On his debut LP, Alabama poet & performer Johnny Coley delves into the saltwater poolof his mind to extract lucid observations that drip like surreal front porch gossip. With a drawling voice equally poignant and comic, Johnny's experimental storytelling unfolds like an old familiar blanket...musty and stained with various bodily fluids...a map of time, pleasure and disintegration. The music surrounding his verbal riffing is made by an array of off-beat combos: two banjos and a transistor radio screeching and braying in a field, amplified chalkboard paired with upright bass and mysterious German electronics, a brushed snare gently sizzling with harp and pyraharp. Johnny Coley & crew keep things loose, unpredictable and juicy.
Percussionist Jimmy Griffin reflects on improvising with Johnny:
Jimmy: I had a mustang that hadn’t broken yet. Johnny lived at Highland Towers, you know the one, the middle tower between the two parks. And there was a cool, black gentleman named Horace, who could do the moonwalk. He lived in the projects in West End, close to where I lived. So every morning, I would get in the mustang, drive to the projects parking lot to pick up Horace, go to Highland Towers, pick up Johnny, and it was a Mountain Brook lawn service, drive to Mtn. Brook, and do this lawn service gig. Oh and then Johnny was the driver for the lawn service truck we were using. And they would send us on jobs in Mtn. Brook, and we would get lost half the time (laughs), and we’d have to come back and say, “We couldn’t find the house!”
Jasper Lee: It’s like a labyrinth over there.
JG: So, one of the things was, um… I think the lawnmowers had a brand name like “Lawnboys”. So Johnny and I would joke about, “Well, we gotta load the lawn boys onto the truck”, like they were living things. It was a wild job. But I remember everyday, you know, it was kinda like a gig. And so.....to tell you the truth, it just seems like I always knew Johnny. So I can’t tell you when I met Johnny, but we had mutual friends, mutual activities, and just faded in and out.
I can say about Johnny, because thinking about calling the lawnmowers the “lawn boys”, and they were like, you know, what is it, Lord of the Rings, you know? Inanimate objects can be living objects. So I wanna say that Johnny had this sense of improvisation always. Even while cutting grass. (laughs)
JL: Even while cutting grass.
JG: Even while cutting grass, so that’s sort of, that’s where we could have endless conversations, and when they were over, you don’t even know what you talked about, you know......So, Johnny’s a master improviser.....though we weren’t very good at mowing grass. (Laughs). I think Johnny’s such a good improviser cuz, like myself, we both had jobs we weren’t really that good at. (Laughs). So if you give him something he’s really good at, like art and poetry and improvisation, and listening and responding to musicians, well there you go. Johnny has some magic in his voice that catches everybody’s attention, I think if Johnny’s reading or especially improving the music, people are kinda leaning forward because that voice, that cadence, unusual juxtaposition, things you know all about and things you don’t know anything about. It just pulls everybody in. And he knows when to stop. Some of us don’t (laughs).