Johnny Smoke – Stickin’ with ya
It’s tough, gritty, heavily influenced by displaced Appalachia, and never takes itself too seriously. The music of Johnny Smoke is a lot like the city of Dayton.
The band has been around Dayton in various incarnations since 1995. The current lineup includes Dorsie Fyffe (lead vocals, harmonica), Rod Boggs (guitar, dulcimer, banjo, vocals), Tom Byrne (bass, banjo, lap steel, vocals) and Kelley Marchal (percussion, vocals). Their debut album, Launcher, was released in 1998 by local label Gas Daddy Go Records.
Everyone struggles when asked to describe Johnny Smoke’s sound. “We’re basically old-time country with modern rock influences,” says frotnman Fyffe, before offering a much more metaphorical description: “We’re like a slider from White Castle: It goes through ya, but sticks with ya.” [For those readers not blessed to live in a region mottled with White Castle fast-food chain restaurants, a “slider” is a small, greasy hamburger.]
The sound of Launcher is sparse and purposefully lo-fi, but the songs are genuine and sincere. The disc opens with “I-75”, a rocker that begins slowly, as if ramping up to the interstate that bisects Dayton. The first song Boggs learned on the dulcimer as a kid was “What A Friend We Have In Jesus”, the opening strains of which can be heard at the beginning and end of “Torn White Dress”. Boggs steps up to the mike for a lead vocal on “Billy Johnson” a traditional-sounding ballad. A show-stopping favorite at the band’s live shows is the irreverent “Chicken Feet”, a tight, funky, nonsensical number. Launcher also includes a live cut, “Trailer Park Love”, recorded at the Canal Street Tavern in Dayton. The band is currently working on a second disc, which they hope to have out before the end of the year.
Onstage, Johnny Smoke has been described as “Iggy Pop, if he had grown up in Eastern Kentucky.” Fyffe struts around the stage holding the microphone high with a ballcap pulled low. Boggs sits to the side of the stage hunched over his dulcimer or grinning slightly as he strums his banjo. Byrne stands seemingly imperturbable, concentrating on the bottom of the music. Marchal attacks the drum set as if he’s really pissed off. It looks like therapy.
Johnny Smoke has played extensively in the region and is beginning to tour beyond the Ohio River, with a trip to New York City already under their belts and a Southern swing in the works. It’s a busy schedule for four guys who still maintain their day jobs, but Marchal asserts that he and his bandmates “have never been this motivated or focused….We like each other and we like to play. We’re our best audience.”