Camp Chronicles (14): Paul Johnson And An All-Star Band Make It Look So Easy

Editor’s Note: These chronicles started out as “letters” from Sierra Surf Music Camp.  But the notes and rough drafts written at the time of camp were longer than any letter.  We hope that you are not exhausted yet.  The good news is that we are on the downhill side.



The time had arrived for one of the highlights of the Sunday night concert.  Paul Johnson took the stage again.  This time, he was the star.  Strat fixed to his shoulder like an appendage and backed by an all-star band, Paul Johnson was about to entertain us. 

Becky had her camera going.  She understood the import of the moment.  Paul Johnson, John Blair, Matt Quilter, and Dusty Watson were all on one stage -- first, second, and third waves together!  The other campers got it too.  Camera flashes added to the rising sparks as new logs were thrown on the camp fire.

Paul Johnson was in his performance mode.  As he played, he stripped off his ever-present parka to reveal a flannel jacket.  He was there to remind us of the roots of surf music.  This was not the double-picked, glissando-driven surf music which the Pyronauts and the Surf Camp All-Stars played the prior two nights.  This was melodic, precisely played instrumental rock ‘n roll which showed us the role of dynamics.  The camp fire provided the only pyrotechnics.

No frills.  No wasted effort.  Just a master in pure harmony with his instrument and totally at peace in the environment of playing.  His smile and easy-going demeanor would have lit up the amphitheater even without a fire. 

Mr. Moto.  Apache.  Baja.  Kamikaze.  Squad Car.  As the band played The Theme from Endless Summer, I was so glad that the Surf Miners eschewed that song.  Anything that we could have done would have paled in comparison with Paul Johnson and the All-Star Band.

His rendition of California Dreamin’ reminded all of us of how nicely structured that song really is.  Was I too hasty in tossing it aside as a candidate for California’s official rock song?  If California Dreamin’ was good enough for Paul Johnson, it should be good enough for the rest of us!

In Surf 101 on Friday night, he told us of the influence which Duane Eddy had on him and early surf music.  His playing Ramrod showed that that influence remained to this day.  Paul Johnson’s presentation was that of a devoted student of an earlier time and the golden years of instrumental rock.

Ferenc moved around the stage with his camera.  He also had a piece of firewood to use in place of a tripod to steady his shots.  He photographed the performance from different angles adding an artistic touch to his photos.

Paul Johnson and each of the All-Stars played with an ease and economy which we are lucky enough to see in experienced players.  They know that their skills -- not histrionics -- is what an audience wants from them.  Their hands are molded to the instruments that they play.  In a Zen sense, they are at one with their instruments.  I noticed this five years ago when Paul Johnson played with Slacktone during Dusty Watson’s fiftieth birthday at Suzy’s. 

The set closed with a medley of songs by one of the most influential guitarists of my lifetime.  Rumble.  Jack the Ripper.  Rawhide.  Three Link Wray classics.

The audience stood, applauded, and cheered.  More camera flashes.  Paul Johnson acknowledged the adulation with a humble “Thank you.”

I turned to Becky and asked, “Did you get all of that?”  Her response was disappointing, “No, my memory card was full in the middle.”  Well, at least, we have our memories of one really amazing performance in the Sierras on a Sunday night.

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