Chatting with The Claudettes’ Johnny Iguana

By Todd Houston
Exclusive to TRRT

Formed April 1, 2011 in Chicago, The Claudettes have been described as blues, jazz, soul-punk, rockabilly and cartoon-music all rolled into one. They will be returning for their second show at Mary’s Place on Saturday. Today we caught up with Claudettes’ pianist Johnny Iguana for a quick chat.

Rockford Rocked Interview: Hey Johnny, thanks for taking time out to talk with us. Tell us who the Claudettes are and how the band was put together.

Johnny Iguana: Hi there, Todd. Well, we began as a piano-drums instrumental duo, and we were the house band for a rather unhinged bar owner in Oglesby. Her name was Claudette, the bar was called Claudette’s, and so we named ourselves the Claudettes. We no longer have anything to do with her, but we still decorate our stage setup to look like that dive bar, with scrolling drink specials everywhere and even a portable bar on our stage. We now have vocals and bass in addition to the drums and piano. We’ve been touring a whole lot and are gonna keep hittin’ it ’til mid-December.

RRI: You’ve been in Rockford before. What do you think about our little town and have you had time to check out any of the local music?

JI: Disappointingly, I’ve only come into town to play a show, and then had to drive away. I’d love a tour and some insider tips!

RRI: Singer Berit Ulseth’s voice marries well with your “vaudevilleish” sounding piano especially on cuts like “Give it all up for Good.”  Thoughts?

JI: So many bands operating in roots and blues have a fire-breathing, loud, confrontational singer. I really prefer the cool-voiced approach, like Berit’s. I think the band being red-hot and her being cool-blue is a winning combination. It makes me feel good.

RRI: I understand you guys have been touring the U.S. on and off since May 2016. What has been your favorite city to visit thus far?

JI: Well, everyone in our band loves playing in New Orleans and New York City. Those are hard to top. Always exciting.

RRI: You guys draw in a big blues/jazz crowd and you’ve played with guitar cats like Otis Rush and Buddy Guy. What happens when the drunk yells out for “Red House” or “Stormy Monday”? Do you keep a guitar onstage just in case?

JI: Ha, no, I keep a megaphone, so I can say, “Pipe down over there!” (LAUGHS) We keep plenty of real-deal Chicago piano-pounding blues in the set, along with the more adventurous original songs and instrumentals, to keep everyone happy.

RRI: The band just recorded with renowned producer Mark Neill at Mark’s Soil of the South studios in Valdosta, Georgia, and the new album is set for release in the spring of 2017. What can we expect from the new album?

JI: It was recorded in such a whirlwind, and we haven’t heard the mixes yet, so it’s even somewhat of a mystery to us. We do know that what we heard in the control room was breathtaking. Mark said he was going to make us a very “spooky” record, and he sure did! The genres in play seem to spiral out in every direction, but it all just sounds like the Claudettes to me.

RRI: Where can we find out more about the Claudettes?

JI: Some recent live videos (more are coming) and photos (ditto) are here: theclaudettes.com. There’s also more band information and tour dates there. For our first two albums, please go here: yellowdogrecords.com/theclaudettes.

RRI: Final thoughts?

JI: We don’t ever take the stage without pledging to put our full hearts and souls into what we’re about to do. It’s like a sacred oath. The show will move and highly entertain you. So come, especially so as to observe my mantra: “When in Doubt, Go Out!” The more people that follow that simple advice in this Netflix world of ours, the better.

The Claudettes play Mary’s Place, 602 N. Madison St. this Saturday at 9:30 p.m.

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