Dallas based drummer, Ricky Johnson, has been writing, performing, and recording with different genres of bands and solo artists for over ten years. In 2007, after studying music performance at Ouachita Baptist University, he began making a fulltime investment in music by playing freelance gigs across Dallas and hitting the road with different artists touring at the national level.
Over the past few years, things have been on a steady climb for Ricky, both as a live and studio musician. With pocket-groove similarities to Steve Jordan and Matt Chamberlain and a playing style that ranges from that of Chris Layton to a more modern Jason McGerr, his future as a working studio artist looks promising.
AHD: You’ve got more than a couple of irons in the fire. Can you tell us about some of the projects you’re currently working on?
RJ: Right now, I'm mostly focused on an original indie rock project called Valise. We're currently managed and produced by The Vanguard Room, which is a studio in Lakeland, FL run by Matt Wilbur and Aaron Marsh. We're currently touring in support of our Dreamcatcher EP that we released in mid 2011. We're also writing for our upcoming full-length record which we will begin production on this summer. This band is something I have wanted to flesh out for a really long time and it’s constantly surpassing my expectations.
One of my other principle acts is singer/songwriter JT Dale. He and I have been writing and playing music together for several years now and it gets more fun for me every time we get together. Our music has seen several different phases over the years, but has ultimately ended up as straightforward rock & roll that best resembles that of a "Gold" era Ryan Adams. The potential for this group, with JT's unique skill for songwriting and the talented group of musicians we get to play with is super exciting.
One of the ways I make my living is by playing with artists who need to hire a drummer for either a show or to write and record drums for a song or a record. One of my favorite examples of these artists is singer/songwriter Brandin Reed. Brandin's music is soul-influenced acoustic-rock. These types of gigs are what keep my job fresh and exciting.
AHD: How do you keep up with all the rehearsals, live gigs and studio sessions?
RJ: Sometimes I'll only have a few gigs during the week and then there are days where I'll have to go from an early studio session, to an afternoon rehearsal, on to a show, or even two, later that night. When things are busiest is when I feel most fulfilled. Keeping all of that straight can sometimes be a chore, but for the most part, I keep a strictly scheduled calendar, with a “first-come, first-serve” rule (or for my purposes, “first-book, first-play”) which prevents me from overlapping or missing gigs.
AHD: How did you get your start in drumming and why do you suppose you’ve begun to lean more towards studio work?
RJ: When I was a kid, I would sit around beating on things (tables, chairs, people, etc.) to whatever tune was in my head or on the TV. Needless to say, this drove my parents crazy, so they bought me my first drums for Christmas in 1999. What really helped me get my feet wet was the worship pastor at my church, Dan Baker, taking me under his wing and letting me play every Sunday even though I had no idea what I was doing. Much like a father teaching his children to swim by pushing them in and leaving them to figure it out, being fully immersed in different styles of music every Sunday and being expected to perform them gave me no choice but to learn quickly.
As I got older and developed as a musician, my desire to develop and learn new areas of playing (i.e. recording) grew also. Over the past 4 or 5 years, I’ve really gained a love for studio work. Going in and hearing about what the song means to the artist and then channeling that to come up with a part that, to me, is going to best convey those feelings is one of my favorite things. Every studio session is exciting for me. It’s something I’m constantly looking forward to.
AHD: How rewarding is it to write a drum part that betters another artist’s song?
RJ: Like I mentioned before, having the opportunity to take someone’s creation and figure out what I can do to push the song forward and give it a little direction is such a cool experience. It’s a really great feeling when a few weeks have gone by, you’ve had time to give yourself a break from the song, and you get a final mix back and get to hear everything after it’s all come together. That’s when this job is most rewarding; having that sense of accomplishment that I took someone’s idea and helped them get it to where they wanted it to be.
AHD: Actors sometimes lose themselves as they take on increasingly diverse roles. Do you ever lose your own unique drumming style when you assimilate your playing to another artist or genre?
RJ: The angle I've always taken with my music has been to write and perform a part that best serves each song, regardless of genre or artist, while at the same time adding my own flavor to the situation. A lot of times when I'm in the studio, a producer might have a strict idea that he or she wants for a specific song. Usually, I can come up with something of my own based on that idea, that both the artist and the producer are happy with. I like to think that playing in so many different modes actually adds to my style and makes my playing more unique.
AHD: You were blessed to have a faith-based, formal musical education. How have you benefitted from the instruction you received in your college days?
RJ: My time at Ouachita was incredibly forming for me musically. I was lucky enough to study privately under the actual dean of the school of music. My professors were such an amazing resource. There were so many things while I was pursuing a Music Performance degree that I thought were overkill at the time, yet have proved to be so important in my daily life as a professional musician. For instance, I constantly thought to myself, "How am I ever going to need Aural Skills as a drummer?" Now I use these ear-training skills on a near daily basis. The experiences I gained in college, both in the classroom and out, have molded me into who I am today as a musician, as a Christian, and as a man. My education was invaluable.
AHD: How much do you depend on the support of a creative community here in Dallas?
RJ: I can’t express how important the role that artists supporting other artists plays in our city. That’s why Art House is such a blessing of an organization. It’s people like us helping people like us. I’ve only been familiar with AHD for a few months and I’m already amazed at how legitimate of a resource it’s turning out to be. I can’t wait to see what things are in store for this organization and the people who are a part of it.
AHD: What’s your favorite spot in Dallas?
RJ: My favorite spot in Dallas is definitely Deep Ellum. So many of my friends are down there and there are so many great places. I love catching shows on the back patio at Club Dada when the weather's nice. Anvil Pub and Angry Dog are my two favorite places to eat. No matter where my nights out begin, they often end up at The Prophet bar. I have so many friends there that it's almost a default hangout for me.
AHD: What’s your take on the city’s music sense?
RJ: A lot of times, Dallas gets a bad rap when it comes to its music scene and the support behind it. In comparison to cities like Austin, no, Dallas is not as booming musically, but I see it as a completely different animal. When looking at it in its own light, rather than in the shadow of a big music city, I think Dallas is packed full of insanely talented musicians, and even more so with people who have a real desire for good music and a keen sense for finding that. A line from one of my favorite songs by JT Dale, which is actually about Dallas, best answers this question for me--"It's a place that I believe in."
AHD: How can readers keep up with your bands, and connect with you for studio work?
RJ: The best way to keep up with what’s going on with me, is to keep an eye on my Website. I've got some of my most recent recordings and a blog that I'm updating daily with pictures and stories about what I'm doing while on tour, at shows, or in the studio. There's also a contact page for anyone with comments, questions, or booking inquiries.
You can catch Ricky for free this Thursday, March 1 at 10 PM with JT Dale at The Free Man in Deep Ellum and you can find more info about Valise and JT Dale at www.valisemusic.com and www.facebook.com/jtdalemusic.