Hoytsville resident Jake Johnson’s world is music
In the aftermath of the Rockport fire last month, Hoytsville-based guitarist Jake Johnson wanted to help some of the people who lost their homes.
So he and his band — drummer Eric Munoz and bassist Tristan Hadley — performed at a private party and sold some CDs they recorded a few months ago.
The trio wound up raising more than $1,000, Johnson said during an interview with The Park Record.
"When we gave the money to the families, they were so happy to know that they lived in a community that would help them out with their problems," Johnson said.
Johnson remembers when the fire started on Aug. 13.
"We saw a bolt of lightning hit the ground and we noticed it was close to our friend’s house," he said. "We left for Coalville to get something to eat, and by the time we finished eating, the whole side of the mountain was on fire."
Johnson remembers the huge clouds of white smoke.
"We called our friend to see if she was OK, and she didn’t know how bad it was," he said. "We told her to get out of there and she grabbed everything she could and bolted out the door."
A few minutes later, the white smoke turned black.
"That was when we knew the fire had burned something manmade," Johnson said. "We then watched the smoke turn grey and black and then back to grey and then black. It was so unreal."
When Johnson heard about the eight homes that were destroyed, he immediately thought about raising money through his music.
"It was a no-brainer," he said. "We put on a party at my house and invited some people."
Johnson, a 16-year-old junior at North Summit High School, has been fascinated by music ever since he was barely old enough to walk.
"When I was a kid, I was fascinated with monsters and when I saw Kiss and Alice Cooper and fell in love with the whole thing," he said. "I also listened to the Beatles constantly."
He remembers watching the AC/DC concert video, "Live in Donington," and was awestruck as he saw guitarist Angus Young step on stage in front of thousands of people.
"That’s when I knew I wanted to do something like that," Johnson said. "So I got my first guitar, which was a Gibson SG, the same one Angus uses. Then as I got older, I got a Les Paul and some Fender Stratocasters."
Johnson began studying the likes of blues players including Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton and B.B. King.
"In the past couple of years, I have tried to soak up all the music of different styles like Jeff Beck to Django Reinhardt, AWOLNATION and Imagine Dragons," he said. "I like adding some sort of span to my range, but I do like to keep the core classic and original."
The young guitarist started playing live sets when he was 12, and has since performed at Park Silly Sunday Market, Molly Blooms and various venues from Coalville to Tooele.
He also plays with his stepfather, Hugh McDonald, the bassist for Bon Jovi. (See story titled "Hugh McDonald reflects on his musical career").
Although he and his band play cover tunes, Johnson is also a songwriter.
"I like writing at night, because that’s when my juices start to flow," he said. "Unfortunately, maybe one out of 100 songs I write is decent. I write in a journal and then go back to them later and find that most of them are horrible. I read them and wonder why I even wrote them."
Still, like any creative craft, Johnson keeps plugging away.
"I’ll come home after a long day at school and need a break," he said. "I’ll watch DVDs and try to get inspired by different artists."
Johnson said his writing style is different than many of the songwriters that are active today.
"This generation writes a lot of the lyrics out there are up front and right in your face, and they sing about the teen ‘hashtag’ thing," he said. "I don’t like that. So with me, it’s half of the lyrics tell a story and the other half is up to the audience to figure out. "
Johnson got that idea from Led Zeppelin lead singer Robert Plant.
"If you listen to a Led Zeppelin song, you wonder what the lyrics really mean," Johnson explained. "If you ask him about the song, he’ll say, ‘It’s whatever you want them to be.’
"For me songwriting is all about how it makes an impact on the listener," Johnson said. "I don’t want my music to live on and reach all ages. I want families to come to a show and have fun."
While songwriting is challenging for the musician, the hardest part of being an independent artist is getting exposure.
"Everyone has heard that Justin Bieber got discovered through YouTube, and thousands of other people are posting their own videos," Johnson said. "There are billions of videos out there that show talented people, but it all comes down to what the record labels want."
In order to reach his goal of becoming a professional musician, Johnson has a plan.
"I like what John Mayer has done," he said. "He’s played with Buddy Guy and Eric Clapton and has performed with almost every blues guitar player who is still alive.
"I think it’s cool that he combines that old blues flavor with modern pop," Johnson said. "In fact, I thought the solo he does in the song ‘Heartbreak Warfare’ was done by Jeff Beck, but John did it."
Johnson’s immediate goal, however, is to graduate high school.
"I’m trying to graduate early," he said. "I go to school and then do some online classes and practice.
"In a few weeks, I’m going to Nashville to meet with a producer, and I would like to spend time recording and make a record and take it to a label and get signed," Johnson said.
In the meanwhile, the guitarist will continue to play anywhere he can.
"One of the last shows I did was opening up for Firehouse in Salt Lake City," he said. "That was a fun gig, we had a full stage and great audience. But I have also played a show on the back of a flatbed truck in Coalville.
"It doesn’t matter where we play as long as we have power, a couple of bottles of water and a fun audience," Johnson said. "That’s all we need."
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