in the ’90s. So Marty called and he said, “Hey, Damon, I’m gonna play drums on a one-off gig in Las Vegas with Steven.” Well, that Steven is Steven Tyler. Marty had written a lot with Aerosmith and done a lot with him. He said, “Would you want to play guitar with me and Steven?” And I was like, “Wow, yes, amazing, you know.” And he said, “Well, would you be okay playing rhythm guitar?” And I said, “No problem, no problem, man. What, whatever you guys need.” I said, “Who’s gonna play lead?” He goes, “Jeff Beck.” And I said, “What, like, oh my God, I love Jeff Beck. I mean, any guitar player that knows anything about real guitar players knows that Jeff Beck is one of the greatest of all time.” And he goes, “Well, it gets better.” He goes, “We’re gonna have a guest bass player on one song.” And I said, “I can’t imagine who.” He said, “Sting. Sting is gonna play bass on ‘Sweet Emotion’.” So, for one night, my band was Marty Fredericks, Steven Tyler, Jeff Beck, and Sting. I just went right to the mountaintop for you, buddy, like that. That’s still, you know, 12 years later, that’s still a memory that I cherish, and I love talking about it because I don’t ever want to forget it. I want to remember as many details as possible, you know, for the rest of my life. So, that was a big one.
Yitzi: Amazing. Was that recorded?
Damon: Yeah, you can go to YouTube. Just type in Steven Tyler, Jeff Beck, and you don’t even have to say Sting. It’ll pull it up anyway. But yeah, if you type in those three guys, it’ll pull right up, man, and you’ll see me. I was over there on the right-hand side, standing next to Sting. I won’t ever forget it, man. It was incredible, and hearing the name of that song just brings me back to high school, you know, ‘Sweet Emotion’. Oh, man, I’ve played it so many times in various bar bands and cover bands, and even Brother Cane, we did a cover of ‘Sweet Emotion’ for a while. So, yeah, man, it’s so fun to get to meet your heroes and to get to play or sing with them or in front of them and have and interact with them. It’s crazy, man. I could have never imagined stuff like that happening, you know, a fun story.
Yitzi: It’s been said that sometimes our mistakes can be our greatest teachers. Do you have a story about a humorous mistake that you made when you were first starting? And the lesson that you learned from that?
Damon: I’m glad you put that word “humorous” in there because I’ve made a lot of mistakes that weren’t humorous, some were pretty devastating. Yeah, this is a funny one, buddy. So this was way back in the ’80s. This is before I moved to Birmingham, but I was in this band, and we used to play down in the Florida Panhandle. You know, that’s that stretch of beaches like Pensacola, Fort Walton, Destin, Panama City. We were playing down there one weekend, and there was this old bar right on the beach called the Hog’s Breath Saloon. We were playing all the covers, all the radio hits of the day, man. A lot of Journey, Kansas, Van Halen, Huey Lewis, and New Wave stuff like The Fix, The Police, and all that. It was fun. Well, I had just gotten this new pair of shoes. It’s those white Italian shoes called Capezios. They were white Capezios. At that time, everybody was wearing parachute pants. This was way before your time. So I’ve got my Capezios, my parachute pants, and my Kramer guitar with a Floyd Rose on it. I’m feeling pretty good about myself, and it’s a Saturday night. The place is packed, and it’s the third set. The place is rocking. I can’t recall the song, but I do recall every second of me getting the bright idea for the guitar solo to step up on this wooden platform. No, I’m sorry, it’s not even a platform. It’s like a little petition between the stage and the crowd, and it had a flat board on top of it. I’m like, “Man, I’m feeling it. I’m going for it.” I stepped up on that platform to play the solo. And when I brought my second foot up there in those Capezios with the slick bottom, you know where this is going. My feet went straight up in the air, and I fell back into the drum kit, legs in the air. It was epic. It was epic, Yitzi. I wish there was a video of it. I really do. I wish there was a videotape of that moment because it had to be glorious. Of course, the band stops. I trashed the drum kit. I hurt my back a little bit. It was chaos, just chaos. So the lesson in there, my friend, is just don’t step up on anything that is the entire length of your feet. I still have pretty big feet, and my feet were so big there wasn’t enough of that little board on top of that petition. So, I thank you for that question, buddy, because I haven’t told that story in a long time. So I enjoyed reliving that.
Yitzi: You have so much impressive work. Can you share with our readers the exciting projects that you’re working on now? Any new EPs, singles, releases?
Damon: The big focus right now is Brother Cane. Putting Brother Cane back together. The band has basically been dormant, non-existent since 2000. We’ve played a couple of random charity events, you know, something we would all get together to help raise money for a friend or something like that, but nothing really active, focused touring. So, we’ve been working on this for the better part of the last year and a half. We’ve got two brand new songs that I can’t overstate how much I love them. I’m so proud of these songs. And, you know, I’d like for anybody that reads this or hears this to go to their favorite streaming platform, Brother Cane. And you’ll see our two new songs, “Blinded By the Sun” and “Are You in There Anymore?” They’re great. They’re just great. So, we’re getting ready to start what is effectively our 30th-anniversary tour. This weekend, the first show is gonna be in Atlanta on Thursday night, and the tour is gonna basically last all the way until the first week of December. I think we’re taking a week off for Thanksgiving. But, we’re doing about 20 shows, man. So it’s a proper tour, a lot of shows, and I’m really looking forward to it, man, and grateful for this opportunity. I’ll tell you and your readers, just go to BrotherCane.com. All the dates are right there. Forgive me, I don’t have them in front of me, but I know we’re playing in New Jersey. We’re in Pennsylvania playing New York City. Next week we’re in Richmond, Virginia, and I think we make our way back to the south, and we’re doing Detroit, Chicago up in that area. And then we’ll be in Tennessee for the last run of the show. I live in Nashville. The whole band is based out in Nashville, so we’re gonna play here in Chattanooga and Memphis right at the end. So it’s gonna be really fun.
Yitzi: So from your vantage point as an insider, as a pro, how do you summarize the message of rock and roll in a sentence? And why do you think that message is more relevant now than it’s ever been?
Damon: Maybe, That’s a big question. But I have an answer for you. For me, the message of rock and roll is freedom, freedom to express anything you want to express. I wish I had more experience in the nineties to recognize and understand that because I had a ton of experience as a guitar player but not as a songwriter. Now I have that and I just feel so confident. I feel that freedom, and I wouldn’t have that if it weren’t for rock and roll. Rock and roll has given me that. All the masters, legends, and great artists that have gone before me set the path, and if you take the time to listen, read, and study, you’ll find everything you need right in front of you. You just gotta put in the time. I had a lot of distractions when I was a young man, and I’m grateful to still be here doing it. I’m grateful for my family who’ve emotionally supported me continuing to follow my bliss. I just feel like I have tapped into the freedom that music in general, rock specifically gives you. I have finally tapped into that, man, probably the third quarter of my life. It took me a minute, but I’m grateful to have gotten it, and that’s definitely what I feel is the message of the music.
Yitzi: Damon, looking back to when you first started, when you first formed a band and got into music, are there five things you wish someone had told you or that you knew back then?
- Absolutely! First and foremost, I’d say stay off the drugs and alcohol. Even if you’re just dabbling, it can be a distraction. I saw it affect some of the people around me deeply.
- Second, don’t make such a big deal about relationships. Whether you’re into the opposite sex or the same sex, focus on your goals. Love will find its way to you, and it shouldn’t be the main focus. I learned this the hard way.
- Third, and this isn’t about what to avoid but rather what to emphasize: hard work. It’s crucial. The music business has changed a lot, and it’s essential to understand its nature. Many companies were founded by people looking to exploit young talents. Knowing the game would’ve given me a better perspective on dealing with record companies.
- Fourth, if you’re a singer, prioritize your voice. It’s the most valuable instrument you have. I’m more of a guitar player who sings than the other way around, but I still wish I’d taken more vocal lessons over the years. I had a fantastic coach in the early nineties, and I regret not continuing with him.
- And fifth, save your money. It’s a comfort and a tool. Thankfully, I’ve been prudent with my finances, and I’m grateful for a frugal wife. Money management is vital. So, to sum it up for your readers: Work hard, earn money, but be wise about spending it.
Yitzi: This is our final question, our aspirational question. So Damon, because of your great work and the platform that you’ve created, you’re a person of enormous influence, and a lot of people take your words seriously. If you could spread an idea or inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?
Damon: I would encourage anyone in any country, any race, any religion, anyone on the planet. I would encourage them to write, just write things down, right? What are they confused about? Write down what you’re happy about. Write down what you’re angry about. Write down what you wish could change. Write down your ideas. Write a love letter to your parents. Write a letter of gratitude to a school teacher. I wrote an email this morning, thanking someone that got me some concert tickets on Sunday. They didn’t have to do that. That was very nice of them. I have just found in my life that when I write it down, if you type it, that’s fine, but just put it down, date it, and get on with your day. The fulfillment that I know exists from being able to reflect back on that, see where you were. I guess you would call it a journal. It all turns into songwriting for me. I don’t do it every day, but I do it a lot, and it has been like therapy for me. It’s how I make sense of the world. It’s how I get better in my relationships with my family, with my friends, and with my band. That would be my movement. Absolutely. Now that you’ve said that, maybe I’m gonna get busy with that. Yeah. And I think it’s so needed. So everyone’s struggling these days, and it’s a very good path forward. Well, thanks. That was a great question. I don’t think I’ve ever been asked that ever in my whole career, and I’m pleased with the answer that I gave you.
Yitzi: Yeah, it’s an amazing answer. So how can the readers continue to follow your work? How can they purchase your music? How can they support you in any way? How can they buy tickets for the tour?
Damon: Thank you so much, Yi. As I mentioned earlier, right now, my focus is Brother Cane. So just go to BrotherCane.com. You can follow us on Facebook and Instagram. You can also go to Damon Johnson.com. That’s got everything I’m doing there. We haven’t even, I have failed to mention earlier that I’ve been playing guitar in Lynyrd Skynyrd for the last three years. So this past year, the guys officially made me a member of the band. So between Lynyrd Skynyrd and Brother Cane, I’m grateful that my calendar is so busy. So you can go to Damon Johnson.com, and all the dates for anything I’m doing are right there.
Yitzi: That’s amazing. You probably know this story, but I once interviewed Elvis’s stepbrother, Billy Stanley, and he said that he remembers sitting on the couch, and Elvis was listening to Lynyrd Skynyrd on the record player. Elvis said, these guys are gonna be the next big thing. And then he said, he couldn’t believe how it was spelled.
Damon: Oh, wow. Wow. Yeah, it’s definitely spelled very, very strange.(Laughs) You see, there is no band name in history that has been misspelled more often, I guarantee, than Lynyrd. Thanks for letting me tell a little bit of my story.
It was my honor, my friend. It’s really a joy to meet you.
Damon Johnson Of BROTHER CANE, Aerosmith & Lynyrd Skynyrd On The Five Things You Need To Create A… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.