GOES BACK TO THE FUTURE
by A.J. Wachtel
Jon Butcher is a showman in every true sense of the word. Behind his charismatic smile is a heart full of soul and passion. And now, a generation later, he brings his iconic flashy licks front and center and revisits a great former band—Jon Butcher Axis. Read on and learn the differences between fact and fiction as the plot thickens in Butcher’s legendary life.
Noise: In three sentences, give me the bio of the original ’80s Jon Butcher Axis from beginning to end.
Jon Butcher: Boy meets band. Band meets wall. Wall wins.
Noise: What started the fire to get this reunion going?
JB: It’s only a reunion in the general sense, since Derek B couldn’t participate due to the enormous logistics and time parameters involved. Who’s involved? Muzz, on loan from the drum chair in Farrenheit, Chris Martin on bass, and myself.
Noise: What about Foreigner’s Thom Gimbal and Jack Lambert? Are they making cameo experiences? Rob Jefferies died. Is there anyone I’m missing from JBA?
JB: Or Cliff Goodwin or Glen Evans. For AXIS3 it’s just the three of us, though Sandy Mac [Hammond] makes an appearance on “Wishes.”
Noise: What songs are you re-recording? How are they different now?
JB: That’s the $64,000 question; they’re different in so much as they now sound the way we intended them to sound, recorded with the ferocity that we had as a live hard rock trio. Maybe it’s a little anachronistic from todays’ vantage point, but at the time the power trio was king for a guitarist. Completely liberating if you’re the kind of player who likes to jam. I definitely did/do.
Noise: Why the new version of Jimi’s “Axis: Bold As Love”?
JB: Though it’s been covered by others [Tuck & Patti’s version as a duo is outrageous] ABAL has always meant something special for me. I was a little kid when I first heard Jimi, Are You Experienced. By the time ABAL came out it felt as much like a religious experience as I’d ever had, something which changed me fundamentally, forever. I hope I can bring something personal to the song in this new recording. No pressure, ha!
Noise: What can you do now that you originally wanted to do, but couldn’t?
JB: If you mean the Axis record as a whole, it’s the opportunity to set right what I always felt was a missed opportunity. Pat Moran [R.I.P. ] was our first producer. Unfortunately he never saw the band live and only came by us through the record company. I don’t think he ever “got it” and as a result those first two records, while putting us on the map so to speak were ultimately disappointing for me, and I think for Chris Martin too. With the new AXIS3 CD we made some corrections, changed a thing here or there and infused the tracks with raw, unprocessed energy and heat. Eat as much as you want, you won’t gain a pound.
Noise: Relevance of Marshall stacks and screaming Strats in 2013?
JB: One of these things is not like the other, lol! If it’s true that some guitar/amp pairings are legendary, then Marshall plus Straocaster equals JBA. For the AXIS3 record I’m using a variety of ampliage including my trusty Fender tweed Juniors, Fender tweed and blackface Deluxes and a couple of tuned Marshall 1959 SLP Plexi 100 watt heads and 4×12 bottoms which make a big, fat noise. And my faithful Strats of course—don’t leave home without ‘em.
Noise: JBA was always a great live band as opposed to just working well in the studio. what do you expect to achieve with this reunion, which will be with the band focusing on a new studio release and not depending on constant touring?
JB: Well, as I said, it’s only a reunion in the loosest sense. I look at the record we’re doing almost as a continuation, hence the title AXIS3. It’s the third Jon Butcher Axis record—a little late but definitely on time. And the new recording of “Ocean in Motion” is unmitigated, unapologetic kick-assery. Besides, Dr. Chris Martin and I never really lost touch, we were then and still are total music gear hounds.
Noise: Tell me a great story from the JBA tour when you went on the road with the J. Geils Band. At the time, you were an unsigned local band going out on a national tour with an iconic group. What’s the odds of a major act taking an unsigned act out on the road today?
JB: Ha! You said it better than I ever could, “an unsigned band on a national tour with an iconic group who just happened to have released their biggest hit record to date”— what are the chances? The stars aligned to make that happen. Chris Martin and I were huddling around an oven for warmth in East Cambridge when the phone rang and changed everything. We were initially invited to do the Christmas shows around New England—Maine, Rhode Island, and the old Boston Garden. That turned into a 60-city tour that had us signed to Polydor by the time we got home. That story is rock ’n’ roll fantasy if ever there was one.
Noise: What’s the JBA like now without the associated decadence of the ’80s? You guys were known as a great party band, too.
JB: Was there a band during that period that wasn’t a great party band? Okay, maybe Stryper. But except for them, the ’80s was, among other things, a lot of excess. Certain musicans—Van Halen comes to mind—lived that for all it was worth, owned the ’80s in many ways. Not saying that was a bad thing necessarily, just look at the success of those VH records. Eddie and company were doing something right. On the other hand there was a lot of credit juggling of one sort or another in the ’80s, writing checks your body couldn’t possibly cash or back up.
Noise: Tell me a great JBA decadence story from the ’80s.
JB: We were touring with Def Lepard during their Pyromania heyday and they were always and constantly beseiged by scores of friendly female welcomers. I’d never seen anything like it. Among the bands merchandise items were these little short-shorts they sold with the British Union Jack emblazoned on the front and back. Without going into detail, I can tell you that after one particularly fanciful summer night in Alabama, the hotel pool was filled with dozens of these little Union Jack shorts—what happened to the owners, says I? Boy meets band. Band meets girls. Boy meets wall.
Noise: What’s in the future for JBA?
JB: We’re doing a show at the Hanover Theater on Friday April 26 at 8pm. That should be a rollicking good time and quite an eye opener for anyone who dug Jon Butcher Axis. After that we’re looking at a couple of New England-based shows during summer and fall of 2013 before heading out to Texas, New Mexico, Oklahoma, and Florida for a short run to promote the record.
Noise: I met you after you opened for Johnny Winter at Uncle Sam’s in either the late ’70s or early ’80s. Who are some of the other great musicians you’ve toured or shared the stage with?
JB: I had the good fortune of meeting and subsequently doing a music video with one of my all time favorite musicians, Jeff Beck [“Ambitious” video]. And JBA has toured with some great acts—INXS, Rush, Geils, Def Leppard, Orleans, and even a Scorpions tour! But I don’t think there’s any thing I enjoyed as much as I did my time with Barefoot Servants, Ben Schultz and Lee Sklar, in the post-JBA period. Working with another guitar player could only have been possible at that time with a guy like Ben, who essentially did most of the slide guitar work on the first Servants record. And Lee Sklar? Not enough things to say about the world’s most prolific bass player!
All in all, how lucky have I been? I’ve had the pleasure of playing with some of the best musicians in the world—Lee Sklar, Ben Schultz, Charlie Farren, James Montgomery, Marty Richards, Fly Amero, and many, many more. And now, after a long hiatus, Jon Butcher Axis will once again experience lift-off and flight—not bad for a single lifetime!