“My friend Johnny Nicholas writes and sings from way down inside, and plays every instrument with grit and grace. His talent is deep and wide, like his soul and his heart. And he has some songs that slay me. Just slay me.”
~ Walt Wilkins, 2016
Although Johnny Nicholas’ career as an artist is well documented , his connection with South Louisiana music and culture and the influence it had on his storied musical career is not as well known.
After finishing school, Johnny hit the road hitch hiking and hopping freight trains in search of the artists and music he loved. His pilgrimages led him to experiences and relationships with many American music roots legends of the blues, western swing, honky tonk music and the melting pot for it all: South Louisiana and Southeast Texas.
This album is a homecoming, bringing him back to the place where he cut his teeth and grew up musically on the prairies and bayou country of Southwest Louisiana in the 70’s. Link Davis Jr (son of the legendary ‘Papa’ Link Davis) brought him to Basile and introduced him to Nathan Abshire who lived behind the Bear Cat lounge on Highway 190.
The Basile routine went something like this: play music every night with Link, Nathan and ofttimes Dewey Balfa (who worked at a furniture store nearby), pull some mattresses down off the wall in a room behind the bar and sleep, get up and walk back to Mr Nathan and his wife Ola’s tiny house behind the club to drink coffee and visit, return to the Bearcat where Jeanette Comeaux would be fixing rice and ‘something’, post up with Nathan out front and start drinking and playing music informally with anyone who stopped by and then get ready for the evening’s show to start.Next day same as the last and on and on—Honky Tonk heaven!
Fast forward past his tenure as a front man with Western Swing icons Asleep At The Wheel, eight solo albums, raising a family, touring all over the world as a solo act and with the likes of Big Walter Horton, Roosevelt Sykes, Robert Junior Lockwood, Snooky Pryor and Johnny Shines while helping his wife Brenda run the celebrated Hill Top Cafe, an old gas station and roadhouse in the Texas Hill Country, and Johnny winds up full circle back in Eunice bringing his Texas band to Joel Savoy’s tiny but magical little studio outside of Eunice-just a few miles down the road from where it all began in Basile.
Full Circle could be the title for this record but Mistaken Identity is appropriate enough considering that Johnny and his music have defied being pigeonholed in one specific genre throughout his amazing life and musical journey. All but one of the songs on this album are originals that draw upon his many influences and experiences that have molded and defined him as a true Americana and Roots music artist.
Most of the tracks including the vocals were recorded ‘live’ with very few overdubs.
So sit back and let it all wash over you: great musicianship, story telling and melodies that were recorded in Joel’s studio for Valcour Records. American music traditions filtered down through the experiences of a true troubadour and skillfully blended into a melting pot, or gumbo pot if you will that will leave your musical taste buds wanting more.
August 10, 2020