Moxy guitarist finds a soulful groove with Long Black Cadillacs
Who says you can’t teach a 70s guitarist new tricks? Case in point – Earl Johnson.
Those of us of a certain age may remember Earl as the Hamilton-born guitarist for the hard rock/metal band Moxy.
In its heyday, Moxy was billed as Canada’s Aerosmith, sometimes even compared to Led Zeppelin. They toured North America sharing stages with artists like Black Sabbath, Styx, Ted Nugent and AC/DC (who actually opened for Moxy at a concert in San Antonio). Johnson did a good chunk of the songwriting, while sporting one of Canadian rock’s great mules. The band still has pockets of fans, especially in Texas where you can still hear Moxy on the radio.
Recently, however, Johnson’s style has turned to classic R&B with his new Hamilton-based band, Long black Cadillacs. Earl still has the mullet, but he now writes and records songs that could easily be mistaken for ’70s Motown. You can hear him on the band’s debut single “True Love,” which will officially hit streaming sites. February 7, just in time for Valentine’s Day. You can find a video version of the song on the band’s website Facebook pagefacebook.com/LBCXBluz.
Johnson wrote “True Love” for his common-law wife, Debbie Sutton, who died in 2019. It’s a slow, simmering emotional ballad, sung with great emotion by Long Black Cadillac lead singer Chris Jackson, a native of New Orleans now based in Hamilton.
There’s still a lot of Johnson guitar on the song, but it’s a lot more sophisticated than Moxy, sneaky and smooth like Carlos Santana.
“Long Black Cadillacs are really a Blues/R&B type band that Chris’ voice suits best,” Johnson said in an interview. “I grew up loving Motown and 70s soul music and we really are into that vibe in our approach to songwriting.”
The band formed when Johnson returned to Hamilton in December 2019, following Debbie’s death. Johnson had taught guitar at Ajax for 12 years. He says teaching guitar has had a major influence on his own technique.
“As you teach, you start to attract students who want to learn different things,” Johnson says. “I had students who wanted to learn R&B. So I started learning things like Al Green’s ‘Let’s Stay Together’, and I had to learn jazz chords. Once I started doing it, I realized that I really like this stuff.
Once in Hamilton, Johnson contacted an old friend, David Davidson, drummer for the Celtic rock band American Rogues. At first, they started playing tennis together to stay fit during COVID-19. Then they started jamming together, with Davidson bringing in veteran Six Nations bassist Don Hill.
The trio’s chemistry gelled, and as the songwriting progressed, they realized they needed a lead singer. Their sound engineer, Nicki Nero, recommended Jackson.
“We sent Chris a preview of ‘True Love’ and what he sent back to us in vocal demo form totally blew our minds. Chris is from New Orleans. His dad was a bassist in Percy Sledge’s band. and in many other R&B and blues bands, he has a serious pedigree in R&B/blues direction.
Jackson began contributing lyrics to the songs, and the band’s repertoire grew to include 10 new originals, as well as a handful of classic covers like Otis Redding’s “Try a Little Tenderness” and “What’s Going On” by Marvin Gaye.
By adding local keyboardist Brandon Swire to the lineup, the band was able to perform at a handful of live shows during COVID lockdown breaks, including the Southside Shuffle Blues and Jazz Festival in Oakville.
Long Black Cadillacs are currently working on an album of songs and hope to release new singles in the coming months. The band also recorded a song called “Forever Mine” for a compilation album for the Birdsong Foundation, a Canadian charity dedicated to improving the lives of musicians struggling with mental illness.
While working with the new band, Johnson also began to explore some personal issues. He had been adopted by his parents from Hamilton and had never known the identity of his biological parents. His mother had indicated that his father may have been part Mohawk. Johnson told his bassist Hill, a full Six Nations member, about it. Hill suggested he do some research and find out.
“It turned out that my biological father was a pureblood Mohawk,” Johnson says. “So, I got my status card last month. We now have two status Indians in the band.