Craig Johansen is the lead guitarist for the Magic Rocks, but has also performed with a ton of other Savannah bands over the years. He grew up listening to late 70’s and early 80’s rock, and his love for that time period is still with him. Here, he talks about how he got his start in the Savannah music scene, how he linked up with a lot of other local musicians, and much more.
What are some of your earliest musical memories?
Probably FM radio in the family station wagon in the mid to late 70s. Back then riding around you could hear anything from Boston, Kiss, Fleetwood Mac, Rolling Stones, Earth Wind and Fire maybe some Bee Gee’s and something from the Grease soundtrack. I guess I was born and raised on the rock ‘n’ roll radio. For better or for worse.
I love playing the guitar. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me and my hands.
How did you learn guitar?
When I was 15 a friend of mine was playing guitar and I told him I wanted to learn. He loaned me a guitar and wrote out the chords A through G (all major)on a piece of paper. I started there and have circled around, doubled back and been all over the place picking things up. I’ll never learn it all, but I’ll have a lot of fun trying. My learning has involved and has spanned technologies such as 8 tracks, cassettes, cd’s, tab, watching a lot of other people way better than me and now You Tube. It started out as something I “went at” and now has turned into something I “go to”. I love playing the guitar. It’s the greatest thing that ever happened to me and my hands.
Who are some of your musical influences?
There are so many, but the two that really got me going were Van Halen’s first album on eight track. I bought it for a quarter at a garage sale in 1981. The other was the Fleetwood Mac 1982 Mirage tour concert on HBO when I was 12. Eddie Van Halen and Lindsay Buckingham was where I wanted to be. I’ve never gotten close, haha. I like to think they were the 2 extremes and I just bounce around lost in there somewhere. They started something and it’s been on ever since. I’d say late 70s early 80s rock like Blondie, The Cars, Prince, hair metal, some Jerry Reed. Mix that all together. That’s sounds like a lot of noise. That would have been one hell of a tour, though. I’m sure I’ve forgotten so many of the things that influenced me, but they’re all there somewhere and they reintroduce themselves to me occasionally.
Playing with him and Rodney Smith has been a lot of fun and taught me so much.
How did you get your start in the Savannah music scene?
At 15 I joined my first band Scam with my buddy Bob Buckley. I remember playing Sugar Mountain, I think that’s what it was called on Montgomery Crossroads back in 86. From that band I went into Mr. Nasty followed by And Sometimes Why and the practice place on Abercorn and Broughton Street downtown (The Lamas Building). That’s where I met most of the local rockers that I’m still friends with today. Culberson was up there, Roy G Biv (we were tight with those guys), Me and Mills, Damad, and so many others. Lotta fun up in that building. From there it went to Glasspack, Splitfinger, Hot Pink Interior and then this cover band ride I’ve been on for the last 15 years. There’s been a few other things in there as well. Lately I have the had the pleasure of playing guitar in Monkey Man a Rolling Stones tribute. That’s been so much fun and quite a learning experience. Jason Anderson got me involved there. He was in the 8-Tracks with us.
How did you link up with Thomas Claxton?
We all play the same places downtown so I met Thomas doing that. He asked me if I wanted to play a show with them. He was using a revolving cast of guitar players. All really great players. I told him I needed a set list and a month to practice ha ha. I’ve known Paul Cooper for close to 30 years he’s a good friend of mine, a hell of a drummer and just an all around good dude. Playing with him and Rodney Smith has been a lot of fun and taught me so much. Thomas is very professional and pretty easy to deal with so we have a good time in that band, but we don’t play as much as we used to. He’s doing a lot of other things musically and we’re all happy for him as he works really hard at it.
How did you link up with the Magic Rocks?
That started out as the 8-Tracks a four piece band that played parties and private events and some bars. Three of us starting playing more bar gigs as The Magic Rocks and that’s been going on now for 12 or 13 years. I knew Jim Reed from The City of Linda’s and Superhorse. I knew Ronny Kersey from Versa Vice and Gam. We were all doing original music back in the day. This was just something on the side that we could do to have some fun, play some different songs and make a little extra money. We’ve just really enjoyed it and kept doing it.
They’re all different and that’s what makes them stand out from the next one.
Are there any Savannah artists you haven’t worked with but would love to collaborate with?
That’s a hard question to answer. There are so many that I admire. I’ve played with a lot of talented people. I treasure all of those experiences. I hope there are more. Some of the Jinx Halloween tribute shows I’ve got to play with some really good players that I wouldn’t normally get a chance to play with like Phil Price and Stuart Harmening. I just like to go see other bands play when I get a chance. It’s kind of inspiring to go back and do your thing after watching so many people enjoy doing what they do. Hitman and I are going to see if we can get a package deal of lessons with Anders Thomson. (Hahaha in the Hitman laugh).
What are some of your favorite Savannah venues to perform in?
I like every one that I get a chance to play in. They all have their good points. They’re all different and that’s what makes them stand out from the next one. The Bayou and The Warehouse were where we pretty much got started, so they’ll always be special to us. I love going out and playing at Tybee and Richmond Hill, other downtown clubs. Anything that pops up that’s new, we want to give it a try. It just makes it more interesting and not so monotonous.
So maybe we’ll finally get it done this year. God I hope so.
What are your thoughts on the current state of the Savannah music scene?
From my perspective, I think it’s doing well. I’m also 50 and playing in a cover band, so I’m not seeing everything. I’m sure there could be some improvements, but it could be worse. As long as I get to have a good time, play some music, and others get to do the same thing, I really don’t have that much to complain about. I’m sure I could find something, but I don’t go looking I guess. I like to smile and laugh a little bit and move on. It’s not the end of the world. It’s just music and I like to have fun doing it. If I see something that needs work, I’ll do my best to help it in the right direction. I hope to get some more original music going soon with the guys in the Magic Rocks and some other people. Hopefully we get that going and we’ll get to play some other places where original music is featured. Hopefully we get some of that done. I know that’s a goal of ours. We’ll see what 2020 brings.
Any upcoming projects for 2020?
Hopefully, an original set of music, some gigs adding that. Maybe a recording. That would be great. We’ve been working on it. We just keep getting sidetracked with other things and before you know it the year goes by and we still haven’t done it. So maybe we’ll finally get it done this year. God I hope so.