By Todd Houston
Following is an interview with Rockford blues purist and music instructor Wheatbread Johnson.
Rockford Rocked Interviews (RRI): You were born John Peterson. When did you become Wheatbread Johnson and when did your passion for playing guitar start?
Wheatbread Johnson (WJ): I cannot remember a time in my life when music was not absolutely vital to me. Whether I was belting it out in the back seat of the car to my mom and dad’s John Denver 8-tracks when I was little or stealing a few precious moments on my brother’s Sears Silvertone guitar at 7 or 8, music was what I loved. I am legally blind, and music was a way for me to excel at something, since I couldn’t play any sports as a kid. I latched on to it hard, and never let go.
The nickname Wheatbread came from Shefthat Khnemu, one of the famous Cole Brothers out of Freeport, Illinois.
RRI: Have you always been a blues purist, or was there a time when you dabbled with more contemporary music as well?
WJ: I’m interested in all types of music. I listen to Bach a lot. I love Radiohead. I’m a Pat Metheny freak. I grew up figuring out how to play Zeppelin songs. Every type of music is somebody’s blues. Every style has something valid to say or a purpose to serve.
RRI: You were a guitar instructor at Rock Valley College for quite some time. Did you find it difficult to teach guitar, or did it depend on the individual student?
WJ: There will always be students who relate to the guitar from the start and others who find it harder. But, after years of serious teaching, I think that everyone should be making music, talent or not, whatever the results. It’s all about curiosity, having fun and seeking more knowledge.
RRI: Not long ago, you packed up and moved to Austin, Texas. Please tell us about the music scene there, if you would.
WJ: The music scene in Austin is all about fun and diversity. There are a lot of gigs going on and tons of musical styles happening. But, it’s the live music capital of the world, so it can sometimes be hard to find the good stuff.
RRI: Of all the guitars and amps that you have owned over the years, what were (are) your favorites?
WJ: There’s at least one great song in every guitar, so I like them all. I love my Gibson Derek Trucks SG the most, but I’m also in the market for a Flying V after having recorded with one recently. They are more comfortable than they look.
RRI: You also paint? When do you find the time?
WJ: I took a year off from music in 2013 and painted. I needed a break to reassess what I wanted to do. Turns out, I was feeling bored with playing blues, even though I love that music to death. I was really down and felt like I was in mourning or something. Painting taught me it was OK, even essential, to let that part of my life go and do something completely new. It also gave me time to think about what my next move would be.
RRI: I’m going to throw some words or phrases at you. Respond with the first thing that pops into your head.
South by Southwest music festival in Austin, Texas …
WJ: Crowded, stay away from downtown, but a great opportunity to see some new bands and legends pass through Austin.
RRI: Memphis Minnie …
WJ: “When The Levee Breaks.”
RRI: Albert King …
WJ: One of the most original electric guitarists who ever walked the earth. Finding your own voice is the most important thing.
RRI: Jimmy Page …
WJ: Genius. I’ll start swooning and get choked up if I say more.
RRI: Alex Lifeson (Rush) …
WJ: Genius. I’ll start playing in 7/8 if I say more. (laughs)
RRI: Rumor has it that you have a new project in the works. When do we get to hear new music from Wheatbread Johnson, and who are some of the other musicians involved?
WJ: Dinosaurs On The Moon is my latest project. I’ve wanted to make a record with drummer Rudi Fischerlehner for some time. We played together for two years while I was living in Vienna, Austria. He’s one of the most musical and open-minded people I have ever met. We decided to make an album of original rock songs and worry about the band members later. I play everything except the drums on it. We’ve been working on it for a year now. It’s a mixture of a lot of things I love in music, like lush harmony, dissonance, grungy guitars and pop melodies. It will be done by the end of February and available online in the usual places.
RRI: Any plans to play the Chicago area?
WJ: Yes, we are doing some small acoustic shows this spring in the Midwest and wherever else they will have us! Then, we will start gigs in western and central Europe later in 2015.
RRI: Thanks for chatting with us.
WJ: It was my pleasure. Check out Dinosaurs On The Moon on Facebook for free offers, album release info and tour dates.
From the Feb. 4-10, 2015, issue