Johnny Boy (Lost Grove Brewery) – 2/2/18

A fortuitous blues “concert” at the neighborhood brewery…

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Johnny Kunk, better known as Johnny Boy, is fairly new to the music scene.  In fact, he told me that he has only been playing guitar for about four years.  Open tuning or not, if you watch him perform you would be certain he has had a guitar in his hand since he was a wee lad.  I lucked into seeing him do a set at Lost Grove last week while there with a few friends, killing time and sucking back pints of local brew at one of my favorite hangouts.

Although the four of us were not there to see him, and didn’t even know there was going to be live music that night, we ended up sticking around to see his entire two-hour set, afraid to miss any of the goodness.  (Coincidentally, my buddy has hired this guy to play at his wedding, an incredible “get” – well done, Brett).  Unassuming in his dark pants, white shirt, and suspenders, Johnny sat down, introduced himself, and then proceeded to blow the collective mind of the crowd with his mastery of the true, old-school Delta Blues.  As Johnny himself will tell you, this a’int no jazz, no Chicago blues, and certainly no damned Hawaiian shirt music.  Armed with two electric guitars, a harmonica, and a stomp pad that he welded and wired himself, Johnny is truly a one-man band, and he likes it that way.

Highlights of the evening included his incredibly fast harmonica playing, with a couple of songs spent imitating the sounds of an ever-speeding up train; his soulful renditions of blues standards such as “Stop Breaking Down”, “Death Letter”, and “Rollin’ and Tumblin’”; and his fantastic originals.  Among his original tunes, which blended nicely with the classics, was my personal favorite: “Country Pickin’”, in which Johnny utilized a switchblade knife in place of a slide or his fingers as he rolled along on a grooving tune that had the entire crowd of about thirty bobbing heads and tapping feet.

He seemed to enjoy getting the crowd involved and even invited people to write ideas for blues songs on a whiteboard he had brought.  After finishing the song he had just been playing, Johnny would read the board and come up with an improvised jam about that subject.  Most of these were not only cleverly funny but damn good jams.  One of the members of our group left (in an Uber, mind you) more than a little hazy after, um, a few drinks, and so I wrote “Hangover Blues” on the board in his honor.  Johnny laid down a solid blues riff and cheeky lyrics that included my favorite verse: “Well, I threw up this morning, even though I did last night; Think I’ll start drinkin’ again, baby, until I feel all right”.  Another favorite song suggestion was the recommendation from a man who was seated next to a very pregnant woman: Pregnant Speed-Dating Blues.

Johnny may be fairly new back to Boise, but don’t be surprised when you hear more about him.  I forgot to ask him while chatting him up after the set, but one can only assume that his not being a Treefort artist is because he didn’t ask; they would have been fools to turn him down.  Talent is one thing, and he certainly has that, but showmanship and passion are a whole other dimension, and he has that in spades.  Rock on Johnny!  See you in October…